Help

I just finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and oh what a book! The emotion I felt, almost from the beginning, caught me by surprise. But it didn’t take long for me to understand those feelings, because I was a child of 1960s Mississippi — I lived that story. We had full time “help” in our home…I was one of the children eating her cooking, dirtying the house she cleaned, hearing her phone conversations. We weren’t wealthy at all, but living in small town Mississippi just south of Jackson made my mother feel the need to keep up with the neighbors, and having Help was what anyone who was anyone did.

I recently met a childhood friend for lunch, someone I hadn’t seen in about 40 years. We had a delightful time, catching up on life, reminiscing about our childhood in Mississippi. She lived there long after our family moved away (never to have full time help again – for us, it was just a Mississippi thing), and she experienced things that I still have a hard time believing truly happened, still happen, in today’s times. She enlightened me about some of the events that occurred during that 1960s-Civil Rights-Small-Town time in MS – some while we lived there, some in later years – and I realized for the first time just how insulated we were as children. I’m sure my parents knew about those things, things that often happened on the “other side of the tracks”; or as I learned through my friend, often happened on “our side”, because in many homes the Help weren’t welcome outside of working hours or their work environments.

Many years later, when my family – including my mom – was passing through our small Mississippi town, I wanted to call our “Help” and take her out to dinner. I hadn’t seen her in about 25 years, and I wanted her to meet my husband and children. As a child I loved Lou, not unlike Skeeter loved Constantine.  So I looked through the phone book, randomly calling numbers that might help me find her. I eventually found an address and went to her house. What a great reunion! As she answered the door and saw me, she yelled, “Is that my baby??” Not that she recognized me…I’m sure someone gave her a heads up that I was looking for her. We visited an hour or more, but she wouldn’t let us take her out. My mom told me later that she didn’t go with us because “it just isn’t done here.” What were we doing that shouldn’t be done? Eating out in small town Mississippi with someone from the other side of the tracks.

I laughed and cried while reading The Help – and while visiting with my childhood friend. My memories of that time are warm and nostalgic. I loved Lou, not because she helped us with cleaning and cooking and ironing, but because her real help was with life, leading and teaching me to become a good person. She truly loved me, and all these years later she’s stayed in my heart. If she were here today, I’d invite her out for a meal. But if that didn’t work, I’d do all I could to be her help. I’m thankful that, unbeknownst to any of us at the time, we were learning a much deeper and greater lesson about life. I hope I can help pass that lesson on.

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Epiphany

epiphany – a divine manifestation; a moment of sudden understanding or revelation.

I had an epiphany the other day. I’m sure that many, many others have already experienced the revelation I had – but it gave me a perspective that I didn’t even realize I was missing.

In the story of the Prodigal son, the younger son is usually the one who gets all the attention. Whenever someone teaches about it, he’s the one who went astray and then came home. The older brother is known for his crummy attitude, and the father is known for his love. His Love. That is where my epiphany starts.

The father’s love is obvious throughout the story. He gives his son freedom, which helps him learn and grow up – however hard on everyone involved. And when he returns, the father runs to him with open arms, overjoyed that he is alive and back home. Most parents can relate to some of this kind of love – if not the letting go, at least the open arms. But as a parent of a child who has chosen badly and sought her freedom in dangerous places, the love I have for her is, in some ways, harder than the love I have for my children who have walked the straight and narrow.

Harder? What does that mean? Well, for one, it’s harder for me to feel love for her sometimes. I know, love isn’t a feeling. But it’s kind of scary when your feelings sometimes go the other way from where they’re supposed to go. I actually have to choose the loving actions, words, body language. The easy kids are easy to love. And I’m thankful for my “easy” ones; and for all the parents out there who have easy children, you are truly blessed.

But even greater than that committed-no-matter-what kind of love, is the privilege of understanding, even if only a fraction, the kind of Grace-love the Father has for His children. The kind of love that transcends any feeling, positive or negative, I could have at any given moment. The kind of prodigal-son love that, after all the emotions that go along with parenting a child who strays – the anger, sadness, fear, grief – keeps my arms open even after all the hurt and alienation and frustration. If I weren’t the parent of a child who chose her own way, I’d never know the kind of love that truly comes from Grace.

Thank you God, for showing me the kind of love you have for me. And thank you that it has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with a God of Grace, waiting with open arms.