Be the first to say “Hello!”

Like many small towns in the south during the 50s, men would gather near the county courthouse on clear, warm Saturdays to whittle, smoke a pipe, and solve the world’s problems.  In the Tennessee mountain town where my grandparents lived, I loved to travel to town with my grandmother (aka Grandpa) on Saturday mornings. 

We had a tradition of going to Hill’s Department Store to look at pretty shoes, the dime store to buy candy and a toy, and then to the grocery.  However, I also wanted to visit the men around the courthouse.  According to my parents, I was about two years old when I attempted to start a conversation with anyone I saw.  Even though most of those folks didn’t understand a word I was saying, I sure thought they did.

“Child, you don’t have a shy bone in your body!” They would exclaim, and they were right about that.  To this day, y’all know I don’t even understand what “shy” means.

Grandpa and I sat on the bench eating our candy near the steps of the historic stone Cumberland County Courthouse.  The men were all chattering except for one gentleman who sat alone.  I had made my rounds to check in with all of them, but I walked by the man who was alone.

The lesson

When I returned to my bench, Grandpa asked, “Honey, why did you not talk to that man who was by himself?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t think he is like the others.  He looks funny and I think he is grumpy!” I explained.   

I couldn’t have been more than four, but what I learned that Saturday has remained deep within my heart.

“Lynn, if you want to cure grumpiness, always be the first to say hello, offer a smile and friendship.  And never, never judge a person by the way they look! Ever! You take this dollar and go talk to the man.  I’ll bet he could use both the dollar and a friend!”

She placed the bill in my little hand, and since I was convinced, Grandpa was a cousin to Jesus himself, I better do what she said. 

I sat with the disheveled man until Grandpa came over to get me.  She took my hand, and as we walked away, the man and I continued to wave goodbye. He was now my friend.

Begin the cure

That is how we begin to cure discrimination.  We start by saying hello to everyone we pass.  We offer a smile and our warmth to all people.  Let’s give all we meet the benefit of the doubt; we never judge by the way they look, the way they speak, or the color of their skin.  It is up to every single human being to put an end to the reckless evil of self-righteousness.

I am actively on a mission to be the first to wave and shout a big ole’ sincere “Hi” to those I see, especially if they don’t look like me.  I passed a woman the other day walking into the grocery store as I was leaving.  A mask covered my mouth; however, a smile always reflects in our eyes. 

She looked at me and must have realized my eyes were smiling as I said, “Hello!”  After a slight pause, she immediately returned both the smile and the greeting.

You see, we are all the same.  We love to be amid kindness and acceptance.  Most of us know that when we bridge gaps with caring, the world works better, and we move forward.  We all should strive for fairness and equality.

Only one judge

There is only one who can judge us.  Only one.  And it isn’t me or you or any group, or any political leader or party, or any human being on earth.  The only judge is our Creator, and when we try to take over His job, there will be a price to pay.  He alone knows our hearts.

 Many times, folks deemed me unintelligent because I speak with a definite southern accent.  My saving grace was Dolly Parton, who clearly showed the world intelligence can hide and flourish behind a blond wig, a guitar, and a Tennessee mountain accent like mine. 

My best friend in college was black in the early 70s, and some of my best buddies during my interior design career were not heterosexual.  Once you know someone, love someone, all color, all accents, and all anything else goes away because you embrace their spirit.

 As we walk around in our earthly bodies, who is judging our spirit? It might be a good idea to start waving, shouting hello, and being sincerely kind.   There is only one righteous judge.  He is Grandpa’s cousin who taught me early to never view folks just with my eyes.

Announcement: Come to Jesus Meeting

When I was a child, my parents used certain southern expressions that my brother and I understood well.  When Mom and Dad would say,  “We need to have a come-to Jesus meeting,” I shook in my loafers.  This event usually meant that I was in trouble because of my errant ways or bad behavior.  

 I did believe Jesus was in attendance at those meetings and that if I lied, He would certainly know it and banish me from Heaven.  Before the confrontation would occur, I would often hide under the bed to not face Jesus or my parents.  That never worked because the all-knowing Good Lord told Dad where to look.

Today, I believe it is time for America to gather for a “Come to Jesus Meeting.” It doesn’t matter what faith you are; just come.  We are still struggling with the errant divisive behavior of some of our citizens and leaders. 

Who is responsible?

I believe we would have been over the pandemic long ago if most of America had been on the same page.  If the coronavirus had not become so politicized, we could have saved many.  As of today, even though we have vaccines, we still are experiencing rising COVID cases and hospitalizations.  

Some pass blame for these surges to Dr. Fauci, a lamppost, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, the media, or Bessie, the cow.  It is a virus that will not end until our personal behavior changes.  A President, cow, or political party is not responsible for COVID.  We, alone,  are the cause for the spread of the virus and its variants, period.   If we wish for our businesses, lives, and education to return to some sense of normalcy, then why would we refuse to act responsibly? 

Is it more important to stay devoted to a group, a leader, or the lamppost than to be loyal to your fellow men, women, and children?

Adding pain to misery

Plus, during our nearly 500 days of pandemic ills, we still suffer the burn from the flames of political turmoil.  If I had a trash can big enough, I might toss the two-party system in it.  Terrible idea, I know, but oh my, does Congress need to call a “Come to Jesus Meeting.”  If you can’t see those in each political party who are putting power and political pandering ahead of caring for our nation, I will loan you a pair of glasses.  

Adding to our misery, we have the conspiracy theorists who would conjure up any excuse to not attend a “Come to Jesus Meeting.”  They hide under beds writing a theory on why the spider that is in the mattress will grow fangs to bite us and take off with our money.  The good news is, the all-knowing Good Lord will find them wherever they hide with their lies.

Race relations are deteriorating, violence is spreading, shootings are occurring, and hatred is at the root of it all.  

Hate and anger are pushing us to still divide, promote violence, still be bigots, and spread illness.  The devil is having a party, and we are in attendance.  I am sick of him and tired of the way we often treat each other. And I know with certainty, I am not the only one.

Why do we make our lives more problematic while experiencing so much pain? We must, first and foremost, get well. Too many of our citizens have died, and our children have suffered immensely for well over a year.

Prioritizing our children

Our priorities are not were they should be. Instead of forming a united front to help our little ones return to a life they once knew, we battle over our selfish political and personal ideologies.

People who have worked tirelessly to heal our nation are those we should follow. Their love of God and their fellow citizens shine like a beacon.  It is their voices we must hear and not those who shout ill will and cause distrust and chaos.  Our aspirations should come from love, not hate.  We need to stand tall, speak out, and post signs for all to “Come to a Jesus Meeting!” on every street corner and in every chamber of our hearts.

Jesus is still walking among us. His voice is often drowned by our angry tirades. He watches as the hospitals fill and folks suffer because many feel they must choose between their rights/freedoms and the health of their fellow Americans. Isn’t it the right choice to decide what is best for us all?   When we label each other, pass judgment, spread distrust, Jesus is watching us, hearing us, and asking us, “Why?” 

 “The Come to Jesus Meeting” is for those who would like to heal, seek forgiveness, find love, and experience peace.   This meeting is open for all and is free.  

Those Tumbled Down Days

Some days, life seems to take a tumble, a misstep, or when it feels as if something is just plain off.  Days when our energy is low, but our worry is high.  Frustration, sadness, and fatigue sink in, and we wonder why. 

Most of us want to go back to bed, cover our heads, and pray that tomorrow will be an ‘on’ day and our joy will return.  However, I believe we need those troubled days to recoup, rethink, and redo.  Perhaps they are given to us to settle ourselves, be alone, and even shed a few cathartic tears. 

It has been said that writers pen their best works during episodes of depression.  I’m not sure how that works when you are buried under the covers, but the idea is plausible.  Depression and art often go hand in hand.  From Van Gough to Hemingway, those tumbled down days gifted the rest of us with beautiful words and breathtaking paintings.  Their talent rose to the surface in the quiet moments of loneliness and disillusionment.

Turn an off day to “on”

Recently, I was experiencing an “off” Tuesday morning.  Too much to do, worry, and lack of sleep threw me for a loop.  I received an email from a gentleman after he read his newspaper earlier that same day.   He wrote, “Your column this morning is just what I needed to face a grueling day! Thank you.”

How funny that his note helped me face my own grueling morning with a new resolve.  And that, my friends, is how life works.  Life flows better when we realize we all need each other to survive our tumbled down days. 

While on vacation, my sweet friend fell and broke her foot.  This is not the first time she has broken a bone due to a tumble, so I knew she was frustrated.  When she sent a message to all her friends telling them of her accident, her phone lit up with good wishes!  By the time I talked to her, that little cheery, laughing- at- herself attitude was again in full bloom.  We definitely need one another to heal from all falls.

Humor heals

Years ago, before emails and cell phones, I wrote my mother a letter after a crazy day with my new baby and a mischievous toddler, who persisted in providing trouble.  I comically explained the entire day but ended it with the word, “HELP!”

Mom called me after receiving the letter a few days later. 

“Honey, I am sorry you had such a terrible day, but I laughed until I cried as I read your story.”

“Gee, thanks Mom, I am glad I made your day happier from my misery!”  I kidded.

Then she thoughtfully responded, “Lynn, you really can write, you know.”

 I replied, “Mom, now you are the comic!”

When I was going through Mother’s papers after her death in 2010, I found that old letter and, in my grief, a much-needed smile crossed my face.  She had helped me indeed.

Meaning found in darkness

When nothing is going our way, and when life seems complicated, and trouble lurks, it is usually a signal for growth.  In our solitude, we find we may need to reevaluate our priorities, pray a little more, or even pen a novel. 

It is a monumental struggle to find strength and meaning during our dark times, but it is worth a mighty try.  Perhaps, in the end, you could discover that your darkness created light for someone else.  And that, in turn, motivates us all.

One of the most significant faults human beings have is our inability to call for help.  Our pride gets in our way, and fear of what others think of us rises above what is best for us.  Here’s the deal, every single person on earth always and will forever need aid at one time or another.  No one is immune from downtimes and arduous journeys. 

The trick is how we manage them.  Do we go to bed and hide, or do we face struggles head-on and grow from our downtimes?  If you look straight into the eyes of God, He will tell you to get up and do no matter how you feel. Ask for His aid, call a friend, or seek wise counsel. Out of the darkness, Van Gough painted “A Starry Night.”  And, out of lonely silence, Hemingway wrote sentences that echoed around the globe.

Never fall from tumbled down days, but instead, see what beauty you can create from standing tall through them.  When you do, you just might help another not to tumble. 

Happy Trails to You

Dad held my hand as we strolled toward the mammoth beast he wanted me to ride.  Since I was only five, the horse resembled a dinosaur but didn’t appear as if he could spew fire. Dad hoisted me into the saddle as I realized horses are sure larger in real life instead of those on television.  I tried not to be frightened, but my heart pounded.

The horse must not have taken too kindly to the kid on his back because before we took one hoof-sized step, he bucked. The next thing I knew was I was lying in the dirt gasping for air.   Yep, either the fall knocked the breath out of me, or I decided to quit breathing so I wouldn’t have to ride that dinosaur!

Luckily, the only thing that was hurt was my dream of riding horses like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans do on TV.   I even had a cowgirl outfit and boots to play the role of their kid one day!  Now, my illusions were shattered because I concluded that there was no way anyone would put me back in a saddle again.

Well, that was what I believed before Dad picked me up off the ground and put me back on the dinosaur as I screamed and kicked.  However, this time the horse didn’t buck.  A handler led the horse and me around the oval track while I begin to hum “Happy Trails to You” near the finish of my ride.  “Shoot, maybe I would be on the television with Roy and Dale by Saturday if I kept this up!” I imagined.

Find your Happy Trail

There were many times during my life when my dreams landed in the dirt.  Times when I felt nothing would make me believe I could put my shattered hopes back together.  Many of us have attempted to conquer fears, tame a beast, try and try, only to fail repeatedly.  When dad caused me to ride again so soon after I fell, he taught me that no matter what, if an attempt doesn’t kill you, just keep trying to find your Happy Trail.

My father often needed to push me.  From riding a bike to learning to drive a car to believe that I could do anything if I put my fear aside long enough to try.  Many times, I kicked and screamed through my panic.  I shook my head no and stomped my feet, but ultimately, I succumbed to his determination or mine.

Put fear aside and try

When the world began traveling by automobile, my grandmother decided car-driving was not for her.  She wanted someone else to drive her, or she would just walk to get what she needed.  She put her stubborn foot down and was unruffled by her husband’s attempts to plop her in the driver’s seat.

Granddaddy knew her reluctance was based on fear, but he finally coaxed her to get behind the wheel.  “Ok, but I am not learning to drive on the road!” Grandpa declared.  “Well, Nannie, where are you going to learn if not on the road?” He responded.

“In the front yard!”  She announced, putting that stubborn foot smackdown on the hardwood floor.

Granddaddy looked out the window noticing the yard was full of trees.  How was he going to keep her from running square into one?! 

She got in the old car with granddaddy by her side, while both feared for their lives.    She dodged trees, slammed on brakes, and swerved so hard she almost threw her husband out the passenger door. Yet, somehow in the tree-studded front yard, she miraculously conquered the beast.

When Grandpa was around age 95, her children finally took her little red Dodge away because of her worsening dementia.   When I visited her one day, I asked, “Grandpa, how are you feeling?”

“Shoot, I’d be fine if they would give me my Dodge Dart back!” She said as she stomped her foot on the tile floor.

Get back in the saddle

Sometimes when we conquer our fears to fulfill our dreams, we find complete joy like my grandmother did once she started putting the car on the road.  I assure you she never drove over 30 miles per hour, but that didn’t matter to her one bit.

There is not one day too late to put your worries aside and work a dream into reality.  Find the Happy Trail for you and remember to get back in the saddle if you fall.

Happy Trails to you, ‘till we meet again

Some trails are happy ones

Others are blue

It’s the way you ride the trail that counts

Here’s a happy one for you.

Dale Evans