Dear Kai

Today’s post is written by my student, Katrina King. As a mother, I can relate to the love and pride she expresses for her daughter in this letter. I hope to write a letter like this to Maggie someday.

Dear Kai

Hey girl, so I got an assignment in my Comp class, and I think it is the best assignment yet, in my opinion of course. We were given an assignment to write a letter telling someone how thankful we are to have them in our life (on the topic of gratitude). I feel really comfortable writing this because I knew  before I finished reading the assignment that I would be writing about you.

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Katrina’s daughter, Kai

I know that I am your mother, and we will always have that special bond that so few share and so many others could relate to, but not many know what we have gone through just this fall semester. You had a full course load with 14 hours, me working two jobs, taking my first online course and attending an in-class lecture so I can finally finish school. To say it has been tough is most definitely an understatement.

I appreciate how hard you worked to try to maintain a good GPA in a very unfamiliar territory. I know you have had your struggles; I couldn’t imagine some of the fears you may have faced, especially since you are a deaf child, leaving your mark in a hearing world, a world that does not always understand you. You are doing your best to have your voice heard. You have helped me with getting your brother back and forth to school–practice, tutoring, feeding him–the whole nine, while I work some crazy hours, and you have done it all with a smile and not too many complaints.

Your grace and beauty defines the way a young lady should act and carry herself. I am so proud of you. I am thankful the Lord saw fit to pair us up to do this life together. There will never be enough words to tell you how truly grateful I am to have you as my daughter, and I thank you for being a positive role model to not only your brother but to others who cross your path as well. I pray you continue to strive for greatness; your hard work will not go unnoticed at times when you think you just can not go any further or things start to get rougher than you had hoped. Just know that you have not come this far to turn back.

I love you to the moon and stars and back.

Mom

 

Simple as that

Yesterday my little sister piled up turkey, dressing, casseroles, bread, pie, and salad for a neighbor and walked across the street. We drank coffee while she spent an hour chatting with him; he’s not really into big family gatherings, but he probably appreciated the quiet conversation.

The day before Thanksgiving, I received a gift card in the mail for this same neighbor. I’d mentioned his home repair needs to some friends. His house caught fire years ago, and he’s been attempting to repair it here and there for years ever since.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

This woman lives two hours away. She’s never met this man and probably never will. She doesn’t need to; she believes me when I tell her he is living in a shop building with no heat, no running water, and no electricity. She believes me when I explain that he has been unemployed and looking for work. She believes me, and she helps.

Not everything in life is this simple.

But maybe we have made things too complicated.

I’ve served on non-profit boards. I’ve organized fundraisers for organizations and helped raise $150,000 in a single evening. I’m not opposed to large-scale fundraising or development efforts.

There’s something refreshing, though, about hearing a stripped down, simplified “yes” to the question: Do you want to help this man?

My husband asked, “What is your plan once you gather these resources? What are you going to do exactly?”

“Well, I don’t have a plan. We’ll see what happens depending on how much money we can raise and how many people want to help.”

There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t trust God enough to handle any details—details of a project or plan and certainly not details of my life. I don’t feel that way today. I know God loves this man. I know God loves me, too.

Simple as that.

 

To my loving husband

Today’s blog post is by my student, Ladonna Williams, as part of a brief writing assignment celebrating her marriage.

To my loving husband:

I want you to know that you have been a great inspiration in my life. Putting our friendship with love, we created our marriage. You accepted life’s responsibility and turned it into a blessing.

img_1345There are great benefits of being your wife, including unconditional love. We look upon ourselves as under no obligation. Being your wife has been amazing. Not because of the things that you do for me, and not even because of how much love you have for our family. Just because you are someone special. I am so thankful for the little things that I may have taken for granted. Washing dishes, grocery shopping, and even taking care of me on my late nights. Those days when I didn’t say thank you, count it to my mind not my heart.

I strive to have a heart as big and warm as the one that you share with me. I value the kind heart that has brought sunshine to my life. I thank you for the love and kindness you share with me on a daily basis. I thank you for being my umbrella on the rainy days. When you felt as if I weren’t happy, there was joy pulled from within your heart to share with your wife. I thank you for the encouraging words when situations got a little hard for me. Always there to keep pushing me to the next step in life.

I can’t express enough of how special I feel to get to spend my life with someone as great as you. Someone who always has the next person’s concern on their mind. Standing there ready to do your best to brighten up their day. I thank you for sharing your love with people who may need a kind word. I want you to know I am always grateful for the things  you share. I love you!

-Ladonna

 

Oh, to be thankful!

Big thanks to my lifelong best friend, MeLissa Massey Horseman, for making gratitude a family affair. I love you, MeLissa.

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Dailen (9 ½) – I’m thankful for a house, my family, and myself.  I feel that thankfulness means you are appreciative and have a good attitude about stuff people give you.

 

Lexa (8) – I’m thankful for a roof over my head to keep rain, snow, hail, thunder, lightning, and wind off my head.  I’m thankful for my dad and mom who take care of me when I am sick, cold, or hot.  I’m thankful for my brother and sister because they play with me.  Thankful means you are thankful for something like your clothes or you are thankful for something your mom and dad gives you like maybe a bowl of ice cream.  Well, thank you for listening to me.  Love, Lexa

 

Lydia (3 ½) – Thankful for Momma, Daddy, music, milk, tea set, (I think we were looking at what was on the kitchen table when we answered, lol), swimming with Daddy, making creative art with Mommy, playing school with Sister, playing puppy with Brother, and that God is strong.   Being thankful is loving all around us.

 

I asked my three kids to tell me a couple of things they are thankful for and what they think thankfulness means.  I transcribed my older kids’ answers from what they wrote and interpreted the response of my youngest.  I like that my oldest said to be appreciative.  I like that my middle child is so specific and fun.  I like that my littlest is in the present and happy for the simple things.

Sometimes it is so hard to be thankful.  I am thankful every day because I know we are spoiled.  Our needs are met, and we are healthy.  However, I don’t know that I am truly grateful.  I mean, at the end of that day when I am a frazzled mess, I don’t stop and think, I have a home, family, running water, and ice cream.  I get short with the kids because they weren’t getting their bedtime stuff done.  I get irritated with my husband because he half cleaned up the kitchen.  I’m mad we didn’t read Bible stories before bed, again.  I worry if my back will have issues tomorrow and when will my shoulder feel better and if I will write that piece for my best friend’s gratitude blog like I said I would.

As I lay pondering the day after everyone is asleep, I think, tomorrow. Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow I will not be a stress ball by evening.  Well, that may be a lofty goal but today, I will put more effort into slowing down and being thankful.  I love fall.  It is my favorite season.  I love cool weather, pumpkin spice, peppermint, and cozy sweaters.  As I was walking my kids to their bus stop this morning, the fall colored trees seemed especially stunning with the sun shining down on them.  My kids are like trees with God’s love and mine shining down on them.  They are constantly growing and changing like the beautiful autumn leaves and there are times I am not thankful for that process.  Sometimes I am selfish and want them to stay little and innocent, and sometimes I am so stressed with life I don’t make time to watch the process.  I can get tired of hearing people say, ‘enjoy the moment, they grow up fast,’ and ‘you’ll miss it all when their gone.’ In the midst of clutter and sassy attitude, I want everything to be organized and polite.  However, I do need to be more thankful of the everyday memories.

20161114_073150This morning I took a picture of the gorgeous trees.  I took time to document that my son wrote his name in cursive and be thankful that he is growing up.  I am thankful I have a patient God.  He may be frustrated that I don’t put the time and energy into Him that he most certainly deserves, but He still loves me.  I am thankful for my husband who works hard at his job and strives to protect and defend me and our three children.  I am thankful for my son who is so smart with school and still loves to cuddle with me.  I am thankful for my older daughter who is a silly spark of individuality and a sensitive spirit.  I am thankful for my younger daughter who is a fun little monkey and keeps me smiling with admiration and amazement.  Being thankful is slowing down and truly appreciating life in big and small ways.  It doesn’t have to be so hard. I may have a few, ‘Today is the Day’ days, but that’s okay because I am thankful I can try again.

Eating oranges

When company’s coming, I normally tidy up the house hurriedly, clearing up clutter quickly. Everything must find its home–James’ smelly socks sitting in the middle of the mudroom floor, Maggie’s tiny pile of clean laundry atop the dining table outside her room, the four coffee cups on the kitchen counter. Even if I don’t have time to scrub each surface with bleach or mop the floor with wood oil soap, I can’t relax until the clutter isn’t visible and the dishes are loaded in the dishwasher.

12801343_605792375922_8706710045606079300_nAfter the mad dash through the house, I typically glance down at myself in horror and jump in the shower. Even if I don’t have time to apply makeup or shave my legs, bathing myself and brushing my teeth are essential.

This Sunday, after caring for a very sick little girl by myself for three days, I found myself staring at the clock in anticipation of my friend Erin’s visit. I looked around me; thankfully, since James had been out of town for three days, the house was already clean. I looked at myself; if I’d had an ounce more sleep, I might have cried after catching a glimpse of my hair in the mirror. However, I’d reached the point of subsisting solely on coffee fumes, and brushing my teeth and pulling my bangs away from my face was the best effort I could muster.

When Erin arrived, I laughed. She looked similarly smocked and just as exhausted. We consumed even more caffeine while halfheartedly entertaining Maggie and catching up on life. She came bearing gifts of a toy puppy, a teeny tiny watermelon from her garden, cranberry cookies, and s’mores dip. We consumed sugar and watched leaves fall while Maggie chased chickens.

That night, I explained to my mentor that I wasn’t sure what lesson I was supposed to be learning, but every time James left town, one of us was really sick. I often reached out to people asking for babysitting assistance or inviting them to visit, but by and large, I couldn’t reach people or found that people had other plans. What was the lesson I was supposed to be learning here? Could I just learn it, please, and stop dealing with this?

While scrolling through Pinterest, I came across a post about oranges.

“The smell of an orange relieves stress. Smelling an orange or eating one can reduce stress by 70%” (ThePsychMind.com).

Is this true? Is it legitimate? Is it scientific? It’s on PINTEREST, for crying out loud. But I know this—when I peel clementines for my little Maggie (which is rather tedious and a bit time-consuming), I love the scent and seem fully present and engaged. Why? I don’t know. I don’t care. I stopped caring about why things work a long time ago. I just do what works.

As I reflected on three long, stressful, sleepless days and nights of caring for a sick little girl (cuddly, but sick), I recognized that I may have done a great job of caring for her, but I was sucking in the self-care department.

Ah. So that’s what I was supposed to be learning here. The age-old adage about putting on my own oxygen mask. How do you do that when your child is hacking up mucus? How do you do that on three hours of sleep? It wasn’t just about meeting my physical needs. I could handle that part and did so most of the time while taking care of Maggie. But was I mindful of my own well-being, mindful enough to stop to meet my needs even if it meant altering our daily routine and plans? When was the last time I did something frivolous and fun for myself—not related to work, an organization, or my family? Do I care for myself with as much love as I care for my daughter?

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I decided I’ll start by peeling an orange every day. I’ll peel it for myself. I will enjoy the way it smells and then eat it myself instead of giving it away, which is what happens 89.5% of the time I attempt to eat one.

I think someday, when Maggie is old enough to understand the importance of loving herself—and not laying herself down on the altar of taking care of other people, or losing who she is in the name of trying to save someone else—she will thank me for eating one small clementine every day.

Being all that I can be

Today’s guest blog post is written by my great friend Debra Dickey. I’m always thankful for her thoughtful reflections and beautiful contributions to my blog. Debra is definitely more than enough, and I’m thankful she’s in my life. 

In my prime, there was no limit to how much I could take on and accomplish – I was raw energy and adrenaline in motion.   If you grew up at my house, everybody had responsibilities, and we started early!  There was a lot to be done, so our days ran from early morning to late, or into, the night.  I enjoyed it!  Tired, pshaw.  I‘ve always been a consummate  ‘accomplisher’, so I stuck with it until the job was done.  Now….not so
much.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

There was value placed on hard work and doing what you saw that needed to be done, therefore, there was a sense of pride connected to accomplishing as much as you were capable of on any given day!  It felt like “down time” was ‘time not well-spent’.  I used to believe that if I wasn’t actively doing something productive at all times, that I was performing below par, that I was less than I could be.  Now….not so much.

From early on, my space of choice to be was outside.  I loved doing whatever called me to the out-of-doors — I’ve hoed beans, hauled hay, driven tractor, tended animals, (yes, milked cows!) shoveled feed lots, run the lawnmower, gardened  . . . you name it, I did it! And it was great!   Manage a busy office?  Plan a big get-together?  All at the same time!  No problem!  I’m very good at it.  Work two jobs, four jobs?  Why not!  Used to be so much fun sluicing from one crazy busy thing to another!!  Now…. not so much.

Little by little, my service to the world has begun to narrow as natural physiology and temporal physicality hands down imperatives to ‘stop’!  Although I still crave  that ‘rush’ of accomplishment that comes from having so many things on my plate, and competently juggling them all to successful completion, my physical limitations now intrude much too quickly, and as such, my day-to-day to-do lists have become much more calculated in priority. So how can I be all that I am supposed to be????

  1. 1. I’ve determined that ‘down time’ is nothing to feel guilty about. It’s inescapable, so I wrestle with it much less than I used to.
  2. I’ve acknowledged that I am in control of nothing, therefore I do the best that I can with the tasks that God has assigned me, then pray wholeheartedly about the things that are not mine to handle.
  3. If it concerns family, there is no question or hesitation. I’ll be there, or, you are welcome here.
  4. I treat people with respect and consideration; everyone has dignity, and it is important to recognize the contributions of others.
  5. I praise God every day for the extraordinary children He has given me, and pray for them every day. We did a good job. Family and friends are on that prayer and praise list too.
  6. I try to honor and glorify Him in everything I do, pray to seek His will, acknowledge His many blessings with exultation, and trust in Him for all things.
  7. By the grace of God, I endeavor to give my best every day, in every way, and for everybody.

Yes, perhaps my house is a bit dusty, and often my yard is probably too ragged, but maybe, just maybe, I am the person that God wants me to be for now, ‘planted’ exactly where He needs me to be, and I am doing just what God wants me to do today.   And isn’t that the very best that anyone can hope for . . . . . in this moment, assuredly being all that I can be, now    …. a whale of so much!

Say yes

I found myself whispering, too, even though I wasn’t the one hiding in a closet while a drunken man beat on the door.

“Bridgett, it’s okay. You’ll be okay. You do not have to answer that door. DO NOT answer the door, okay?”

Bridgett cried snotty tears on the other end of the phone.

“But why won’t Tim just wake up? I don’t want to be here! I don’t want to be here!”

At fourteen years-old, I felt helpless to rescue the nine year-old little girl whose alcoholic stepfather had passed out on the couch. His friend knew she was inside the trailer and seemed determined to enter the home. I may not have been old enough to understand everything, but I knew enough to know something was sinister; when a child expresses that level of fear, reality lives in it.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

So I just talked to her, sitting in the hallway of my parents’ home, cradling the old white phone—yes, attached to a cord, which was attached to the wall. In the middle of July, my parents were working, and without transportation, I couldn’t physically rescue her. But I could make her feel a little less alone and give her the option of not answering the door that day.

Ten years later, I worked for a TRiO program at a private liberal arts college. My job included helping underprivileged high school students excel academically and prepare for college. I supervised tutors, coordinated records with high school counselors, taught summer courses in writing, literature, and ACT prep material, and much more. I didn’t go to work expecting a student to disclose his homosexuality to me (he’d never disclosed it to anyone else before).

Jon, an attractive young man, sauntered into my office on a hot June afternoon.

“Miss Bethany, I’m pretty sure I’m gay.”

Deep breathing. Lots of deep breathing. A very beloved friend in college had chosen me to disclose similar information during college, and I’d blown it. I mean, I had ROYALLY blown it and had responded terribly, making a joke of the entire situation because I felt uncomfortable. I always wished I could go back in time to respond differently; I just didn’t know any better at age 18. This was clearly God offering me a chance for redemption.

“Oh, Jon, that’s a major thing. Have you told other people? Do your parents know?” The kid was only 16.

“No. No one knows except my… well, sort of my boyfriend.”

More deep breathing. Trying to do the deep breathing without looking like Kristin Wiig on Saturday Night Live.

“Okay. I’m glad you told me. Do you need to talk about it?”

The lock on the floodgates broke wide open. I listened to his story for about 30 minutes. At the end of his story, I referred him to the counseling coordinator. When he left my office, I felt spent and grateful.

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Toga party for Oral Communication, 2015

Fast forward another decade. While teaching college as an adjunct English instructor, I discovered students feel more safe writing out their secret horrors, traumas, and worries than they do talking about them (try encouraging a college student to schedule an appointment with a paid professional counselor or student services worker and check out the non-verbal response). And what do I teach? English composition and oral communication courses.

Since 2013, I’ve been gasping, crying, and praying while grading certain essays—and not just due to poor grammar and mechanics.

In 2014, I taught Esther, a beautiful non-traditional student. She worked odd jobs to support her children and family. After the semester ended, we kept in touch. She stopped by periodically with books for my daughter, cookies or other baked treats, and cards. She couldn’t afford these gifts, yet she gave anyway. Recently, her dream man (boyfriend) became abusive within their relationship.

“Miss Bethany, I just want you to know you were right… I love you, and I want you to know I’m taking care of myself.”

I shared my experience, strength, and hope with her and suggested options for self-care and protection.

“Esther, no matter what you do, I will always be here for you and love you.”

I could fill an entire book with stories like these (with names changed, of course).

I read an article recently about keeping the awe in our lives. I don’t know how to get rid of it because God keeps using me. God never stops tapping on my shoulder and whispering in my ear.

“Right here.”

Every time, I’m blown away. I absolutely can’t breathe for at least a moment because I recognize if I move when He says move, something miraculous happens. What will it be? I don’t know! It’s a mystery. I love it. I just take action—which many times redeems my own past—and God fits me into a gigantic unfinished puzzle.

Let me never say no. Please God, let me say yes. Let me never refuse the opportunity to use whatever You have given me to help someone in need. Let my gratitude for my own redemption fuel me when I feel afraid, hesitant, or greedy.