Blog and Comments Relocated

Greetings,

Thanks for stopping by and reading the Praying for Strangers blog. it has now been fully integrated into the website at http://www.prayingforstrangers.com and the specific blog update may be found below. Please visit and share your comments. They are greatly appreciated.

Warmest,

River Jordan

http://www.riverjordan.us/blog/2010/10/20/strange-you-should-choose-me/

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The Places They Find Us

Lately, I’ve had ample opportunity to bump into a few strangers. First traveling always provides a rush of strangers. You get the chance to stand in ticket lines, wait in plastic chairs, sit in restaurants when you don’t want to eat, stand in more ticket lines and finally take your assigned seat next to a veritable stranger that you will now share hours of your life story with – even if you don’t say a word. Color your Saturday on this given month in this given year and that stranger is forever etched into the picture. For those who read my regular blog or keep up with short tweeter feed comments, you know I recently experienced a few travel travails but what it showed me ultimately, more than anything in this world is that the obstacles and things that trip us up in life sometimes offer us the greatest opportunity to be there for other people. And I think a part of me hates it when that happens. Because it isn’t convenient and I’m not cheery. More like the Eeyore of prayer – oh, great – another stranger. I say that half-jokingly. Half mind you.

A most recent lovely experience traveling through the city of Atlanta left me turned around at well, every turn, as I tried to make it to signings and book club visit invitations on time. Once upon a time I had a droid phone that had the kickinest gps I’ve seen that would even tell me to remember to breathe between turns. But I took it back because I couldn’t quite figure out how to talk on it which was defeating part of the purpose for having the cell phone. So with only google maps and a general address I ventured forth – trying to find my way which resulted in me meeting lovely strangers who gave me directions all over the city. Strangers from sidewalks in neighborhoods, from car windows rolled down in traffic as they yelled across lanes, and one man in particular who was closing his independent little car shop where I wheeled in at high-speed, rolled the window down and yelled something that I think he could have understood in any language. It might have sounded something like HELP! He approached the window, considered my plight, the exact hour, my location, and took careful steps to get me where I needed to go the fastest route possible from my current position. Then he said, “Wait – what do you do?” I’m late. I should be standing in front of people talking books but this is where I am, reving the jeep in front of this stranger ready to yell thanks and leave him in a cloud of dust. Forget about the droid. I breathe anyway. I offer my name, my hand, a postcard on the new novel Mercy Land, and a brochure on the new Praying for Strangers book. Connections with strangers. They happen. Usually, sometimes, when we least expect it. When its least convientient. But I made it to the bookstore, had a lovely event, and remembered William in my prayers before I fell asleep.

People ask me how I find strangers sometime, how do I choose. Oh, I think sometimes they find me. Sometimes by the masses in transit, sometimes by one dark-eyed man in a parking lot trying to help me stay on the right path. One things for certain, the world isn’t an empty nest and the strangers that move through this life with us will find us. It’s up to us how we will receive them.

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Snap Shots of the Soul

I snapped this photo on the streets of NYC. It’s very raw and real. It’s also very unexpected because I was actually trying to snap a shot of the adorable man getting a shoe-shine right behind him without his knowledge or him posing in any way. No mugging for the camera. Instead I caught a man on the streets, his eyes cast upward, having a discussion with what I imagine was God. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from River Rising, an incredible work of fiction from the award-winning author Athol Dickson. In the novel the main character looks up and says a simple prayer – “Look down here, Lord.” And I think that is just one of the finest prayers I’ve ever heard. It’s perfection personified in my book. When I was looking back through my photo album this shot captured my attention again. It looks like a simple man having a word if you will with the Divine. A quick raw snapshot that captured a truth.

Then I started thinking about snapshots of the soul and what they might look like. The photos I have for publicity have been ‘softly touched up’ as one photographer called it. Those dark circles under this writers eyes have been erased along with a few more lines for good measure. The photos make me look better than I do, no doubt about it. Although we all have good days and bad days – photoshop keeps us perpetually bright eyed and youthful. But I don’t confused by all the smoke and mirrors. It’s all for fun and putting your best face forward so to speak when you have the chance but it was also my birthday yesterday. I turned fifty-two delightful years old and that’s the wonderful truth. So I was viewing the photos of this man in mid-conversation and thinking about things like truth and raw images. Then I began thinking about what the images of the soul caught off-guard would look like. Raw material, something truthful and completely revealing. I think for most of us it would be a mixed bag. All our good, all our bad, all rolled into one. It occurred to me that photo shopping an image of our faces is a pretty easy trick this day and age but of our souls? Not so easy. There is no quick air-brush trick to wipe out those angry words, no pencil to fill in for the deeds we’ve left undone, no coloring system to fill in the good words we left unsaid. But what occured to me is that some of my best moments that any camera could have taken would have been the ones where I stopped and took time to pray for a stranger. Those little tiny moments. I think they have indeed been a type of washing. The days where I’ve kept my eyes open to those around me, the ones where I’ve been more sensitive to the human race – those are the days I’d hope to be caught by a Divine lens. “Look down here, Lord,” indeed. Brushstroke the cloudiness of my soul. Erase the dark spots, the jagged edges, so that I can clearly see those around me with a loving eye and an open heart.

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The Moments We Miss

Praying for Strangers A few days ago I was standing in the grocery store when the music playing through the speakers kicked off a song that always makes me want to dance. It’s pretty much a mindless pop song that many might not care for but my body immediately wants to respond. It’s a tune by the group Fine Young Cannibals title ‘She Drives Me Crazy’ which has no correlation to anything other than the fact I remember them playing it one week on 30 Something when it was a hit tv program in relation to one of the episodes. And the song for whatever reason has always made me want to dance. And it made me want to dance that day in the grocery store. I wanted to break out in spontaneous boogie whether anyone did or not but doing my best to maintain a little dignity at all costs I willed my feet to stay flat on the floor and the other parts of my body to concentrate on the bread aisle wheat or white? Whole grain or multi-thousand grain? Sourdough or cinnamon? But here’s the thing – the man standing next to me did it. He broke out in boogie. I saw him out of my peripheral vision walking past him. He was even singing along. I tried not to look at him at all. I certainly didn’t want to smile at him. And I didn’t want his . . . what? freedom maybe – to taint my . . .what? dignification? I’ve never been worried about being dignified and I try real hard not to worry about what people think of me too terribly much because that can lead to all kinds of traps and boxes forever falling down the rabbit hole to perfectionism and pleasing others. BUT – the man kept dancing, I think I heard him speaking to a woman who was asking him questions who might have been his wife, who was not dancing, and who maybe was wishing he would stop this silliness in public. I made it safely out of the bread aisle and gathered up my list of items and headed for the door. But I couldn’t help feeling that I had cheated myself out of a moment that mattered. Just one silly moment in a multitude of otherwise boring moments in my life where I’m just running errands, crossing t’s, dotting i’s. I should have danced. Really I should. Even if it was only for the first few lines of the song.

The thing is I wanted to and stopped myself from doing so. And it’s exactly the same feeling I have when I want to tell a stranger that I pass that they stood out to me as someone special and that I will be thinking of them, offering a special prayer of blessing for their life before I fall asleep. So many times, for whatever reason, shyness, business, fear that I won’t be well received by the person, stops me. Or wins out if you will against the other side of me that feels compelled to make a short, sweet connection with another human being. I miss the chance of the dance. And not a single time where I’ve felt compelled to connect with someone and overridden that impulse has it not haunted me. I still offer the prayer but just like that silly pop song, the image of that person keeps playing in my head.

So my prayer today is that all those embracing this strange idea to offer up a prayer for a stranger will be a little bolder when we are led to connect with someone to follow the music of our hearts – not our minds. The results of that freedom might just astound us.

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Grey days of the Soul

I spent days doing very human things like having medical tests and warding off the symptoms of Kidney stones which other humans who have had them can tell you – pain is a part of that process. And yes, in those few days I was a little bit slower (okay a lot slower) and focused on myself just a bit more. I was trying to get through my days like everyone else and accomplishing even smaller tasks had become a little . . . taxing? Challenging? Yes! And making me so much more appreciative for the former weeks where I was having fun with the Adorables at the beach (the grandgirls) and those few weeks ago were beginning to seem like ancient history. I crept around, managed a very nice social Dutch Lunch (which is part of my monthly routine in Nashville with authors and other book-minded peopled) – and then IMMEDIATELY went back into my shell of not talking to anyone.

On one of this days I crossed paths with someone who was very much NOT in a shell. She walked into  a business speaking loud enough for all the patrons to hear, wearing a medical gizmo and giving out lots of recent medical details of her trials and tribulations. I tried not to make eye contact because I didn’t want to talk to another human for one more minute. But the entire time I was thinking – all she wants is a chat, a small chat, to share a few sordid details – all you have to do is go Ummmhumm once in a while – but all that self talk didn’t move me. I made my escape with that woman still on my mind. And yes, I prayed for her later I really did. But a friendly five minutes sure might have been worth more to her. OK – if I were a betting woman I’d give you some odds here.

Then I spent a few more days surfing the city with slower steps and even shorter sentences. And yes, I kept seeing people I felt needed a prayer here and there but my heart wasn’t in it. Pain sure does have a way of side tracking you in a multitude of ways. A few constant twinges and a bit of anger and self-pity.  What began happening at the same time was this kind of dark feeling as if I was entering some sort of grey nebulous.  That pulling away. Where I had been so plugged into the human story for over a year, I was beginning to disassociate. And the numbness that went with that was not at all pleasant. I no longer feel compelled to pray for a person every day as I did in 2009 during the resolution year although I usually still do. But after a few days of not being engaged in that way I can certainly tell a difference. I don’t like it.

The following day I was walking through a local health venue and instead of looking for someone, or being sensitive to someone who might need a special prayer I started remembering all the people I had prayed for here and there walking through that store in the previous year. And remembering the few I had told in person. Which somehow made me busts through my spiritual lethargy and walk up to a woman and say – “Hey, What is your name if you don’t mind me asking because I do this thing – (you can feel in the blanks by now) and today you are my special person. I just want you to know that.”

“Alright!” she said, and pumped her arm a little in the air. “Alright!” she said again.

A smile crept up on my face in spite of my pain. I nodded my head, thinking ‘Alright!’ to myself for different reasons.Then we spoke for a little while where I explained to her how much more she was helping my soul that day than the other way around. And it sure was the truth no matter how she might have looked at it. I told her about the past year, the resolution, and the forthcoming book next April with some of those stories like hers.

“I’m tearing up,” she tells me.

“Yeah, me too.”

And I”m so glad I still can. Seriously. Those bitten days of functioning at a fine level until I could get somewhere to cloak myself, walk through a crowd unnoticed and unfeeling – there’s not much good there. Give me a few short minutes, a stranger here and there any day over the ones where I armor myself with my own life’s pain and pleasures.  And it wouldn’t hurt for me to have a little more patience too. A few minutes of ummmhumm’s might go a long way to water someone else’s soul. No doubt, it would water mine.

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Bars and Befriending

Been up and down the road a bit. Capturing memories in my back pocket. Spending summer vacation days with the Adorables as they had time off from school, and totally eating up every sunshiny sandcastle moment of it. I’ve also been praying for strangers at every turn. Old people in restaurants, young sassy people at the deli counters, amusement park kids running the ferris wheel. One thing about vacationing – it gets you off the couch and out into the sea of humanity in a very major way.

For those keeping tabs – Praying for Strangers is now in the hands of its most excellent editor at Penguin, the final book cover is in design, and other talks are happening about the best way to present this amazing story to the world. IN the meantime as my life goes on in a multitude of writerly and personal ways, I keep praying for those that cross my path in a special way. Although it was never what I intended – my resolution has truly become a lifestyle.

And this is what it looks like up close from the inside out.

I’ve had weeks of vacationing with the Adorables (officially grandchilden girls 8 and 3) and have pulled out all the fun cards that a Zaza can find (their official name for me).  Then husband and I delievered them safely home again to North Carolina and drove north to visit his Dad, his old stomping grounds of his babydom of Slaughter Beach, Delaware and up the coast to the old gang outside of Philly where we hit the neighborhood Tavern to meet with his high school buddies where they could catch up on life. Now, as I’m talking to one of the wives I look up and lock eyes with the Spanish woman pushing a broom. I smile and she says “HI!” like she knows me because for a moment she thinks she does. I get up and walk over to her, put my arm around her shoulder where I can hear her. “You’ve been here before? Yes?” “No,” I say, “This is the first time I’ve been here.”

Then I start listening to her story. Her Name is Nora. Her life is not an easy one. She tells me some day she’d like to write her story before she finds out I’m a writer. “I’ve had a hard life,” she says. “I’ve lost my daughter. I don’t know where she is.”

She talks about being from the Honduras  about how long she’s lived here. About her daughter being American and angry with her for not having things like the other girls her age. Things like cell phones and new clothes. Then she asks me questions about Nashville, about what it’s like and if its friendly. “And work? There is work there? What type of work can people like me do there?” People like me. I look at her and think about rules and laws and immigration and my thoughts about those things. Policy thoughts are one thing, Looking into Nora’s eye’s is another. “I’ve got my visa,” she says. “Are there people like me there in this place Nashville?”

“Yes, Nora, there are people like you there.”

“And what kind of work do we do there?” She looks quickly around for the manager that walks through the door to the outdoor patio, she begins pushing the broom, her eyes following it’s path as she continues talking to me. “Work like this yes? This kind of work.”

“Yes, work like this and other work. Restaurants a lot.”

“But it’s friendly there yes? People are nice?”

Yes, I tell her. But what do I know really. People are friendly to me. They are friendly to my sister. To strangers. We find it to be one of the friendliest people on the planet. We like our adopted city. It has big heart we think and quick to lend a hand. But is that what Nora would find as she keeps searching for a place to accept her, to give her a job. To call home?  I can’t tell her the truth or a lie. What do I know? All I can do is offer up a prayer so I tell her that but I also scribble my cell number on the back of business card just in case she finds her way states away on a dark night where it turns out the place isn’t as friendly as I’d hoped it would be.

I give her a hug and she pushes her broom on across the floor under the mangers watchful eyes. She looks back at me one more time before she goes through the door. I pat my heart and point to her trying to say, “Right here Nora, will be keeping you in my prayers and I’ll remember you.”

And I do.

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A Month of Strangers

A few days ago I asked a few friends  and people at large if they would join me in taking a 30 day opportunity to pray for a stranger each day. I look forward to their words and impressions as the month of May wore on. IN the meantime, I’ve continued to pray for people I passed in the stores and elsewhere but as I was wrapping up the final pages of the Praying for Strangers book for Penguin I didn’t bring those words to this space as often as I would have liked.  Rarely actually as I had to continue putting words to the page. But in the days ahead I look forward to writing more, sharing more, and listening more through this space.

One of the things that has remained paramount to me in my personal experience of doing this is that the newness never wore off. And some of the greatest comments from the strangers themselves have been “You inspire me. I could do this.”

Still – so many of these meetings are just when I least expect it, when I’m having one of those days where I refuse to tell anyone they are my stranger but the next thing you know – I’m leaving the jeep in park and making a beeline for woman in the parking lot. Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t scream HEY Stranger from a distance. Little by Little, more and more – I put out my hand and introduce myself. And you just don’t know how strange that is for me in the middle of the day, in the middle of my deadlines and busy life -that is unless you read the book. Suffice to say the changes in me have been significant.

My  awareness of other people and my ability to connect with them on a personal level has grown exponentially this past year. And this resolution thing? It looks like it’s moved in and taken up permanent residence in my life.

What’s your story? How has the month touched, challenged, or impressed you?

Thank you so much for joining the endeavor even if it was for only one day.

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