Life is hard.

As the 2015 fall semester was kicking off for area schools, I made a quick stop at Walmart, not thinking of how many shoppers would be there stocking up on school items. The parking lot was busy but since I was already parked, I stayed. Maybe the store wasn’t as hectic as the parking lot.
Who was I kidding?
If the lot was hectic, the interior was chaos. School supply lists fluttered in the air, whirled by the spinning wheels of shopping carts driven by harried parents, as the doors closed and opened and closed again behind me. I was followed through the doors on the right side of the storefront by moms and dads on a mission and children on a wild tear.
There was a gap in the frenzied aisle across the front of the store and I turned toward the left, on a mission of my own. I hadn’t found any other local store that had my preferred coffee flavoring and I was on empty. It was only desperation that had me in the middle of this commotion.
Coming toward me, as the gap closed back in, was a young dad, rail thin in the clothes of a manual laborer, his uniform no longer clean and crisp by day’s end. Trailing behind him were three clones of him, except for their size. Stair step brothers, each obviously elementary aged, falling all over themselves, pushed a cart behind him, the middle one wrestling the others for control. The youngest wore a hand-me-down shirt, two sizes too big, that rippled around him, full of his energy. The tallest of the boys called out, “Daddy! Hey! Wait up!”
In that instant, as they clattered past me, I could feel the weight on the shoulders of that young father. I wondered how many things his children needed that would have to wait for next payday, or the next, and if there was a mom, maybe at work or maybe at home with a baby sister.
Life is hard and it is harder on some of God’s children than others.
The reasons are many, but that’s not what this column is about.
This column is a simple reminder that the family scene that passed me in Walmart that night first broke my heart, and then filled it overflowing, in no more than thirty seconds. We are participants together in this same Big Life, and if we can’t help others—for whatever reasons—let’s not add to the hurt.
Let’s not look down on or shame the strugglers. It only adds to their burden. And it’s not the whole story.
No, it is far from the whole story.
Let me tell you something else. Those three stair step youngsters were laughing and the tender affection in the eyes of that weary father, as he looked over his shoulder at his progeny, was transparent. In spite of his fatigue and drooped shoulders, his eyes sparkled.
That, my friends, is more than I can say for some of the more prosperous families I met, pushing full shopping carts that they would pay for with fuller bank accounts than the young dad, while they were distractedly checking their phones and reining in their own rambunctious children. From their dazed expressions, I imagined that they, too, had their own burdens.
Life is hard but, when the children are laughing, the burdens are lighter.
We are easing up to the end of this school year now, but I often think of that that August experience. Most every time I enter Walmart, I remember that energetic gaggle of stair step boys and their father.
And I still smile.
—————————————————-
Alcorn County resident Jaylene Whitehurst is an artist and Licensed Professional Counselor. She may be reached at 662-286-5433 or jaylene@heartworkccl.com. She contributes to Crossroads Magazine and the Daily Corinthian.

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What not to post…

The following is a column, slightly revised, that appeared recently in the Daily Corinthian newspaper.


I don’t know which disturbs me more, that some Facebook users make posts without realizing what they are revealing or that they are aware of what they are revealing and simply don’t care. Either way, it’s often embarrassing and occasionally alarming to be a witness to the drama that results when we fail to manage our social media presence.
At first glance, Facebook looks like a place to connect with others, but, time after time, it’s revealed as one more place where we find out what kind of boundaries the people who call themselves friends actually have. Too often, it’s evident that everyone who wears the label “friend” isn’t one.
Join me for a foray into the juggernaut of chatter that calls itself Facebook. Let’s take a quick look at possible consequences of online comments.
Most of us are nice folks and don’t automatically think that our friends or our “friends of friends” aren’t as nice as we are. The reality, however, is that nefarious types search Facebook for information about vacation schedules. Oh, yes, all those lovely vacation photos are a giveaway for times when a house is unattended. Even if there is a house sitter, the idea that no one’s home can make the house and the sitter vulnerable to a break in. It’s not as much fun, but it’s safer to show restraint and post those pictures upon returning home. Ask close friends privately not to refer to your absence online and refrain from it yourself.
Employers (current and potential) will check your online presence. This is reality, so assume it will happen. It may seem harmless to post a picture of yourself out with friends, but remember that photos don’t go away. Any image that you post, or are tagged in, which gives the slightest suggestion of inebriation or lack of judgment can be more potent than any resume’. Does that scare you? It should. One photo can follow you and be the persistent visual reference that you never wanted.
A cursory scan of social media reveals that many folks are shockingly careless about work related posts. Never post complaints about a boss or that you’re not satisfied with a job, or you may find yourself leaving that job sooner than you planned. Take for granted that your comments will be seen by your boss and co-workers, because they probably will.
Also work-related is the habit of some Facebook users to post about what they are doing on the job, during work hours, that isn’t work-related. If you’re reading a novel or writing your term paper or planning the week’s menu, keep it to yourself. You might slide by for a while, but a pattern of posts about doing not working at work will eventually get you noticed by your employer and it won’t be for that A you got on the paper.
Be mindful of name-calling or using derogatory epithets, whether serious or joking. Comments made in jest don’t always come across as humorous in print and what’s said can’t be unsaid. Using insulting labels for others can make you look immature and inarticulate. Users are particularly vulnerable when they post comments that are dependent on tone of voice or expression to be understood. Emoticons are not always effective for conveying context. If you aren’t okay with your comment being taken literally, whether you mean it that way or not, rethink it.
One boundary that is crossed continually on Facebook is posting sensitive details about the private lives of friends and family.
Don’t. Just don’t. It’s not worth the drama.
Many users would never intentionally over-share and have no desire to cause hurt. Indeed, most of the over-sharing I see comes from a genuine desire to help, but wanting to help doesn’t necessarily mean we are helping.
Consider the young woman who is diagnosed with a critical illness and is struggling to come to terms with the news. She’s not ready to talk about it and has only shared the diagnosis with a couple of family members. One of those family members tells a cousin, who immediately goes online, posting the devastating news where it is seen by hundreds—no, thousands—of people.
The cousin means well, but because she didn’t clear it with the young woman first, she took the young woman’s power away from her. The distribution of her deeply personal information is her business.
In fact, if she never wants it made public, that is the young woman’s business. Not everything is up for public grabs but a lot of users have lost sight of that.
There’s the young man who, in a fit of desperation, posts details about his breakup with the woman he thought he’d marry. There’s the mother who posts about her child’s horrible divorce and how badly his boss treats him and his financial problems. There’s the father of the soccer player who posts a tirade about his child’s coach. Can you see where these examples are going? They are true examples, by the way. It doesn’t take any imagination to know that more drama ensued, and not only for the ones who made the original post.
The ripple effect of a single post is unstoppable.
Requests for prayers abound on Facebook. Because of its reach, many users are drawn to it as fast way to ask for support in trying times. If you post your own request about your personal situation, that’s your prerogative, but remember, if you are posting about another person’s situation, to clear it with them first, and to share no more than you are given the okay to share.
Thinking it’s okay doesn’t give any of us the right to share another person’s story without their permission.
Social media offers us wonderful ways to stay in touch with those we care about and to connect with groups that share common interests. There are art, counseling, and other inspiring pages that I have no intention of giving up, along with the on-going connections I have with former classmates and people in the community. The benefits are rich and real, and so is the potential harm.
Perhaps these summary guidelines can help us monitor our communication styles and minimize our vulnerability :
• For me, this first item is the Granddaddy of All Guidelines. Remember that, while you can delete a post or picture on your own page, what you delete may have already been caught on a screen capture, where it will live longer than a cat with nine lives. When that happens, you have lost any control of the image and it can go viral. That picture can be shared and re-posted and take on a life of its own. You may regret what you posted, you may apologize, you may post retractions, but that image is out of control and can go to an audience that won’t see your mea culpa. Scary? You bet. If you wouldn’t want what you’re about to post to be on CNN tonight, don’t hit that enter key.
• Be sure that what you post doesn’t compromise your safety or the safety of anyone else. No sharing of schedules or daily routines, no revealing vacation times, no letting others know your children’s schedules.
• Speaking of the children, consider all the possibilities before sharing names, birthdates, pictures, and activities. I know, I know, it’s hard because we love to share about these precious young’uns. It’s natural to want to share what we delight in, but there are unsavory folks who troll, looking for identifying information about children. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a predator could easily assemble the entire makeup of a family, right down to the family pet and home address and family schedules, simply from online sharing.
• Be cautious sharing work-related information. If you do, keep it light and general. No complaining, no revealing sensitive or confidential information, no criticizing boss or co-workers.
• If you’re not okay with you post being taken literally, don’t post it. Someone will take it literally. Count on it.
• If there’s anyone in the whole world that you wouldn’t want to see your post, don’t post it. Your mom, your preacher, your boss, the head of the company, your ex-boyfriend, your worst enemy, your best friend?
• If it involves another person’s personal information, get their clearly stated permission before sharing, even if it’s the well-meaning request for prayers or support.
If we stay alert and monitor how we share our stories on social media, we can enjoy connecting with others. We might even save heartache and certainly save face.


Alcorn County resident Jaylene Whitehurst is an artist and Licensed Professional Counselor. She may be reached at 662-286-5433 or jaylene@heartworkccl.com. She contributes to Crossroads Magazine and the Daily Corinthian.

In the Season of Darkening Days

In the Season of Darkening Days
With softness flickering
And shadows cast
In the stillness of drawn blinds,
What hidden part of your storyFlickering
Would come to Light
If you knew that
Mercy would hold
With tenderness
Every part of your Life
The secrets and the open chapters
The awkward lines
The false intelligence
The courage that cost you the unspeakable
The sideways truth you live with
To protect the innocent
The rationalizations that are almost reasons
But not quite
The right you did
But not for good
?

If you knew that
Mercy
Would hold every word
Every period and question mark
And dash
Of your story
With the same gentle attention

What would you lay in her hands?

 

jmwhitehurst

The Red Toolbox: Lessons on Living

Red ToolboxThe Red Toolbox is now mine. An open wooden rectangle, cobbled together from leftover scraps of previous projects, it’s not too big. Made for use, it has a round dowel handle, easy to grab and go.

That old box has been a part of my world for so long that I have no idea when my dad made it. The red paint’s worn a bit chippy from decades of projects and repairs, a disconcerting number of those at our house. “Go get my hammer out of the toolbox.” “Put the toolbox in the truck.” “Leave that tape measure in the toolbox.” The thing was ever present. I grew up and grew older with it.
Oh, sure, there was a bigger toolbox, also handmade, but The Red Toolbox was the go-to box with the dependable basics: Daddy’s favorite hammer, nails and screws, heavy duty tape measure, a couple of crescent wrenches, several screwdrivers, nail set, small chisel, pliers, scissors, those flat carpenters’ pencils that intrigued me as a child, and a couple of last-minute items that got tossed in.
Daddy always kept a few tools in his vehicles, a set of wrenches and a screwdriver. But if he was going out of town, The Red Toolbox rode in the back. Just in case….
His toolbox and his workshop were basic to my image of him and the foundation of how I knew the man. I called on him to fix everything because I thought he could. As a son of the Depression and sharecropping parents, keeping tools and machinery in repair was a way of life that stayed with him.
Giving care to what he had was a ritual of appreciation for the use of what God had given Daddy. He attended to what he used. Keeping things in good shape was his giving back; fixing what was broken was his creativity. Leaving things in better shape than he found them was his “Thank you.” He was a simple man and it was simply the right thing to do.
In my own life, attending to brokenness took a different form. I became a counselor, an attendant to the pain of being human.
Caring for brokenness calls upon a common wisdom, whether it’s a human spirit grown dry or a hinge, un-oiled and rusting. Both creak for attention, habitually and loudly. Wisdom doesn’t rush the process of caring.
Daddy brought to his projects what he brought to his life: practicality, confidence that he could figure out a solution to whatever was awry, and a worrisome stubbornness that left me thinking he was determined to get hurt rather than get help. The man would look at a problem inside out and upside down with a dogged determination that could my impatience threadbare.
It was exactly that tenacity that had him putting a motor in a car when he was eighty-one because he’d never done that before but he thought he could, if he took his time.
Clearly, when it comes to a model for dealing with whatever is broken in this experience of being human, I don’t have to look far.
Daddy never jotted down a list of rules. Like so many of his generation, he didn’t need to.

These tenets were simply how he lived:
1. Be sure your foundation is solid. Fix it if it’s not.
2. Get familiar with the problem you’re tackling. Look closely. Look at problems from every angle. Get down on your hands and knees
3. If small repairs need to be done before the big job, DO them. There are no shortcuts. It’s time well spent.
4. In painting or staining, do the prep work. Prepare the surface to be receptive. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
5. Keep The Red Toolbox handy. You never know which tools you might need. Put the tools back in it when finished.
6. Buy the best quality materials you can afford.
7. Seeing a job as a puzzle of small pieces makes it manageable. Oh, and lay the pieces out in the order you removed them so you know where they go. Every piece has its place.
8. When a job isn’t coming together, take a break. Go work on something else awhile, even a little task. It’s good to accomplish something, even if it’s not what you intended.
9. If that still doesn’t help, do the best thing you can come up with at the moment. If it doesn’t work, you can rule one thing out.
10. Have good resources: make friends of the guys at the local hardware store and garage. The folks at Biggers’s Hardware and the Gilmore boys are your friends.
11. Good tools make the job easier. Keep them sharp and dry. Never put tools away dirty. Absolutely never!
12. Fixing one board saves a whole wall later. Do the job while it’s small.
13. There are times, when in spite of your best efforts, repairs won’t hold. The original is simply too worn to work with. That’s when it’s time to let it go and start fresh.
And
14. ALWAYS clean up after yourself. The job’s not finished until the floor is swept.

No, Daddy, you had no need to jot them down. You were living them.
I was watching.

Happy Father’s Day,
J.C. McCrary
July 11, 1923—May 9, 2009

This column was published in the Daily Corinthian newspaper, Sunday, June 15. 2014. I am happy to share it with you here.

Peace,

Jaylene

She rests.

beyond the deep blue velvet curtain
of making breakfast
folding towels
sweeping garage
checking homework
unloading dishwasher
paying bills
scrubbing earsgrace extended
hangs a gossamer sheer
a fine and fragile barely there veil
thin as a breath
every night she pulls it aside
crawls through to her life beyond
and
she rests.

Jaylene Whitehurst
Thursday, April 04, 2013

Thoughts on Ripples and Chance

It’s been a while. Okay, it’s been a long while since I’ve blogged. Seems I hardly got started before I was missing-in-action. Maybe you’ve had those seasons of Life yourself?

Here’s the clincher: I’m not sure where I’ve been.

I’m wondering if I was MIA or ME (Me Exploring) or if it even matters. Still, a vague something about the months-long process seems significant. I’m continuing to process what the “something” is.

There’s been action: major house repairs/remodeling with one change birthing another, health concerns in the family, storm damage, death in the family and the changes that grief brings. I’m going to call that messy mix LIFE, in all caps.

Still, when I step back, the action is less significant than the internal exploration that followed the intensity of change, especially the uninvited change. I’ve been hurled into the melee that I think of as relationship realignment. It’s what happens when what slams one person ripples throughout the system.

Ripples. That fits if I allow the ripples to fluctuate into waves and the occasional tsunami. It’s the need to create meaning within my Life changes that’s had me riding the ripples into the coves and inlets of roles I’ve played with before but not dived into.

A poetry group I’ve been a part of for a couple of years now has a larger place in my Life. Hearing the perspectives of others, as we explore the human experience together, has given me welcome connections and new community.

With these folks, I’m creating meaning for these moments. For NOW.

Here’s a recent poem:

journal

By chance

She came across the journal,

College-ruled and bound in black and white.

Hardly used, it ended,

Bluntly with unexpected words:

 

“Maybe I shouldn’t have called,

But if I hadn’t

I’d have never heard

The tone of his blindness

Morph into fatal words.

I tasted the bitterness of his anger,

But I did not swallow.”

 

By chance,

Today

As she was set on forcing the blind to see

She came across the journal again,

Not at all by chance.

~~~~jaylene

Thoughts on Presence and Pushy People

Thoughts on Presence and pushy people: Those with Presence don’t have to push against others, which, by the way, takes energy that could be used elsewhere.

They aren’t in conflict or confrontation constantly with others. They influence what happens around them simply by who they are. They are beacons of Life/Light who connect rather than confront, who invite rather than challenge, who use the energy of righteous indignation with mindful dignity rather than blind rage.

They can stand alone, if they must, because they are never truly alone.

They are rare beings. They are treasures.