2014 gift list

Just wheat

Over seven years ago, I started a painful journey toward becoming myself.

217491_505060962482_4965_nLately I have been contemplating some things I’ve learned since beginning this journey in 2007. So, in truth, my gift list this year is a compilation of lessons I’ve learned over the past seven and a half years but maybe only fully realized within the past year.

I consider these lessons learned to be great gifts I received from mentors in my life who are on the same journey. I get to place my feet in their footsteps, to ask them for help when I stumble, and to humble myself and ask for prayer when my own prayers seem insufficient and when my own faith feels feeble.

I have learned to be honest.

I haven’t always had the capacity to be fully honest with others, not even with God. I tried, rest assured, but I somehow seemed to…

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Gift list

Today’s post is an essay by one of my English Composition I students, Hannah Shell. Hannah is a true ray of sunshine. After spending a semester observing her in class and getting to know her through her writing, I completely understand why her parents would want to bless her by surprising her with a car on her 16th birthday. I hope my daughter has as lovely a spirit as Hannah someday. 

I have been given numerous amazing gifts that I am beyond thankful for. The first most memorable gift that I have received this year was on June 27, my 16th birthday. I had just finished a rigorous cross country practice that took place in the hilly trails behind Batesville High School. It was a scorching hot summer day, and after that long run, my legs felt as if they would collapse any second.

As I stumbled to the parking lot, searching for my dad’s white farm truck, I realized that there were no cars in the parking lot, and he was running 15 minutes late. I sighed and began to dial his number when I heard three honks that came from a car pulling right up in front of me.

photo (1)My stepmom, her short blonde hair bobbing up and down, was clasping her hands together in the passenger’s seat, and my father, who sat in the driver’s seat, was waving his hand out the window, almost as if his arm was about to fall off. The radio was blaring, making the mirrors shake, and there was a giant red bow that sat on the hood of the maroon Pontiac G6. I threw my hands over my mouth and started jumping up and down out of control. I was completely surprised and immediately ran to give my parents a huge hug. My first car was more than perfect, and I am so grateful for such a wonderful gift.

The second favorite gift that I have received this year was on Christmas morning. My whole family was gathered around the Christmas tree with so many gifts underneath. The gifts were wrapped in  all kinds of beautiful wrapping paper and brightly colored ribbons. Christmas music was playing softly, and we were all drinking hot chocolate with fluffy marshmallows scattered on top. I had a red fuzzy blanket wrapped around me and a permanent smile on my face because I just love the happy atmosphere and warm feeling of Christmas morning.

After unwrapping many wonderful gifts of clothes, makeup, and jewelry, I held my last present in my hands. It was my turn to open, and my family looked at me with just as much anticipation to see what was inside. I eagerly ripped off the wrapping paper. It was a white box with the Apple symbol on the outside, and I immediately knew what it was. I looked at my parents with an even bigger smile. I opened the white box, and an iPhone 5 was perfectly placed in the center. I picked it up out of the box, and the cold screen felt so wonderful in my warm hands. I flipped it over on its side to pet it as if it were a cat. The smooth back had absolutely no scratches. It was exactly what I had been wanting, and I am very thankful for it as well.

The third greatest gift I received this year happened one evening when I was at Colton’s Steakhouse. Although I had spent most of my money on gas for the week, I was craving Colton’s buttery rolls, and I was willing to spend what was left of my money on some delicious food.  After inhaling three oozing, hot rolls, I ate a fresh dinner salad topped with tomatoes, cheese, and my favorite salad dressing, ranch. Then I proceeded onto the main entrée of a sizzling sirloin and crispy French fries. The steak was cooked perfectly with only a little pink in the middle, and the thick, warm fries melted in my mouth. As I leaned back in the booth, feeling full and content, suddenly the friendly brunette waitress with red lipstick and extremely white teeth came to my table. She informed me that some gentleman had paid for my dinner and then briskly walked away with a smile.

My jaw dropped; I was in complete shock. My heart was so full fo happiness that someone was so generous to pay for my meal. This was not a new car or brand new iPhone 5. However, it was a random act of kindness, and sometimes, the gifts that cost little to nothing are what can make you the happiest.

Gifts

Today’s post is an essay written by one of my English Composition I students, Jessica Bacon. Jessica was a true blessing in my life this semester; she’s an ideal student, a loving mom, and a caring person. She is certainly a true elevator person to all those she encounters, lifting others up and not tearing them down. Not only that, but she also worked her tail off this semester and improved her writing skills by leaps and bounds. Merry Christmas, Jessica!

“The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than in its value.” (Charles Dudley Warner)  Gifts come in many shapes and forms.  Some may only consider presents that can be unwrapped or objects that can be associated with a monetary value as gifts.  Others can see the gift in things they cannot physically hold.  I like presents just as much as anybody else, but the best gifts are those I cannot put a dollar sign on.  Reflecting on this year, I know I have so much to be thankful for, but the gifts that stand out are the ones with sentimental value that will leave a lifetime of memories.

Jessica Bacon fam picConsidering that there are 2,129 miles between my home in Evening Shade, Arkansas, and my mom’s house in Vancouver, Washington, we do not see each other often.  In June, my mom flew out to visit.  As she walked through the airport terminal, I could see her smiling from ear to ear with tears streaming down her cheeks.  I could feel the love radiating through her when she hugged me.  During the week she was here, we watched my girls’ softball games, shopped, swam, cooked, and laughed until our bellies hurt.  Our housed smelled like a Bath and Body Works store from the array of candles and body products she bought for us.  My mom made us her Puerto Rican rice, chicken, and beans.  The garlic, green olives, and tomato sauce in the rice made an interesting combination of flavors.  Because Mom was recovering from shoulder surgery, she had to do her physical therapy exercises while she was here.  I loved watching my youngest daughter Carly running around her yelling, “Can’t shit (how she said catch) me, Gamma!!” while Mom did her exercises.  We will forever cherish the memories we made with her.  The real gift was Mom’s presence rather than the presents that she bought us.

Having four kids and multiple crazy schedules to work around, date nights and alone time are far and few between for my husband and I.  In August, our friend Robyn offered to watch our four girls so we could go out for our eleventh anniversary.  I knew that my babies were in good hands, so I was able to relax and enjoy my childless evening.  We went to Patio Lino Latin Restaurant for dinner.  When we walked into the crowded building the aroma of the food tantalized my nostrils, and the buffet in the corner caught my eye.  The flavor of the shrimp was so amazing that I could not stop eating it despite the intense heat.  My mouth and lips were on fire, and it made my nose run.  After dinner we went to Wal-Mart and bought season six of Sons of Anarchy to watch at home.  I fell asleep on the couch snuggled up to my husband with the feeling of his heart beating against my back while listening to the story of Jax Teller and the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club.

I attended my first semester of college this fall.  On my first day, I was so nervous and worried that I would be the oldest one in my classes.  When I entered my first class I saw students of all ages and several who appeared old enough to be my parents.  At first Intermediate Algebra was a struggle.  I spent many hours in the Student Success Center where there was a constant bustle of students, the strong scent of coffee, and varying tutoring sessions could be overheard.

Knowledge is a gift, and my first semester was successful.

Embodying the spirit of giving

With MIdge on My Wedding Day*Today’s post is written by contributor Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, one of my former professors. Dr. Murphy is a fabulous writer; I’m thankful that she regularly contributes to my blog and still takes the time to mentor me as a writer, demonstrating to me the true spirit of giving as well. Merry Christmas, Dr. Murphy!*

Christmas is just around the corner, and I know of no one who embodies the spirit of giving more than my aunt, Midge Brewer.  I’m grateful to her, and I can say without reservation that many other people have also benefited from her acts of kindness – not just at Christmastime, but all year around.

One of my favorite stories about Midge happened when I was fifteen.  For Christmas that year, Midge gave me a beautiful turtleneck sweater from Neiman Marcus.  She had spent the fall taking an extensive training course in Dallas, but she took the time to go Christmas shopping and find a lovely gift for me.  I had never had such a fancy sweater before, and I wore it for years.  On that particular Christmas, the sweater was the perfect present because it provided a beautiful cover for the back brace I was wearing for my scoliosis.  She probably had no idea how much that sweater meant to me, just as I’m sure she has no idea how much her kindness has meant to me and to the other people she has come in contact with over the years.

Another Midge story occurred one day while I was waiting to have my hair cut in my hometown of Batesville, Arkansas.  Even in a small town, it’s rare to overhear perfect strangers engaged in a conversation about someone you know, but on that day I overheard a man and woman talking about Midge. Of course, I listened in.  They were discussing a wedding shower she had given for someone at the church they all attended and remarking on what a wonderful job she had done. I’m certain that Midge lost count years ago of the number of showers she has given as well as the number of weddings she has directed.

In addition to giving showers and directing weddings, Midge is also skilled at making wedding cakes and has made dozens of them.  Several years ago, she made a wedding cake for a relative and placed it in the church kitchen so it would be there for the reception.  In the meantime, a man broke into the church and helped himself to some of the food in the church pantry, including a slice of the beautiful wedding cake Midge had made.  When the mother of the bride discovered what had happened, she called Midge.  With no time to bake another cake, Midge whipped up some frosting and filled in the space the thief left behind with a Twinkie.

Midge is generous and resourceful, but she is not one to call attention to herself, and I will probably get into trouble for writing this post.  I’ll take the risk.  We live in a culture where sensational acts of heroism are celebrated.  While that’s important, people who quietly practice acts of kindness and generosity on a daily basis rarely get the recognition they deserve.  Midge has spent her life in service to others, and this Christmas I’d like her to know that I am grateful for all the things she has done.

Three gifts in 2014

*My English Composition I students wrote their final exam essays about three gifts they received in 2014. Some of their essays were exceptionally touching, meaningful, or humorous. I believe you’ll enjoy reading a few of these–whose authors have granted permission for me to share on the blog–over the next few weeks. This essay is by one of my most hilarious (bless her heart–the drop grade just never happened and never will–and caring students, Shanna Huffine. I will definitely miss having her in class this spring!*

Mrs. Wallace hard at work eating Oreos during a classroom party, fall 2014.

Mrs. Wallace hard at work eating Oreos during a classroom party, fall 2014.

There have been many gifts given to me over the years, but 2014 has been one of the most significant in a while. Of all the gifts I have received this year, there are three in particular that I am most excited to have received. Bethany Wallace, my 2008 Kia Sorento Ex, and a free chicken sandwich from Chick-Fil-A have been the most valuable gifts I have been honored with in 2014.

My English Composition 1 instructor, Bethany Wallace, is a gift from the gods. She has taught me the true meaning of the English language, and she has pushed me through training in the ways of composition with her bronze-red, short hair that flows in the wind while she expertly struts through the hallow halls of the campus. Her eyes light up as she admonishes her terrified students for using to, too, and two in the wrong contexts. Mrs. Wallace’s velvety voice caresses my ears as the words, “You can choose to use your drop grade on your final, if you so wish.” She has guided me to become a better writer and person through her god-given English teaching abilities, and for this, I am truly grateful.

After trying to take my car swimming in July, my grandfather in Illinois decided to buy me another new-to-me vehicle. My 2008 Kia Sorento’s dark grey paint that sparkles and shines in the sunlight, and when I shimmy into the driver’s seat, the dark grey cotton seat material cushions my buttocks. The leathery steering wheel is smooth against my skin as the scent of cleaning products and Febreze fills my nostrils. I miss my old car, but I’ve come to love my Sorento. We are one.

chickfilaOn my way to Illinois the week before last, I stopped at Chick-Fil-A. I accepted the receipt from the drive-thru jockey, which had a website URL to access a survey. It asked a lot of questions about what kind of experience I had at my most recent visit to the restaurant. At the end I got a code to write on my receipt and redeem a free chicken sandwich from any participating Chick-Fil-A. Pulling up to the eatery in Jonesboro once again, I sauntered inside and waited in line forever.

The dull roar of people chatting and young kids talking 274829% too loud invaded my ear drums as they threatened to bust. The smell of chicken, fried potatoes, and burning oil constantly hit my smelling glands like a brick. The atmosphere was stuffy as people surrounded me on all sides as I nervously glanced around and prayed that no one accidentally brushed up against me. I finally handed my ticket to the cashier, thanked her for the sandwich, and elbowed my way through the crowd back to my car.

I instantly opened the paper bag. I reached in and clutched my small hand around the foiled sandwich. I awed at the savory goodness as I unwrapped it like a kid at Christmas and brought it to my mouth. The boneless, seasoned to perfection, juicy chicken breast instantly patted my taste buds softly. The crisp lettuce and sharp mayonnaise complimented the buttered bun and dill pickle chips perfectly. It was my first chicken sandwich from Chick-Fil-A, and it was pretty amazing.

I’ve had very few gifts this year. Wallace, my new car, and free food are the best gifts that I’ve gotten. They are also the ones that I am most grateful for in 2014. Hopefully I’ll have them in my life for years to come.

Family

*Today’s post is written by friend and frequent contributor Debra Dickey. Debra is like family to me! Thank you, Debra, for sticking by me all these years closer than a sister.*

Last evening, I had the rare and lovely opportunity to get together with my favorite great-aunt and one of my delightful cousins over dinner, combined with a wonderful two hour visit.  O????????ur conversation of course began with checking on everyone’s children, asking about their lives and their jobs, bragging over their one great-grandchild, all interspersed with comedic tales of my aunt’s recent surprise birthday card party.

We commiserated and laughed and recounted memories of times, family, and events past.  We recalled fun visits at each other’s homes, vegetable canning stories, traveling up north together with the eight of us in one car–what a hoot!–and our recollections of that summer trip.  We had an emotional conversation about two of the brothers of that generation being part of two wars, our losing one to his war, and the other coming home to live with a devastation that would plague him throughout his life.

We talked about the love that is very visible in our families, and the integrity that abounds within our heritage.  We chuckled over early reputations that came from hard-scrabble upbringings and a rough living that made those good folks as we came to know them, who they were, and how those enigmatic layers added character and such great stories to our family tree, and how truly proud we are to be a part of this renowned family lineage.

We caught up on recent news being celebrated and current situations troubling us, and we ambled back in time with ‘dating’ stories and ‘movie star’ photographs that we love.  As our thoughts understandably turned to our mutual appreciations regarding our families, time and distance just slipped away as if we were all standing at the same point in our lives if only for a moment.  Extraordinary.

Our family can create these moments.  Our family has history.  People in our family take time to share these stories that we pass around.  They remind us of the legacies that we connect with, the ancestries that we define ourselves with, and the shared roots that are the light of our heritance.  Heirlooms of kinship.

As we ended our evening, we were reluctant to go — promising to do it again soon, but not quite knowing when soon may come.

I had such a wonderful time that I could hardly fall asleep. These are people of my heart and my soul, and getting to spend time with them is a bona fide adrenaline rush!  Like all of us sharing the same skin for a while in an exquisite timepiece connection.  Beautiful.

Fun times, fun people, fun family!  All of which I always look forward to, and none of which I would trade for anything.

Think Laurel and Hardy

*Today’s post is written by regular contributor (and good friend) Debra Dickey. Thank you, Debra, for sharing your wit, insight, and life with us!*

Gratefully, sometimes my life turns into a comedy routine. Not that kitty antics are not laughable in their own right – but sometimes it gets even better!

Laurel & HardyLast night, my two young nephews provided a comedy skit worthy of a Laurel and Hardy routine. And because my phone reception is not always reliable, they ended up drawing my ready-for-bed, ain’t-walkin’-across-the-yard-in-the-dark, so-drove-his-truck-700-yards-down-the-road-to-my-house, to-deliver-a-crazy message -that -didn’t-even-begin-to-make-sense–nor-could-he-understand, Dad into their crazy comedy routine at 8:30 at night as well.

This was the message: (Dad)  My brother called and said I needed to go to the house to do something for Randy…. ‘cause Cody has his key….and I needed to tell Randy….. but I needed to go the house  . . . . .he REALLY didn’t understand what they were talking about…. so I’d be better off to call somebody and find out what they were talking about…..’cause he really didn’t know.”

I’m cracking up!

So I called Cody, and he tells me I need to go let Randy in the house, and tell him he has his keys and he’s on his way home.  Okay, none of this is still making sense, right.  True to typical comedy, only after it’s all over do I finally learn the actual story — think Laurel and Hardy:  Cody had gone to get his truck, but his keys weren’t there, so he called Randy at his girlfriend’s house, to go home and get his other keys and bring them to him, but Randy has lost his house key, so I am supposed to go let Randy in the house so he can get Cody’s keys and take them to him, except by the time I got the message, the other person had brought Cody’s keys, so Cody has his keys and now I am supposed to let Randy in the house, but tell him that Cody has his keys and is on his way home, but by the time I drive over and get to the end of the road, Cody has already gotten in touch with Randy, at which point Randy is waiting for me, because everything’s fine, and nobody needs nothin’!  = two nutty boys!    ( :   You just can’t make this stuff up!

I love my family, and my nephews and my niece, and would do anything for them – they are what make the world go ‘round!  They bring hilarity and a healthy dose of character to all of us with their unique personalities and their attempts to navigate life in their own way that nobody can deny. You gotta love ‘em…..and I do.