Rhonda Cagle

Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Fool’s Gold

In Uncategorized on January 24, 2010 at 7:14 pm

It was the mid-1970s when I had the opportunity to look for gold. In actuality, it was a summer church field trip to an abandoned gold mine in Arizona. But in my all-too-vivid childhood imagination, it was a bus ride straight to adventure and fortune. As the bus bumped its way across the dusty backroads of Arizona’s desert, my mind clouded with the vision of the untold riches that were sure to be waiting for me when the bus stopped. I carefully examined the macramé bag that rested in my lap. It held everything a seven-year-old girl would need for the journey: cherry chapstick, the newest Mad Libs book my mother had bought me, a mini-pencil that needed sharpening, a handful of Kleenex my grandmother had insisted I take along, and my plastic bubblegum pink wallet emblazoned with a lemon yellow cross. I was especially proud of my wallet as I had earned it in my Sunday School class as a result of reciting from memory all the weekly verses assigned for that past quarter. I carefully evaluated these treasures, wondering if my macramé bag would be large enough to hold them in addition to the gold I was sure to bring home.

I stepped off the bus and found myself giddy with excitement as the tour guide explained how I would soon be searching for gold. Before long, I was bringing bucketfuls of dirt back to a sorting station. I expectantly shook the contents of my bucket onto a sieve. Back and forth, over and over, I shook the sieve from side to side; my eyes carefully looking for the nuggets of gold that would be left sitting on top of the mesh while everything else fell below into the waste pile.

As the day wore on, my anxiety grew. I found quartz, copper, an arrowhead – even fool’s gold – but nothing of real value. The waste pile beneath my sieve grew larger as my hope for gold grew smaller. As the sun was casting late afternoon shadows over the desert landscape, I climbed back on the bus clutching my macramé bag. There was no gold inside but somehow it felt heavier – probably the weight of disappointment.

The past few weeks, I’ve thought often about that long-ago day. Life feels a lot like that sieve. Back and forth, over and over, it shakes; its violent motion sifting between what I know and what I think I know. Most of what was once truth now lies like fool’s gold in the growing waste pile.

I’m sad. Wiser. Cautious. Solitary. I’m also curious, wondering what will remain when life stops shaking. At the end of the day, I’m sure I’ll come away with the same treasures I originally brought with me – faith, hope, and love. But I’ve found no gold, and life somehow feels heavier.

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The Stories We Tell

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2010 at 1:33 am

It’s strange how the lives of people I’ve never met become part of who I am. Like ghosts of past or parallel lives, they haunt my existence, piquing my curiosity about matters of ethics, morality, faith, and beauty. Sometimes they are saints who come alive through their writings; others are artists, capturing for my eyes and soul the beauty illuminated and translated through their own. Frequently, these ghosts both frustrate and inspire me, causing me to stretch to become a better version of the person I am at the moment.

For several weeks now, I’ve been thinking about one of these people – a little girl I know through Dennis. He met her in the “cafegymatorium” at one of the schools he led. The lunch lady called Dennis and asked him to come and talk to a kid who was acting “funny.” Dennis went in and saw a little girl quietly going from table to table, picking through the food left behind by the other children. “Honey, what are you doing?” Dennis asked her. Shyly, the little girl explained to Dennis that she and her brothers and sisters didn’t have enough to eat at home. She was collecting leftovers to try and find enough food to feed them some sort of dinner.

When Dennis came home from work that night, he told me this little girl’s story. He spoke of her big eyes. He was incredulous and angry that the hunger in this little girl’s stomach was eclipsing the promise of her young life. As he spoke of her, he began to weep, tears running down his cheeks. He held my hand and asked, “How is she supposed to do well in school when she doesn’t know where her next meal is coming from? How can she learn when she’s hungry?”

Dennis could not forget this young child, and it was no surprise that it was her story he told when our friends, Lisa and Vince, had us over for dinner and asked how things were going at his schools. They listened quietly – as Dennis liked to say, they listened with their hearts. And that night, the little girl’s story became part of their own.

It wasn’t long after that dinner that Dennis and I learned he was fighting cancer – and three weeks later he was gone. But a few days before he died, Lisa and Vince sent Dennis an email telling him that because he had cared enough to tell her story, the little girl – and many more like her – would no longer be hungry. They had been inspired to found Kitchen on the Street, an all-volunteer agency that partners with schools to provide weekend/evening meals to children who would otherwise go hungry. Dennis cried when he learned that dozens of children were being fed each week. Today, that number has grown to more than 250 children every week being fed through Kitchen on the Street.

I never met this little girl. And for months after Dennis died, I was too overwhelmed with grief and exhaustion to care much about the efforts of the agency inspired by her story. But, like my husband, I couldn’t forget her. Still can’t. Her life… her plight… her story continues to haunt me. And now, she has become a part of who I am. This little girl, with her big eyes and heavy heart, both pleads with and demands for me to continue helping – not so much for her anymore, but for the thousands of children like her who go to bed every night with the pain of hunger gnawing in their stomachs and hearts.

This Thursday night, I’ll have the opportunity to share her story with hundreds of people who will be gathering for a jazz concert benefiting Kitchen on the Street. Hopefully through my words, they’ll see her big eyes… feel her hunger… and find her story becoming part of their own.

If you live in the Phoenix area, I invite you to join me at “Jazz Under the Stars,” a benefit concert for Kitchen on the Street. To learn more about KOS and the concert, please visit their website, http://www.KitchenOnTheStreet.org.

Originally written October 13, 2009

She Looked A Lot Like Me

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2010 at 1:22 am

She asked me for bread this Christmas. Her voice came from behind me and I turned around to see who was speaking, certain I had misunderstood her. I hadn’t. She asked me for bread or perhaps some hot dogs.

In my neighborhood, being asked for a handout happens almost every day. Usually, however, I can spot the ones who are about to ask me for money. This woman slipped in under my radar. She wasn’t dirty or unkempt. Her clothes were clean and her hair was tidy. She was well spoken and in her right mind. The truth is she looked a lot like me.

As I stood for a moment sizing her up, I found myself embarrassed for judging her need by her appearance. In listening to her speak, embarrassment gave way to shame as she told me her story. She is a victim of our economy. She lost her job several weeks ago and has children to feed. She was in my shopping complex filling out job applications at all the local shops. She was having no luck. This woman looked me in the eye and said, “I’m not asking you for money. I’m asking you for food. Things are getting tight and I need help feeding my children. Would you buy me a loaf of bread or some hot dogs and consider it a Christmas present for my kids?”

I stood there in silence, stunned at her request. I had expected her to ask for money. Instead she asked me for a loaf of bread for Christmas. Somehow her request pierced my heart and all I could think of was the fact that I was going home this afternoon and making a quiche for Megan’s dinner. At least for today and for the next several days, I know where my daughter’s next meal is coming from. This woman who looked a lot like me couldn’t say the same.

Clearing my throat, I found my voice and asked the woman if she could stay put for a few minutes. She told me she would be waiting in front of the grocery store. I shoved my to do list back in my purse and made my way inside the grocery. Not knowing how long it would be before she made it back home, I made my way up and down aisles picking out non-perishable foods and placing them in my basket. Pasta and sauce; bread and peanut butter and jelly; tuna and mayonnaise; and a few granola bars later, I made my way back out the doors and toward the woman waiting for me.

She looked at the bags of groceries and her face lit up. Smiling, she told me her children would be so happy to eat good food. Her voice cracked and her lip quivered as she thanked me for the food. We stood there in front of the grocery store looking at each other with heavy hearts and tears running down our faces.

I blessed her in God’s name and made my way through the parking lot toward my car. All afternoon, I’ve thought of this woman and prayed for her and her children. Times are hard, the future uncertain. Work is scarce. Children need provision. It’s Christmas, and this woman looked a lot like me.

Originally written December 17, 2008

Heavenly Day

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2010 at 1:12 am

There is something absolutely lovely about weekends. They act as an emotional pumice, polishing away the rough, calloused places caused by the wear and tear of the week. Fridays usually find me crabby and short-tempered but by Sunday, I am soft and smooth and once again presentable for public display.

It’s not that I don’t have moments of quiet during the week, but they are few and far between. As the chaos and deadlines of the week eat away at my days and even nights, I find my resources growing shorter and my patience thinner. By Friday, Jesus and I are both ready to drink gin straight from the bottle and I find myself counting down the hours until I pick Megan up from school and retreat to the serenity and solitude of my home and garden.

Saturday mornings are nothing short of holy and create a sanctuary that offers life-giving resuscitation to my soul. Seriously. My Saturday mornings are sacred. I give them up only for my Kitchen on the Street volunteer work – and even then not weekly.

On days like today, I can slow down the pace of life. I can listen to my soul breathe. And I can see God in ways that are simply unavailable during the week. From a theological perspective, I’m well aware that God is constantly moving and speaking all around me, but the phone ringing with clients on the other end of the line, the deadlines looming, and the noise of weekday life often drowns out His voice and movement. Isaiah wrote that we know God in stillness and quietness. And the church fathers, especially the desert fathers, gained their divine revelation, in part, through their solitary existence. Sadly, those opportunities are too often lacking in my workday week. Which is why weekends are precious to me.

Today began as most Saturdays do with me making a large cup of tea and heading for the hot tub. As I soaked and sipped, I noticed that my ornamental pear tree is blossoming. The sun peeking over my back wall backlit the tree’s blossoms, causing them to glow a translucent white. It was magical. I watched, mesmerized, as the breeze ruffled the flowers, causing them to sway. It evoked an old-fashioned comfort that reminded me of lacy white curtains fluttering in the windows of a white clapboard farmhouse. I literally felt my soul stretch, luxuriating in the simple pleasure of sun, water, flowers, and sky.

As I soaked, I was able to ruminate on the events of the week, writing projects I’m working on, and a hodge-podge smattering of life. My thoughts drifted lazily from one subject to the next. I laughed out loud as I realized their meanderings resembled the zig-zag pattern of a near-by bee that was bumbling between my geraniums, lobelia, and petunias, then back again. The wind chimes sang and swayed in the breeze, sounding just like church bells from an ancient cathedral. I smiled, realizing once again why Dennis had loved them so much.

The day continued its reverie of simple pleasures. I did laundry, washing my sheets and anticipating the comfort of settling into a lavender-scented bed. I made brunch, sautéing onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, and spinach before folding them into fluffy scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese. I enjoyed my meal in the courtyard and read the paper cover to cover, noting how all the small stories that don’t make CNN add such local interest and color to my world.

As I worked in the garden this afternoon, I felt my soul working on the interior spaces of my being. Pruning my rose bushes I trimmed slowly, trying to see the ideal shape of each bush emerging from carefully placed cuts. With each snip of my shears I realized I was mentally preparing for the coming Lenten season. I found myself asking God what areas of my life need to be cut away, trusting Him to work carefully and bring about the ideal shape of my soul. By the time I was done fertilizing and watering all of my flowers, I realized my own soul had been fed.

Tomorrow will bring church – or not. I haven’t decided yet. If it does, it will be an early morning filled with hustle and bustle to get out the door and into the pew on time. There will be no hot tub, no hot tea sipped from the comfort of perfectly heated water while steam rises up like incense toward heaven. There will be no opportunity for reflection… contemplation… peace.  But today is heavenly. It’s the weekend; and I’m grateful.

Originally written January 31, 2009

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