A trip down frisk and walk lane

It was 1980 something and that's all I'll say to prevent calculations on my age and halt any questions about whether or not I ever wore parachute pants to any important functions.  But I will say without any hesitation that it was a simpler time.  Kids ran around all over the place, teenagers ran around all over the place, and as I think about it now, it's really a wonder that any of us made it out alive. 

I kinda had my crowd that I hung around with in what I like to call my "tan and go" days...... where my appointment with a lawn chair in the backyard was #1 on my summer time schedule, completing all beauty tasks at once.... savage tan, free hair highlights and what I like to think of now as plenty of Vitamin D all stocked up to prevent osteoporosis.  And somewhere between my relaxation time, friend time and the ability to eat an entire pizza and still wear a bikini... I met a fella that walked right into my summer and left me with one of the best stories I've ever told. 

But I think the most complicated piece of that summer puzzle was that, at the time, I wasn't really this guy's friend nearly as much as he was mine.  Dare I say, as much as he decided that he was to be mine, ... and mine forever?  It was like a daily Valentine of friendship, until he got sent off to a prison and all those collect calls from the pay phone in the common room were running up a bill for me and my parents. 

I met this young man when he was a lost and lonely, out of school, young adult, trying to find his way in the Big D by lying to me and others about his past.  He said he was an orphan and had been raised at the local children's home until the age of 18, when he was tossed out into adulthood and the relative insecurity of unemployment and poverty.  I do remember that he somehow had enough money for a truck  - as well as a truck load of booze just about every weekend, but at the age of high school ignorance, none of that made me question the reality of his tale.

We met through a mutual friend, and it was one of those, good girl hangs out with her boyfriend and all his guy friends all the live long day until about 4pm when she was due at her part time job, or out into the yard to work on her tan kinds of relationships.  Y'all, I was way busy living and loving, and not thinking a day ahead of the one I was in.  And this guy just jumped into our little circle as if he had been there all along, and with stories of a common bond that he liked to tell of him and me in such a loving way that made me wish they were all true.  Turns out either I was very forgetful, or he was very imaginative in his tales of our good times shared and friendship grown into a lifetime story of mutual admiration.  He remembered all the times I was nice to him and all the ways I had helped him, and basically remembered me as a younger stand in for the mother that he said he never had.  And I was obviously scatterbrained, forgetful, or just self absorbed in the way 18 year old girls can be.  But God gives us all grace and mercy so somehow I must've absorbed enough of it to share. 

Turns out he was homeless. I'm not sure I even knew that till way into time spent with him.  I guess I noticed that he spent a lot of time at my friend's house, and that he appeared and disappeared pretty often and not on any certain schedule.  But the eyes of young people tend to fog over at the thought of anything deeper than a few hours and some laughs.  I think I figured it out when none of us had seen him for a few days and an impromptu search party located him camped in his truck in the mall parking lot.

He sort of vanished about the time I left for college.  Maybe it was during or after his stint in the county jail where I was privileged to be listed as his family member and allowed to visit.  How did I deserve such an honor?  I'm not sure other than the fact that maybe God had run out of people to give it to at the time;  so he chose me.

Time went by and I was off learning how to be an adult on my own.  I had been living in an apartment in my little college town for a while when one day I got a surprise visitor.  My new old friend had tracked me down, and looking back now, I may or may not have been an accessory to something or other  - or maybe just a safe hideout.  I only remember going out to eat.   

But he left again, as quickly as he showed up - and I didn't hear from him for quite some time till I got a collect call from the whatever whatever unit of the Texas Penitentiary System.  I knew who it was before I accepted the charges, and opened an all new, yet final chapter of Me and My Convict.

He said that he  had been accused of something that wasn't true, that there was a young lady involved that he loved very much, and that a baby on the way was because of their luckiness in this life in finding each other.  It was a version of his story that made me happy for him,... though a different version of the story got him 35 years for aggravated sexual assault.  True or not?  I may never know, but he said he was going to name the baby after me.  Because that's what friends do.  Now there may or may not be a little Kristi, roaming her way through young adulthood searching for her namesake and wondering who the heck spelled Kristi with a K in the front and an I at the end and made it so she can't even get a can of Coke with her name on it.

And out of the sheer goodness of my heart, and feelings of guilt if I ignored the situation, I have walked myself right into both the Dallas County jail as well as a maximum security facility in the south of Texas.  The Max Security, as we regulars like to call it, was just a little road trip from my place of higher education - so it was really both a gesture of Christian love as well as a once in a lifetime learning experience. Kind of like when people travel to Africa and go on safari and say that it changed them forever?  A trip down frisk and walk lane will most certainly change a girl forever in much the same fashion.

I remember not knowing exactly what to wear to a prison visit, but think I chose something to make sure that I wouldn't blend in too much with the locals, and be accidentally mistaken for someone who came to stay the night.  Knowing me it was probably a dress and a smile, because, y'all, I was raised a healthy mixture of both right and wrong.

And I know it meant the world to him to know that I would make the drive to see him.  And you can fully trust that not only did I renew my friendship with you know who on that trip, but I made all new friends with the prison guards - so much so that they gave me a personal escort down that long and lonely hallway.  Maybe they do that for everyone.  Maybe just for the ones who look they're not quite sure of prison protocol and etiquette.  

It was a Saturday morning.  I arrived, checked in my necessaries, and waited in an almost all metal room for I wasn't sure what.  I wasn't entirely sure what made me decide to take that drive; but I did it and hoped for the best that I would make it safely home to watch Designing Women on TV later that night.

My friend took a while  to get to me.  I didn't know that they get to change into their good outfits for visit day.  Now I do.  And he looked good.  But mostly he looked happy.  And I guess I did, too.  I don't even remember what we talked about other than maybe him and me and some good ol' stories of things I probably just nodded yes to a whole lot.  But I knew even that day that visits like this couldn't be my forever routine  - and there came a time when I just stopped. Because it was time.

I still can't tell you why I almost cry when I remember our visits.  Maybe it's the idea of a life lost to crime - the crime of not being part of a family to guide you into adulthood in a good and proper way.  Maybe it's because I remember how much he wanted a friend, and how much he wanted me to be her.  He liked to tell people that I was his sister - like he was missing out on so much for so long, that when kind and fun finally met him, he took full hold and loved on it like nobody's business.

It's a story anyway.  It's a piece of who I used to be, and who I hope I still might be given the situation of someone in need.  My friend was maybe the loneliest person I ever knew, outside of myself.  He needed friends and family and discipline and routine and a place to feel safe and at home.  Give a young man a truck, no job and very little to look forward to, and you'll get back just as much in return. Maybe even with a few tall tales, and a newfound criminal tendency to go with them. 

I don't remember a single conversation with him about his faith or his choices, only conversations partly created from a faulty memory... or out of a need to have a connection with someone who would be a temporary parking spot for all his troubles.  I do remember plenty of lazy summer days spent with people still young enough to not worry about every last detail of a person's questionable character.  But mostly I remember being young enough to not be so quick to judge and say no before ever considering the possibility of a friendship.  At the time I never thought about how much a willingness to agree on a happy story that never actually took place could mean to a person who just needed a first line to a new chapter.  

I think about him every now and then, how he appeared out of nowhere with a made up past and a hopeful future of finding his place and his people.  I may never know the end of his story, other than what I find on Google that tells me his expected release date.  It looks like two consecutive, fairly long sentences.  

That young man had a lot of love to give, and I was lucky to be someone he chose to give it to.  I desperately needed that at the time, too.  I find it a forever mystery of how Lost and can meet Lonely, say hello and form a forever bond, -  sometimes working out better than others.  But for the lucky ones, we walk out of it together a little bit better than we started.     

Friends are good for that.

I wonder how the last 14 years have been, original post date September 2015

* author edit:  I wrote these words in 2015 and keep coming back to this post every year.  This year I had a particular reason, ... as I was contacted by a blog reader asking me specifically if I could help her son with a school project.  He needed to interview someone who remembered 9/11 - which made me feel like an old history professor or a grandma with a blanket in my lap telling stories of the old days.  But of course I said yes, and let the young man ask me questions.  I gave the same answers as I wrote about here in this post.  That will never change, I think. 
I've had a hard time writing this week.  Even thinking about WHAT to write kept me quiet.  

Because it seems that all the news going on of things far bigger than my dog eating our dinner the other night and the really cute sweater I just bought just shouted for me to be quiet.   

Hush.  And listen to what is being said around you, Kristi.  Listen to the sounds of the world that are bigger than you.  
And today I am sitting here quiet.  Waiting for the boys to get home from school.  Remembering,  like we all are, the events of this day 14 years ago.    
I can tell you all the details of where I was that morning... but it's not very exciting.  And not at all important in the big scheme of things.    
But I think like so many of us, the day made me scared.  And sad.  And as the day went on I got more scared.  And a lot more sad.  And the news kept showing the same scenes over and over all day till I couldn't stand it anymore and turned it all off and went to my parents' house.   My dad was still alive then.  For about 5 more months.  

And we pulled out the baby pool for little bitty Kid 1 to splash around in.  He was 15 months old.  And did I mention that I was also a rather large, pregnant woman awaiting the birth of Kid 2 any day?  And I think that's what scared the life out of me.  Thinking about their little lives and what kind of world they would grow up in.   
And I sat out on my parents' back patio and cried.  I cried because I was overloaded with bad news.  And I cried because I went to the bank earlier that day and everyone in there scared me and I ended up leaving without taking care of a darn thing.  And I cried because there were other moms like me.... but moms who would be raising kids on their own from then on.  And I cried looking at my little one splashing around in the pool and not knowing that there are mean people.    
And I was terrified of going home by myself that night because Fireman Dave was at the station.  Because the news had me convinced that evil was all around.   
My dad had gone to the hospital earlier that day as well.  He had been at work and had a hemorrhage in his eye that was a result of his illness.  And he looked terrible and felt even worse, but I think having a baby swimming in a little pool out on your patio just makes things feel a lot better.   
So we sat.  And we listened to the quietest quiet I think I've ever heard.  Because there were no airplanes flying.  And people everywhere, I think, were somewhere inside waiting for more news.  And I remember the amazing, gorgeous day it was here in Dallas.   

And I think what takes my breath away is how life goes on.  In every situation of loss or disappointment or hurt, life goes on all around - while yours seems to stand still for way too long.  Don't you hate that?  I just really do.   
But what I think has stayed with me the most, aside from the actual scenes of the day.... are the people left behind to grieve their losses.   And I say THEIR losses because it was news to most of us, but it was reality for others.  News that affected each one of our emotions, but a reality that became bigger than life for a whole lot of people.    
So I feel hurt for the people that still wake up on this day each year and remember what they were doing and how it all changed without even imagining that it could.   

And I think, truth be told, I feel a little selfish that I wait till this day each year to remember.  Because there are way too many people that remember it all every day - not just on an anniversary day.  
So I think far more important than what I was doing that day, and my own smallish perspective of events,  ... is to consider how the lives of those directly affected have moved forward.   
I wonder how the last 14 years have been.   
I think there's probably some good lessons on living in their stories.  

4 southern ladies + a bunch of Afghan ladies = a feast of fun

The final organizational message sent to all my Gateway Of Grace baby shower friends and helpers went something like this.... 

I'm counting on you ladies to handle the small talk and social portion of today's event... as, surprise!  I tend to fade into the wallpaper in party atmospheres.  Actually, I tend to hide myself in the wallpaper, the bathroom, the back porch or my car, pretending to fetch this, that or the other that I claim to have forgotten and need to survive.   

And just to note, I received two, large, gently used baby items - a swing and a play mat - that I chose not to give at this baby shower.  Given the size of these things, and all the wonderful our gal is already receiving, I wasn't sure how much room they have in their apartment.  So I checked with my Gateway of Grace go-to person, and asked if they might have a use for them. 

And it turns out that God had already asked, answered and delivered..... as another expectant mother delivered early, and had just this past week mentioned that she would love to have a baby swing.  So basically I'm loving how God takes one thing and turns it into even more.  Sort of like a buy one get one free sale on fancy shampoo at the salon, or 3 for $1 anything at the grocery store, .... bundles of good are always better when joined with a free gift. 

Can't wait to see everyone Saturday a little before 11:00 - like a ladies SWAT team, gathering in the parking lot, ready to charge their home with goodness. 

That's how I saw this thing working out.  But here's how it really did. 

Fireman Dave helped me load and unload all the gifts into my car.  Thank the lord for the invention of fold down seats and mid-size SUV's.  And I can't even tell you my shock and surprise when the baby jogger stroller/car seat combo arrived in a giant, crate sized cardboard box, and after assembly, took up the size of a love seat in Kid 2's room. 

(Let me add a shout out to Kid 2 for being the keeper of all the baby gifts, wrapped in cute animal prints and pink bows, in his room for the last 2 weeks.  Because not only is he a hard worker, a good student, and pretty cute in all the ways, he's also kind and good and extremely patient with my projects.)

And we headed out to Apartment 2102, with cupcakes, lemonade and a leaky cooler full of ice to bless some souls for the Kingdom of God.  Or so I thought. 

Myself, three friends, and one fireman walked awkwardly into M's apartment, not realizing the cultural expectation of removing our shoes - something about the Biblical tradition of sandal wearing and foot washing, and sort of like the tradition I tried to start with my boys a million years ago - leaving a shoe basket at the back door for them to take off their dirties and save me hours of vacuuming and sweeping time over the course of motherhood.  My tradition never took hold, though.  I should've told the boys it was part of our religion.

We were greeted with hugs and kisses on the cheek, and the most amazing smell of lunch cooking.  M's friends arrived, each with kids of their own and more yummy food smells.... And y'all, I was in pure wonderment at the size of the platters and bowls these ladies hauled in... like they all went shopping at the restaurant supply store for industrial size cooking utensils.  I watched one of the ladies stirring shredded carrots and raisins into a giant bowl of cooked rice, and tried to ask her about her recipe.  I could've/should've just said, Hey...you just won the Lottery!  Because she had no clue what I was saying... but boy did she look happy and sweet about it. 

The apartment was clean and neat and the table was set with a table cloth, plates of cookies, fresh fruit, and trays of mixed nuts.  Long cushions lined the living room walls, sheer curtains hung over the windows, and a 3 year old boy watched cartoons.   He was 9 months old when his family moved here to Dallas.  My friend Kelly brought a big brother gift to him, the first and most brilliantly thought out move toward a new friendship.

M's husband was quiet, but welcoming.  Probably like most men, ... wondering what the what am I supposed to do now that all these ladies  have shown up at my house on my day off from work?  His answer?  Stick around for a few minutes to look polite, then walk outside with Fireman Dave and never come back till the party is over.  They had important men things to discuss. 

And we ladies had gifts to give and get, and small talk to make -  and truth be told, I had some questions to ask.  Like, where are you from?  Afghanistan.  How long have you been here?  Almost 2 years.  How did you choose Dallas?  Because husband knew one person here, and it was as good a start as any.  Do you ever get to go home to see your family?  No, it wouldn't be safe to return.  Why?  Because, dear American lady, don't you ever watch or listen to the news?  The honest to goodness answer is no.  I try to avoid it at all costs.  Except for the weather on stormy days and some of the juicier, gossipy news clips that show up on Yahoo when I check my email. 

One of M's friends spoke the best English, proud of how she has learned it all in less than 2 years as a student at Gateway of Grace.  She works at a company that repairs those little table top trivia games that you see at Chili's while you wait on your food.  Small world, I told her... we LOVE those trivia games - they make us forget how hungry we are while we wait.  She calls her English teacher from Gateway of Grace, her American mom, and I crazy loved that from the start. 

M wanted lots of pictures to send home to her mom.  Her mom lives in the capital city of Afghanistan now, safer than they were, but not completely so.  Her husband said the same about his family.  Worried especially because he worked as an interpreter for the US Embassy and would not be well loved nor received back in his home village.  He can never go back, and is concerned that his family will be recognized and harmed because of his allegiances.  And we were not permitted pictures.  We could take them for ourselves to keep, but I couldn't share them with you.  Not sure if this is a safety thing, a religious thing, or just a thing... but the pictures in my mind of this day will stay with me for a long time, just in my memory. 

M opened all her gifts, loving especially all the little girl clothes.  I noticed that she loved the ones with special details, unique sewing, girly prints the most.... And I thought how much I can understand that... having dressed 3 boys in Spider Man t-shirts and anything else that was made especially for getting ripped, torn or muddied within 10 seconds of first wear.  

Then our new friends set out the feast. And Lord help me, as I learned way too much about how American meat is sacrificed in an un-clean way and all the gory details involved with that.  I can never un-hear what I heard, thank you very much -  And from this day forward I only want to shop for halal meat even if grass fed beef is on sale at the Aldi.  

We sat around a mat laid on the floor, and used M's beautiful china plates and silver.  Baked chicken, eggplant, broccoli cucumber tomato salad, some sort of lamb dish, enough rice to feed an army - and homemade yogurt.  And our contribution?  Cutesy pink cupcakes, lemonade and a sugar high for the next 12 hours for these sweet ladies' children. 

We visited, asked more questions, answered the ones we could, and mostly just enjoyed a good meal in a small, hot apartment with people I would've never met had I not stepped out on faith to volunteer for this baby shower.  One of the ladies said she liked blonde hair - and I told her I liked her sparkly, sequin outfit, and that I could hook her up with a great colorist if she ever wants some Dallas blonde highlights.  

We took a group picture of all of us that will be shared across miles with people I'll surely never know or see.  And they made a heaping plate of food for Fireman Dave to take home with him - again, on one of M's beautiful china plates.  I asked if she would rather I put it on a paper plate so she wouldn't lose a dish.  And she said no, she wanted me to have it.  And I asked her if I could please return it to her another day with some cookies or brownies on it, and she said that I/we are welcome in her home anytime. 

I read to her one of the notes that a friend included with her gift - a blessing for M and the new baby, and I think we all cried a collective tear of joy at what had brought us all together today.  Babies and gifts and a nudging in me that I had something to give that someone needed to receive.  Y'all, this  shower sprung up so fast that I worried if it would survive the 2 week rushed planning and providing.  But I have to say, I had nothing to worry about.  God placed the call in my heart, and all I did was say it out loud.  He made sure that others heard it.  

I think I'll return that beautiful plate with or without something on it.  Probably with, ... but I'm not sure it would even matter after getting to know these ladies.  I've spoken of their kindness, generosity and thankfulness all afternoon.  They've formed their own community of like kinds - other refugee friends.  Other Muslim friends.  Young moms raising their kids together with new and like adventures.  And all trying to find where they fit in here in Dallas.  I hope after today that these women know they fit in with me and my friends... and our church and my blog readers and basically everyone that has the kind of heart that is open to God's kind of love.  The love that I sort of think is the best kind. 

post script:  that whole charging their home with goodness thing.... I feel like it was the other way around.  I'm feeling fully charged.  

And if you feel like you can host a baby shower, help with another one of the Gateway of Grace events, or tutor English to these very special people, all you have to do is say yes to the nudge.  I promise to help you make it happen.  

Designed by FlexyCreatives