Tag: Holidays

Thanksgiving | Real People, Real Struggles

forgiveness e1354147946549 Thanksgiving | Real People, Real Struggles

“Do you think they’ll let us in?” I asked my husband.

“Of course.  It’s not like we have to show a homeless bag to prove our status.” he snickered.

We got in the soup kitchen line and received heaping masses of salad, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, ambrosia, turkey, ham, and rolls.  And man, was it all good.

We hoped to find connection here.  From past experience, we’ve learned that sometimes serving without connection isn’t very fulfilling.  So we scanned the room to find some empty seats to occupy, and break bread with the poor and transient.  What would it be like to have their experience with them, instead of lord over them, serving?

Stephen wouldn’t talk to us at first.  Just a nod here and there.  Maybe he was embarrassed.  Maybe he couldn’t hear.  Maybe he couldn’t talk.  Maybe he wanted his space to eat quietly.

It wasn’t until Keri, who smiled at us and started up a conversation, did Stephen come alive and join in.  Keri and Stephen have shared several meals together over the last year at the Food and Care Coalition.  They didn’t know each other’s names, but they knew each other’s faces.

Keri was packing up her extra food she wasn’t able to finish, and a little bit more, to take home.  ”Do you have a place to go?” I asked.  ”Yes.  Because we’ve been able to eat for free here the past year, I’ve been able to make our rent payment.  They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday here – no questions asked.”

She was radiant.  She was friendly.  She was grateful.  She had recently come out of chemo.  Her son, Sam, was with her.  A teenager.  By his shifting weight and rolling eyes, I could tell he was embarrassed by her telling us her story.  I can only imagine what the last year of his life must have been like.  Likely no dad around, a very sick mother facing death, absent from his life as she fought for hers, maybe not always knowing where his next meal would come from.  By her friendly and gracious spirit, Keri defied my preconceived notions of the type of person that would be in a soup kitchen for Thanksgiving.

“Can I get you anything else?” one of the volunteers asked us after our plates were empty. I forget his name, but I can still remember his face.  40′s.  Handsome.  Clean and presentable.  You could say your typical middle-income guy.  He probably owns a house in the burbs, two cars, and a family.  But he admitted that he’d been laid off several months ago, from a University job he assumed he have forever.  As he looked around, it was as if his face was revealing his fear that perhaps next year, he and his family would be here, not as volunteers, but as a family needing a warm meal.

honesty e1354148080720 Thanksgiving | Real People, Real Struggles

Marjorie was sitting clear in the front all by herself at an otherwise empty table, enjoying the entertainment on the stage (volunteer singers).  She wore a read sweater and had a red bow in her silver hair.  Age had hunched her back over.

I sheepishly pulled into the seat next to her and simply said, “hi.”  ”Hi” she quietly but happily replied.  ”I saw you sitting here all by yourself and thought that I’d like to get to know you.”  As her kind brown eyes flooded with tears, and then mine in like reaction, she said with a glowing smile, “Well aren’t you a sweetheart!”  Her cheeks were almost as red as the bow in her hair.  She was beautiful, and I told her so.

She was visiting from Kansas her daughter who was in the food line serving.  She wasn’t homeless, or even poor.  She was just old – which appeared to be as lonely and crippling.  She was a different kind of outcast.

Marjorie and I connected, soul to soul.  When time and space no longer separate us, I’m sure we’ll be friends.  I may have made her day by talking with her, but she made my day by asking if I was a student at the local collage.  ; )  (I had to explain that I’m much older than I look!)

I so wish I had captured Marjorie’s portrait.  But it didn’t feel right to ask.

The guy in the Lynyrd Skynyrd hat was hard-looking.  Like, Stephen, he didn’t seem to want to talk at first.  But after Daisy, the seeing-eye puppy in training, came over to visit our table, Todd opened up like a little kid with a big grin on his face.  Who doesn’t love puppies!  This Thanksgiving was not the first time Todd had been here.  Though he never said how long he’s been coming, I got this impression it had been quite awhile.  And when he told me he had no place to go to, I likewise got the feeling he had been transient for awhile, when he said, “they make it harder and harder to even sleep on the streets anymore.”

20121122130038 e1354147797536 Thanksgiving | Real People, Real Struggles

Unlike Todd, it was D’s first time.  While he was eating his feast, it was Keri who told him about all the facility offered.  In addition to meals, he could shower, get internet service, and in the summers, tend the garden and eat of its fruits.  D was thrilled… how had he never heard of this place before, he wondered.  D has lived out of his car off and on for years so he can pay child support with whatever money he does make.

While D and I were talking, a gray haired man came up to our table to sit down.  His eyes didn’t look right, he walked with a severe limp, and he was signing to us.  Not knowing sign language, I stupidly looked at him and said, “I don’t understand.”  He persisted anyways, as if he didn’t really care that I couldn’t understand.  He seemed just happy to be ‘talking’.  But suddenly, he put his hand up, as if to say, “stop”.  Then he bowed his head in prayer over his food, and dramatically began signing his prayer.  It was so very beautiful.  I wanted to take a picture so badly, and I wrestled with myself, It’s too sacred, it would be rude.  But it’s so very beautiful.  So I took the picture, for better or for worse.

signlanguageprayer e1354147734569 Thanksgiving | Real People, Real Struggles

My take away from this day was prominent: “But by the Grace of God, there go I.”  And there go you, and your family.  Not that these people don’t enjoy God’s grace.  They surely do.  They are beautiful and warm and friendly people.  None complained – it was amazing.  Keri especially touched my heart ~ after all she had been through, she was so gracious and loving, forgetting about herself and extending herself to others.  She was a true inspiration. She understands the real value of life… people.  In a world of gross consumption and rat racing, I found a peace in many of these people that is not often found.

This experience made Thanksgiving fulfilling, in a way that doesn’t involve stressing over what food to make, getting it made in time, serving everything warm, a mess of dishes afterwards – the result of hours and hours of preparation, only to be over in 30 minutes.  No, that all came on Sunday!  With the kids and grand kids.  And that was worth every second : ).

20121125140435 e1354147576905 Thanksgiving | Real People, Real Struggles

 

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To the Childless Mothers

Klimt Mother and Child To the Childless Mothers

Mother and Child by Gustov Klimt

I never expected Mother’s Day to be so hard.  Before church, it didn’t cross my mind once that the service would be all about it.  I sat in the pew and looked at the meeting agenda.  ”Primary Children, Mother’s Day Medley.” Oh.  Great.  But even then, I couldn’t have predicted the mess of tears I would become during the rest of the meeting.

The Relief Society Presidency sisters each spoke.  As the first one spoke about motherhood traditions, my heart ached to think that I was quite possibly the only woman in the whole congregation who couldn’t bear children. Feeling like such an outsider, I squirmed in my seat.  I didn’t belong here today.

Then the primary kids got up and sang “Mother, I Love You.”  And then the tears came, so unexpectedly, I was so unprepared.  These words I may never hear cut me to the bone.

Then another sister spoke.  I was hardly able to listen because I was fighting with my tears, trying to make them stop so as not to make a spectacle of myself.  Just as I was about to walk out to dry my face, fix my makeup, and regain my composure, I realized she was talking about her own struggle with infertility.  She was my age, and had no kids, either.  I decided to let my tears fall as they may, but I was going to stay and listen.

Then the final sister spoke.  Also, no children.  She shared a story about working in her yard after she had bought a home at the age of thirty-something.  A neighborhood boy came up to her and pointed inside her house and asked,

“Are there any children in there?”

“No,” she said.

“Aren’t you a mother?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Well then, what are you?”

Yes, I wonder that all the time.  Well what am I?  If I am not to be a mother, then what am I to be?  Can my life possibly be fulfilling and complete if I am not to be a mother in this life?  Sometimes I come close to convincing myself so.  But then why the river of tears at times as these?  Why the heartache when I see an infant baby, like a sad reminder of what I may never have?

—————-

A Mother’s Day Poem to the Childless Mothers

happy Mother’s Day
to the wanna be mothers,
the infertile lovers

with the dream in their heart
for a family to start

who wonder if they’re not as good as another
for the most sacred calling of ‘mother’

to the childless mothers
who mother others

to the strong who wear out their bravery
while their hearts grow cold and weary

to the optimistic who try to see the silver lining
who lie to themselves to make peace, ever dying

to the tribe who feels misplaced, unplaced, overlooked, and blue
who may never hear the words, ‘Mother, I love you’

to the lone woman who feels the anguish of life ending with her, the woe
no posterity to pour into, no flowers to water and watch grow

I honor you for your sweet, broken heart
for your patient tears
for the hope of the dream that dies
with each of the years that go by

today I hear you
I have no comforting words,
I cannot fool you in your pain
I pray that you’ll find peace
and find your life again

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Valentines Shmalentines

194 1 e1297742262276 Valentines Shmalentines

Mark Kemp and Angela DiGiovanni Wedding Day

It’s not that I’m anti Valentines Day.  I’m just not super into it.  It’s the Day that you feel compelled to do all sorts of things that you may or may not feel like doing that day.  And who wants to join the masses for dinner out?

At the risk of sounding too jaded, Valentines Day has become so commercialized and full of expectation.  Am I gonna get diamonds?  Flowers?  A car full of balloons?  10 pounds of chocolate?  Surely, a card… Hallmark, Sees Candies, and flower shops are the biggest winners on this day.  And besides, what does all of this have to do with Saint Valentine?  I mean, how did we get from martyred Saints of Ancient Rome to chocolates, diamonds, expensive dinners, and flowers?

I’m not crying because my honey isn’t thoughtful.  He is.  But he’s thoughtful any given day.  Over the years, since we’ve been dating, I’m often stumbling upon little red strips of paper, like the ones in fortune cookies, with lovely sentiments on them.  They’ll be on my pillow when I climb into bed.  On his pillow when I climb out of bed.  In the bathroom.  Taped to my computer.  In my underwear drawer.  You name it.  He’s even managed to get these love notes to me when he’s been away.

It’s always nice to hear things like:  ”I’ll Always Remember Why I Fell In Love With You”, “You Still Turn Me On”, “I Want to Make Babies With You”, “You Are the Love of My Life”, “I Love Your Smile”, “You’re A Good Person”.  I have hundreds of these by now, and they just keep coming.  It’s a small gesture that puts a huge smile on my face every time I find one.

So I’m all for being sentimental and sweet, I’m just not that into feeling pressure on one particular day to be that way.  I’d much rather know that my Love was thinking of me on his own, not because the world was telling him he should be thinking of me.

So how did we spend our day?  We worked for a few hours in the morning, and then took the afternoon off and NAPPED.  We stayed in bed for over four hours.  Got up for some homemade guacamole and a recorded episode of American Idol, then went back to bed.  I’m typing.  Pumpkin is sleeping next to me.

181 1 Valentines Shmalentines

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How did you spend your Valentine’s Day?

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Leaving Las Vegas and Belated Christmas Fun

Mirror Mirror Leaving Las Vegas and Belated Christmas FunAnela, our 4-year-old granddaughter

Korbin Collage Small e1294378467933 Leaving Las Vegas and Belated Christmas FunKorbin, our grandson born 10.01.10

Landon Leaving Las Vegas and Belated Christmas FunLandon, our 2-year-old grandson

We are on the road, driving home from Las Vegas, somewhere between Bakersfield and Buttonwillow.  It was a short, sweet trip, where the Kemp kids gathered with us in a friend’s home to have a late Christmas celebration.  We are grateful for the experiences we had together and for the memories we will hold forever.

For the first time, this year we drew names.  Mark and actually felt badly because it was also the first year that we received more than we gave.  In addition to the name the kids drew, almost all of them bought a gift for us as well.  We received funny, inside joke gifts, gift cards, and pictures of the grandkids.  We also did a funny white elephant gift exchange, which always proves to be a hit, with unexpected ‘inappropriate’ items, ones that everyone wants and steals, and items that the one lucky person makes their best sales pitch, convincing everyone else that they want it. :-)

Toys Small e1294378793715 Leaving Las Vegas and Belated Christmas FunFun Real and White Elephant Gifts – I fought for the Classic Mickey Mouse, Christina was showcasing her Tiger Beat and BOP Mags, Carrie was very pleased with her Dr. Pepper Classic Lunchpail


Headbandz Collage Small e1294379035459 Leaving Las Vegas and Belated Christmas Fun‘Headbandz’ game made personal. You had to guess the word or phrase on your forehead only by asking yes or no questions. Mark made everyone a personalized one to reflect something they say, do, love, or an inside joke. Jared got revenge by putting the question, “Does that Make Sense?” on Mark’s forehead, which he often says when teaching.

The short two days were filled with good food (everyone responsible for different meals), lots of games, lots of laughter, and even a great discussion about forgiving those who hurt or disappoint us.  But the best part of the trip was going to see the kids paternal Grandpa in St. George, UT.  He is living in an Assisted Living facility, and the last time they were all together at once was some seven years ago.  As you’ll be able to see in the pictures, he was tired a lot of the time.  But there were also plenty of moments where he joked with the kids.  I’m sure these pictures will prove to be treasured forever.

KEMP Family Leaving Las Vegas and Belated Christmas FunMark’s Dad in front; Middle Row: Carrie, Christina, Mark; Back Row: Brett, Jared, Josh

Four Generations Leaving Las Vegas and Belated Christmas FunDon, Mark, Jared, and Korbin

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On Our Way to Vegas

IMG 1008 e1294019811233 On Our Way to Vegas

My Dog Woofie and Me

While many of your Holiday celebrations have come to a close, we are on our way for one more shabang… meeting the kids in Vegas! This year we decided that we would do Christmas on location – after Christmas.  Mark and I are driving right now.  In the rain.  On the lone and dreary Highway 5 in Central California.  The grapevine on the way to LA is closed due to snow – so, because of traffic flow, it is turning what should be a 10-hour drive into at least 13.

There are benefits… like extra time in the car together, chatting, listening to talks, reading out loud to each other. We love road trips! It’s always a good time to reflect, regroup, and reconnect.

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