Too Big For A Small Town


My aunt, Sally, is probably going to die today just a little less than a month shy of her 59th birthday. This month marks her two year battle with stage 4 breast cancer. I am no stranger to grief and loss, but for some reason this is hitting me especially hard. I like to think it’s because I’m much more skilled at feeling my feelings now instead of just drinking about them. So today I’m sad and today I want to take a moment to celebrate all that she means to me.

Sally never thought of herself as smart. I think she has always been plenty smart, but she was definitely wise. She could cut through bullshit in a hot minute. Sally was bossy and opinionated, but she loved fiercely and was never once afraid to go to bat for who and what she believed in. I’m not as bossy as she was, but I am a lot like her in those other areas. I already wrote earlier this year about my mother, her sister. The two of them were similar in these things and I like to think they passed those beautiful characteristics on to me. This year at Renovatus, the staff took personality tests and one of the things mine said about me was that I have the “need to be against.” I won’t argue with that. Sometimes that has gotten me into real trouble when I fight just for the sake of fighting. But as I have witnessed through the lives of two of the most influential women in my life, there will be times when you need to speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves. There are times when the injustice is too great and the hard thing needs to be said. The older I get and the more I learn about the heart of Jesus for his kids, the less afaid I am of being the one who speaks. Sally and my mom gave me that gift.

I grew up in the small town of Wingate, NC. It’s everything the stereotypes in your head think it is. It’s conservative, Bible belt-ish, and in some ways still struggling to catch up to the cultural changes of our time. But it is, of course, also beautiful and loving and safe. Community is paramount there and the people live it out in so many ways that Jesus would smile about. Sally never moved away from Wingate but there are many ways that she was always too big for that town. Sally was always interested in this big, wide world we live in. She loved art, food, film, theater, dance, clothes, books. She directed community plays and made interesting, diverse friends. She introduced me to gay people and provolone cheese. I’m not kidding about the cheese.

Sally took me to see RENT for the first time in 2000 and I thought I would split open with emotion. I remember she and I sitting in the theater weeping for 30 minutes at the beautiful humanity of it all. When I was little my favorite part of Christmas was the Christmas Eve get together she would host at her house. She would decorate and serve hor d’oeuvres on actual serving platters. There was wine with actual wine glasses, music, and everything smelled like Christmas. The conversation was probably something smart and cultural like politics and poverty, an aspiring liberal little girl’s dream. I am fully aware that as I have gotten older I’ve romanticized these Xmas Eves in a way that clearly doesn’t reflect reality, but we barely decorated for the holidays at my house and traditions were scarce. So I soaked up every moment of these little parties at Sally’s with her “cool” friends.

Also when I was little Sally loved to watch Baryshnikov dance. I can remember walking into her small apartment and seeing his tightly clothed body jumping and twirling across the screen. Those moments are where I learned that boys can dance too and there is a country called Russia where they talk with fun accents. Later, she and I would watch as Carrie would fall in love with “the Russian” (Baryshnikov) on Sex and the City and we would share in our very own love of that show.

Sally Williams was a lot of things to a lot of people. She loved children even though she never had her own. She worked in the child care industry most of her adult life and was their advocate as often as she was able. She made a huge impact on her community at Wingate Baptist Church and loved those people as well as she knew how. But for me, the impact she had on my life was to show me that there is a whole world outside of the small town I grew up in.

I live in Charlotte now which is only 40 minutes from the sleepy town of Wingate, but I left home for college, lived for a short moment in California, and have traveled all through this giant country of ours. I’ve even been to see the bright lights of NYC a few times which is something Sally always wanted to do, but never did. If I could give her any gift it would have been to see just one show on Broadway. I think it was Sally that exposed me to all the life at my fingertips. My husband and I are “foodies” now and love to try any and all of the culinary delights available to us. I appreciate art and film in a way I wouldn’t have without her influence. I’ve been to actual fancy parties and I adore them (even though I have no desire to be the one throwing them) because they remind me of Christmas at Sally’s. But most of all, I absolutely LOVE being surrounded by good friends of all walks of life, eating, drinking, loving, and laughing loud and deep.

Thank you for giving me ALL of the gifts, Sally Annie. You helped make me me.


For Tootie


In  honor of Mother’s Day. ( Yes, I know it’s a little early!)

I became a Christian, really became one anyway, about 7 years ago. And since then every real prayer I have had has been met and answered by the Lord. Not silly prayers for more money or better cars, but the prayers I prayed where my heart met God’s for reconcilliation, restoration, or healing from past wounds.

 My love language is touch. Ask my husband or my co-workers and they will tell you the best way to let me know you love me is to hug me, put your arm around me, or pat/rub my back. I believe there is truly nothing more intimate or a greater display of care for me than to wipe a tear off my cheek if I’m crying. Unfortunately for me, my mother is not a toucher and never has been, not even when I was a small child or teenager. Thankfully, this is something she has greatly changed for her grandchilden. Sadly, this led to many a weepy night thinking that my mom didn’t love me as much as I deeply wanted her to.

My mom and I spent most of my childhood and through my young adulthood at odds with each other. Life had been pretty heavy handed with my mom and that caused her to become a bit hard and rough around the edges. She was married with two children at a terribly young age, then divorced and learning to be a single mom still at an age much younger than anyone should have to know how to navigate such things. She spent most of her life surrounded by people who didn’t support her well and without the community, mentors, and financial resources to be a success. I don’t mean a financial success. I mean a whole, healthy woman who knows she is beloved by God and her family. Later she met my father, and I can assure you that was the best and one of the hardest things she ever did. My father was a wonderful, wonderful man (I will write about him closer to Father’s Day), but life with him was challenging to say the least.

I don’t think Mom knows this, but something that has brought me enormous joy throughout my life is that she wanted me and planned for me. Out of her 4 children I was the only one that was “on purpose”. The rest were surprises. But that’s the rub. She wanted me and planned for me- not Dad. And then throughout my life I was his favorite and he was mine. Being a mother now, I can only imagine the hurt that must have caused. He and I were close and she felt like she couldn’t break in. So needless to say, my relationship with her was tenuous at best and down right ugly at worst (my mom is a very passionate woman and I’m just like her!).

It can be remarkable the things you learn once you become a parent yourself. My life, too, has been marked by immense tragedy and hardships. I also had my son too young. As I have raised Noah I have seen my shortcomings and failures. I have understood how much junk I was dealing with in my own heart and life. I have truly done the best I could by him, knowing there were plenty of times my best wasn’t good enough and just hoping that he wouldn’t remember all the bad stuff. Once, in my early 20’s I had a therapist who asked me if I could name my bad qualities as a human being. I said, “Sure!” and began to list them off. Then he asked me if I thought my mom had bad qualities as a human being, things that had absolutley nothing to do with me. I can honestly say I had never ever considered my mother as a regular woman before that moment- until then I had only been able to see her through the lens of the little girl that wasn’t shown enough physical affection.

Even though it would be a few more years before total restoration came, everything started to change that day. I realized my mother was a woman who had been tossed around by the life she was given and the truth was she had done a damn remarkable job at being a mom, a wife, a woman, a support, and a caregiver. My mother is one tough broad and I think she passed a little of that on to me. My mother may not be touchy, but she is generous and fair. My favorite parts of my mom are that she has such a fantastic sense of humor and will FIGHT for the marginalized and oppressed. She has always been on the side of those who couldn’t speak for themselves. At work we have recently taken personality tests and part of my results show that I have “the need to be against”. Which means I can be contrary just to be contrary, but it can also mean that I will fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. I’m pretty sure my mother taught me that!

As I continued in relationship with Jesus, I prayed that he would bring full healing to my mom and me. We have worked hard- me, her, and Jesus to make this thing right. We have talked about all of the hurt, even the details. We have apologized, we have cried, and reminisced, and a couple of times we have even hugged tightly and fiercely. He brought redemption and healing to that dark and broken place. I can honestly say she is my best friend and truest confidant. Now I’m able see how she has always done the very best she could being as broken as she was. And mercifully, she believes I have done the best I could do being as broken as I was.

None of this came quickly. This restoration has been years in the making and in this particular case, my mom and I have truly been long suffering. But the Lord hears each prayer I utter and it is His desire to touch and to heal even the oldest and deepest of my wounds.  Even the ones I didn’t dare to hope He would.