Saturday, March 29, 2014

Winter's Parting Gift

I hate winter.  I have always hated winter.  Ever since I was a little girl, I have dreaded the shortening of the days and the beginning of the cold.  What I really hate is being cold!  Sometimes the chill gets into my bones and I can't get warm.  And then there's the depression that comes when I can't be outside and the days are overcast and everything feels gloomy and bleak. 

A couple of years ago I decided to fight the winter blues in a few ways.  One is with a happy light that I start sitting with in September.  Another is my miracle vitamin drink that helps lift my energy.  And finally I have been trying to find the good things about winter.  Instead of feeling sad because the brightly colored leaves are falling off the trees and won't return until spring, I feel grateful that it's easier to see the sky.  The sun also shines through my windows in the winter time and casts a golden glow that tree leaves block in the summer.  I wear my big sweaters and sweatshirts and bundle up in flannel.  I rejoice that my kitties will sit in my lap, even though its not because they really want to cuddle but because they are cold.  All these are things I can be grateful for in winter, and they have helped me change my attitude a bit.

Until this year.  The winter that wouldn't let go.  Tuesday was the last straw.  After canceling my student group at CNU on multiple Tuesday nights, I was determined to go down even though it was quite frightening to drive through the blinding snow on I-64 to Newport News.  Just two days before I had been picking up cigarette butts in 70 degree weather and short sleeves, and now there was a dusting of snow on the ground.  Argh!!  I wanted to scream.  I wanted someone to blame. 

Something happened, though, as I sat in our group learning about praying with icons.  Big, fat, fluffy flakes drifted down outside the windows of the CNU chapel as we listened to chanting and gazed at icons in candlelight.  We were warm and cozy and the snow wasn't hurting us.  And though the drive home was stressful as the precipitation changed from rain to freezing rain to wintry mix and back to snow, by the time I got home, the most beautiful snowflakes were falling.  I got out of my car and walked to the mailbox.  The fat, wet flakes swirled and blew, landing in my hair and on my scarf.  As the light of the streetlamps reflected off the dancing flakes, I felt like I was walking in a snow globe.  It was the prettiest snow of the year.  I stayed outside for awhile, watching it swirl and blow, feeling the cold wet flakes on my face, smiling with delight.  I hate winter, but I've always love to watch snow fall.  And with all the snow we've had this year, it's either been late at night or when I was inside and couldn't watch. 

Thanks, winter, for giving me a walk in the snow globe.  If it's all the same to you, I hope that it will be your last gift this year.

Monday, March 24, 2014


I love to walk.  One of the chief features I looked for when buying a house in Williamsburg was a good place to walk.  In Norfolk I used to walk beside the Lafayette River and in Chicago I enjoyed walking beside Lake Michigan.  The walk I take in Williamsburg is closer to traffic than I would prefer, but there are also lots of trees, trees that I love and that I watch change from season to season, trees that mark the route and serve as companions on the way.  A couple of years ago I saw a crew taking down one big, beautiful old tree - I think it was some kind of an oak.  I felt so sad to see it go.  Maybe it was sick or had been struck by lightening.  I will never know.

At any rate, time passed, and as I kept walking the same route, I noticed that someone had begun planting flowers in the stump of the tree.  What had been a sad, dead, lonely old stump  had become a source of life and color.  I broke out in a smile of delight at such an unexpected gift.  Someone tends the stump flowers all summer, and by July you can hardly tell that there is a stump there underneath the vibrant plants and flowers.  Reminds me a bit of the Shel Silverstein book, The Giving Tree.  A few days ago, I was finally able to get out and walk after this long winter of snow and cold, and there was new life once again growing out of the stump. Pansies and the leaves of the daffodils that are yet to come.  I couldn't resist taking a quick picture.  There is another stump not far away; its tree was felled by one of the hurricanes.  Someone has begun planting flowers in it as well.

Redemption.  For me, those tenderly nurtured plantings have redeemed the loss of the tree.  Where once there is death, now there is life.  Spring is the same for me - it redeems the long, cold days of winter.  So many times when I am faced with questions of why God causes things to happen, I simply have no answer.  I'm not sure if God caused the tree to get sick and die so that it would need to be cut down.  I'm not sure that God decided the hurricane would take out certain trees.  What I am sure of is that God redeems things.  I have seen it again and again.  The resurrection redeeming the cross.  New life redeeming death.  Hope and joy returning where there had once been despair and pain.  Over and over I have watched God redeem things that I never thought possible.  I believe that God can and will redeem everything - though I will most likely not be around to see it happen.  That's the hard part.  I want it all to be redeemed right now.

PlanetRecovery wants to be part of the redeeming process.  Redeeming time and missed opportunities that have been lost to the disease of addiction.  Redeeming lives.  We want to help people find hope and health and restore that to the earth as well.  Last summer when visiting Maine, I saw a sign for a Redemption Center.  I thought it was some kind of church.  Ha!  The joke was on me.  It's a center for recycling.  Redeeming that which is seen to be trash.  Have you heard the phrase, "God didn't make no junk"?  I believe it's true.  No human life is trash.  Nothing is lost.  God will redeem it all.  Just like the flowers in the tree stump.  I wonder how many ways we can find to participate in the redeeming process.  I imagine the number is limitless.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Going to Jail

Yesterday I went to jail.  The Hampton City Jail next door to St. John's Episcopal Church in Hampton.  I accompanied a friend of mine who does a Bible study/spirituality group for the women there.  A few years ago I went to the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail here in Williamsburg for a tour but that's the only other time I've been to jail.  When I was growing up "jail" was always the middle spot on the Monopoly board, that place that you had to go and miss your turns.  "Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, go directly to JAIL."  The place where you waited until you could return to the game.

For some reason jail does not frighten me.  I was nervous the first time I went, but yesterday I felt completely calm.  It's nice that Hampton City jail has windows and so light comes it.  That's probably the only nice thing about it, and I can only say it's nice because when the big doors slam shut behind me, I know that I will get to go out again in a few hours.  What isn't nice is 24 beds in 3 cells for 30 women.  And a lot of other things.

Yesterday I also read an article online about a lawyer in Texas who is wearing jailhouse orange scrubs for Lent in order to stand in solidarity with those in and returning from prison.  The article says, "McKeever is hoping his choice of clothes will kick-start discussions about the failures of the criminal justice and immigration detention systems and the lack of employment opportunities for 'returning citizens.'
He said his 'Lenten spiritual practice' also has caused him to reflect on the teachings of Jesus about the poor and dispossessed — and his own social privileges as a white professional male.
'I wanted this to be a time for repentance, sacrifice and humility in my own faith, and in a way that will lead many of us to a corporate confession of our complicity with a system that devastates individuals, families and communities, often communities of color,' he said."

Yeah.  What he said.  One of the reasons we're starting PlanetRecovery at SpiritWorks and picking up trash and cigarette butts is because many of the people who come to us cannot get jobs.  And if you can't get a job, find housing, and support yourself with basic human needs, what is left to you?  You've got to survive some way.  The answer is not more prison time.

I am only beginning to learn about the criminal justice system in our country, about mandatory minimums, the effects of the "war on drugs," the ghettoizing of the cities, and the economics of the prison system.  As with so many systemic issues, the problem seems so large and needs to be combated on so many levels.  It's easy to throw up my hands and say, "What's the use?!"

But that's how evil wins.  We may be powerless over the disease of addiction and over the choices that other people make, but we are not powerless to make changes in the world, starting with ourselves.  Unlike in Monopoly, after people have spent time waiting in jail, even if they have changed and are ready and willing to do whatever it takes to become productive members of society, they often don't get to return to the game.  "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?"  Yes.  "Well too bad for you."  With PlanetRecovery, we hope to be able to help people return to the game, to gain job skills and employment so that they can provide for themselves and their families, so that they will have a chance.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Butt Reduction Challenge

No, this is not a post about weight loss.  :)  It's a different kind of butt reduction.

Did you know that cigarette butts are the most littered item on our planet?  I used to argue with smoking co-workers about the butts that they tossed onto the sidewalk and roads.  When I pointed out that they were littering, they informed me that they were not because cigarettes were biodegradable and caused no harm to the environment.  To their credit, I think they believed that, and I never did any research to find out differently.  Turns out, most cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that will eventually degrade but only under certain conditions, like winding up in sewage.  Toxins from cigarettes also leach out into the soil and waterways.  You can learn more about cigarette litter facts here or here or just Google "cigarette butts." 

The reason I'm posting on this topic is that one of PlanetRecovery's first projects is a "Butt Reduction Challenge."  Reducing cigarette litter by providing ash receptacles and portable ash trays is helpful.  But we also have to deal with all the butts that are already on the ground.  So we at SpiritWorks/PlanetRecovery are going to pick up butts to clean up our community.  Our challenge will go from now until Earth Day on April 22.  We are hoping to pick up a million butts.  Below are pictured over 1500 butts picked up in two locations in about two hours.  The large bag came from the intersection of 199 and Richmond Road - a popular place to flick butts while waiting on the traffic light to change.

You can help!  Find a spot and clean it up and then drop the butts at SpiritWorks, and we will send them off to be recycled.  Or you can sponsor a certain number of butts.  In our movement to put people to work cleaning up our planet, you can make a difference both in the life of a recovering person as well as in the life of our earthly home.

I'm looking forward to celebrating the arrival of spring by a offering little hospitality to Mother Nature.  It's a small step, but those steps add up.

Saturday, March 1, 2014


PlanetRecovery:  Redeem Reclaim Rediscover.
Redeeming lives, reclaiming futures, rediscovering possibilities.
A global movement.  We hope.
SpiritWorks is starting a new initiative:  PlanetRecovery.  People in recovery helping our planet recover.  We will be providing training and putting people to work, recycling, picking up trash, cleaning up Williamsburg and beyond. 

I started a couple of weeks ago on one of the few warmish days this winter has offered.  Wearing my purple, "Got Recovery?" t-shirt and paper thin plastic gloves on my hands, I walked down to the edge of Mooretown Road in front of SpiritWorks and began collecting.  I went out to see how many cans I could find.  About 3 on our side of the street with maybe 5 or 6 more on the other side.  Mostly Bud Lite with a couple of Red Bulls and a Mountain Dew.  There were more bottles, mostly Bud Ice and Bud Lite but a few fruit juice/tea concoctions.  Lots of plastic.  Bags, food wrappers, styrofoam, cigarette butts, broken glass, plastic bottles, a metal pail.  I couldn't go far before the bag I was carrying became too heavy.   In another section of road I found sets of tires, cases of empty beer bottles - the 16 oz size, more cans, bottles, paper, and even a green blanket.

Do people really throw all that trash out of their cars?  I have many character defects, but littering isn't one of them.  I remember that Melissa, my roommate in college, used to pick up trash and recyclables and bring them back to our dorm room whenever she was out walking.  It wasn't something I felt called to do.  But now that we are starting a "planet recovery" business, I keep noticing all the trash by the side of the road.  Seriously.  Take a look.  It's appalling.  I try not to be in the business of judging, but I can't seem to help myself.  Keep your trash in your car, people, and recycle!

I'm looking forward to PlanetRecovery getting started.  Not only will it provide much needed jobs, but I hope it will also help us tend our little portion of the planet.