Monday, June 25, 2018

So, when do the meek inherit the earth?

With no moral authority, no ethics and no sense of decency, who gets to rule?

I've been doing a lot of soul searching lately to help me understand how we got to this point in America.  The division is wide and the arguments are loud. We've picked our teams and we believe we picked the one that is right or the one that is winning...leaving the other team in the dirt to fend for themselves.

I was flabbergasted to read about an evangelist's plea on social media for his followers to help provide the means for him to purchase a jet. Another jet. Another multi-million dollar jet so that he could spread the word nation-wide. And then right under that post was another one about homeless veterans. And I started to wonder 'how did we get here?'  How do we justify the begging for a jet against the begging for food ?

It reminded me of the outrage that was played out on social media during Hurricane Harvey when evangelist Joel Olsteen would not or could not open  his mega church for those in need. And thus the argument about his inability to open the church because of flooding issues escalated. So, I wondered again 'how did we get here?'  How do we justify the begging to support a mega church against the begging for shelter?

We are clearly lopsided. 'Men of God' are living in luxury while their flocks are living in the streets. Men of God are flying jets while their flocks struggle to pay rent. This is certainly not meant to pigeon hole all those who preach the word of God.  There are some who understand what the title  means and the responsibility that comes with it.  Judgment on that is certainly not mine. But I can't help but wonder what the true intent is for those who have lined their pockets, purchased their multi-million dollar jets and live comfortably in their multi-million dollar mansions while the homeless in our country escalate and families struggle to feed their children. And they continue to beg for more.

And our lawmakers are no better.

So, I ask again. With no moral authority, no ethics and no sense of decency, who gets to rule?
Greed is all I could come up with.  And when greed rules, we all lose.

So, then who are the meek who get to inherit the Earth? I am guessing it will be the tribes who understand that their lives are intertwined. Those who understand that their dependence on each other sustains them. It's the indigenous tribes that come to mind. They are not wrapped in fortunes or the pursuit of wealth. They are not raping Mother Earth for she sustains them. God bless them.

Maybe there is hope for mankind.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Searching for My heart's Desire

Searching for heart's desire while feeding my soul.....That journey has led me down many roads. If you've read any of my other blogs,  you are familiar with some of those experiences.

There's one experience I haven't written about and it's probably the one that had the most profound affect on me.  It seems easier for some people to recognize "Christians" these days as the ones who attend church regularly.  And some quickly decide that if a person does not attend church, they must not be a Christians or that they do not believe in God.

I stopped going to church a long time ago. We are so private with our lives that maybe most people didn't notice. But everyone now and then, and probably more often then usual, I would get the most often asked question. "What church do you go to?"  I would answer that I was a member of First Methodist and that would satisfy them.  And that was true.  I was a member of First Methodist. Just not a good member.

Several years ago I was fortunate enough to be asked by the First Methodist Church to assist with a special summer camp for kids. Under the direction of the church's Minister of Music, I would assist with the artistic part of this camp. Offering up art lessons to campers centered around the selected Christian musical theme, I became part of a team of teachers hired to instruct the children.  The camps were quite successful. And I brought my love of the arts and my love of teaching to children, whom I also loved.

In the Methodist circuit, ministers are often moved around from church to church. In the years that I taught the summer art camps at First Methodist, there were several ministers who would open the summer art camp with prayer and invitation.  After several summers as the art instructor for their annual summer art camps, the minister, whom I had become quite close to and quite fond of, recognized by surprise that I was a member of his church. While he never made me feel guilty of being an absentee member, he also never approached me about why I didn't attend church anymore.

It was at the end of one of productions that he offered up his usual prayer and public offering for anyone to join the church for their Sunday services. I had heard that offering on many occasions but this particular one stuck with me.

I felt guilty.

I waited until he was alone in his office and asked him if I could speak with him privately. And of course, like always, he was so gracious and loving and made me feel like he was there just for me. When I sat down on the other side of his desk, I noticed on the wall behind him was a collection of abstract art that he had created. I had come to know that he, too, was an artist. Alongside his beautiful collection of painted canvases was a framed black and white photograph of the Beatles. I guess just seeing the art and the black and white photograph of the Beatles, I immediately felt  'at home.'

Now time to confess.

As I shared with him how much I loved what I was doing for the church during the camp, I had to confess that I was not a church goer. And I didn't want him to think that my lack of participation in the Sunday worship services was any indication of how I felt about him or God

.  I was surprised how quickly he interjected that I should not feel guilty. And it would be the next statement that he made to me that put my spirit at ease and filled my heart.

I will paraphrase what he said because his exact words were much more beautiful and eloquent than I could recount. But I got the message.

'There are many people who come to church because they need to feed their spirits. And some people have learned to feed their own.  And you are one of those.   So, don't you feel guilty. You are blessed. But please know that you are welcomed here at any time as the NEED arises.'  

I did attend church the next Sunday out of respect for this beloved minister.  And I am guessing it was my way of saying thank you.

I know that many people might not agree or understand his message to me. But I felt that he knew my heart and he spoke to my soul.

I still search for my heart's desire and
feed my soul daily in my own church,
on a hill in the woods.

Love lives there.
God lives there.
And I'm good with that.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

A man named "Toothpick."

The day I met Toothpick, aka LaCharleston White was more than memorable.  Toothpick came to The Farm several years ago looking for a job.  I can remember him saying, “I can do anything you need me to do and all I need is $50 a week. I will work hard for you.”   
I wish I could remember how he got the nickname “Toothpick.”  I can only imagine he was a tall, skinny little kid growing up in Minden.
Well, I hired Toothpick and he did do anything I needed. Not that he knew how to do anything I needed but I came to learn that he would ‘try’ and try with all of his heart and being.  I came to love Toothpick. I loved his optimism.  Toothpick grew up in Minden and graduated from high school. Trapped in a city with few opportunities for young black males to succeed, I quickly saw how his life became one of simply trying to survive.
Toothpick was in and out of my life as I spent my days volunteering at the Farm in Minden.  The Farm is a four-acre tract of land located in a black neighborhood that was donated to a nonprofit I co- founded some 25 years ago. 

 The Moess Center for the Arts & City Farm was fondly known simply as 'The Farm.' The land was originally owned by the Camp family and was donated to Cultural Crossroads in 2000 by Zenobia West. 

This four-acre piece of heaven would become home to the parish’s largest arts festival for children.  It would also become the place for many summer events aimed at children. And Toothpick would often come even when not assigned to, just to help me out.
 Toothpick fell in love with the Farm just as I had. He spent many of his days there with me working side by side, planting and caring for the gardens. He spent many days on his own time picking up the trash along the highway that led up to the Farm. You could tell he found great pride in that.

One morning, early on in our work relationship, I arrived unexpectedly early to the Farm. I opened the gate and walked in to see Toothpick coming out of the public restrooms with a handful of quilts. I found it odd and asked what he was doing here this early and what was he doing with those quilts in the bathroom.  The discovery that he was homeless and that he was sleeping the men’s bathroom brought me to tears.  That shocking revelation embarrassed me. I should have recognized before now that he had no home to go to. He would walk to work every day and I just assumed he walked home. I quickly caught up to speed on his personal life and together we worked on finding him a place to live.  His encounters with the law had alienated him from most of his family. And maybe it should have alienated me. But I found something honest and real about him. And I think he found that in me, too. 

Toothpick did have a drug problem. And without judgement, I tried to talk to him about it only to discover that many of the encounters he had with the police were intentional. His life of living on the streets had brought him to a point of despair when the only relief was three meals a day and a cot…in jail. I never had to bail him out. He wouldn’t let me do that.  He would spend his time and a few months later and sometimes a year later, I would see him walk up to the Farm and offer his help to me once again.
In the more than a decade that I came to know and love this man, I saw him in and out of jail several times. I saw him struggle for a meal or a place to lay his head at night. And I saw him struggle for acceptance. I think he found it with me. And I think he realized that I loved him unconditionally and I believe he loved me.
Getting close to someone who struggles daily to make ends meet was difficult at times. Toothpick had been married and had children.  He had since been divorced, I think. I say that because I tried hard not to judge him nor to nosey in on his personal life too much. So much of what I learned about him came from observing him and those who were also a part of his life at any given time and would venture up to the Farm while we were both working.  His estranged wife would come back into his life later and he eventually ended up living with his ex-wife and their daughter.
The last time I saw Toothpick was at my retirement party this past December. The organization that I founded generously offered up a retirement party for me as I decided to step out of public life as a community organizer/volunteer/administrator for Cultural Crossroads. It would be the first big event that I had no part of except to simply walk in, sit down and enjoy. 
Toothpick was there. He had heard about the party and came to help. With garbage bag in hand, he stepped right in where he had left off and took the job of making sure that there was no trash on the grounds. I cried when I saw him. I couldn’t help but wonder what he was doing now.  How was he taking care of himself?   I asked him how he was doing, he answered, “great.”  He would always say ‘great,’ even when I knew it to be a lie.
I have so much respect for him. I admire his perseverance. I admire his optimism. I admire his willingness to do anything for you, no matter how small or insignificant…. because he didn’t see any of it as insignificant. I do love Toothpick.  And because I love him, I worry about him. I can still remember the day I told him that I loved him and I worried about him.   “Don’t worry about me, Miss Chris.  I will make it.”
And ya know…he’s right…he will make it. He has made it. He is a survivor. I just wish with all my heart that life had dealt him a better hand because he deserved it.

I saw his heart and it was good.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A ladybug signaled the passing of great beauty. My mother.

My mother was there to witness my first breath and
 I was there to witness her last.

On New Years Day I received a message that my mother had to be sedated.  She was under the temporary care of a nursing home.  They were going to care for her for a few days while giving a much needed break to my little sister, Terry, who had been her primary caretaker for nearly two years.

We all quickly made our way to the nursing home to check out the situation and give her whatever attention she might need.  Her earlier diagnosis of lung cancer had made its way to her brain and she was not reacting well to the medication.  After staying two nights there while she was stabilized enough to bring her home, we were told that her time was limited and she was dying.

We took her back to my sister's house and set her up in the living room.  I watched my little sister administer the most loving care I have ever witnessed. With no nurses training, she learned quickly how to make my mother as comfortable as she could be.  I marveled at the way she instinctively knew what to do.

For the next four days, my sister and I kept a watchful eye and shared those last few days watching Mom breathe. We talked to her and shared loving stories about our early days as children. We sang her favorite songs. Terry played the piano and we spent the next few days making sure that she knew we were there and that we loved her dearly.  My other sister, Pam, was there periodically. It was apparent to Terry and I that she was having a lot of difficulty with Mom's condition. While we tried to comfort Mom, we were also aware that our sister was in pain and needed some comfort as well.

On the Friday morning of her death, Terry and I both realized that the end was nearing. We were told that those facing death need permission to leave. And we did that. We told her we were all going to be fine and that she could go.  Anyone who knew my mother for any length of time would know she talked often of Jesus and God and her longing to finally meet her Lord.  So, we knew that she was ready.  But as ready as she was, she was also stubborn. It had to be her way and in her time and on her terms. And she certainly showed us that.  

After having reapplied ice packs under her arms, I looked into her glazed over eyes as she starred into the abyss.  “Momma, those angels sure are tired. They've been waiting on you for a while now. It really is okay to go.”  At that very second after hearing my words, she took her last two breaths.  Terry was there at her bedside on the phone with the Hospice nurse. “Terry, it's happening,” I said.  She quickly placed her hand on Mom's chest and felt her last heart beat.

At that moment, we both looked at each other with such joy in our eyes and smiles on our faces. Then we quickly questioned, was this the way we were supposed to feel? There was no sadness. There was no sorrow. There were no tears. We were happy and full of joy.  We were overcome by the beauty of the moment. I remember us both expressing how much joy we felt. It wasn't relief. Just joy. Pure joy. 

Earlier that week, we had both witnessed a lady bug on our mother's pillow. It stayed there the entire time.  It served as a symbol of comfort for us then and symbolic of a blessing later.

I have never experienced anything like this in my entire life. I was not there when my father died, quickly and unexpectedly. I wasn't there when Rick's mother and father passed away. This was my first experience with the death of a loved one.

I can't explain the beauty that I saw in this but I would imagine it would have been what my mother would have wanted.  We saw her spirit move from this place to the next with such grace and such beauty that I have no words to describe it.

So, I guess my reason for sharing this is to say that death isn't to be feared.

I do believe that is was important for me to be there to witness our sweet 
mother's last breath....and thank her for giving us life. 

Rest in Peace,  Sweet Ladybug!

Helen Cooper Sampson Dec. 23, 1934 - Jan 5, 2016 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"Shadowing Vincent"

From the time I was twelve years old and stood in front of one of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, I have been in love with this man and his art. As a preteen, I had the unbelievable privilege of being able to see his art at the center of the art universe….Paris, France.

Last month, after fifty years I returned to Paris.  

Traveling with my husband, Rick, and our dear friends Kelly and Brian Carlisle, we rented an apartment in Montemarte historic district for twelve glorious days. Our apartment was situated at the base of a massive stone staircase that led up to  'the hill of Paris' and the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur.  After arriving, we made our way to the many outdoor cafes and shops that line the cobble stoned streets.  All the while knowing that this place inspired many of the great painters of the twentieth century, Salvador Dali, Monet, Picasso and of course, my favorite, Vincent Van Gogh, I kept pinching myself.  

It was our jaunt to Auvers Sur Oise that stole my heart. We traveled by train that day to the little village where Vincent lived and died.   None of us had any idea what we would encounter here.  The small village offered a stark contrast between the crowded streets of Paris.  With a map from the local tourism office, we made our way up the hill to the cemetery.  We were surprised to find that many of the homes and buildings that Vincent painted were still there 125 years later.  Our first stop was in front of the Church of Auvers.   Knowing that Vincent walked these grounds was awe inspiring to me.  I couldn't believe I was really here.  A dream of a lifetime coming true. 

We had stopped at the french market that morning and purchased flowers for Vincent's and Theo's graves. Venturing to Auvers to see Van Gogh's grave was the most incredible experience of my later life.  Walking up the hill past the church and around the bend to the top of the hilltop cemetery was more than I could take in.  An old wooden fence between the little wooded area marked the way to the old cemetery. A field on either side of the road also marked the walk.  We Entered the old stone walls and metal gate with great anticipation.  Not knowing which way to go, we saw two women had entered before us. Figuring they must be going to the same place, we looked for them. 

And there it was ~ against the stone wall covered in lush green ivy were the head stones of Vincent and his brother Theo. As I lay the bouquet of flowers on his grave, I paused to just take it all in when I heard the laughter and voices of children. I turned to see an entire class of elementary children about the same age as those I teach at Glenbrook. With notebooks in hand, they stopped in front of the graves and quietly listened to instructions given by their teachers. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I couldn't help but think about the many students I have taught over the years. And here I was standing in front of the burial site of the very person who inspired me as a youngster. It was an incredible feeling. 

After the children left, we stayed and took many shots and while taking one of my favorite photos of the trip, I saw a young photographer taking a photograph of us.  Then the young Frenchman asked to take one of Vincent's tombstone. We moved to one side but he kept motioning for Rick to move forward.  Confused and not understanding french,  Rick hesitantly moved forward.  And there it was!  The shot that the young photographer saw. A shadow.  A shadow that eerily resembled Vincent Van Gogh.   As Rick moved forward, the young photographer captured it.  A cast shadow on Vincent's headstone of Rick.  The sun was at a perfect angle.  We were both moved by the moment and the shadow caught on camera.

This journey back to France was life affirming. I am an artist and an art teacher because I was inspired by the bright colors and the sweeping brush strokes created by the man with a bandaged ear.   My memory of standing in front of his paintings as a young girl and thinking to myself, “I don't know what this art stuff is but I think it's for me' came back in living color. 

Vincent Van Gogh lived a short life and painted his vast collection of incredible works in ten years.  He died never knowing that he would leave behind  a trail of passion and pleasure for anyone to follow. 

Thank you Vincent

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The 100th Monkey

The 100th MonkeyA story about social change.By Ken Keyes Jr.

The Japanese monkey, Macaca Fuscata, had been observed in the wild for a period of over 30 years.

In 1952, on the island of Koshima, scientists were providing monkeys with sweet potatoes dropped in the sand. The monkey liked the taste of the raw sweet potatoes, but they found the dirt unpleasant.

An 18-month-old female named Imo found she could solve the problem by washing the potatoes in a nearby stream. She taught this trick to her mother. Her playmates also learned this new way and they taught their mothers too.

This cultural innovation was gradually picked up by various monkeys before the eyes of the scientists. Between 1952 and 1958 all the young monkeys learned to wash the sandy sweet potatoes to make them more palatable. Only the adults who imitated their children learned this social improvement. Other adults kept eating the dirty sweet potatoes.

Then something startling took place. In the autumn of 1958, a certain number of Koshima monkeys were washing sweet potatoes -- the exact number is not known. Let us suppose that when the sun rose one morning there were 99 monkeys on Koshima Island who had learned to wash their sweet potatoes. Let's further suppose that later that morning, the hundredth monkey learned to wash potatoes.

THEN IT HAPPENED! By that evening almost everyone in the tribe was washing sweet potatoes before eating them. The added energy of this hundredth monkey somehow created an ideological breakthrough!

 A most surprising thing observed by these scientists was that the habit of washing sweet potatoes then jumped over the sea...Colonies of monkeys on other islands and the mainland troop of monkeys at Takasakiyama began washing their sweet potatoes.

Thus, when a certain critical number achieves an awareness, this new awareness may be communicated from mind to mind.

Although the exact number may vary, this Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon means that when only a limited number of people know of a new way, it may remain the conscious property of these people.

But there is a point at which if only one more person tunes-in to a new awareness, a field is strengthened so that this awareness is picked up by almost everyone!

From the book "The Hundredth Monkey" by Ken Keyes, Jr.
The book is not copyrighted and the material may be reproduced in whole or in part.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

We miss Dessie Carter

Dessie Carter was one of those unusual people who became a part of our lives. She lived on Germantown Road in a little white house on property that had been in her family for generations. Her modest home was obviously in desperate need of some attention.....clearly something that was not in her means to address.  I had always admired the multitude of purple irises she had planted all around her little home. The irises mixed with the bright yellow patches of daffodils added to the charm of her little rustic homestead.  Dessie was one of several black folks that we befriended and became quite attached to. 

I first came to know Dessie when she cleaned various offices of local businesses around Minden. My husband's business was one of them. It was clear she had some mental challenges.  Knowing what the minimum wage was and how much you owed her for her time wasn't one of them. She knew to the penny what you owed her.  You dared not pay her one penny more or less. She wanted the exact amount and no tips were acceptable. 

She cleaned in a most peculiar way. She was thorough and you knew it was clean when she was finished. Only problem was, she would move the furniture from the wall in order to clean behind them and some of the office furniture would end up against the opposite wall, only backwards. Even when you pointed it out to her, she would do it the same way. Those businesses who hired her appreciated her cleaning skills and were tolerate of her little quirks. 

I came to know her a little better than most because we both lived on Germantown Road. Highway 534 on the map.  Germantown Road is one of several rural road that connects Claiborne Parish to Webster Parish. But it  is the only road that leads to The Germantown Colony, a nationally recognized historic settlement  The locals also know this road  for it's gift of color in the fall when the leaves of the many hardwoods that line the road would change.   I drove this road to town each day to drop my infant son off at daycare on my way to work.

Dessie didn't have a car and probably couldn't pass the drivers license test anyway. She hitched a ride into town as often as possible but not with just anyone. She was careful about who she chose to ride with. My husband tried many times to pick her up and she would refuse, even knowing that he was my husband. She walked the ten mile trek into town most everyday.   I  picked her up many times and took  her wherever she needed to go. She always insisted on paying her own way,  even after telling her that I was going this way anyway and it wasn't necessary. And when I would try to drive off, she would toss her money through the car window. It was always the same amount, $1.54. How she came up with that amount was any one's guess.  Dessie was careful with her money. She wrapped her dollar bills and coins in a cotton handkerchief, tied off  and carefully placed inside her bra. I remember during the summer months  trying to dodge the sweaty dollar bills and change I knew she would hand off.  

I loved picking her up because it was always a surprise as to how I would find her. On one occasion, I noticed that she had baby blue eye shadow on her eyes. Now the baby blue color wasn't the only thing that stood out. She had applied it under her eyes instead of on top of her eye lids.  I commented on how pretty she looked that day. She beamed. She seemed so proud that someone would notice. Dessie was not a young woman. Her age was not know to many who knew her. She was average height with a somewhat husky build. She always wore dresses and seemed quite intent on looking her best on her trips to town. She and I were quite comfortable with each other and she seemed to be quite fond of my son, Ben, who found her fascinating. She commented often about what a good baby he was.  He seemed to have gotten  comfortable too with our frequent passenger. 

On another occasion, my husband, Rick, stopped to check on her. She was dragging a big pine top down the road. He stopped and asked if he could help. She thanked him and said no.  And while carrying an ax and a  big pine top down the road wasn't enough to draw attention, she also had a big blooming rose bush, roots and all, wrapped around her head. When asked her why she had a rose bush in her hair,  she didn't answer. She just touched the roses as if to once again appreciate that someone had noticed.  Dessie had short black hair.  We often saw her with one of her kitchen forks stuck in her hair. We assumed she used it as a comb. We never asked.  

 Dessie was an avid church goer. Her church home was also located on Germantown Road. As we befriended many of the folks who live along Germantown Road, we discovered from some of our neighbors that Dessie wasn't always challenged. Seems the story was that she was once married and her husband abused her often. We were also told that 'he used an iron skillet on her to get her straight.' 

We loved Dessie Carter. She was her own person.  My husband and I offered to bring her firewood for her wood burning stove only to be turned down. She had many offers from local folks who knew Dessie and knew her struggles.   She insisted on paying her own way or she wasn't having any part of it. We later figured that pine top she was dragging home earlier must have been for her pot belly stove.

It's been years since we've seen Dessie. Last time we checked on her, she was in the parish jail. She was accused of attacking a bulldozer with her ax. Seems she thought her family still owned much of the land around her home and when a logging company came into log, she attacked the bulldozer with her ax.   We called the sheriff's office to plea for her release. We worried that they would not be sensitive to her mental challenges. And we worried that she would not understand why she was being locked up.  We were relieved to find out that she was no longer in the jail and that her brother obviously bailed her out. She left with him.  

Several years before the attack on the logging truck, Dessie's brother had the old family home demolished. A new brick home was built for her. She lived comfortably there for years until her arrest. We tried several times to make contact and check on her. Sadly, we never saw Dessie again. We were told by the locals that her brother moved her in with him. And her brick home became rental property for the family. 

We miss seeing her walk down the road with her coat on even in the heat of summer. Summer days in Louisiana can be brutal. With temperatures climbing upwards to 100 degrees Fahrenheit , we never understood why she insisted on wearing her black, wool coat. She was such a sweet soul. We miss Dessie Carter.  We miss seeing her walking down the road with a fork stuck in her hair. I miss the unusual conversations we would have on our many drives into town.  

Dessie Carter passed without notice. That sweet little woman touched our hearts and even now we can't drive by her house without smiling and remembering her fondly. 

We miss you  and love you, Dessie Carter.