It’s that time again – a new year and another birthday for Sincerely Beth! How I wish I could write about a continual year of successes, joys, and treasured memories that have been made over this last twelve months, but I think we all agree that most of 2021 was just plain hard. Assuredly, there were joys and celebrations to be noted. Many families – mine included – have experienced successes and good fortune, but we have also experienced our share of heartaches and setbacks. Through the midst of trials, difficulties, and loss, there were most definitely moments of love and goodness that will forever be cherished. We have learned much about ourselves – noting our strengths and our weaknesses. We have been challenged in ways we never imagined, and learned new things. It is my sincere hope that this time has helped us to grow and become better humans than we were before.
For 2022, my word of inspiration and encouragement is a simple one. As we turn to the fresh page of the calendar, my goal for the new year is to connect. The word “connect” is defined as: to bring together or into contact so that a real or notional link is established. The last part of the sentence really spoke to me – “… so that a real or notional link is established.” How I love that! Plainly, we have been apart for too long. Even my introverted self is missing being and gathering with others. I never thought I’d say these words, but I want to begin connecting again – and my desire is to connect authentically and intentionally. Synonyms for my chosen word for the new year were equally inspiring to me: link, bond, unite, relate, anchor. I am actively committing to those, too! I want to link myself to those who have positive attitudes – who are affirming others and making notable and noble differences in the lives of those around them. In the new year I am going to create purposeful opportunities to bond with the ones I love most in this world. My prayer for 2022 is that neighbors will unite to find common goals and work together, not against each other – that we will make a conscious effort to truly relate to those around us who may look, live, or love differently than we do. I want to anchor my soul in love and grace – loving myself and all those around me, and giving grace as it has been willingly given to me more times than I can count.
Whether you devise your own ways to connect in the coming year or find your own word of motivation, I pray that you will do so with eagerness and determination to be your best self and create goodness all around you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to “connect” 2021 with the front door – his welcome is completely worn out and it is long past time for him to go! I wish for each of you a most Happy and Blessed New Year!
Without a doubt it has been one whirlwind of a year. This month, I did not compile my usual “Thank-vember” posts, but trust me when I tell you that there is an abundance of gratitude flowing from my heart. I don’t know about you, but there were a lot of days that felt as if I was losing a game of Jumanji. Some nights were so busy that my dinner consisted of cereal or crackers. A few were so exhausting that after going to bed, I found myself getting right back up to take my forgotten shower. Crazy, I tell you! However, even in the midst of weariness, uncertainty and chaos, I am truly grateful for much. So here it is – my month of thankful thoughts in one sitting:
My husband – my rock and my biggest cheerleader. He also tells me like it is – even if it is not what I want to hear. I may pout for a few minutes (or days) but in the end, I’m usually glad he did. We are far from perfect and sometimes we even annoy each other a little bit, but I cannot begin to imagine sharing this life without him by my side. I love and adore this man and I am beyond thankful he loves me, too. As I’ve shared before, sneaking out the locked backdoor of my college dorm after hours was one of the best rules I’ve ever broken.
My children make me very proud. Every. Single. Day. I love them so much that some days it feels as though my heart might burst. They are good humans and my greatest joy.
I married into a wonderful, loving family – which I never take for granted.
My parents were the most loving people. With each passing day I acknowledge the blessing it was to be their daughter. I have missed them terribly over this last year. Some days I swear I can hear my mother’s voice or feel my Daddy’s hand on my shoulder. If you have parents that you love, be sure to tell them. Today.
Grief is hard. Really hard. In fact, it just plain sucks. It’s also the price we pay for loving and being loved by someone deeply, so for that I am thankful.
There are just no words to tell you how freaking proud I am of myself for going back to Grad School at age 56. Although, there have been many days since May that I have questioned my sanity and good judgement – which usually occurs while eating cereal or crackers for dinner. The good news is that apparently, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. And as of this posting, my final exam for the semester is completed and will be turned in a day early. Whoo -HOOOOOO!
For courage to take a chance, try something new, and step out of the familiar. It’s scary as hell, but so worth it!
Watching your child take chances and succeed.
Watching your child find love.
Watching your child grow and achieve.
For getting healthy. There is nothing so exhilarating as zipping up a pair of jeans you thought you never would again.
For fr-amily. You know, the loved ones you aren’t related to, but wish you were and may as well be? I am so very thankful for those people in my life.
For all the labeled boxes we saved when we moved my daughter into her new apartment this summer “just in case”.
For new jobs and new beginnings (cue the boxes mentioned above).
Our dog, Bear. Yes, I know – he’s technically my son’s dog, but he has stolen all of our hearts (and most of the wool dryer balls out of the laundry baskets). Is there such a thing as custody arrangements for pets? Asking for a friend.
Guitars being strummed, keyboards being played, songs being sung.
Technology to keep me connected to old friends, new friends, and everyone else across the years.
The smell of live trees wafting through the house, and the thirty-one years of ornaments hanging from their branches – each with their own special story to tell.
My garden – and the six tomatoes and seven bell peppers I got off the vines. It’s still better than last year, so maybe, “third time will actually be the charm”. Stay tuned.
The beach – anytime, any season.
For answers to life-long questions that came with a whole bunch of loving people. Finding my birth family has been one of the greatest joys in my life – and one I never imagined I would have. For all the faces, all the love, getting to hug some of them for the first time this summer, and the three wonderful years of knowing my Dad, I am most thankful.
For science, for those who advocate for science, and those who believe in science. Tears of relief were shed each time my family members got their vaccinations. I lost one dear to me, I couldn’t bear to lose another.
For traditions old and new. Over the last two years, I have learned to appreciate the old ones more than ever, and to embrace the new ones dictated by change with a more open mind.
For the beauty of diversity and getting a front-row seat to observe progress taking place in my little rural town.
For completed projects and for slowly whittling away at my “to-do” list.
For boldness to speak the truth – even when your voice is a little shaky.
For audio books that make my daily drive seem very short. I contemplated this one – I said I was never going to cave and listen to books. It’s actually not so bad, and truth be told, I think I retain more of what I’ve “read”.
For this space to write and hold my thoughts.
For all the beautiful ways we have cared for, protected, and loved each other over the last two years.
If you are reading this, we are still here together. However we are connected, I am thankful for you. For those we have lost along the way, may we continue to live in the light of their love, and pass along all the goodness they left here both in and with us.
My wish is that as we enter into the holidays, you will continue to find much to be grateful for – no matter how small. Some days you may have to squint, but I promise if you look hard enough, you will surely find some goodness around you. May this season bring you joy, peace, and even some childlike magic. Heaven knows we could all use a little!
One year ago on the first day of spring, we all thought we were sheltering in place for a few weeks. Little did we know what was up ahead. Sitting on the patio enjoying dinner last May, we commented everything seemed greener, birds were singing a little louder, the air crisper and clearer. We speculated the many reasons as to why that may be – less travel, reduced pollution, time to listen and notice, a spark of hope. We even wondered aloud if it would ever seem so bright again. Spring turned into summer and then to autumn. The holidays came and went with significantly less festivity. The colors dulled and faded away.
Today we have made one full rotation around the sun. We have returned to the season of blooms and new life. For the first time in many months hope shines brighter than fear. Science and facts prevail, and like nature after a long winter, we are beginning to emerge. My husband walked me around to the side of our home the other evening. “Have you seen this?” he asked pointing. I looked up and all I could say was, “Wow.” We southerners take great pride in our camellia bushes. There are nine in our yard that we inherited when we bought our home two decades ago – white ones, several shades of pinks and reds, and one with peppermint-swirled blooms. Never have they all bloomed at the same time or with such grandeur. This one covers almost all four windows outside the guest room and is as tall as the first floor. In every effort not to be outdone by its predecessor, it appears that spring has returned, arriving just in time for the party saying, “Here! Hold my sweet tea!”
We’re one!!! As the clock struck midnight, Sincerely Beth celebrated its first birthday. There was no big party – although, perhaps it would have been a good idea to have a “smash cake” to usher out 2020. Instead, I sat quietly in the den with my husband – cocktail in hand, surrounded by the light of our dried out and drooping tree. We watched the ball drop in Times Square without an audience for the first time in 114 years as tears quietly rolled down my cheeks – tears of relief, sorrow, gratefulness, and love.
My emotions have been around the world and back for the last couple of weeks. As I contemplated the events of this last year, there have been tears of joy and many of sadness. I will not take this space to reflect here today – Heaven knows, we’ve all had ample time to do that over the last ten months. This year has been both empowering and debilitating. It has inspired and discouraged, renewed and destroyed. I am as eager as anyone to start fresh, put the chaos behind me, and march forth with all the strength I can muster. It has been inspiring to watch folks discover and create during these last months. We have reinvented and restructured our lives in innovative ways. Some have unearthed new skills and talents that have brought much joy and peace to themselves and others. Some have simply held on for dear life one breath at a time. While the calendar page is clean and crisp, many are still rummaging through the devastation and clinging to the rubble as they enter into the new year. We must move ahead with care and compassion. It will be necessary to extend grace and offer to help them carry the load whenever possible. Many will be moving forward in new circumstances, starting fresh, or starting over. There will still be heroes in the trenches or on the frontlines fighting to save and heal. Too many people have friends and family members who remain sick or recovering, and others will be figuring out how to move forward without those loved ones by their side. Each of us will likely be called upon to do our part to help and encourage others along the way.
A year ago today this space was launched with both fear and excitement. I gathered the courage to share my thoughts and stories with others publicly, and you all have been the biggest blessing each step of the way. The first post that day was about finding your motivational word for the new year. Mine was, “meraki” – a Greek word meaning to put/leave a piece of your soul into all that you do. As we begin 2021, I have two. The words guiding and inspiring me as I move forward are simple – hope and courage. Starting fresh requires both – hope for the possibilities that lie ahead, and courage to take the first step toward them. As I have often been reminded throughout my career as an educator, no teacher is an island. One person cannot accomplish the task of equipping a child for success all by themselves. It most certainly takes a team, a village, and countless others. Rising from the ashes of this pandemic will require the same of all of us. We will be called upon to give of ourselves to help build our village back one human at a time. I am hopeful that we can do it! For me, it is my deepest wish that as our world emerges into the light of a new year with new opportunities that I will do so with hope and courage, and to offer the same to others along my path. May you also be inspired to instill hope and courage to those you encounter. Peace and blessings to each of you as we continue on this journey.
“I love you, and that’s the beginning and end of everything.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
In tennis, a score of 30 love means one player is off to a great start with 30 points, and the other player has nothing. But games can often take some unexpected twists at any time and in any direction. Just when you least expect it, everything can change……
In this particular “game”, I wasn’t even supposed to be on the court. He wasn’t meant for me – not in the beginning, anyway. Falling in love wasn’t on my agenda. I had taken on the role and responsibility of matchmaker. It was my job to set him up with a dear friend, a college suite mate. I had a mission and I was taking it very seriously. There was only one small problem – I was falling hard and fast. This was not the intended outcome. This was taboo. It was breaking “sister code”. I never planned to feel this way. At all. Sure, I thought he was handsome. He was fun and made me laugh. We had many things in common, and there was just enough of an adventurous side to him that made this rule-following girl a little more than curious. He had become a good friend and I loved it whenever he was around – which seemed to be quite a bit. Then one night, after a gathering on the lawn of his dorm, he walked me back to mine. And that, was “the beginning of everything”.
I knew on our second secret date that I had no intention of letting him get away. Thankfully, I kept that little epiphany to myself for awhile. Following the rules can be overrated. Sneaking out of my dorm to meet him that day in the music building was definitely worth it, and I would absolutely do it all over again. The days turned into months, then to years. We went from kissing in secret, to kissing in photo booths on the boardwalk at the beach, to a deck on the lake where he asked me to share his name and our lives together.
One glorious autumn day, we found ourselves holding tight to each other promising “I do”. We have kept that promise – from the many joyous moments to the difficult ones that found their way to us in sickness, in want, and in death. We have loved, laughed, and cried. We have rejoiced, lost, and hoped. We continue to dream.
The last thirty years have brought many changes – some mundane, some life-altering. Though, in every situation our blessings have far outweighed any hardships. There have been numerous addresses, vehicles, pets, and hairstyles. We have traveled, changed careers, and held many titles – our most favorite being “Mom and Dad”. We have endured disappointments, said final goodbyes to friends and loved ones, and at times stood alone for what we believed to be just.
We have had successes and failures. We have loved and spoken in anger. We forgave and have been forgiven. We have held tight to savor the moment and other times to survive it.
Thirty years of love and memories – more happy than sad, more wishes than regrets. More dreams to be realized, more joys to come. He WAS meant for me – we were meant to be us. Thinking back, I’m not certain what I thought thirty years of marriage would look like, but this feels about right.
In this game of life we have had some twists and turns. There have been some setbacks, but as long as he is by my side we are headed for the game point. What comes after 30 Love? Well…… I guess anything is possible, but this I know for certain – we make a great match, Mickey Sharpe, and I will love you always – till the end of everything.
As an elementary teacher for nearly a quarter of a century, I usually feel ready to take on whatever a day with 20+ little people can throw at me. Like most in my profession, we are skilled at modeling writing, diffusing misbehavior, and applying a bandaid simultaneously. We can create an impromptu science lesson around an insect crawling across the floor or a math lesson with a pack of cheese crackers. It’s just what we do.
For most of my career, I have run a fairly tight ship. Organization keeps me sane and focused to ensure I make it through the entire list of standards that must be taught in 36 short weeks. My classroom is neat, and I almost always have a plan – along with a couple of emergency back-ups “just in case”. While it’s true that I am pretty structured, we do have a lot of fun in first grade. There is singing, much movement, and lots of laughter. My littles know they are loved. We laugh, we hug, we say, “I’m sorry” and “I love you!” often. On the first day of school, we talk about the families that we belong to and live with, but in our classroom, we are also a family. We help, take care of, and are kind to each other. There will be times when we may get frustrated or upset with one another, but we will use our words and our minds to figure out a solution. If your neighbor spills their pencil box and crayons go everywhere, we don’t laugh, we say, “Here, let me help you!” instead. Hundreds of books are read, and thousands of “important things” are shared every day. We learn a lot about life as we listen to what is happening in each other’s, and often they teach me as much as I teach them. There is rarely a dull moment.
Without question, this school year is different. My district is on an A Day/B Day schedule. I teach half of my roster in person for two days, the other half of my roster on two other days, and we all have a remote learning day in between. Having less than ten students at a time is both wonderful and hard. Yes, the classroom is neat and attractive, but depleted of the creative small group and independent work areas with soft cushions and comfortable seating. We are not able to share games, and our basket of stuffed animal “reading buddies” is packed away. The STEM materials for building and creating have not been removed from the shelves, but the children must choose only one small box to keep at their seat for their two days at school. Since we must be spaced apart, the children eat lunch in the room at their seats (the cafeteria is closed to students), children are not allowed to work together to solve a puzzle, or even partner together on a science experiment. Working with magnets this week would have been so much more fun if we could have rotated through stations in pairs. And just yesterday, I had to remind a precious one to get back in his seat as he rushed to help another friend pick up his spilled box of Legos. It felt so odd to scold a child for the very thing I normally encourage.
There are no easy answers in education right now. I don’t know one single educator who does not want to teach his/her students face-to-face. We thrive on having them with us. Children, especially, need consistency, and they need to build relationships. It is important that they have language exposure, interaction with vocabulary, rote practice in math, and routine procedures. Teaching through Zoom is not the same. At all. Assigning lessons through an instructional online platform is innovative, but lacks the emotional connection important for little hearts and minds. Every day I watch as teachers instruct in person and online, guide grandparents through lessons, communicate with parents from the very early hours until late at night, grade papers and online assignments, search for/create remote learning lessons, sanitize their rooms with and without students, go home weary, and wake up to do it all again. We want to teach, but we want to stay safe, and we want our students and families to stay safe. We want to live. These are uncharted waters.
Parents are frustrated because most are not trained in methods of implementing educational curriculum. I understand. I can balance my checkbook (if I must), but that in no way implies that I am a skilled financial planner or accountant. My school is a Title I school. We have high levels of poverty and few parents have more than a high school diploma if that. Many students have grandparents subbing as parents or interim teachers – and often both. Remote learning is a lot for them to process. Parents are working all day and coming home to their second “job” as a teacher at night. Often it is to more than one child. Parents are tired. For them, their sea is very choppy and the boat is rocking from side to side.
The biggest concern now is safety, and the greatest frustration seems to be the grand expectations that have been placed on educators and the public school system. I love teaching and I love teaching little people. It is both thrilling and inspiring to watch them learn and grow. Most educators are certified in a specific area of expertise. Mine happens to be Early Childhood/Elementary Education for grades Kindergarten – 6th grade. Several years ago I acquired my certification to be licensed as a Reading Specialist for grades K-12. Though I have a minor in Psychology, I am not a licensed psychologist or therapist. In my closet there are snacks for hungry children, I can spot some signs of trauma/abuse, but I do not have a degree in social work. I’m pretty good at stopping nosebleeds and assisting with inhalers, but I’m not an RN. Educators are routinely trained in blood spills and hiding children safely in the event of an armed/active shooter on campus, but few are certified first responders. Neither am I a life coach, nutritionist, and most definitely not an IT specialist. Like many educators, I take on numerous roles outside of my job description to ensure the well-being of those entrusted to my care. The actual expectation of my profession is to provide effective academic instruction, but often more is needed. Simply sending our children back to class is only half the battle. As a nation, we need to collectively advocate for funding to support programs in our public schools. Poverty and Trauma training is needed for all educators, and certified nurses should be based at each site. Every school should have enough licensed social workers, school psychologists, occupational and speech therapists, healthier nutrition options, and adequate instructional materials. Educators should not have to hold bake sales, create donor-funded projects for technology and STEM on their weekends, or collect torn lids off of food boxes to get enough balls for the playground or books for their libraries. Thank the heavens above for Dollar Stores across America! C’mon, folks, we can do better – we must! It has become blatantly obvious that education is vital and teachers are not sitting around on fluffy chairs in the teacher lounge sipping lattes. And just to be clear, there are no such things as “Teacher’s Lounges” anymore. Parents and politicians galore say they want children back in school, but when it comes to funding them, no one seems willing to put their money where their mouth is. When the time comes to step up and ensure public schools have what is essential, the backlash begins. When teachers reach out, express concern – or God forbid, complain – they are ungrateful, whining, or lazy. That nonsense needs to stop. The next time you have the choice to vote for a tax increase that will fund needed programs in your school district, please do so. When a bond referendum is on the ballot to build a technology or arts-based school in a low-income neighborhood, check “yes”! Elect local and school board representatives who will work to provide incentives for teachers to come to your district. Support candidates who have a proven track record of commitment to the 90% of students and their teachers in public education across this nation. Embrace diversity programs in your community. For far too long we have expected the absolute limit of our teachers, yet fail to pay them for their level of professionalism and the level of training that is required for them to do their jobs. This would not be the case in other professions. Friends and family with the same amount of degrees and certifications I have, who put in the equivalent number of hours and work that I do as a first-grade teacher more than double my salary – some triple it. Many have a team of support staff working under them, and none find it necessary to fund projects or work supplies by selling wrapping paper, cookie dough, or holding Family Nights at a local fast-food restaurant.
I’ll be honest, my ship is far from being tight these days. Since mid-August it feels as though it is lost somewhere in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle, the water is surging, there are big holes in the bottom and sides, and I’m bailing water as fast as I can. The sails are tattered and the boat is sinking. This sailor is off course without a map or a compass. I say “sailor” because according to my husband, my language of late bears a close resemblance, so there. Oh, did I mention there are sharks circling? That, too.
Over the last two months I have come home at the end of the long day to work more hours, plan for the coming weeks, cry, and answer parents’ emails into the night. Too many times to count I have been short-tempered with those I love most in this world. They do not deserve my outbursts, and I most assuredly do not deserve the grace they lovingly give back in return. Never have I been more grateful for them or for the team of colleagues whose ships are caught up in the same waves as mine. There is not a stronger group of women I would rather work alongside to face these perils. We will keep bailing water and adjusting our sails, but how I wish we were not in this place. Oh, that this global crisis would have been addressed honestly and embraced with all seriousness from the beginning, but here we are. Teachers are struggling. Parents are struggling. Children are struggling. We need a lifeline. If ever there has been a time to signal for help and send out an SOS, it is now. MAYDAY!!!
I have come to love yoga. My body is certainly not the most flexible, neither am I consistent. However, when I do create time to practice this ancient art of meditation and exercise, it makes me feel strong, proud, and peaceful. This week I have committed to making it an intentional part of each day. In the comfort of my bedroom, on my mat, the instructor in the online class has gently guided me back to a place of control, relaxation, and peace.
In an evening “wind-down” segment, she encouraged us to notice the places where we were holding tension in our bodies and then consciously release it — “..breathe it out, let it go.” Following her directions, it did not take long to notice that yes, I was indeed holding tension throughout my body — SO much tension to be exact. Four months’ worth of uncertainty, change, worry, fear, and grief — was all wound up tight and knotted in my neck, shoulders, back, chest, jaws, and forehead. Slowly and willfully, I began to let it go.
While enjoying this extended time with my family, I’ve also feared for their health being in jeopardy. Though we have had extra time to tackle projects and be creative, the uncertainty of what the future might bring was looming. In missing my students, I have been worrying about how going back into the classroom will affect each of us and how difficult the new restrictions might be for my little dears. Thankfully, my husband and children have remained safe and spared from this virus so far, but sadly, we had to say our final goodbyes to my mother in May. Her body was not strong enough to fight this virus. The weight of carrying around the sum and stress from all of these emotions has been taking a physical and emotional toll.
With shoulders dropped, back arched, jaws unclenched, and deep breaths, I could feel my body start to relax and release. The worry, the dread, the heartbreak that had all been collected and stored from the past days began to turn loose. I could feel these anxieties that had gathered in my body begin to let go and move out from those places where they had been locked away. The pain and stiffness began to subside. I felt the relief and the weight subside as they rolled out of my body and right down my cheeks. Breathe in. Let it go. Namaste.
In the course of the next few days, our family will be sending two fabulous young adults off to college for the first time. Our niece and nephew are both so excited to spread their wings and embark on their new adventures. Though no one is exactly sure how college is going to look right now, getting to this place on their journey, the planning, and preparing are all part of the excitement. Well, maybe not so much for the parents. For them, it brings about a whole plethora of emotions. While it is a time to celebrate, it is also difficult to let go and send our baby birds out into the world for the first time – and even the second, and third times. Who am I kidding? I’m never good at sending mine off. I cry each and every time their cars pull away from the front of the house. Interestingly enough, there was a time not so long ago, that I thought I might feel differently.
When my two oldest children were toddlers, they were often mistaken for twins because of their closeness in age. Depending on the event or experience, their seventeen-month age difference could prove to be ideal or catastrophic. On any given day they were either the best of friends and playmates or each other’s nemesis. Thankfully, now both in their mid 20’s, they remain the closest of siblings and friends. I remember once after distinguishing with a lady in the store that they were not twins, we struck up a casual conversation while waiting in line. She looked at my little ones, then smiled at me and said, “Oh, but you’re still going to have to send them off to college back to back. That’s going to be so tough on you!”
What? College?? This lady could not possibly be serious. My goal for the next twenty minutes was to get my groceries checked, bagged, and safely loaded – along with my little darlings. That was no easy feat. Getting my precious ones past the candy/toy vending machines at the exit without meltdowns took pure talent and skill. And this woman is talking about college??? I half smiled at her and commented that college was a long way off and hopefully we would ALL be ready when the time came. The thoughts really running through my head went more like this, “Lady, let me tell you what’s tough! What’s tough is that I can’t manage for all of us to get a bath on the same day. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how to get Princess “Whoever-She-Is-Today” to eat anything except mac and cheese, and you see that adorable little creature with all the curls crawling out of my shopping cart right there?? He goes full speed from sunrise to sundown with no nap.” At that point in my life, I couldn’t even think ahead enough to plan dinner for tomorrow night. College. Pfffft! That was LIGHT YEARS away!
Fast-forward fifteen years to the hottest weekend in August on record: two babies, two UNC campuses, two dorms, lots of stairs, four carloads of “stuff”, one new roommate, six “suite hearts” back together; one “forgotten” load taken back to Chapel Hill, 47 (at least) trips to Walmart and Target, happy texts, a photo collage made by a sister for her “little” brother’s new dorm room, 5 boxes of command clips, and a Dad who can hang “twinkle lights”; a treasured guitar, bigger dressers that hold ALL the clothes, selfies with the Chancellor, independence, laughter, good food, and just a “few” tears. Whew! What a whirlwind 48 hours!
Knowing all the wonderful experiences and opportunities that would lie ahead for them, my heart rejoiced but hurt at the same time. It almost felt wrong driving away and leaving them alone. I had devoted the last nineteen years to caring for and protecting them on a daily basis. As difficult as it was to leave them, I remember looking into their faces and seeing the eagerness and joy to begin the new chapters of their stories. Assured that my children were happy helped to ease the knot in my stomach and hole in my heart.
Six years later, I stand amazed at the wisdom of my children and how very much I admire the good humans they have become. While I sometimes miss those toddler days (yes, I said that) this new phase of having young adult children has provided countless wonderful memories and tender moments. So to all of you loading the car this week with boxes and mattress pads, XL sheets, and too many clothes – hang in there and be strong! You can do this!
Oh, that I could speak to that sweet little lady from the grocery store again. I’d have to acknowledge she was correct – it WAS tough. I’d also be eager to share with her that I came to a few more realizations over the course of those two days:
1.”Letting Go” is highly underrated. For me, the pains of turning loose were far worse than the labor pains to bring them into this world. The aches of my contractions were numbed – there was nothing to dull the ache in my heart driving away from both of them for the first time.
2. If you pray very hard, hold your mouth just right, and surround yourselves with a wonderful “village” – your precious babies may just turn into remarkable young men and women. There will soon come a day when you realize you don’t just love them, but you like them and enjoy spending time with them, too.
3. Light years are actually shorter than you think.
Countless times I have been told that my eyes are a dead giveaway to what I’m thinking and feeling. That is by all accounts a true statement. I have no identifiable “poker face”. While involuntarily communicating my thoughts and feelings with my eyes has occasionally proven to be troublesome for me, I have never been more thankful for this characteristic than I am during these times.
This past weekend my husband and I went to our local Farmer’s Market. It’s difficult to recall a time when a hunt for fresh eggs and tomatoes has brought such excitement in our lives, yet here we are. On our way out, I turned to see some of our dearest friends walking towards us. She and I let out little squeals underneath our masks and practiced every bit of self-control not to hug and hold each other tight right there amidst the cantaloupes and freshly baked loaves of bread. It was tough. We stood apart and talked for a while until the heat began to win out. My friend has a beautiful smile and her husband’s exudes kindness and wit. We could not see those identifiable features being that they were covered by cloth, but their eyes sparkled with the same wittiness and beauty of friendship. I pray they could see the same love in our eyes for them. “Hopefully soon!” we all encouraged, then said our good-byes. As we all walked away in opposite directions, I found myself longing for the day when we will be able to gather again in fellowship without worry for one another’s safety.
Yesterday brought similar incidences. While out on some needed errands, we ran into another dear couple. Again, it has been months since we have been able to enjoy each other’s company for long dinner conversations or at our local wine bar listening to music together. Like the day before, we stood off to the side with these friends and caught up for a bit. We laughed, shared some stories, and while their signature smiles were not visible for their masks, I still could see the same love of these sweet friends peering out of their eyes. I tried to make sure they noticed the same from us.
Later in the evening, citizens from our community gathered for a prayer vigil. Outside, spaced apart, behind our masks, we came together to offer prayers and affirmation for our little town facing racial discord. We prayed for peace, healing, and unity. Behind the masks, there were smiles of friendship, some sadness at the divisiveness, words of encouragement, and offerings of hope – all noticeable in the eyes of the diverse group of children and adults that had assembled. Turning around, I was happy to see another precious friend walking up. Our eyes met, she waved and walked to a spot where she could stand alone. It wasn’t the appropriate time to catch up and have a conversation, but I thought to myself that her eyes looked a little sad. Hours later my phone buzzed. It was this same friend. She shared that social distancing from the people she loves right now is proving to be very difficult for her. To comply with keeping safe, she finds it easier to refrain from engaging at all. I felt every. single. word. It is important to note here that this particular friend happens to be the best hugger maybe in the history of the world. In fact, she has most likely perfected the act of hugging. She does it with great intent, making a true connection. It’s not a quick, haphazard, casual embrace, but a long one that causes you to stop and be fully present in the moment. As a tribute, those who know and love her, have dubbed them the “Insert Her Name Hugs”. I read the sadness in her eyes, and she must have seen a little in mine, too. If ever there has been a time we all need a *Her Name* Hug, it would be NOW.
My great uncle – my grandfather’s twin – became blind when he was a toddler. He was a kind man and I remember feeling so sad for him when I was old enough to truly understand that he couldn’t see. My Daddy commented that while it was most certainly unfortunate, Uncle Filmore had many other strengths. He went on to explain how often when we lose one of our senses, the others will compensate for the loss and become stronger. My uncle could not see, but his hearing was pristine. If he heard your voice once, he knew it from that moment on and would call you by name – which I found completely magical. I share that story to say this – during these times, it seems we are having to compensate for the losses of ways we normally communicate and care for one another. Our smiles are hidden with face coverings. We don’t hug, hold hands, or wipe a tear. Instead, we find ourselves standing apart and loving without touching to ensure safety. Many days we express our love and longings, unity, and loneliness behind a piece of cloth. But thankfully, our eyes can still speak volumes and we can listen more intently. A friendly wave or nod of the head, stepping back to let someone pass or get in line, sending notes or a text, leaving flowers for a lonely neighbor, or fresh-picked vegetables on a friend’s front porch – all of these acts communicate “I care” or “I love you”. And sometimes they can simply just see that love and friendship beaming behind your eyes. Carry on.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Emma Lazarus’ words engraved at the base of Lady Liberty are familiar to many. She has welcomed generations of tired and weary travelers for over a century. This statue has been the symbol of hope and was the sight most longed for by many coming to this country to begin a new life. She has been a unifying emblem of our nation that welcomed many of our very own ancestors as they made their journeys from other lands. This celebratory gift to us from France is an undying figure of hospitality, friendship, and freedom.
I don’t know how closely you’ve ever contemplated all the symbolism in this one statue, but let’s take a minute and look at a few of the obvious examples. In one hand she carries the torch – a beacon lighting the way to all who venture here. My mother used to leave the garage light on when she knew I’d be late – so I could find my way safely from the car to the house. It was an act of love. In the other hand she carries a tablet of laws to provide guidance. Having some guidelines and written directions are always a good idea. We need a starting point. One foot is raised to imply moving forward. Taking the first step of a new adventure or making a change is scary and sometimes difficult, but it is the only way to keep from standing in the same place. At her feet are broken chains and shackles signifying the end of slavery and bondage. In letting go of the past – the old habits and ways of thinking that hold us hostage to new ideas and dreams – we are free to grow and become our best selves. Wow. Lady Liberty doesn’t just represent the dreams and ideals that go along with coming to a new land and starting a new life. She also exemplifies the bravery that comes with making changes, the advancement of new ideas, and stepping out of the familiar and what is comfortable. She represents progression.
In the last few weeks, months, and even years, I’ve seen memes and heard hateful comments to the effect of, “Don’t like the way we do it here in America? Then LEAVE!” To that, I say, Nope. That’s not quite how democracy works. As Americans, we get to disagree on how things are run and determine when changes are necessary. We get to confront the flaws in our country, voice our concerns, and work to fix them. When certain laws or restrictions become gratuitous or no longer serve in the best interest of all people, we can work to change them. If those in positions of leadership aren’t doing a good job of serving all those he/she represents, we can elect new leadership. Again, democracy.
If the roof is leaking in your house, you don’t move out. If your car has a flat tire, you don’t just get out and leave it on the side of the road never to return. You call for help. You figure out a way to solve the problem. You find out where the leak is coming from, or what needs to be repaired. Sometimes it’s an easy fix. Other times may require more complex solutions. Either way, we may have to put in the time, effort, and energy to fix it, but we do because it’s important. Changing a flat tire on my car doesn’t mean I hate my car and no longer want to drive it. It means I want to fix what’s broken so that it is in optimal shape to move me forward.
I’m really thankful for all those Americans before me who saw a need for advancements. I’m glad for those who decided that the laws justifying owning other humans were wrong and fought to change them. I’m grateful for the brave women who worked, marched, and even died so that I can cast my vote in elections – or get an education, have a credit card in my name, work while pregnant – I can keep on going here. That list is long. The point is, life and cultures change. We discover new information, create innovative solutions, and develop more useful and appropriate methods. We have experiences that teach us to think deeper and differently. Hopefully, we grow from them and move forward. Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” Knowing and wanting to do better doesn’t make me a bad American. It actually makes me a good one – a committed one. It shows that I think my country is worth putting in the work to help make her even stronger. It inspires me to treat people more fairly and to care for others with greater compassion. So, no, I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to roll up my sleeves, pull out my proverbial toolbox, and get to work to make sure this beautiful country of ours is in the best shape ever. I’m going to speak out against injustices, march to bring awareness and work to educate myself and others on issues that affect all of our citizens. I’m going to stick around for a while and do my part to help repair the damages that have been done and work on changing things for the better. I think I’ll stay – I hope you will, too!
My mind has just been racing today – swirling, flooded, congested with so many thoughts and things that need to be said, written, or maybe screamed in order to get them out of my head. Today is the first day in many weeks that I have felt drawn to be here again. Perhaps it’s the first day I have felt strong enough to be here. Whatever the reason, I am. At least I’m trying to be. My heart has missed this space – writing, connecting, creating, and communicating. It feels as though my soul is coming out of the darkness, emerging from underground into the light, back to myself.
When this quarantine began, there were so many uncertainties – what was going to happen? How long would it last? Who would be affected? When would we be able to resume our normal schedules? Those are just a few – my list of worries and wonderings was extensive. As an introvert, having some time of seclusion and isolation from all the daily interactions did not pose an inconvenience to me in the least. They were rather welcomed, in fact. Being hold up with my family sounded almost perfect. I had shared earlier in another post of the creative and peaceful ways we were passing the time and enjoying being safe together. Since that time, I’ve read a few more books, binged a couple series, checked off some more projects on my list, and planted a small vegetable garden. Oh, and my mother died.
One evening, not long after our state went into “lockdown”, I sat on the sofa and looked at my husband. “What if…..” my voice trailed. “What if, what?” he asked. “What if she gets this? What if Mama gets this and I can’t be with her? Or what if she can’t hang on til it’s over? We could be like this for months, and she’s been declining slowly,” I worried all of my thoughts aloud. He assured me that her care facility was already taking strict precautions and that I was worrying in advance and unnecessarily – one of my special talents. As it turns out, my fears were correct. My mother did contract the virus. Certainly, her health was already compromised, but without COVID we would likely have had her a while longer. It weakened her to the point of no return. Her body was tired and so was her spirit. Gratefully, I was able to be with her and share that most sacred and peaceful moment as her journey here ended. I sat with my mother most of the afternoon until just after midnight when she took her last soft breath. Still, I needed more time. I wanted to tell her things, to ask more questions, hear another story – but it was too late. In the days that followed, there was a calmness – a peace. I heard her voice and felt her presence all around. It gave me strength. We managed through the small graveside service with some family and a few friends where my niece read a beautiful poem, my oldest son played guitar while he and his sister sang, and giving the eulogy, I did my best to honor her memory. Hopefully, she and my Daddy were smiling from a much more beautiful place.
My mother was never still. She rarely sat down to “do nothing”. It’s a very good thing I was not a teenager in her house during the present century. It is hard to imagine the repercussions if I had responded to her calling up the stairs, “What have you been doing all day?” with, “Oh, not much – on my 27th episode of Gossip Girl.” Actually, it’s not that difficult to imagine at all. I can see her eyebrows raised and hear her voice clearly and audibly, ” Well, that’s enough of that! You better get up and get busy! Do you hear me??” Cue rapid movement and scurrying of feet. My mother was gracious to allow a little “lollygagging” (her word) here and there, but when there was work to be done, or she felt like you had “dilly-dallied” (another one of her favorites) long enough, it was time to get up and get moving – and you better!
Losing someone you love is difficult regardless of the time, the place, or the circumstances. It just is. Whether suddenly or expected our hearts are never ready. It both changes and exposes us in ways we couldn’t have known before. Some of those revelations are good, and some, well……. they take a little more time to assess. Most I’m still processing and sorting through, the others will hopefully prove to be inspirational.
Losing my mother took much more from me than I was prepared for or could have expected. While there has been a strange, yet comforting peace since her death, I have also found my thoughts to be in a cloudy fog most days. Words and feelings have all been jumbled up and collecting in a heap with no place to go but out of my eyes from time to time. Yesterday, I heard her. I distinctly heard my mother’s voice as if she were standing at the bottom of the stairs, “Beth! It’s time to stop lolly-gagging! Get up! Did you hear me?” Yes, I did. I heard her and now I feel her spirit urging me to not waste another minute, to enjoy living, and to follow my dreams.
So here we are. Our state is very slowly progressing through the stages of this pandemic. We are not out of the woods by a long shot. Masks are mandated and for many, social distancing remains. Home projects are still in progress, many vacations have had to be rescheduled, but apparently, my “lollygagging” and “dilly-dallying” time has come to an end. Sweet moments will be remembered and no doubt, sad days will come, but there is no time to waste or linger in the past. There are things to be done, people to be loved, injustices to fight, goals to be reached, and dreams to achieve. I need to get up and get moving! See you again soon!
Hands nurture us – rocking, feeding, cradling us close.
Hands hold us – lovingly, securely so we don’t fall.
Hands tend to our needs – helping us dress, tying our shoes, brushing through the tangles of our curls.
Hands comfort us – offering reassurance, compassion, wiping the tears from our cheeks.
Hands guide us – giving directions, steering us away from danger and toward possibilities.
Hands teach us – holding the pencil straight, applying the makeup, giving back to others.
Hands help us – holding the bike steady, creating school projects, buttoning the wedding gown.
Hands nurture, help, comfort, and guide.
Hands teach, tend, and give.
Hands hold tight til the time is right and their work is done. Then they let go.
In loving memory of my mother (aka Granny B) whose hands were skilled at knowing exactly what to do at just the right time. I will be forever grateful for all the ways her hands loved, taught, and guided me.
After a season of failing health and complications due to COVID-19, my mother’s journey here ended peacefully in May. Thankfully, I was able to be by her side during her final hours, and to hold the hand that has held mine too many times to count. Often as a child, she would hold my hand tightly until she felt it was safe, or that I was ready to be independent. Then she would let go. Vividly, I remember looking back over my shoulder again and again to make sure she was still there – and she would be. Nodding and smiling, she would reassure me, “Go, on. You can do it!”.
Though the end was inevitable, I still wasn’t ready when she chose to let go of my hand for the final time. In fact, I’ve found myself looking over my shoulder quite a lot during the last couple of weeks – searching for her smile and the comfort of her reassurance. And it is here – she hasn’t left me. I hear her laugh and feel her spirit all around me. She’s in all the lessons that were taught, in all the love she poured into us, and she’s in my heart – where she will always be.
For the precious souls in your life who are no longer physically here, I hope you feel their love and hear their laughter at the times you need it most. I pray their spirits live on as you continue to teach the lessons that made a significant impact in your life. May the love they poured into you flow out and spill over onto everyone in your path. When you look over your shoulder, I hope their voices of reassurance and encouragement will continue to inspire you , “Go on. You can do it!”
Just before the country began shutting down and sheltering, my husband and I spent part of a weekend in historic Charleston. The first leg of the trip was work related for him, the rest was fun for us. On our first night we dined in a quaint, but savory little restaurant in the small town of Ridgeland, South Carolina. The eclectic decor and diversity of the customers at Fiddler’s Seafood was a perfect balance. The atmosphere was friendly and slow, like you find in many local eateries here in the south. It was apparent that many were “regulars” and some, like us, were just passing through. It was both surprising and familiar all at the same time. There were no flashing lights or huge highway signs pointing us in the direction of that little “hole in the wall” eatery – only the high recommendation of the young man at the hotel desk. And he wasn’t kidding – the seafood was yummy!
I grew up in a small town, and I still live in one. I know better than to “judge a diner by its cover”. Many of the local restaurants in my hometowns and surrounding communities have often been unassuming, but boy, what delicious food! There is something to be said for walking in and being greeted by half the dining room or the waitstaff knowing your order by heart. I find it heartwarming to see neighbors and friends sitting in the booths beside us. Getting the chance to catch up is “icing on the freshly made cakes”, and nothing beats some great home cooking! I am sure missing the treat of eating in those familiar little diners these days. “To-go” orders are fine and necessary, but I sorely miss the atmosphere and the comforting smiles of friendly faces. As soon as life is able to resume beyond quarantine, you can bet your boots I’ll be heading out to dine in all my favorite places! If you just so happen to find yourself passing through one of our quaint little towns here in the south, don’t turn up your nose and drive on past that little dive by the roadside. Turn around, come on in, and find yourself a seat – we’ll fix you right up!
I took this photo in Charleston several weekends ago. My husband and I spent some time walking around the Battery Park on our last morning before leaving. For some reason, springtime seems different to me this year. It smells fresher and looks brighter. The earth appears to be breathing in the clean and exhaling beauty. No doubt, our world coming to a slow halt has played a large part in that rejuvenation.
For those of Christian faith this day signifies new life. In many cultures, springtime is symbolic of beginnings and hope. Nature is stretching and waking out of its deep sleep – flowers are blooming, birds are chirping, life is renewed. Spring brings us the reassurance that life will continue. I find this season holding more promises than just those in nature. The slowness of time has given us the gift to rest our souls and renew our spirits if we will only accept it. The rebirth of kindness and compassion is evident in spite of being physically separated from one another. Even in the midst of having to make countless, sudden adjustments in our lives, springtime has come to remind us that change can surely be a very beautiful thing. I’m going to hold it to its word.
Today marks one month since NC declared a State of Emergency and two weeks since our Governor issued Stay at Home Orders for us. One month. It sure seems like much longer. Over the last 30 days my family has bonded, argued, laughed, binge-watched tv, gone for walks, rescued the best dog in the history of the world, cried, and cooked meals. We’ve felt scared, organized cabinets, completed yard work, read, worked from home, and chatted with family on FaceTime. Last week we moved our daughter into a new apartment, kept our distance from friends on the sidewalk, shopped for essentials with care, and loved. Mostly, we have loved. We have tried to take care of each other the best ways we know how. Sometimes that has looked like doing each other’s laundry, and other times it has looked like baking cookies. Sometimes it has sounded like. “I’m worried about you going to the store,” and other times it has sounded like short-tempered responses. More times than not, it has sounded like, “I love you!” Sometimes it has felt peaceful, other times it felt like I couldn’t breathe. Many times it has felt like bear hugs from our boys and doggy kisses on my face. Did I mention he’s the best dog in the world?
Like many of you, we are all doing our best to readjust to these new schedules – our new way of life for this time. I continue to teach remotely each day, my husband works via phone, emails, and virtual presentations. My sons stay as active as possible helping out around the house, playing music, exercising, joining in on video games with friends, and training our new furry family member. But some days are hard and that’s just a fact. The stress and uncertainty have taken a toll on all of our emotions at one time or another. We try to help each other and find positive ways to manage and distract. But if I’m honest, there have been days I have failed miserably. For the grace and compassion of my loved ones, I am most thankful. Keeping a healthy outlook is a challenge, for sure. However, I’m trying to view these bonus days at home as a gift of time to complete some projects I’ve been procrastinating doing for months. I’m off to a pretty good start this week. We’ll see how it goes!
According to Myers-Briggs, I am a solid introvert. Big parties and rooms full of people are at the very bottom of my list of “fun things to do”. While I am soaking up this time of solitude and being with my family, it has also caused me to realize how much I do cherish those who are a part of my daily life. On Monday, I had a Zoom meeting with some colleagues. I got teary when everyone first popped up. I miss them – their smiles, their laughter, our conversations. The other day, my son and I took our new dog on a long walk uptown. We ran into a family friend and my first instinct was to reach out to hug her but caught myself in time. So many days have felt backward or out of place. It reminds me of when I would teach antonyms to my students. After a week of studying them, we would celebrate by having “Opposite Day”. We wore our clothes backward and inside out. We spoke in antonyms and ate our desserts first at lunch. These days feel a little like “Opposite Day” – only not as fun. Everything seems inside out, backward, and upside down. Many things feel out of order. No doubt this is tough, but staying apart now means we can come back together again sooner. Isolating for love almost sounds like an oxymoron, but it is a true act of compassion. We choose to separate in order to survive and to protect those we love most. I am choosing to stay at home for my mother and for my son. Their health and safety are worth far more than any inconvenience. Who are you staying home to protect?
For a myriad of reasons, I’ve allowed my writing to take a back burner for the last couple of weeks, but I am most anxious to get back in the saddle of creating and connecting. I’d love to use this time to hear from you, too. I believe more than ever it is important that we find ways to stay connected while we are apart. Though we must physically separate ourselves, I believe it is critical that we unite emotionally and draw strength from one another. In the coming weeks, I will be sharing some opportunities for us to connect and get to know each other a little better. Each day I will share here and on my social media accounts. Please follow along with me on Facebook and Instagram and join in.
Know that I am most grateful to each of you who takes time out of your day to meet me here. It is my continued prayer for healing, health, and safety across our world. Please stay well and I look forward to seeing you soon!
Today’s post is not a typical one. I want to take this opportunity to personally ask each of you to follow the guidelines that have been given to you by your state and local officials. I beseech you to heed their directives and warnings. These instructions are not being given to inconvenience, annoy, or penalize you. They are being given for your protection. Those who are working in the trenches have been pleading for all of us to take these warnings seriously and for people to stay home. We should trust them. The likelihood is that most of us would be fine if we contracted the virus, but many would not. I have precious family members age 65+ and I love them very much. Their odds of beating this infection are not that impressive. They are not expendable. Their lives are too important to me. Perhaps you have loved ones in that age group, too. Do it for them.
My youngest son has a compromised immune system. Since this outbreak began, I have joked that I’m going to roll him in bubble wrap and stand him in the corner. If only protecting him were that simple! Each time I come into the house either from going to the store or from working in my school, I immediately put my clothes in the laundry to avoid any contamination. Although our professions still require us to leave our home from time to time, we are staying put as much as possible. We do it for him.
From what I can tell on social media, many are finding creative ways to pass the hours inside with family – reading, baking, art, playing games, and outdoor movie nights on the deck. Some are taking on service projects that can be done remotely such as writing cards/letters to nursing home residents or yard work for elderly neighbors. Others are going for long walks in the woods, teaching pets new tricks in the backyard, building things in the carport, or planting gardens together. This is a healthy way to “stay put” or close by and not venture out unnecessarily. The longer it takes to adhere to these guidelines, the longer we will have the guidelines. The more we neglect to listen to the advice of the professionals, the greater the danger we place ourselves and our loved ones in. So, please – stay away from public places. Work from home. Spend time with your family – get creative, love each other, embrace the extra time we have been given to spend with one another. Sit still, stay home. Do it for those you love. Do it for those that are loved by others. Please, just do it!
It’s hard, I truly understand. As optimistic as I am that we will get through this, those worry lines are deepening on my forehead by the hour. Granny B is really going to have something to talk about when I finally get to see her face to face! Please be safe, my friends. Stay well, stay informed, and unless it is absolutely necessary – stay put! Love to you all!
Deep breaths. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had to remind myself to do that quite often these last couple of weeks. The information, uncertainties, and stress seem to double by the hour – thus the knots in my shoulders and the migraine I’ve been trying to keep at bay since early this morning. I stay conflicted between wanting to stay abreast of the news briefings and hiding under a big fluffy blanket with my book and a flashlight.
My head and heart are trying to process how quickly things are changing. Just this week, three friends have lost parents in unrelated deaths. Due to the current conditions, the celebrations of the lives of their loved ones had to be postponed. Two other friends have rescheduled spring weddings. Both of my sons have ceased working with the public in their respective jobs. Thankfully, they are safe here at home – with me. My school district has closed to students, but the heroes who work in the medical field are going non-stop.
Through the years, my husband has often teased that I tend to see things through “rose-colored glasses”. Perhaps he’s right. Maybe I am too idealistic – or maybe I just like pink! It’s true that I have been known to choose optimism over reality at times. While there is much I am unsure of today, this I know to be true – goodness is all around us. In a literal flash, I witnessed my colleagues and many other educators spring into action to prepare digital lessons for our students. Though school has been canceled, opportunities to continue learning have not. School staff has daily prepared and delivered food for students to eat during this time away. The shelves of the stores in our rural community are depleted of food and necessities but are being restocked as quickly as possible by dedicated workers. Each time I have had to go for supplies, people are noticeably kind and helpful to each other. Restaurants are making a way for the truck drivers to be able to access food and rest on their long stretches of travel. Our small town has rallied to help support our local businesses and restaurants who so graciously give back to our citizens all throughout the year. Families are fostering animals from overcrowded shelters. Landlords are canceling rent payments, and utility companies are leaving the power on for their customers. Neighbors are checking in on each other and running errands for those who cannot or should not. My mother’s skilled nursing facility has been scheduling FaceTime visits between the residents and their families, and churches are feeding those who lack resources. This is good stuff right here, people!
At this writing, my family is safe and secure. I pray yours is, as well. The sun is out and there is a warm breeze blowing today. People are going on nature treks, walking their dogs, and occasionally jogging through the neighborhood, waving from a distance. Parents are working from home and children are playing outside. Families are having game nights, watching movies, laughing and eating meals together. Most certainly, there are worries and concerns of the unknown. It is not my intention to minimize them in any way. The storms of chaos will likely descend upon us in the days ahead and test our resolve. Without question, we should do our best to follow instructions, stay informed and be prepared. It is probable that we will learn much about ourselves and discover strength we never knew we had. We will laugh, cry, and love each other as best we can and hopefully we will emerge from this difficult time stronger, better, and more compassionate than ever before. It may get cloudy, and the winds may blow, but it will eventually pass. We will surely be changed – hopefully for the better, and prayerfully not too scathed. The skies may get dark, but I believe with all my heart the sun will come up and our lives will be richer for the many ways we have held on to each other through this crisis. Good will have the last word. Stay safe, stay well, and stay kind, my friends.
When I was a little girl I loved to pretend. Like many children, I dreamed of all the things I would like to do and hoped to accomplish someday. Through the years, many of those ideas and plans changed, but the one dream that remained constant was my deep-seeded desire to be a mother. For as long as I can remember, it was a title and job I wanted above all others. I got that wish – three times, to be exact. Each came with its own celebrations, unique challenges, and countless rewards. These three amaze me daily with their talents and the gift of their love. I remember during my children’s toddler years thinking some days would never end. The hours between 4pm and bedtime seemed to multiply. Those were some sweet babies and I adored them with every breath in my body, but I was tired. While I never wanted to wish their childhood away, I would sometimes find myself thinking what it might be like when they were grown and didn’t need me for every tiny thing. One day they would be older and I could let go of their little hands and give them more freedoms. Quickly, I would push that ridiculousness out of my head. Grown? Freedom? My children not need me????? How absurd!
For those of you who know me personally and have followed along with me on social media through the years, you know the emotional struggle I felt as my baby birds began to actually leave the nest. When our daughter graduated high school and went to college nearly four hours away, I felt my heart would shatter. Seven years later, I’m still not sure I have completely adjusted to her being gone. If it were not for modern technology, I would have never survived. The following year, our oldest son did the same. I had hoped it would get easier, but that was not the case. Though they couldn’t wait to spread their wings and soar, this Momma wasn’t quite ready. Nevertheless they flew away anyway – and managed to do it pretty well, I might add.
This morning my oldest son sent a text offering to fix dinner tonight. That brought a huge smile to my face because he happens to be a fabulous cook! He moved back home with us to finish his last few college classes before he graduated in December. His father and I have loved having him home, and so has his younger brother. I know his time here is temporary, and soon he will be off to start his life and make his own way. But for now, it has been such fun having him back home as a young adult. I feel as though we have all bonded in a different way. For instance, this past weekend, he and his dad took in the new brewery that opened up in town. It has been a joy to watch their adult relationship grow. For sure, it will be difficult when he leaves, so until then I’ll be soaking up every minute of having two of my three babies in the house a little while longer.
After our delicious dinner, we walked next door to celebrate with our oldest niece who just turned eighteen. I remember the day she was born as if it was only a few months ago. She will be graduating and heading to college in the fall along with another nephew. Listening as the kids joked and laughed with one another, it was evident that everyone seems to be growing up all at once – soon more little birds will be flying away. Later in the evening, my youngest came and sat on the end of my bed. He shared his heart, we talked about some important matters going on in his life, and he listened as I offered some advice. This seems to be a more frequent and treasured occurrence these days – one I don’t take for granted. Whether he takes the advice or not is irrelevant. It makes me happy that he needs us to listen to his thoughts, offer ideas, or just touch base to make sure we are still here for him. We are. We will be.
When she left for college, two things I missed most about our daughter being gone were our daily talks about anything or nothing and hearing her sing all throughout the house. It didn’t seem as though I would ever get used to her not being around, but somehow we adjusted. Now, still four hours away, we often talk on her way home from work, text frequently throughout the day, and we’ve already begun planning our 2nd Annual Girls Trip with friends. It helps when she occasionally still needs my advice or to vent. I love watching her learn, excel in her profession, and grow into the amazing woman she is becoming. Her wisdom and passion for justice inspires me to be a better person. It’s also heart-warming when she manages to have a random cooking question or sends me photos of three dresses for my opinion before she buys one. Hopefully, some things will never change. It is apparent that my children don’t need me in the same ways as they once did. I know that. I’m trying to accept it.
The last seven years have taught me as much about parenting than perhaps all the previous ones combined. Letting go of “their little hands” has been much harder than expected. Most times I’ve done it begrudgingly and with great hesitation. Though the daily duties and responsibilities of my job description have changed over time, thankfully I haven’t been downsized yet. In spite of my worst days and overreactive moments, my “little ones” have turned out to be some of the best people I know. All those sleepless nights walking the floor with colicky or teething babies were not in vain. Those long toddler days spent negotiating, refereeing, and praying we were sowing even the tiniest seeds of good character have paid off. Enforcing rules, teaching accountability, and allowing those occasional natural consequences to take place proved to be vital lessons. Somewhere along the way, those precious, tiring little creatures turned into remarkable, wise, and caring young adults. Funny isn’t it? Those little birds hatch. We feed them and teach them to flap their wings. We watch them fly away and pray they fly strong. Then we pray they fly back – that they want to fly back. I’ve always loved my children, but I’ve discovered what a true blessing it is to have raised three young adults that I genuinely like and enjoy spending time with regularly. Daily, I am inspired by their character and their convictions to make themselves and this world a better place. It is humbling to see the compassion they have for others. I often find myself seeking their perspective, and asking for their advice. They have turned into good humans. Without a doubt, my husband and I stand in awe and gratitude for the phenomenal “village” that helped bring them to this stage of life. We most assuredly did not achieve it alone.
As much as I occasionally miss those harried days of long ago, I wouldn’t trade them or go back. The journey to here has been memorable. I hope my children know that regardless of their age, I will always walk the floors for and with them should they need me. The foot of my bed is always open for heart-to-hearts, and as long as there is breath in my body, their faces will always be my favorite things to see coming through the door. Years pass, the days seem to speed up, and schedules get full. And some days, just when you stop to wonder where all the time has gone, you get jolted back to reality with a text or phone call from your very wonderful grown-up babies, “If you don’t have plans, I’ll fix dinner tonight!” or “Hey, Momma – what’s up? Are you busy?”
“Say the things. Make the call, send the text, drop the card in the mail. Schedule the dinner date, take the adventure. Prioritize the time, plan the visit, hold the hand. And for goodness sake – HUG your people!” – Anonymous
I came across this quote today and how it hit me. It was about this time two years ago that I got the news. The email came to my inbox – “Your DNA results are complete.” The plethora of emotions that followed are still difficult to describe explicitly. To say I was excited, nervous, and frightened are mere understatements. I clicked to open the email and for the first time in fifty-two years, I was face to face with my heritage – the people and places from which I came. I was on a journey to discovering the story of my beginning.
All my life, for as long as I can remember, I had known that I was adopted. My parents did their best to explain it to me when I was very young. I’m not sure I completely understood everything at the time, but one thing was for certain – they made sure I knew I was loved beyond words. We didn’t speak of my adoption regularly, but when we did, it was with much respect and love. We didn’t speak of it, because it didn’t seem to matter how we all came to love each other. We just did, and this was simply our “normal”.
Now some fifty years later, I was staring at the screen on my computer and there were more questions running through my head than I could physically process. Looking at the report, there was no way to know what was ahead for me on my journey to discover the missing pieces of my life. I had no idea who I would actually be able to contact, if anyone. There was no way to know if they would receive me or reject me, share information or hold onto secrets. The one thing I knew for certain was that after coming this far, I would not turn back without reaching out, without saying all the things I needed and wanted to say. And I did. I did reach out. I said all the things, shared my heart, and opened my soul to these complete strangers who weren’t really strangers at all. Two years later there has been both rejoicing and rejection, love and acceptance, fear and shame. There were many truths shared and old secrets held onto. For many, we continue to build relationships, to love, make connections, and create memories as often as we can. For some, it will be a process – I suppose only time will tell. For others, a safe, respectable distance is best. I have no regrets for sending the emails, or making the calls. The loving bonds that have been formed have far exceeded the risks and fear.
I remember after the initial rejection from my birth mother, I waited a few weeks and then penned a long letter to her. If this was to be the only chance I would have to communicate with her, I wanted to tell her about my life, my family, and share all the things that I had carried in my heart for these many years. I wanted her to know that she had always been spoken of with love, that I bore no ill-will towards her, and wished her only love and blessings in this life. Though I have resolved to never receiving a response, I am grateful for the opportunity to finally be able to “say all the things” I had longed to say.
This past weekend my husband and I got to spend some long overdue time with my birth father and his family – MY family – my bonus family. It is such a blessing to finally know them and have them in my life. I am so very grateful for the chance to love and be loved by them. Sitting at the table, my Dad reached over and took my hand – which happens to look exactly like his, by the way. I couldn’t help but think how much life has changed for all of us in two very short years. What if I hadn’t sent the email to my cousin asking for her help? What if I hadn’t agreed to take my father’s phone call that Sunday afternoon? What if we hadn’t “said the things, made all the calls, scheduled the dinners or taken the trips”? What if I never knew what it was like to hear him laugh, feel his hugs or hold his hand?
I’ll share more of my story and our journey on another day, but I just couldn’t help but wonder how very different things might have been if I simply hadn’t held my breath and taken that first step. How many times do we miss out on opportunities to embrace, to forgive, or to risk loving another? How often does fear of the past or the unknown hold us back from experiencing great adventures or new beginnings? Life isn’t perfect, but our time here is precious. We can choose to see the complications or we can be bold and take the risks. We can see the obstacles or we can cherish the goodness in the people and the memories we make. I don’t know who reading this blog today needs to be encouraged to “say the things, make the call, send the card, or hold the hand”, but I want to say to you, “Do it!!”
No, that’s not a typo. It’s supposed to read, “Smell Moments”, and I bet you’ve had them before. As a matter of fact, I had one this weekend. On Saturday, I stopped in the store to pick up a couple of treats for Granny B. Right now one of her favorite things is gum. I was standing in line to check out and there it was – a memory staring me in the face. Sitting in it’s designated place on the shelf in it’s bright yellow wrapper were packages of Juicy Fruit gum. Before I even realized it, I had picked it up and held it to my nose. The cashier looked at me inquisitively and smiled, “I never really liked that gum.” I smiled back, feeling a little embarrassed that she saw me. “It’s not really my favorite either, but it brings back so many wonderful memories. It smells just like my grandmother’s purse,” I told her. My Grandmother was a precious, jovial lady. She most always had on a dress and stockings (unless she had been to the garden), wore Revlon Red lipstick, and carried a purse. In every purse she always had her lipstick, a lace handkerchief, and Juicy Fruit gum. There were other things, too, but always those three. I loved all of her “fancy purses”, as I called them. She used the contents inside them many a Sunday morning in church to keep me entertained and quiet. Years later, when the time came to sell my grandfather’s house after his death, my mom, aunt, and I were going through the closets in my grandmother’s room. We found all kinds of sentimental treasures in her purses, and we noted that each one smelled distinctly like the others. No, it isn’t my favorite gum to chew, but there is rarely a time that the scent of Juicy Fruit doesn’t make me smile.
Scientists say that the sense of smell is closely linked to memory – maybe more so than any of our other senses. Smells go into the emotional parts of our brain and the memory, whereas words generally go into the thinking part of the brain. No wonder one sniff of a scent can bring back vivid memories of people, places, and events of our lives.
Gardenias remind me of my wedding bouquet. It was full of them and so heavy I felt a little guilty having my maid of honor hold it during the whole ceremony. Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew, was my mother’s signature fragrance. It brings a sense of comfort to me each time I smell it. Pine cleaner takes me back to Sunday afternoons long ago when my Daddy would mop the barber shop floors. I had to stay up in the big chair until it dried so I wouldn’t get it on my shoes or slip and fall. Smelling White Rain hairspray immediately sends me to those fun-filled, glorious days of my college years – getting ready in the dorm with my girlfriends for dates and dances. A whiff of Dreft laundry detergent transports me to a time when my babies were little and the laundry was endless. I can almost smell those baby blankets now with my sweet ones snuggled inside.
There’s an old quote/cliche we’ve all heard many times, “Take time to stop and smell the roses.” While those words are meant to encourage us to slow down and notice the beautiful, simple things along the way, maybe it’s also meant to remind us to stop and savor the moments and the sweet smells of our life that we’ve tucked away. Maybe those memories in the form of smells are sent to remind us of the loving, beautiful, fun moments that brought us joy – moments we didn’t even think were significant at the time. Maybe we just need to stop and enjoy “the smell moments”.
I love being a teacher. Certainly the days are rewarding and include lots of hugs and smiles from my little people. Other days are just plain hard. Often it can be a challenge when it comes to trying to meet all the needs of all the little folks in our care. Rarely are any two days exactly the same or do they go as planned. But even on the most trying of them, one thing is absolutely certain – the children teach me as much as I teach them. Today was a perfect example.
In one of my late morning reading groups, there are four extremely animated, articulate, and adorable little girls. Our time together each day usually begins with them sharing something that’s “really, really important” – and often all of them at the same time. As a specialist, there isn’t much time, so I work hard to get us on task quickly and start my lesson. Today we had a new book. The girls opened the book to the first page, and I guided them to tell me what they saw. Here are some of their responses:
“That little girl is at the park with her dog.”
“She’s wearing a pink shirt just like me!”
“She has black hair. My hair is black, too.”
“Her puppy is white. My grandma has a new cat!”
“She has braids – I’m wearing braids today!”
“Her tennis shoes are all white. They must be new, ’cause they don’t have any dirt on them. I have new shoes!”
“She has her dog with her.”
“She’s happy. I can tell because she’s smiling”
“Her dog has a leash. If she let’s go, he might run away.”
It’s daytime outside.”
“Is there anything else you see?” I prompted. The book in our lesson today was about a little girl and her service dog. The girls looked very closely at the picture. One precious darling finally spoke with all seriousness, “Nope. She’s sitting in a wheelchair, but that’s it.”
The wheelchair. Thinking it would likely be noticed right away, my original plan was to discuss the role and importance of service dogs for those with physical disabilities before we began reading. But they didn’t notice. In fact, I’m not sure they would have noticed it at all until I practically pointed it out. They didn’t see the little girl’s handicap. They didn’t see the obvious way she was different from them. Instead, they found many ways she was just like them. To these little ones, they simply saw the little girl – the happy one in the pink shirt, with the black hair, wearing the new shoes, with her dog on the leash, in the park.
One thing I know to be very true – if we take the time to listen and watch closely, we sure can learn a lot from little people. We read the story. I taught my lesson. They taught theirs, too. I hope you take some time to watch and listen to some “really, really important” things this week.
Did you ever want to be a superhero? When I was little I used to pretend to be Wonder Woman. There were many times growing up (and occasionally as an adult) that I wished I had my own superpowers. Wouldn’t that be so cool? Well, I happen to know some amazing real-life heroes who have greatly impacted my life. I also have the privilege of working alongside them each day – my colleagues, my fellow teachers.
Here in the south, we have experienced all four seasons this week. No kidding – that’s not an exaggeration. Last Friday it snowed. Then, for two days it was sunny and in the seventies. It rained for another couple of days, cooled off to autumn-like temperatures, several states were subjected to strong storms and tornadoes, and it’s snowing again today. Just a couple of days ago, I spent over an hour hunkered down in the school hallway with my colleagues and about a hundred five and six-year-olds. Now I don’t know about you, but that’s not typically how my Thursday mornings go.
While our morning schedules were a little off routine, my colleagues were on point. Their responses to the sudden change of events, coordinating safety procedures, and tending to all of the children in their care were right on cue. They did not miss a beat. Neither did the teachers on the other hallways in my school. According to the reports from friends across my district, surrounding school systems, and in other states, the teachers in their schools reacted in exactly the same way. When faced with potentially dangerous weather situations, they responded quickly, followed all safety procedures, and lovingly took care of students without a second thought.
When the threat of severe weather was approaching our rural area, everyone responded quickly but was careful not to overreact. All extra hands jumped in to get children fed, make contacts to ensure all children had a safe way home for early dismissal, and promptly got everyone packed up to leave. As if that didn’t make for a harried half-hour on it’s on, the first tornado warning came in. We all acted quickly, with most of the children falling in line as they have practiced, believing it was “just a drill”. The air was hot and tense. The sky grew black, and it was obvious from the warnings and sirens that this was not “just a drill”. It wasn’t long before the worry began to show on their sweet little faces, and for some, leaked out of their eyes and down their little cheeks. That’s when it happened. That’s when these educated, multi-skilled, highly qualified teachers, assistants, and staff members transformed from experts at modeling reading and math strategies into real-life superheroes. I watched as my colleagues began to jump into action. Without a second thought, they were sitting with students, holding hands, rubbing backs, giving stuffed animals to hold, and drying tears. They were reading books, telling stories, diverting attention, and reassuring. Many of us took turns comforting children and trying to make contact with our own families to check on their safety. It was an emotional 70+ minutes, but all ended well. The imminent danger finally passed. We were able to get each and every student home safely to their families, and each teacher home to theirs. We managed to protect the future doctors, scientists, and business women that we’re going to need someday. Mission accomplished!
While the events of the day were a little out of the ordinary, the actions of my colleagues were not. You see, this is how they respond to needs every single day. Many people believe they know what teachers do most days, but in reality, they only know a small portion. The number of degrees held by the staff and faculty of my school alone is quite impressive. That doesn’t include the additional certifications, specialized training, and licenses we possess. Several of my colleagues are presently getting additional degrees and certifications – they are most likely completing assignments on this Saturday morning as I type. Many have second jobs to help make ends meet. That said, even with the additional responsibilities on their shoulders, our staff is amazing. I watch these men and women give their hearts and souls every day to the students they teach. They routinely go above and beyond to ensure children have clothes, food, emotional support, and safety – in addition to all the curriculum we are expected to teach. When you hear a teacher say, “my kids” in reference to his/her class, that’s exactly what they mean – they literally love, teach, discipline, model, encourage, and protect them as if they were their own. I know this to be a fact.
It would not be difficult to write a small novel on all the ways I have watched teachers make a great impact on their students. In twenty-three years as an educator, I have more amazing stories than I can count. While parents are concerned and feel the pressures, impacts, and responsibilities of their one child, teachers feel that for 20+, in addition to their own families. Sometimes teachers are dealing with family illness, personal issues, and many other stressors that life has a way of tossing in our path. Still, they get up, show up, and walk through the door to make a difference for every child in their care. They plan, provide, and brighten their classrooms for instruction. Whether on the productive, uninterrupted days or when the skies turn black and the winds howl on the playground, they gather their composure, a song, and a story to be ready at a moment’s notice. They have their emergency bags packed, walkies on their hips, and stuffed animals on hand to meet the day.
I encourage you to take a moment to thank a teacher in your life. Write a note, say a prayer for them, speak your gratitude. They care for their students while often away from their own. They give the best hours of their days to love, inspire, and educate children to become the doctors, mechanics, inventors, and scientists of our future that we will all need. Maybe if we are lucky, we will manage to motivate a few to step in and follow in our footsteps when our time of service is done.
To all those everywhere who jumped in to help children in the path of this storm on Thursday, I say, “Thank you! You rock! You are heroes!” To the brave women and men on my hall, in the classrooms of my building, I salute you! I stand in awe of you. You inspire me and I am so honored to work alongside you each day. It’s hard, it’s emotional, and it’s heart-warming. So, get ready – fasten those capes and arm yourselves with knowledge, truth and justice! We’ve been assigned a great mission to prepare and protect the leaders of tomorrow. Off we go!
I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people. – Maya Angelou
Last week one of my colleagues began her maternity leave with her new bundle of joy. Holding down the fort until she returns is a young man who happens to be a close friend of my oldest son since preschool. This young man graduated from a wonderful college here in our state and received a prestigious award to teach abroad. Having just returned home after completing his year of service, he is substituting locally for a bit. Knowing what a great role model he is, I was so excited to find out he would be working with our little ones! This morning just after the bell, I stopped in to welcome and check in on him. After getting a big hug and “Hey, Mrs. Sharpe!” we talked about his new role. He explained that after being away from home for a year, he just wanted to come back, process his time away, and take some time to figure out what was next. Then he said something that really resonated in my soul, “I just needed to come home and reconnect – you know, to just ground myself again.” Wow.
This young man spent a year on another continent, in another culture speaking a different language, observing/respecting different faiths, eating different foods, learning new customs and mannerisms, living in unfamiliar accommodations, and even wearing clothes that were foreign to him. While I am certain his experiences there will impact him for a lifetime, he needed to reconnect to his roots, to his self. Don’t we all need to do that from time to time? I think about the periods in my life when I have been away from my roots or separated from my routine and connections. Many of those times were exciting, growing opportunities, others perhaps more challenging. Regardless, I absolutely needed a chance to come back, reconnect, and ground myself.
One summer in college I spent six weeks in Tennessee working with children. It was one of the most eye-opening experiences I had ever had. Home was nearly five hours away, and I found myself in very unfamiliar territory of both inner city poverty and isolated rural mountain families. While my experience was not on another continent, at times it felt very foreign to me. There were new surroundings, new customs, experiences, and definitely a different culture than I was accustomed to. I remember crying myself to sleep the first night there, and also vowing I would never utter a word to my parents of how frightened I was. I didn’t. Without a doubt, my time there proved to be some of the best six weeks of my life. I learned a lot about myself, both good and bad. I learned how to set/achieve goals, become more self sufficient, and I returned with a little broader view of the world than the very sheltered one I had taken with me. That summer proved to be a time for self-reflection and growth, for sure! Leaving those children at the end of the summer was much more difficult than I ever imagined. That was a time long before technology and I have wondered so often about them through the years. Letters kept me in contact with the workers there for a while, but time and distance has a way of bringing some relationships to a close.
When my last day arrived, there were many emotions. After the good-byes had all been said, I remember driving over the mountain and heading toward Charlotte – toward home. My mind was full of everything and everyone from the summer. I was also focused on the days ahead – college would be starting back soon and I only had a few semesters left. We would probably take several days and go to the beach before I had to return. Meanwhile, I knew my Mama had put fresh sheets on my bed (my bed!!!!) and was cooking enough food to feed an army. My Daddy would be standing in the garage waiting with a big bear hug, and I was crossing my fingers that hopefully, my boyfriend (now husband) would be there to greet me, too. I was right on all accounts! While my time away had grown and stretched me in more ways than I would have ever guessed, it was so good to be home – to reconnect, to ground myself.
Last year, we sold my family home. My parents built that house and we moved in when I was a little over a year old. It took months of cleaning out, sorting, and discarding before we were even ready to have the estate sale. If you have walked this path, you know what a difficult and emotional task it can be. For me, it was just plain hard. Surely, it would have taken less time if I had been able to quickly toss fifty plus years of “stuff” into the rented dumpster, but it wasn’t that simple. Some things were easy to sort and discard, but many held a memory or a story. My own garage inherited a few boxes of memories that my heart wasn’t quite ready to let go of yet – maybe someday. I remember doing one last walk-thru before the closing. Knowing it would be the last time I walked through that door or up the stairs to my bedroom was almost surreal. Though it had been many years since I lived in this house, it was still a home base for me. It still had a way of connecting me to who I was and where I came from. Being there grounded me.
Life and circumstances can take us on many journeys. We go, we come back, and we leave again – sometimes for short spells, sometimes for long ones. We all have a place that we connect to – a place that refuels our soul. Sometimes your home base can be in human form. When this introvert is in a crowded room full of strangers, schedules are crazy, or life has taken a chaotic turn for the week, sometimes all I need is for my husband to take my hand and suddenly I feel steady and grounded. Sitting by the ocean soothes my mind and spirit. Being with my children rejuvenates my soul. Those are just a few simple ways I reconnect.
When was the last time you stopped to regroup? How long has it been since you took some time to process, to reconnect to your home base? If you can’t remember, it’s time! Find your place. Breathe it in and soak it up. Reach out for their hand, refuel your soul and get grounded!
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (I Corinthians 13: 4-8)
Do these verses look familiar to you? I’ve heard them my entire life. They were read and spoken at my own marriage ceremony over twenty-nine years ago – perhaps at some of yours, too! Though most often associated with weddings, the words in these verses have deep meaning and can likely be applied to any of our committed relationships. Read them again. See? When reading these verses, I immediately think of my husband, and also of the unconditional love I have for my children. I have friends that I love like family – they fit in here, too. Love is a peculiar thing. It can happen suddenly or over time. Sometimes you can see it coming a mile away, other times it can leave you completely blindsided. It doesn’t always follow the rules – sometimes there is no rhyme or reason. Love is love – no matter how you spin it.
Last weekend my husband, daughter and I were blessed to be able to share in the wedding of some precious friends. There were guests from across several states, some related to the couple by their DNA, most connected to them by the heart. The celebration took place on a gorgeous afternoon overlooking the river, which later turned into a picturesque backdrop at sunset. The flowers were breathtaking, the food and spirits scrumptious, and the venue quite elegant. Though had you been in attendance, you would likely have noticed that the grandest decorations of the day did not arrive in trucks or catering vans, nor were they carried around on sterling silver trays. The most delightful accessories of the evening were the smiles worn on the faces of each guest in attendance, and the love that hung in the air.
Interestingly enough, practically all the guests were strangers to one another. Except for some of their family, the majority of the friends present were from various points of time in the couple’s lives. While many knew of each other, most had never actually met until that evening. On this evening, however, we would come together for one distinct purpose – to celebrate these two amazing humans whom we all loved. From the moment the guests began arriving in the courtyard, the hugs and introductions began. “OH! You worked with ?” or “I recognize you from pictures on Facebook!” or “You must be ?! I’ve heard so much about you!!” – and so it continued well into the evening. There was kindness all around!
Due to a few unforeseen circumstances, the ceremony was a little late getting started, so we all sat peacefully. No one was impatient or angered, but greatly at ease, looking around, taking in the beauty of the evening, and talking quietly to one another. I couldn’t help but look at the faces of everyone seated there. Each of us uniquely special to the couple in some way, all brought together to rejoice with them on their special day. As the couple stood before us and spoke their vows, there was laughter, some tears, and a spirit of hope for them as they began this new adventure together. We all watched as they proclaimed their love selflessly to one another and vowed to protect each other in good times and trials. Surely, trials will come, but this couple will no doubt face them head on. They will face them together and they will face them linked arm in arm with all those who came to delight in the truth of their love that day. They can trust they will not face them alone.
As the evening continued, there was delicious food, festive drink and much laughter. There were funny stories, loving toasts, and joyful dancing. In the course of those few hours, we all became family united by the love of the couple we had come to celebrate.
I was reminded of a beautiful song by Brandon Heath called, “Love Never Fails’. My husband has sung it many times – I love listening to the words. They are taken from the verses above and are simple, yet meaningful. The words remind us that, “… love doesn’t cease, it does not hide, or run away.” Rather, it “…believes, sustains, and matters.” The last lines of the song go as follows:
Love is the river than flows through
Love is the arms that are holding you
Love is the place you will fly to
Love never fails you
Have you ever had something stay with you long after it was over? For days now, I can’t seem to get this past weekend out of my mind. Out of the blue, I’ll have a thought that brings a smile to my face. Somehow, I imagine it will be this way for quite some time. There were so many special parts – I know I’m going to tuck some of those sweet memories away for safe-keeping.
You wouldn’t think one simple wedding would occupy my thoughts all week long, but this wasn’t just any wedding. Theirs was a union of souls – many souls. It was a wedding that joined the hearts of all of us in attendance. Our lives will be forever connected to theirs by that significant moment. Hopefully, each of us who gathered with them will recall the joy and the hope that was felt there that day. I hope we will hold fast to the love that was abundant in that place and remember how it flowed and washed like a river over all of us. In the coming days, I pray we will hold this dear couple in our hearts as a testament and a beautiful promise that in the end, it’s all that really matters. Nothing is greater. Love never fails. Love always wins.
Today, January 27, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this day we pause to remember the victims from one of the darkest tragedies in the history of our world. Approximately six million Jewish people were violently executed under the Nazi regime during World War II. As a young girl, I remember reading, The Diary of Anne Frank, multiple times. In her diary, Anne Frank recounts the daily events, struggles, and conversations that she, her family, and the others had while in hiding. As I read the book and tried to put myself in her place, I simply couldn’t. As a young girl, myself, my mind would not allow me to go that place of fear and devastation – the horror was overwhelming.
It would be two years after her death when her infamous diary would be published. We would then learn the daily recounts of her life while going into hiding and the time until her death in 1945. This young girl of thirteen, facing very adult fears and a fate no one should be forced to endure, left behind some beautiful insights into kindness, courage, and character. While I am far from qualified to speak at great lengths on the history of the Holocaust, the political influences of the time, or to the atrocities faced by the victims and the survivors, I will note the messages in the writings of this young girl. Anne Frank faced horrors of what most of us could never imagine. It is not my intention in any way to minimize or overlook the importance of this international day of remembrance. That is a time in our history that we must educate ourselves on, stay focused, and work vigilantly to ensure never happens again. Today, though, I chose to highlight an inspirational quote left behind in Miss Frank’s diary that is a challenge to each of us. If she were with us today, I know she would exude wisdom and share courageously of those most adverse times. She would certainly be an activist advocating for human rights and justice for all – and we would listen with awe and reverence. I would hope that she would find us being kinder and loving our neighbors and fellow man a little better. I hope she would not be disheartened with the ways she witnessed us treat each other. Instead, my hope is that Anne Frank would be delighted to find us putting into action the words she wrote in her diary on March 26, 1944:
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
I just love this! Often, we feel we have to wait until the “right time” to begin making our mark “for good” in this world. It’s as if we need permission to get started making a difference in the lives of those around us. We don’t. We don’t have to wait to earn the degree, win the money, buy the house, get the promotion – it can start now, today. We can start with small steps – a kind word, a quick deed, a hug, or simply a smile that says, “Hey, I see you.” If you are able to do more, by all means, please do! If not, start where you are – on your street, in your office, in your class at school. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, it just has to be sincere. Anne Frank left this world much too soon, and unnecessarily. Thankfully, her words, the history, and the accounts of her courage remain. How truly sad it would be if her insights and wisdom were written in vain. If she were alive today, would she still feel the same as she did in that tiny room hidden away?
“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
Personally, I’m going to accept her challenge. Long after my time here has passed, I hope I will be remembered for bringing light, for being kind, and for making a difference “for good”. I want her words to ring true in my life. It is my hope that you will be encouraged to do the same. Let us not waste a moment in being good at heart!
Last week I had the joy to speak to a friend from a lifetime ago. We actually met in first grade and graduated high school together. Like many, we reconnected on social media several years ago, and I have since been able to keep up with some of his many successes and adventures. I reached out to pick his brain for some ideas and to gather his thoughts on a new opportunity geared to help local youth in my community. Being in different time zones and having too much information to type, we coordinated a time to talk one evening. I was so excited to talk with him! It had been too many years since I had heard his voice. The very first thing I noticed was the absence of his southern, small-town, North Carolina accent – and the glaring presence of mine. The minutes that followed brought laughter, stories, and much reminiscing about the little town where we grew up.
We were to take the framework of the piece and rewrite it to make it about our own lives in order to introduce ourselves to the class. Here’s what I came up with for mine:
Where I'm From By: Elizabeth W. Sharpe -with thanks to George Ella Lyon
I’m from Ivory soap, sheets drying on the clothesline, and fly swatters on the screened-in porch. I’m from the pines and the dogwoods And the Japanese Cherry tree in the Front yard at the end of the street. Running through the sprinklers with my feet all covered in wet grass and fireflies flickering in Mayonnaise jars with holes punched in the lids.
I’m from tomato sandwiches, fried okry, and a mess of peas; I’m from patent leather shoes and lace leotards bunched up at my toes Penny loafers and pink espadrilles, mood rings and feathered bangs; Week-long revivals at the Baptist church, long tables full of casseroles, and summers of Vacation Bible School.
I’m from The Brady Bunch and Captain Kangaroo; from The Bee Gees and the Captain and Tennille. Making paper fortune tellers, chewing Fruit Stripe gum, and Wearing roll-on lip gloss – in strawberry. I’m from kickball marathons in the backyard and taking my turn cranking the ice cream freezer On the patio.
I’m Bobby and Bonda’s girl – you know, Seymore and Myrtle’s boy? I’m from picnics, festivals, and covered dish lunches; Hearing, “Hey, Sug! How’s my girl?” and, “Y’all come back!” And the station wagon with the wood panels down the side. I’m from shelling peas and stringing beans til my fingers hurt and “because I said so!”; Tupperware parties, Polaroids and watching home movies With no sound.
I’m from a time that doesn’t seem all that long ago, But is. Under my bed are pictures, trinkets, and letters from pen pals; Memories, pressed flowers, and keepsakes….. One day I’ll tell my children all about them So they will know where they are from, too.
Without a doubt, this was one of my all time favorite assignments. I was surprised to note the things of my childhood and upbringing that stood out as significant as I reflected on a time long ago. It wasn’t the vacations, big events or celebrations – just the opposite. What came to mind were the seemingly small moments that, if you weren’t careful, might go completely unnoticed. So vivid were the smells of the strawberry lip gloss and gum, hearing my Grandmother’s voice saying, “How’s my girl?”, and the faces of my Sunday School teachers. Within seconds I was transported back to my front yard running in the grass catching “lightening bugs” at sundown. I’m from a much simpler, slower time – a time where technology was a routine part of Captain Kirk’s life, not mine. In my small town there were neighbors visiting under shade trees, town festivals, unlatched back doors, and prayer meetings. We only had a couple of policemen and a doctor who would drop by to see how you were doing. Looking back, it almost seems imaginary. Small towns have a way of holding you close or keeping you trapped – depending on how you look at it, I suppose. In mine, most stayed close, few left, some came back. Perhaps that’s just the way it is.
My friend and I both left our little hometown, but as we continued to talk and share over the next hour, it was apparent how the influences of “where we were from” had impacted our lives. Many of those influences were positive, some not so much. All of them had a hand in guiding us to our present places of conviction and resolve. I was reminded that we are a collection of all the experiences and influences in our lives – good and bad. We grow, we leave. We take the parts that made us and carry them out into the world. Some parts we keep, some we discard, and some we tuck away never to be forgotten. Maybe we come back to where we’re from, or perhaps we don’t. Wherever we go, whatever we become, however we change, there are always the pieces of our lives that we carry with us – the pieces that helped to make us who we are. The pieces that never let us forget where we are from.
I hope you will find the good – and the lessons – in all the pieces of where you are from!
Today we honor the life, the actions, and the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose commitment to ending racial inequality and championing civil rights is noted throughout the world. Dr. King spoke eloquently of working together and of all people living together in peace. He lived – and died – speaking out against hatred and violence.
There are many documented quotes by Dr. King – many that I find inspiring. As I read through a long list of them as motivation for this post, I kept coming back to this one:
“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” – MLK, Jr.
What truth! If we each are honest, we’ve all experienced it. I’ll go first. There have been many times over the last half-century that I have been guilty of pre-judging another person based on a reaction, a poor first impression, a comment, or one negative behavior. It set my guard on “high” and it was easy to dismiss that person without a second thought. Most of those judgments occurred during the earlier part of my life when my world was extremely small – a time when I knew very little about anyone outside of my immediate influences or who was very different from me in any way. It isn’t something I am proud to admit, but I am proud to tell you that in the majority of those cases, I was wrong. When given the chance to sit together, talk, and share experiences, it was often amazing as to how much much our lives overlapped and connected. I share that as a testament to broadening your surroundings, creating opportunities and experiences to learn about others from all walks of life, and education. It matters. Even in attempts to be more conscious and aware, I am reminded of just how far I have to go.
As Dr. King stated, what often separates us from getting along is simply not taking the time to figure how we are the same. Instead, we focus on all the ways we think we are different – which is usually a result of unsubstantiated fear. How many times are we guilty of dismissing the opportunity to know someone based on assumptions? Opinions can often be formed and sealed without speaking a word. Our minds can lock and set on the judgment of another based on an impression, an unproven fact, or miscommunication. Sometimes one negative experience with another results in equating all those related to them as the same. That is simply unfair and wrong. Fear, I have decided, is the true enemy. Fear seeks to control. Fear is a liar. It deceives us of so many worthwhile experiences, steals our dreams and causes division. Dr. King also said we have the power to defeat fear:
“Courage is the power of the mind to overcome fear.”
Please don’t mistake my message of, “we are more alike than different” as a blanket solution to the social injustices that we face as a nation daily. This post is not intended to smooth over the importance of addressing them head-on. I won’t overlook the fact that there is much work left to be done. Nearly fifty-two years later, Dr. King would find the battle for civil rights and equality is still going strong. Presently, racism is as emboldened as ever. Discrimination has now spread to those who worship differently and love differently. Women continue to march for their voices to be heard. We must be intentional in the ways we come together as a nation, rather than divide ourselves from each other. While it is not my intention to invoke a political post here today, I will take full advantage of the opportunity to bring awareness to those things that matter when given the opportunity. Whether large or small, I believe when we are given a voice and a venue to speak to justice we must be responsible to do so each time.
When I began this site, the purpose was two-fold. First, I wanted to create a space to write. Second, I wanted to write to share and connect with others. As stated on my site’s page, I do believe we are more alike than different. Sharing stories and experiences is a way to bring us together – a way to connect and find the ways our lives overlap. To honor the life and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I encourage you to make an intentional effort to connect with someone you see different from yourself. It may be a difference in race, faith, or sexual orientation. Perhaps you appear to have differing political views or economic status. Listen to their story. Discover your connections. You may be surprised by the many ways you are alike than different. Find ways to work together to make a difference “for good”.
Dr. King gave us the challenge to care for one another, stand up for each other, to indeed be our brother’s keeper. Will we accept that challenge? I want to do and be better. I feel we all can. Let’s find the courage to connect.
Around four years ago I began writing occasional “Granny B” posts on my social media page. I wrote them mainly because the things she would say to me daily were sweet and often funny. Unexpectedly, the responses from friends and family were overwhelmingly positive. Folks frequently comment on the posts and ask about Granny B, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to introduce her to you.
Granny B is my mother. Her given name is Bonda – a name that is equally unique as she is. My mother was the sixth of seven children – four older brothers, one older sister, and one younger brother – and at age eighty-five, is the only surviving sibling. She grew up on a farm in rural Cabarrus County in North Carolina. My grandfather farmed and worked in the mill. My grandmother was a homemaker -a great one! They were a close and loving family with a strong work ethic, high integrity, and deep faith. There are many stories of all their adventures growing up together.
My mother completed high school, started business school, and somewhere during that time, met my father. They married when she was twenty and he, nineteen. Eager to start a family, they built a house across the street from my father’s parents. Soon they would discover that a diagnosis of endometriosis would redirect their plans. She and my Daddy were married nearly eleven years when they adopted me at six weeks old. I have heard countless stories, seen many photographs, and watched the old black and white movie of the day they joyously brought me home.
When I was young, my mother worked as a secretary at an elementary school. Though she and I were at two different schools, she somehow managed to know everything that happened at mine. There never seemed to be a way to sneak anything past her – homework projects, a note I had been given for talking too much in class, a crush I had. I determined she must be psychic. Mama later left the school system and finished out her years until retirement working for the Clerk of Court in a nearby county.
My mother has played a vital role in my life for as long as I can remember. Whether it was playing dolls with me as a child, instilling the skills I needed to shop victoriously, or teaching me how to wear makeup, she was up for the task. When it came to listening to my problems, assisting with schoolwork, helping complete college applications, shop for my wedding dress, or holding my hand in the delivery room, she was front and center. Somehow, she even found the strength to help guide me through the motions of saying good-bye to my Daddy much sooner than I ever expected. She was far from perfect, but she loved me with her entire being. I never doubted for one second that she was always on my side.
My mother, to my knowledge, has never met a stranger. As a child, I used to think she knew every single person, everywhere we went. It was fascinating how she could remember the names of each child that had come through her school during the years. She was skilled at needlework, baking cakes, and growing plants of all kinds. If you set your glass down or threw your towel on the floor, it was likely going to get washed before you could blink twice. Mama was all about having a clean house. My bedroom caused her much distress. Mama had a strong faith and believed fervently in the power of prayer. She had spunk, sass, and a quick temper. She was strict and no-nonsense. Her life mission was to keep me protected from danger, adolescent boys, and unwise choices. If she said my curfew was at 11:00 pm, I knew that meant I needed to walk through the door at 10:55. She trusted me unless I gave her a reason not to, which I didn’t. If a neighbor or church member passed away, Mama was already in the kitchen making casseroles. It was never an imposition to sit with a sick family member or friend. In the event of an emergency or crisis, Mama always seemed to know exactly what to do. She was quick to take my phone calls and came to assist every time I needed her.
My husband and I produced the first grandchild for both of our families. Shortly before my due date, we informed our parents that it was time to start considering their new titles. As everyone began to think about their new grandparent names, my mother boldly announced that she was fine with whatever the baby called her, “….. as long as it wasn’t, Granny.” She went on to explain that all she could think of was, “…Granny Clampett sitting on the back of that old jalopy,” from the tv show, The Beverly Hillbillies. After the baby was born, our nurse left to bring the eager grandparents in to see us. Much to her surprise, all four of them had been standing with their ears to the door and fell into the room as she opened it. My mother walked straight over to my bed, took our daughter from my arms, and said, “Hello, little darling – come see your Granny!” My husband and I were a little confused at first, but all we could do was smile. In the wee hours of the morning in that small hospital waiting room, my mother was transformed into her new role with delight and purpose. From that day on, she would proudly be known as, Granny.
Fast forward twenty-one years later to the fall of 2015. After a series of events, my mother was formally diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and Dementia. Though the news was devastating to receive, it was not a complete surprise. As many families have experienced, we were faced with the difficult task of trying to explain what was happening to her, and that it would be necessary to leave her home of nearly fifty years. It was decided to bring Mama closer so that my family and I could help care for her. Before this dreaded diagnosis took over, she enjoyed reality tv, teaching her Sunday School class, volunteering at the hospital, and eating out. She loved tomatoes from the garden, working in her flowers, bright-colored clothing, flashy jewelry, reading biographies about celebrities, and the beach. But more than anything, she loved her grandchildren. She was the proverbial “Grandma with Photos”. To her, they were the smartest, most beautiful, talented, photogenic babies ever. She attended every possible sporting event, dance recital, theatrical production, school program, and holiday dinner. And when she showed up, you could be certain there would be candy, presents, and other surprises. Granny B made no apologies for her extravagance in spoiling grandchildren. It was her “..duty and privilege.” Not too long from now she may forget, but the one thing I hope my children remember deep in their hearts is that she loved them without reserve and how proud they made her. My mother was complicated, yet real. Both confident and insecure, private, but friendly. Mostly, she epitomized love – and still does.
There have been many difficult legs of this journey – ones I would not have been able to make but for the love and support of my husband and children. Life often comes full circle, and I am blessed to be able to care for her as she did for me. Most days she is happy, compliant, and recognizes me when I walk through the door. She is always thrilled to see her beloved son-in-law. I accepted long ago that he is the favorite one, not me. Some days I arrive to find that she has been “counting the payroll”, “tending to sick children”, “working in the garden”, or “sitting at the Estee Lauder counter at Belk”. Some days we just sit quietly. Don’t be fooled, that spunky spirit is still present! She likes things done her way, and her level of patience is normally close to depleted. Sparkly jewelry, tomato sandwiches, and having her hair done and nails painted remain favorite treats. She still beams with pride when her “babies” come into the room to visit and almost always remembers to tell me she loves me. Though the days are becoming a little quieter, Granny B still has plenty to say about many topics. As long as she is willing to share her humor and inspiration, I will enjoy writing about it.
A friend comforted me with a couple of reminders as I began to walk this path with my mother – she encouraged me not to take anything personally and to meet her wherever she is that day in her memory. Some days that’s easier to do than others. Later, I found a quote that spoke to me “….what the mind may forget, the heart still remembers.” The truth of that statement is played out daily before my eyes. It’s baffling the simple tasks she has forgotten how to do, and amazing the details and memories that have remained. There are still stories and events locked away in her mind, and I find myself wishing for the key to be able to go back in one last time. I’ve thought of so many questions I wish I had asked, photos that should have been documented, and stories to tell once more. My chance to do that has likely passed, but I can encourage others to make wise use of the remaining days with the older ones they hold dear. Don’t let the doors close to all the memories – ask the questions, look at the photos again, write down the names, and listen as they retell the stories. I hope you will cherish those who have shared their lives, wisdom, and love with you through the years. May we be willing to hear what their hearts remember.
“I love you the most. That’s what Mamas do, you know? They love you the most.” – Granny B
Do you like to read? I do! It’s hard to remember a time I didn’t love books or reading. When I was a little girl growing up in a small rural town in North Carolina, we had a quaint local library. It wasn’t very big – about the size of a small book shop. Going there in the summer, especially, was one of my favorite things. It was so peaceful to just wander through the rows of books until one would catch my attention. I would read the jacket, skim through the book, and try to make a connection to the story or the character. If it pulled me in, then it became my new adventure for a couple of weeks. I still love going to the library. Yes, I am fully aware of e-books and downloads. I’ve tried it, but there’s just nothing like holding my books when I read them – I even love their smell. Maybe one day that will change, but for now, my little plastic membership card has its designated slot in my wallet.
We are pretty avid readers in our house. It’s not uncommon to hear, “What are you reading?” or “I just finished a book I think you will love!”. We habitually read to our children starting in infancy. It’s difficult to say exactly how many times we read their favorite books over and over. Sometimes on rainy afternoons, we would pile up on my bed and read book after book until our eyelids got too heavy to see the pages. OK, so that was me, but the children still enjoyed it, too! Sure, we read to them for educational purposes – to build vocabulary, increase language skills, to connect physically and emotionally – but mostly, we read to them because we wanted them to develop a love for reading and learning. My two oldest children will devour quality fiction. They each graduated from college with degrees in English, so I like to think those rainy afternoons and bedtime battles were not in vain. Our youngest loves nonfiction. He is gifted in and speaks a language of technology that sounds more like Portuguese to me. From the time he was tiny, he has been fascinated with facts and information. “How-To” and “Did You Know?” books were almost always his pick. Many (and by many I mean almost all) nights our dinner conversations centered around some obscure facts he had discovered that day or a science lesson he felt compelled to teach to his uninformed family. Thankfully, they all still love to read for entertainment, inspiration, and knowledge. This Momma/teacher would be lying if she said she wasn’t just a little proud of that. My husband likes to “read” in the car. He spends a lot of time driving to client meetings and job sites, so he and Audible have developed quite a close relationship. As an elementary Reading Specialist, much of my day is spent doing exactly as you would expect – reading. I read news articles, professional/educational materials, and teaching manuals. Most of the hours consist of reading a wide variety of elementary-aged literature with little people. By the time I arrive home most days, there are usually many other tasks that attract my attention. Often, my personal reading gets pushed to the back burner. Dedicating more time to that is one of my top priorities for this new year.
A while back, one of my dearest friends and I were discussing the relationship between reading and personal growth. She commented that when she is consistently reading, she notices growth and improvement in all aspects of her life – personal, spiritual, and professional. I decided to start paying attention to her theory. Not surprising at all, she was right! Since then, I strive to have at least one or two books on my nightstand at all times. Normally, I’m not quite so ambitious, but at this writing, there are five: “Girl, Wash Your Face” – Rachel Hollis I’ve already read this twice, but I keep it close by for those days I need some encouragement. Hollis writes as if she’s standing in front of you cheering you on. She is funny, authentic, and motivating! I just ordered her second one, “Girl, Stop Apologizing”. I can’t wait to read it, too! “Bird by Bird”, Anne Lamott – one of the best and most referenced books for writers about writing. It offers wisdom and instruction on writing and life. It’s been a great companion to me since beginning this blog. It’s good stuff! “We Are All Good People Here” – Susan Rebecca White I don’t know much about this novel, but I’m looking forward to reading it. It’s on several “must-read” lists and comes highly recommended by one of my favorite authors, Emily Giffin. “Becoming” – Michelle Obama This one really needs no commentary. I am so excited to hear and read her story. I actually downloaded this one, by the way. My plan is to follow along in my book while also listening to the former First Lady narrate. I’ve been waiting since summer to check this off my list! “Big Magic” – Elizabeth Gilbert. I’m just a few chapters in, but already her words are sparking all kinds of inspiration and encouragement. Author of, “Eat, Pray, Love”, Gilbert is known for her ability to weave a colorful pattern with words. This book encourages you to find the creativity within yourself and get busy to make it happen. That’s my plan!
Once upon a time in a first-grade class, I had a little boy who struggled with reading. It was such an incredibly difficult task for him. We worked and practiced and practiced and worked until he began making some pretty good strides. At the end of the year, he was not exactly where I had hoped he would be, nonetheless, significant growth had been made. One morning the following year he came to see me before the bell rang. He asked if I would allow him to come read to my new first graders. Now, I never turn down a child who wants to practice reading! The new teacher and I set up a time for him to visit. I will always remember his sweet little face as he came beaming through my door. His book held close, he stood proudly as I introduced him to my group of little ones. He took his seat of honor in my Dr. Seuss chair at the front of the room and began to read the story about a snowman. The words flowed carefully and steadily, and he stopped before turning each page to show the pictures. I watched from the back of the room, my heart bursting with pride and puddling up in my eyes. He read that book like a champ! This little guy had come so far. There had been many hurdles to jump over in his short life – at home and at school – but he did it! This precious one persevered until he found the key and unlocked the magic of words and reading. This isn’t the end of the story – for him, the whole world has opened up and it’s just beginning.
So here’s my short spiel – reading is important. It puts your brain to work – like exercise. The more you read, the more active your brain. The more it is active, the more it grows and makes connections – both socially and emotionally. Our brains change and develop when we read. Reading helps us with reasoning and problem-solving skills. Reading develops comprehension and emotional intelligence. It can slow down cognitive decline and improve concentration. On that evidence alone, I should be reading 24/7! Reading stories from other places, rich in diversity, and about social issues helps strengthen and broaden our perspectives of people and situations around us. The world suddenly becomes bigger and closer all at the same time. It’s also not abnormal to read just for the sake of sheer enjoyment. Reading has certainly unlocked my imagination and sparked creativity on more than one occasion! Test my friend’s theory for yourself. See how opening your mind to new stories, ideas and perspectives can unlock creativity, growth, and motivation in your own life. Find a story, some poems, a place, a “how-to”, a biography, spiritual encouragement – any book. Challenge yourself, exercise your brain, expand your world, improve, take a journey. Find your magic and just read.
“Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic…”. Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter, and the Deathly Hallows
Today, January 12, 2020, was National Sunday Supper Day. In honor of this recognition, I dug deep, summoned my inner domestic goddess and whipped up a chicken casserole with a few easy side dishes. If you are about to be the least bit impressed, please don’t. I’m an “ok” cook, but not a great one. I fully recognize that about myself, and I’m “ok” with it. For me, it’s much more important who is gathered around my table, than what is on it.
Many folks I know have a designated night set aside to share a meal with family and friends each week. Growing up, my family ate most of our meals together each evening, not just on Sundays. There were recaps and interesting stories from our day. Sometimes nothing was outstanding or earth-shattering, only that we were together. Truth be told, some of the sweetest and most memorable events from my life happened around that table. I did endless hours of homework, discussed boys and broken hearts with my Mama, ate late-night bowls of ice cream or Frosted Flakes with my Daddy, completed college applications, addressed wedding invitations, and many years later, my mother and I sat together there as we wrote thank-you notes after Daddy’s funeral.
When my husband and I began dating, I came to love sitting around the dinner table with his family, too. It was there that I heard the stories of his ancestry, got a glimpse into all the years of his life before me, and laughed at entertaining stories of his childhood. It was around their table that I grew to know and love the precious people that would one day become my family, too.
After college when living with girlfriends, we made a conscious effort to spend time together several nights a week having dinner. Between the four of us, we were shuffling new jobs, graduate school, and busy social schedules. We looked forward to those evenings of planning meals, cooking together and much laughter around our borrowed table.
Then when we married, my husband and I followed suit. We sat down together each evening at the table or sometimes had a picnic on the floor around the coffee table. This was our chance to talk, catch up, and share. In becoming parents, keeping the tradition of having dinner together was something we wanted to continue. Sure, there were adjustments when they were very young, but it soon became something we counted on each day. There came times our schedules were packed with activities and events. It seemed as if we were all being pulled in different directions. I found myself cherishing every single meal that we could protect from work and other obligations that demanded our time. I knew it would be all too soon that my children would be off to create their own lives and traditions.
And it did. College, nearly four hours away, took our daughter first. I looked at her empty chair for the first couple of days and my heart in denial told me she was at her best friend’s house or dance practice. My head knew the truth, though. I won’t pretend it was easy. It took a while to grow accustomed to her absence, but we carried on together. The following year our oldest son took off on his college adventure and that left three of us to keep gathering, eating, and sharing. We loved having that time with our youngest – he had never had us all to himself, so this turned out to be great quality time. Occasionally, we would find only the two of us sitting there together – reminiscent of those newlyweds in that tiny apartment many years before. As my children grew into young adults, I found myself savoring every minute spent together as a family. In attempting to stay connected to them while away at college, home on breaks, holidays, and vacation – we often centered ourselves together around a table somewhere – in a beach house, a restaurant in Chapel Hill, a favorite local cafe in our sweet little town, or in our dining room at Christmas filled with family. Each table had one important thing in common, we were all around the table together. This year at Christmas, we put both leaves in the dining room table. We scrounged around the house and collected all the extra chairs. There was no “kids table” this year for the youngsters – just the one. We were all there around the table – laughing, sharing, keeping up with three or four different conversations at once, and loving. Together.
Through the years we have shared love and laughter around many tables – folding ones in church fellowship halls, banquet ones at receptions, beautifully decorated ones for dinner parties with friends, and wooden ones in a park on a sunny day. Sometimes our time around the table with loved ones was not a table at all. We’ve shared meals in the car on trips, sitting on the floor in a hotel room, or on a beach under an umbrella. And I can’t forget the meals we never sat down at a table to eat at all – the ones where we paced back and forth while bouncing a fussy baby.
We have both hosted and been graciously hosted by friends and family. We have shared a table with faces of all ages, all skin colors, many languages, from other countries, many backgrounds, and differing faiths. Each one has been significant in some way great or small. Much can be learned when sharing a meal with a stranger. We should make a point to do it more often. I hope you will.
My kitchen table is beginning to look quite worn. It will need to be replaced one day soon. Perhaps it should have been already, but I’m struggling. There are so many memories archived in it. Every scratch, indention, the specks of glitter embedded from my daughter’s senior year of high school – I can almost see and hear each story it holds. Maybe I won’t get rid of it. Maybe I’ll just relocate it to another room. I am going to need a new table, though. My children will one day find love, and hopefully have little ones of their own. Our family will grow and we will need more room. We will need a new place to make memories together, a new place to share, laugh, and love. We will need a bigger space to create new traditions. We will need a new table to gather around.
Here’s to much love, joyous laughter, Sunday Suppers, and a big table. Cheers!
As a Reading Specialist, I have many small groups of students throughout the day. Yesterday, one precious darling seemed to be struggling with being respectful and considerate to her classmates during our lesson. After several defiant behaviors, I asked her to stay for a minute when the others returned to class. We discussed the reasons that had resulted in her having to stay behind. She understood that her choices were not wise ones and that she had not been considerate of the others. I explained to her that while her behaviors had made the lesson difficult, I was mostly concerned that she was going to miss out on learning the things she needed to know. I gently lifted her little chin so she would look in my face. It was important to me that she understood I was not angry with her, but that I cared. ” K, I don’t want you to miss out. I love you and I want you to learn these things so you can do your very best in school.” Those three little words changed the entire morning for both of us. “…I love you…” At that point she stopped fidgeting and made full eye-contact with me. Her little eyes filled up and spilled over onto her cheeks. Then I saw it – the beginning of a partial smile. It became abundantly clear in those few seconds that perhaps these were not words she hears often. Given what I do know about some of the circumstances in her life, it’s doubtful that she does.
Words have the power to lift or tear down – they can raise us up, evoke anger, or bring us to our knees. Words can be death or life to our minds and spirits. Regretfully, my words have not always been kind or sustaining. Sadly, I have been on the receiving end of hurtful words and know the scars they can leave. I have also felt the spark to my soul when someone has spoken air into it. We are all human, we fail daily. Still, our goal should be to speak life into those around us – and speak it often. I won’t lie – I was a bit frustrated with her behavior, but it was apparent that she didn’t need another adult yelling or condemning her. She needed some air to her spirit. My earnest prayer is that I will be conscious of those around me who need the same. Today three little words changed her day and mine. I will make sure she hears them again – and regularly. We both agreed that tomorrow is going to be a new day and a fresh start. I know it will be.
“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” – Mother Teresa
Today I had an impromptu meeting with a colleague about some new educational materials we had been given to use with students. This encounter led to the rare opportunity of us getting to catch up with one another for a bit. Not only is she a wonderful educator, but this young woman also happens to be the mom of a very adorable toddler. We laughed as she shared some funny stories of her recent daily “adventures” with him. One conversation led to another, and before long we were swapping stories of birthing experiences and toddler shenanigans. Now, I have about a 20-year jump on her in the Mom department, but our stories had many resemblances and overlaps. I mean let’s face it – when you discover another adult who has experienced the same art of mass negotiations with a three-year-old or one who has survived teaching a small human how to go “pee-pee” in the potty – you immediately feel an eternal spiritual connection with them.
She talked of the stresses she was facing as a single mom and worried aloud whether she was getting it right or doing enough. I reassured her that from where I was sitting, she was doing a great job with her little one. As we continued to talk, laugh, and share, I was immediately taken back to the year 1998. My life, at that time, was consumed by a very articulate and animated four-year-old princess-in-training and an adorable curly-headed bolt of lightning. The days started early and bedtimes were battles. The laundry was stacked up, and toys had overtaken several rooms of the house. It was busy, loud, and often overwhelming. The Princess would only eat mac and cheese, the 2-year-old lightning bolt refused to wear clothes, and I was tired. Seriously. I was beyond exhausted. I had stopped teaching to take on an executive position as a Stay-At-Home Mom. While this was a job I had desired for quite some time, most days it felt as if I was in way over my pay-grade. Thankfully, the “CEO” at my new employment was very understanding, encouraged the potential talent he saw in me, and often extended compassion as he came through the door at the end of a long day himself. Maybe it was pity. Regardless, I was just grateful for the help of any able-bodied adult who would assist in the care, feeding, and bathing of these little creatures.
As all of those memories flashed through my head, a smile came to my face and my heart swelled. There is no question in my mind that I would do it all over again. Without a doubt, those were the hardest, best, longest, unorganized, most joyous, exasperating, cherished days of my life. What I realized during our conversation is that in twenty years, not a lot has changed. Most parents today still want to be the best version of themselves for their children. Most Moms and Dads are working diligently to navigate the new territory of parenthood. They are constantly teaching, modeling, bargaining, loving, sacrificing, entertaining, disciplining and loving with everything they’ve got. They want their babies to be safe, healthy, and loved. On any given day they are exhausted but still commit to giving 200%. Many new parents go into their new role starry-eyed, but no one prepares us for all the days we will be bleary-eyed. Society, reality television and social media often exert unrealistic expectations on new parents. Keeping up with all the latest trends, toys, developmental strategies, and medical warnings are overwhelming at best. Many days are memorable, and some all run together. The bottom line is that when we finally get to lay our heads on our pillows at night, we just want to be reassured that we are on the right track and that our parenting train hasn’t completely derailed. So to those of us who have traveled those paths already, offer a kind word of encouragement to those newbies trying to figure which end is up – literally and figuratively. Give a smile, share a non-judgmental tip, extend a hand…or two.
To all of you rookie parents of littles – hang in there! You’re doing great! Just remember, all the fancy, innovative, developmentally appropriate toys in the world are never a replacement for you in the eyes of your child. That magazine-worthy birthday party you’re planning would be traded in a flash for one more bedtime story, one more “Play with me, Mommy!”, or one more airplane ride to the bathtub. They want you and they want your love. If you are working hard to be there physically and emotionally, chances are you are absolutely getting it right and doing enough. The day will come all too soon when you find yourself loading the car with boxes, clothes, and dorm room decorations. You’ll stop and wonder how those long days quickly turned into short years. You’ll wish for a little more time. Trust me on that. So slow down, Momma. Love those babies. You are enough!
As a public school teacher, I have been on Winter Break for over two weeks – 16 days to be exact. Two weeks and three full weekends – it has been glorious! The holidays are my favorite weeks of the year – being with family and friends, the gatherings, the parties, the hustle, the bustle, all the yummy food, the traditions – everything! All of my children were home for nine straight days. We laughed, ate many meals, watched movies, had great discussions, and enjoyed being together. After the New Year, I slept late, watched movies, and caught up on tv shows. There have been shopping excursions, cleaning frenzies, and a dream project launched! On a few occasions last week, I had to stop to think what day it was – it’s been sheer bliss! Now, it’s time to get back to reality. I really need my routine.
I don’t know about you, but I am a creature of habit. That can be a really good thing or a very bad one. At many different times in my life, it has been both. Having things organized and in order has always been my preference. I tend to function better when I have a plan or schedule. Along that same line, surprises are not usually my favorite, either. I like to know what’s coming and what to expect. Don’t get me wrong, that in no way means I am exceptionally neat or always make wise use of my time. Since it’s very likely that my college roommates are going to read this, let me be completely honest here. We got dorm room citations due to my side of the room being a total disaster. Most of the time in our apartment, it looked as if my closet had exploded. I am the queen of wasting three hours doing nothing and not knowing how in the world it happened. If my husband buys me an unexpected gift or takes me to dinner “just because”, wonderful! Should he decide to whisk me away for a weekend with no forewarning, well, that may not go so well. Luckily, after thirty-four years he knows this about me and plans accordingly. Last summer he “surprised” me with a long weekend away. He gave me a week’s notice. “We are going away. Pack for hot weather, and take some outfits for nice, casual dinners.” So, I made lots of lists, cleaned the house, packed too many shoes, and we ended up having a glorious time in Savannah.
I have committed this year to personal growth, making dreams happen, and giving it my all. As long as there is a plan to adhere to and keep me focused, I feel better poised to accomplish my goals. There is no time to get stuck in a rut. The self-doubt, negativity, and stress that could settle in would only zap my purpose and creativity. Often my week contains many “non-negotiables”. While there is much about my daily routine that cannot be changed, there are many things I can change to keep from letting it become mundane.
Keeping track of time – the days, weeks, the month. Whether using a planner, smartphone, or laptop, there are ways to manage and stay on top of your priorities rather than have them take control of you.
Scheduling self-care. It’s important to plan for some leisure time to boost your energy. Allowing for some spontaneity and creativity keeps those ruts at bay. For Christmas, my husband gave me pottery classes. I’m so excited! I’ve wanted to try hand-built pottery for quite some time. The neat thing about it is that we are going to do it together. So as this year gets underway, I already know that at least once a week I’m going to have an outlet to be creative AND have some designated time to spend with him, too.
Letting go. That’s a hard one for me, but I’m learning. There are countless schedules online for rotating exercise regimens, meal planning, and household chores. Find one that works well for you and your family. Ask for help, hire some help, trade off with a friend. Carpool, organize meal swaps, use a meal kit service, and for Heaven’s sake – give yourself some grace. That last one is for me, by the way.
Whatever you need to do to stay focused, motivated, and on your game – do it! Set your goals, determine your plan, and make changes as needed. Keep looking forward and stay on top of your dreams. We’ve got this!
Well, it’s that time again. It’s time to make those blasted resolutions that we most likely won’t keep. Or am I the only one??? Good, I didn’t think so. Each January, I usually make a list of ALL the things I want to change, improve, or accomplish in the coming year. You know, lose fifteen pounds, stop drinking soda, be on time, etc. – many of the typical declarations for self-improvement. I’m usually dedicated to making them happen, too – at least for the first few weeks. The problem is, perhaps they are just the resolutions I think I’m supposed to make. Maybe they’re too general, maybe I’m just not truly committed to or invested in making them become a reality. Maybe it’s that making New Year’s resolutions has always had a negative connotation in my head. A resolution is something you end, stop or give up. The opposite of resolve is “to begin”. I like the sound of fresh starts and beginnings much better. Saying, “I’m starting to eat healthier,” sounds more motivating than, “I’mgiving up” carbs, soda, or desserts. Committing to yourself that you are going to begin moving to get healthy or learn a new skill invokes the feelings of hope, excitement, and anticipation.
That said, this year I’m going to start addressing positive ways to improve myself and serve others, and I’d like to encourage you to join me. Beginning today, I challenge you tostart2020 off on the right foot by making these four investments throughout the next twelve months. I am optimistic that choosing just one task in each category will have a much greater impact at year’s end than you realize. Try it with me:
1- Do something to improve your health: Change your diet, get that physical you’ve been putting off, stop smoking, get more rest, reduce stressors in your life. Move more – take a new class at the gym, join a gym, learn a new sport. Drink more water.
2- Do something for someone: Volunteer at a school, in a nursing facility, at the soup kitchen, or your local animal shelter. Deliver meals to shut-ins, collect coats/school supplies for children, or offer an evening of babysitting for new parents. Take a meal to a friend who is sick, a single mom/dad, someone who is lonely or hurting. Run an errand for an elderly neighbor or relative – or better yet, take them. They would probably love the company! There are an estimated 329 million+ people in our country alone. Imagine the difference we could make if just half of us chose one way to reach out to help others!
3 – Do something for yourself: Take that class you keep putting off – photography, cooking, art, technology. Learn a new language. Play a new instrument. Schedule monthly massages or pedicures to help lower stress. Keep a gratitude journal. READ! Make a list of 10 books you’ve been wanting to read. Go to your local library or download them, then curl up in a cozy place and get busy! Listen to podcasts, do yoga, read MORE books, learn to say “No”. Trust me, it’s never too late to start. Life is much too short for “what-ifs” or “I wish I would haves”. Do it!
4 – Make a memory: Write that letter, organize a family gathering, create a new tradition. Travel anywhere – to a nearby town, a new state, another country – just go! Walk on the beach with someone you love or hike a new trail with a friend. Start a monthly Girls Night, Boys Weekend, or an annual trip with family or friends. Make a photo album/scrapbook with an older or younger family member. Remember “meraki” – my word for 2020? Leave a piece of your heart and soul to be cherished long after you are gone from this place.
There is a line at the end of one of my favorite movies, “Hope Floats” where Sandra Bullock’s character, says, “Beginnings are usually scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s what’s in the middle that counts. So when you find yourself at the beginning, just give hope a chance to float up. And it will.” Here’s to a new year -to hope, beginnings, and making everything in the middle count! Cheers, friends!
Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.
January 1, 2020
Happy New Year! Thanks for kicking off the new year with me! I’m more than excited to start this new project and I’m glad you’re here, too! This dream has been swirling around in my head for awhile, and I’m looking forward to finally giving it wings. Wherever it chooses to fly, I’m ready to enjoy the adventure.
2020 is here! Today is a new day, a new year, a new decade. This is a day to rejoice in what went well in the past year, and also a time to reflect on those things we hope to put behind us. It’s a chance to dream, plan, and take that first step. It’s a new opportunity to make the first move, make changes, and make a difference.
I came across a word last summer. A word that has stuck with me and one I have come to love. The word is, “meraki” (may-rah-kee). “Meraki” is a Greek word that is used to describe what happens when you leave a piece of your soul in your work or whatever you are doing. When I stumbled upon this word, my thoughts went immediately to my husband. He is a designer. He’s also a very talented vocalist and a wonderful father to our children. I see his loving imprint on each of them – how he has guided, nurtured, and poured himself into their lives. I see it in his work – every design and project is stamped with a piece of his creativity, a piece of his soul. Meraki.
This word has also been an inspiration to me as I began “Sincerely Beth”. My goal is to leave a piece of myself, my heart, my soul in each writing. It is my sincere hope that this will be a place to share, to encourage, and to inspire others to chase their dreams, keep moving forward, and to make a difference “for good” on this earth. My word for the new year is, “meraki”. It’s the challenge to myself to put all that I am into the things that matter most. Whether it’s being a wife, a mom, in my classroom, or here as a writer – I want to do it with “meraki”.
We are each inspired and motivated to action in different ways. We each embrace tasks and challenges with our own unique style. How will you go into 2020? What changes will you make? Who will you impact? Where will you choose to leave a piece of your soul? “Meraki” is my word as I walk into 2020 with great enthusiasm. What will yours be? Whatever inspires you in the coming year, I wish you a wonderful, exciting, motivating, and prosperous 2020!
I’m in my happy place. It’s not my usual “happy place”, but it’s by the sea nonetheless. Our dear friends are playing in a tennis tournament near the coast, so when we were asked to tag along, it took two whole seconds to accept the invitation . Ironically, this is the week the four of us were planning to be in Italy – again. These last two weeks were to be the rescheduled trip from last year to celebrate both of our 30th wedding anniversaries. Instead, today I find myself sitting in comfy clothes, watching the sun play hide and seek over large waves from the INSIDE of our Airbnb. The rain could pour at any second and it is quite chilly. To add, the tide is the highest it has been in twenty-one years according to the locals, and the side roads in this little beach town are flooded. My husband and friends are presently stranded at a local coffee shop several streets over. After an early match, they are unable to cross through the standing waters to get back. So here I sit typing…….
I took this photo yesterday morning when I went for a walk on the beach alone. While this is not my ideal beach weather, rarely will I pass up a chance to walk on the sand and breathe in the salty air. The air was gray, the wind was whipping, and the waves were high and choppy. Only a handful of people were out, and I had only set off down the beach a short way before completely rethinking my decision. My jacket was too thin, the wind was tunneling in my ears, and the skies looked as if they could part at any moment. I turned around and immediately everything changed.
Looking up, the sun was peeking out behind the clouds, the wind ceased pelting me in the face, and I had a completely different view of the beach. Funny how life can be that way, too. Often we trudge along the sand, careful not to sink down. The winds of pressure whip all around us blowing cold and fiercely. The waves of life swell and crash with force causing us to stumble and lose our footing. Then by simply choosing to turn around and go in another direction, everything changes. “Turning around” is not quitting or giving up. “Turning around” is making a difference, finding another path, a new direction. “Turning around” is brave, healing, and can purely be self-preservation. It can be necessary. There is nothing mandating that we must continue to walk face-first into the brutal winds. We can almost always make a choice to change our course. And in doing so, we often find a new view, a new perspective, and often new opportunities to learn and grow.
I have missed writing in this space. The last year has been a tough one for me. My winds of grief in losing two parents, teaching amidst the chaos that is the public school system in my state, and trying to navigate the safe-keeping of my loved ones and myself during a pandemic have taken a much harsher toll in more ways than I realized. It has been essential to stop, turn around, and take in the view from another angle. Sometimes the tides of life come in, others it recedes; the winds of change can blow against us with such a powerful force, then with a simple change of foot, calm almost as quickly as they began. When those times come, I pray we each have the discernment to know when it is time to stand still, take a breath, and turn around – and may we give ourselves the grace to do so. Look up, let the sun shine on your face, and take that first step in the other direction.