Mimi’s influence

My former student, Sarah Humway, wrote this post as an essay for English Comp I class last fall. I loved it and asked if she’d allow me to share it with all of you. She agreed. Thank you, Sarah!

The most influential person in my life was not only someone who could pick me up from my lows, but she was also my best friend; that person is my grandmother, or Mimi. When I was around seven, my parents went through a divorce; therefore, I spent a lot of time with all of my grandparents, but My Mimi and I formed an instant bond. I could rely on her to keep my secrets as well as rely on her to always be willing to get ice cream at the drop of a hat. To this day, Mimi has been extremely influential to my personality and character, which I believe is most important gift I could receive from someone with such wisdom. Needless to say, she is my other half; we share common interests, similar physical attributes, and opinions. The list could go on and on.

vinyl-record-player-retro-594388As I said, my parents went through a divorce when I was seven, causing me to spend time with both my maternal and paternal grandparents. Mimi and I have always had a special bond since I was her first grandchild. So, for as long as I can remember, I have felt as though a string were tied to my heart, and the other end tied to hers. We especially enjoy going antique shopping despite the odor of mildew and mothballs that cloaked the dust-filled rooms. Typically, we just find odds and end items, but once, we found a few pieces of a dish set called “Lochs of Scotland,” and we were both captivated; the radiant blue detailing against the porcelain white enchanted our inner beings.

I can remember exactly how the shop looked; it was a split level shop on the main strip of Mountain View, Arkansas with wooden floors that made a high pitch creak every time I took a step, clutter filling every square foot of the shop, and dusty antiques littered the shelves. Now, it has become almost ritualistic to go to antique stores on a quest for the dainty dishes, yet we still aren’t tired of it. Antiquing has to be my most fond memory with Mimi because she taught me that even though things might be old, they are still perfectly functional and that I shouldn’t covet new things.

pexels-photo-1352272Mimi and I not only share hobbies- we also have a passion for ice cream. No matter the day, time, season, issue, or whatever may be the case, we are always down to get ice cream; we typically go to Baskin Robbins in my hometown, Jonesboro. We typically choose Baskin Robbins because they serve the creamiest true ice cream as well as the perfectly seasoned “homemade” fries in town; another factor we enjoy is that we can watch the midday traffic rush by as our entertainment. The smell of freshly cooked french fries and sandwiches is deeply embedded into my brain along with the precious memories of giggling whilst eating a frozen treat. I can remember this was always our secret “don’t tell Mom place.” For example, if she picked me up from school, we would head over and devour ice cream and french fries until we were content.

Mimi and I also share quite a few physical attributes; we are even mistaken as mother and daughter more often than grandmother and granddaughter. Mimi is my father’s mother, but she resembles my mother as well. Mimi and I both stand about 5’5” with the same stature, as in broad shoulders and a long torso. We also have medium length red hair-which she dyes- pale skin, and bright eyes, which is actually extremely uncommon with natural redheads, since both red hair and blue/green eyes are both recessive genes. Our physical similarities have also encouraged our close-knit relationship because it has provided bonding about how we hate the sun, the redhead jokes growing up, and other silly things like that. I can say with confidence my Mimi and I have a closer relationship than most people have with their spouse because we truly connect on every level.

Lastly, Mimi is the type of person to speak from her mistakes and give an honest opinion, therefore I have been motivated by every thing she has supported me on thus far in life because I value her encouraging thoughts and actions. I have learned to treat the janitor with the same amount of respect as the CEO as a result of Mimi. She has taught me how to find my own happiness and “blossom where I was planted” because she understood my struggles throughout junior high and high school. Our relationship isn’t “earth-shattering,” but she has definitely significantly impacted my life for the better by encouraging and showing me to be a headstrong and self sufficient young adult.  I consider Mimi my role model, yet also my best friend, which is the best gift someone could ask for.

pexels-photo-164470Overall, I have expressed my adoration for my grandmother, but she still continues to amaze me with her love and support, therefore I believe she will further impact my life and others around her as well. Mimi is a significant figure in my life because of her devout support for those around her and myself. I will always remember our memories, secret and not secret, because of the immense joy she has brought to my life. At times, I smell someone wearing her perfume (a lavender scented aroma), and I do not feel sad because I’m not with her. I feel inspired to act with compassion as I was taught. I feel it is important to treat others with mercy as if she had engraved it into my soul, yet she simply just showed me the way, and I could not be more grateful.

Liz, Mom, and the Witch

Today’s post is written by Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, one of my writing mentors and former professors. Every time Dr. Murphy contributes to this blog and sends me a post, I cannot wait to read it. I know I’ll enjoy the story–and I know the story will speak to me. 

Bethany asked us to share stories about love during the month of February.  While this isn’t a typical February love story, I believe there is a kind of love in it.  This love is present when someone in an older generation takes the time to teach those in a younger generation a thing or two about how to live. There is, however, a link to the month of February.  One of the major players in this story is my grandmother, Ona Burns, who was born on Valentine’s Day in 1905.  Not only was she a sweetheart, she was also pretty clever when it came to keeping my sister and me in line. I am grateful for the life she lived and for the opportunity I had to spend time with her during her lifetime.

Liz, Mom, and the Witch

By Teresa Burns Murphy

The chickens strutted and clucked, pecking for bugs in the dusty barn lot just beyond my grandparents’ fenced-in backyard where my big sister, Liz, and I lingered.  Mom, our grandmother, had told us to come inside the house, but Liz decided we didn’t have to do what Mom said.  As I placed my chubby little hand on the back door handle, I cut my eyes over at Liz.  She pulled her shoulders back, tucked her chin to one side, and shot me a menacing look.  I froze, not sure whose wrath I preferred to incur – Liz’s or Mom’s.

I had known them both for six years, in other words, my entire life.  At eight, Liz was slim, agile, and fearless.  I admired the way she could stroll out into our grandparents’ pasture and coax the horses (huge horses!) into coming to her.  When one ambled over, she’d take hold of the horse’s halter and hoist herself onto its bare back, her long, brown curls bouncing to the beat of the horse’s gait as she rode across the field.  Mom sometimes gave us sugar cubes to feed the horses when they came up to the backyard fence.  When I saw those giant horse teeth coming toward my outstretched hand, I always dropped my sugar cubes on the ground, causing the horses to have to lick them up out of the dirt.  Maybe this is why they always bucked me off when Liz caught one of them and boosted me onto its back.  Liz, on the other hand, held the sugar cubes in her unwavering palm and waited for the horses to slurp them up.  I cringed watching those horses’ tongues whisk the sugar cubes from her hand, but Liz never flinched.

Mom and LizIn contrast to Liz, Mom was short and plump. For the most part, she stayed indoors – doing needlework, reading the newspaper, or putting together jigsaw puzzles once her household chores were completed.  I’d heard stories about how Mom’s father had been required to take her to an elementary school that employed a male teacher after she’d proven to be too feisty for the female teacher at her old school to manage.  I’d also heard about how she’d staked out her territory at the new school with a few choice words delivered to the other girls who believed they could bully her. Though I was aware that Mom had been pretty fearless herself, I figured most of her pluck had been used up now that she was in her late fifties, which, at the time, I thought of as old.  So, I cast my lot with Liz and released the door handle.

Clearly, I had forgotten the course these battles of will between Liz and Mom generally took.  I’d heard about one of their first clashes enough times to believe I remembered it even though I was a baby when it happened.  On the day that skirmish occurred, Liz and I were spending the day with Mom, and Mom had placed me in a playpen while she prepared our lunch.  A pocket door that could be made to disappear into the wall with a gentle push separated Mom’s kitchen from her den where I’d been situated.  As long as that door remained open, I could see Mom and I was content.  Liz, always one to shake things up, decided she’d close the door.  When she flung it shut, I set up a howl.

“Liz,” Mom said.  “Keep the door open so the baby can see me.”

“No!” Liz said, folding her arms across her chest and glaring at Mom in a way that only a defiant three-year-old can.

“Liz Ann, now you open that door so the baby won’t cry.”

Liz shook her head.

I don’t know how long Mom’s cajoling campaign continued before she issued Liz an ultimatum – either open the door or get a spanking.

“You better not spank me,” Liz said.  “If you do, I’ll tell my mother, and she’s really a fighter.”

I guess Liz figured threatening Mom with our mother was more effective than threatening her with our father since he was Mom’s son.  Somehow, without cracking up laughing or swatting Liz’s little behind, Mom lifted her eyebrows, opened her dark eyes wide and said, “Well, I’m really a fighter too.”

Seeing that Mom wasn’t going to back down and possibly realizing she had met her match, Liz opened the door.

I have a more vivid memory of the next incident of Liz’s pitting her will against Mom’s.  Mom’s house was a treasure trove of fascinating things for Liz and me – mahogany gargoyles whose mouths were open just wide enough for a couple of little girls to pretend to get bitten by their pointy teeth when they jabbed their fingers into the gargoyles’ mouths; boxes of fancy, old-fashioned Valentine cards Mom’s mother had sent to her during the first half of the twentieth century; and always – wonderful food.  Usually, Mom’s food was something she’d prepared herself – a pot of hamburger soup chock-full of vegetables, a pan of thick cornbread, a pedestaled plate of three-layer coconut cake.   One day, when we arrived at Mom’s house, Liz and I spied something Mom generally didn’t have – store-bought candy.  On that day, a candy bar was lying on her kitchen countertop, and Liz and I both wanted it – all of it!

“I just have one,” Mom said, unwrapping the candy bar, placing it on a plate, and pulling a knife from a drawer.  “You can each have half.”

“I’ll cut it!” Liz said, reaching for the plate and grabbing the knife.

I watched as Liz slid the knife through the skin of that chocolate bar.  It didn’t escape my notice that one piece was more-than-slightly larger than the other.  Apparently, it didn’t escape Mom’s notice either.

When Liz finished cutting the candy bar in “half,” Mom took the plate from her and said, “Okay, Liz, you got to divide it.  Now, Teresa, you pick the piece you want.”

A picture (sweeter than any candy) of Liz’s face is permanently etched in my memory.  Her brown eyes widened and her mouth popped open as Mom held the plate out to me.  Having raised four children, Mom had been down this “sharing” path before.  The only word I have to describe the feeling I had as I snagged the larger piece of candy and bit into it is joy.

Considering this history with Mom and Liz, I’m not sure why I chose to side with Liz when Mom told us to come back inside the house, but I vividly remember what happened next.  In the little Arkansas town where Mom lived, there was an old woman who wore long black dresses and old-timey black boots.  Not many people scared Liz, but she was scared of this woman whose pinched face and beak-like nose gave her a witchy appearance.  We didn’t know the woman’s name, so we simply referred to her as “the witch.”  Having listened to far too many fairy tales and having overactive imaginations, we had no trouble at all envisioning the witch flying through the air on her broomstick, scouring the town for little girls she could swoop down on and possibly eat.

Standing outside Mom’s house that day, we had forgotten all about the witch until the air was saturated with the sound of a spooky voice that shrieked, “I’m gonna get me two little girls.”

Liz almost knocked me down as she made a beeline for the back door.  In a flash, we scurried across the concrete floor of the screened-in porch and into the den where Mom sat in her rocking chair, calmly crocheting.

For days afterward, Liz and I puzzled over how Mom could have thrown her voice in such a way to make it sound as if it were coming from outside her house.  We thought maybe she had gone to an open window at the back of her house and screeched out that threat, but we dismissed this notion because we didn’t think a woman of her advanced age could have possibly made it back to her rocking chair so fast.  That left us with only one logical explanation – Mom must have gotten the witch to do it, which meant she actually knew the witch.

Liz and I never asked Mom how she managed to send us that witchy threat.  I suspect as we got older, we realized that Mom was much faster and shrewder than we’d given her credit for being.  But on that long-ago day, the belief that our grandmother had enough power to convince a witch to do her bidding was enough to keep the two of us in line.

Gifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ravine

*The following essay was written by one of my students, Samantha Jones, in English Composition I about a place of significance. While this essay is not in letter format, it does pay homage to the memories of her childhood and her sister. For that reason, I asked for her permission to share it with all of you this month.*

arkansas pinesThere are many places that make lasting memories, but there is one special place I will never forget. Lynn, Arkansas, is where that special place is for me. Take a right on Lawrence County Road 318. Pass the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, and Dry Creek Cemetery on your left. Then there is the old Highfield place down the road. The next driveway leads to my childhood home. Behind the house there is a barbed wire fence. Crossing over the fence leads to a thicket of pine trees. Those pine trees enclose my special place, the ravine.

As children, my brother, sister, and I spent many days in that ravine. The pine trees surrounded the entire circumference of it like a security fence. This kept our hideout a secret. The pine needles blanketed the ground, making it a great place to take a nap. When I woke up I would smell of pine, and would have to pick the pine needles out of my hair.

We gathered old pots, pans, and other miscellaneous things from an old dump pile. Throughout our childhood we hoarded up quite a stockpile. We even had old tables and chairs. We used rocks, mud, and grass to pretend we were cooking. We made good use of the pine cones too. They made good baseballs and kick balls. The ravine was our own little paradise.

We would spend the entire day down in the ravine. There was not a game we did not play. Sometimes we would play house, school, or hide and seek. I liked hide and seek the best. I would cover myself in pine needles. When my brother or sister got close I would jump out and scare them. I can still remember how they would jump and giggle. We would also use the fallen branches as swords. That usually ended up with someone tattling to mom and the swords being confiscated.

When we got older, we thought we would camp out in the ravine. I was scared out of my mind. My brother kept making coyote howls. He was trying to scare my sister and me. It sure did work. However, he did not know that a real coyote was going to visit us that night. We heard something moving around outside our tent. Even my brother was scared. So we unzipped the front zipper. That is when we saw the vicious coyote. All we had was a pellet gun. Thankfully, that was enough to scare it away. Needless to say we went running and screaming to the house. That was the last camping trip in the ravine.

As we grew, so did the pines around the ravine. It seemed as if they touched the skyline. We got too grown up to play the silly games we used to play. Even though we did not play there anymore, the ravine still served its purpose.  My sister and I would go there to talk about boys we liked and all the things girls talk about. I can still feel her head in my lap, and hear her talking about the cutest boy in school. We were at peace there. It was the only place we could go where it seemed as if the world stopped for us. Anything we said inside the confines of the pines stayed within them.

The biggest trouble we ever got into was in the ravine. We would ride the bus to school. After first period classes, a friend would drive us to a field that was near the ravine. We would climb over a fence and walk through a pasture. That is where we would all hang out and smoke. My brother even snuck us our first beer there. One day the school called our mom to ask her why we were not there that day. So mom waited at the ravine, and there we all came running through the pasture. She had gathered our empty beer cans, and cigarette packs, and was waiting inside the ravine. We were grounded for what seemed like months.

I guess you could say we grew with the pines. My roots are planted there just as theirs are. Every time I smell pine in the air I am instantly brought back to the ravine. With each memory I get to be a child again, even if it is just for a moment.

Now that we are all adults, it is hard to imagine what our childhoods would have been like without the ravine. My brother and I lost our sister in a car accident five years ago. The memories we made with her and the trouble we got into in that ravine are priceless. Even nowadays when I see those pines standing tall, I can still see her trying to get us to eat her famous mud pies. Those pines and that ravine gave me a place to make the happiest memories of my life.

What I learned from my parents

This piece was written by my former professor, who I like to consider one of my writing mentors, Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, as a tribute to her parents. They will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary this month. Happy anniversary to a couple who obviously understand what it takes to love others well.

My parents outside their first apartment in Long Beach, California

My parents outside their first apartment in Long Beach, California

My parents were both teachers, so there were lessons galore at our house.  I’ve written the following two stories to illustrate what I learned from each parent before I even “formally” started school.

From My Father

My sister, Liz, and I were tucked in our warm bed when the pre-dawn stillness of our house was rattled by the sound of a ringing phone.  I lay awake, listening to my dad’s voice as he took the call, paying close attention for clues as to the identity of the caller.  Then I heard the sounds of my dad’s footsteps coming into the room Liz and I shared.

“Teresa,” my dad said.  “I’ve got to drive the bus this morning.  Do you want to go with me?”

Did I ever!  I sprang out of bed and into my clothes.  The caller had been the superintendent of the school where my dad taught, informing him that one of the bus drivers was ill, asking if he could take that driver’s morning route.  In those days, there were no requirements for school bus drivers to have a commercial license.  They just had to have enough nerve to navigate the twists and turns of rural Arkansas back roads while ferrying a group of school kids.  I knew driving the bus was an unwelcome chore for my dad, but I was always thrilled when he got the call because there was a chance that I would get to ride with him.

I followed my dad out to his car, and we took off through the streets of our small town.  Lights in the houses along the road that led to the school flickered on as their inhabitants woke up and prepared for the day ahead.  The school building where my dad taught was not yet illuminated when we arrived at the space out front where he parked his car. Together, we walked to the area where the buses were kept and then we were off.

I could barely contain my excitement as I slid into the seat behind my dad.  To me, this was as good as a carnival ride, particularly the moment we left the familiar streets of our town, and the bus lurched onto the gravel road where most of the kids on the route lived.  Sometimes, we stopped for a single kid standing in front of a house tucked far back into the woods.  Other times, we collected a whole family of kids, often having to wait a few extra minutes while one of them, struggling into his or her coat, ran across the yard having perhaps overslept or lingered too long at the breakfast table.  Always, when my dad gave the silver handle a yank, and the bus doors whooshed open, the kids’ voices registered both surprise and delight to see “Mr. Burns” at the wheel of their bus.  As they made their way to their seats, some of the kids even spoke to me, and I basked in the glow of these older kids’ attention.

Those bus rides added texture to my mostly monotonous days.  Since I wasn’t yet old enough to attend school, my dad had to drive me back home when the bus ride was over.  In retrospect, I’m sure it would have been much easier for him to have tiptoed quietly out of our house, leaving me in my bed, garnering a few moments of peace and quiet before embarking on his task of driving the bus.  But he didn’t.  He invited me to go along on the journey, and I am all the richer for it – gaining in those few hours a glimpse of my dad’s world beyond the confines of our home.

From My Mother

The year I turned four, my sister, Liz, turned six.  That fall, she not only got to go to first grade, she also got to move out of the nursery at church and into a regular Sunday school class.  I knew there was no way I could go to school with her.  There were laws against that; but, I felt I had a good chance of joining her Sunday school class.  After all, this was church where you weren’t supposed to be a respecter of persons.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that my mother was going to be teaching Liz’s class.

I was sick of staying in the nursery with a bunch of babies and coloring those Bible story sheets using broken crayons worn down to a dull rounded shape, most of them with their paper wrappers peeled completely off.  Some of the crayons were even pocked with teeth marks where either the babies or nervous preschoolers had chewed on them.  I just didn’t think I could take another year of coloring with those gross crayons or pushing thread through those silly little sewing cards and being lumped in with a bunch of drooling, bawling babies while Liz joined the big kids in a class where they’d have actual lessons.  While my mother was no push-over, I felt it was worth a shot to begin my begging campaign to join her class.

“Pleeeeease,” I pleaded.  “Please, let me move up to Liz’s Sunday school class.”

I’m sure my mother finally grew tired of hearing my pitiful appeals because she reluctantly said, “Okay, but only on one condition.  You have to do the work that the older kids do.”

Even though I wasn’t at all sure I could meet that demand, the vision of myself spending another year in that nursery propelled me to promise my mother that I would do everything the older kids did.

I was beyond excited that first Sunday morning when I got to walk right past the nursery and into the first grade Sunday school classroom.  The other kids eyed me suspiciously, but they didn’t say anything for fear of making a bad impression on my mother.  When my mother announced that our first lesson was to learn the books of the Old Testament, my crisp enthusiasm wilted.  I was hoping we’d learn some Bible verses, preferably short ones like, “Jesus wept,” or even the books of the New Testament.  At least I could actually pronounce those names.  I wanted to whine, but I knew a complaint would send me straight back to the nursery, so I kept my mouth shut and focused on the assignment.

All week, I pestered my mother to go over the names of the books of the Old Testament with me.  This would have been going the extra mile for any mother, but my mother was completing her B.A. in English at Arkansas (now Lyon) College.  So in addition to dealing with regular motherly things – like preparing meals, doing laundry, and refereeing fights between Liz and me, she had tons of homework to do.  Still, she listened night after night as I stammered over all those names until I could say them without missing a single one.

I could barely sit still in my chair the next Sunday morning.  When my mother asked if anybody could say the books of the Old Testament, I shot my pudgy hand in the air.  My mother looked from face to face, but no one else moved except to narrow their eyes at me.

Finally, my mother said, “Okay, Teresa.”

To my amazement, I said them all from Genesis to Malachi, and then I held out my hand.  My mother’s pledge to pay fifty cents to the students who could reel off all those Old Testament books just sweetened the deal.  She smiled as she plopped the two quarters into my open palm, while the older kids looked on with what I’m sure were unchristian thoughts roiling through their brains.

Who cared what they thought?  With my mother’s help, I had learned that tenacity plus hard work could equal success even for an underdog like me.

From Both My Parents

Both of my parents took the time to teach me many other lessons, and they continue to teach me lessons even now.  Some of these lessons have been easy to learn.  Others, well, let’s just say I’m still working on them.  Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from them is the lesson of commitment.  Throughout our lives, my parents have remained committed to my brother, Rob, to my sister, Liz, and to me.  And, they have remained committed to each other for many, many years.  This month, my parents will celebrate their sixtieth wedding anniversary.  The symbol for that year is a diamond.  This hardest of gemstones was known to the ancient Greeks as adamas, the same word they used for anything that was indestructible or unmovable. My parents’ love for their family and for each other has been both enduring and constant, and that has been the most important lesson of all.

My leap of faith, part one

*Today’s post is part one in a two-part series by my friend LaTresha Woodruff-Johnson. I’m thankful God places inspiring, compassionate women like her in my life. Stay tuned this week for part two.*

I love the LORD; I am not afraid to say it.  In fact, I’ll take any opportunity to tell people that I love the LORD.  But when you say that to some, they ask, “why?”  I say things like, “because HE first loved me,” or “HE gave his only son that we might have life.”  But more importantly “because HIS grace and mercy is new every day, and HE has done so many things in my life; HE’s made a way out of no way.” 

I have so many stories of what HE’s done for me, how HE’s changed my life, but there is one in particular that I find myself telling people over and over and over again.   You see, it’s a timely and timeless story about my “Leap of Faith.” 

I have always sought the LORD’s guidance before making decisions, so when I started feeling my soul moving in a new direction or yearning for new direction, I thought to myself, “It’s time to leave the news business, put down my microphone, step away from the camera, the people/fans I’ve met in my 14 years as a reporter.”

LaTresha's last day as a reporter for Fox 16.

LaTresha’s last day as a reporter for Fox 16.

So I did what I do? I got on my knees and prayed to my heavenly FATHER.  I asked for guidance, I wanted to hear a clear word from HIM on what I should do.  I felt he was leading me to find something, a job allowing me to be more available to my husband, my church and my community.  I waited and waited and waited but heard nothing!  To me that meant it just wasn’t the time to walk away.  With that, I threw myself back into work. I changed my attitude and tackled each day head on; I started it by telling myself to, “Expect Good things,” and not to allow others to determine how I am going to feel today.  I took back that power.  Soon that burning desire to leave news reporting went away.

But GOD wasn’t done with me on this issue.  Two years later I got that desire in my soul that I was not where I needed to be.  I wrestled with it for a few weeks saying to myself, “I’ve gone through this before–it’ll pass.”  Well it didn’t, and I found myself on my knees one night praying to my Heavenly FATHER again.  But this time when I got up, there was a strange feeling that came over me.  A feeling of peace–my soul seemed to be at ease.  So I talked to my husband, and he supported my decision to resign from my reporting job.  That was April of 2010, but I didn’t have a new job. All I knew is that I had heard from the LORD, and I was following his will.  I ended up staying four more months because the news department was so short-staffed. Yes, I prayed about that, too, and the LORD moved me to stay and help out.

August 27, 2010, was a bittersweet day, bitter because I was leaving what I considered in 7th grade as my dream job, what I was meant to be, thought I’d retire from a big reporting/anchoring gig from CNN.  But it was sweet because I had faith that my GOD would supply all of my needs.  It was one of the happiest days of my life.  I did a great story, a child who was kidnapped but returned home safely.  What a happy ending to a great career; for me it was one of the happiest days of my life!

I gladly tackled this strange life of not constantly going and going from one end of the state to the next in one day, writing stories behind the eight ball and constantly being on alert.  Yes, my days were filled with sleep and thoughts of learning to cook, but they were just thoughts!  This all lasted about three weeks, and I was ready to get going.  See, as a reporter, I was always tackling numerous things at once, never an idle moment.   I started to get a little uneasy, and the LORD started dealing with me again.  I believed HE was saying, “LaTresha your idle time has come and gone; it’s time to get to work.”  By work I believed he meant, find a job, one that lets you help people, find time to volunteer, and honor Me through your works.

I ramped up my volunteering with one agency and became “a Friend” of two other non-profits.  While I started getting that feeling of fulfillment, my tank wasn’t quite on “F” so I started with Big Brothers Big Sisters and became a friend of Habitat for Humanity and Conway Cradle Care.  While I enjoyed being involved with these organizations, there was still something missing.  I could hear that sweet still voice of the Lord saying, “I want more for you. I want you to do more.”  So my job search kicked into HIGH gear.  I attacked the search ferociously!  I set my sights on what are called “Public Information Officer” positions.  I can’t tell you how many times as a reporter I interviewed Public Information Officers from various agencies and thought, “I could do that job with my eyes closed.” 

I applied for about 20 PIO positions; I had 5 interviews where I felt I had “knocked it out of the park!”  Slowly I started getting word that the positions had been filled.  Soon there was just one position left, and I thought, “This is the one.”  After all I had made it to the 3rd round of interviews. I didn’t even know there were 3rd rounds.  I just knew I had this one in the bag, so much so that I didn’t bother God with it anymore.  I remember the day that I got the call about the position, I had decided not to get up early and search the internet for jobs because I was so sure I was about to get this job.  The phone rang. I fumbled for it, cleared my throat, looked at the caller ID, and sure enough it was the hiring manager for the agency.  My heart leapt. I thought, “Here goes, about to enter the working world again,”  and I was excited.

You cannot imagine the heartbreak and devastation I felt when I heard the words, “We have offered the position to a more qualified candidate.”  It was all I could do not to start sobbing right there on the phone.  He went on to say things like, “You possess all the qualifications and would have done an excellent job but…”  And that’s the point I stopped listening.  I can’t even recall saying goodbye and hanging up the phone.  My pity party went on for the rest of the day.  I didn’t even get out of bed. 

It was only the next morning when I forced myself into the shower that I started thinking clearly.  Sitting in the shower I realized that I got ahead of myself.  When things looked like they were going in my favor I didn’t ask God if getting this particular job was His will.  I left him out of the equation.  He’d been there leading and guiding me through it all, but I decided I could handle it from here. When I put my hands on it, God took his hands off.  It was as if He was saying, “If you think you can do better than your Heavenly Father, go ahead give it a try, you don’t need me.”  I asked my heavenly father’s forgiveness and gave in to what I already knew–that He would take care of me no matter what.  I knew He didn’t bring me this far to leave me! 

So my journey continued. 

The gift of family

Today’s post is by one of my students, Derek Chandler, who wrote this essay in response to the question, “What are three gifts you have received in 2013, and why are they significant to you?” I will really miss having Derek on campus!

familyThis year has been a very hard year to just be thankful for something. With my dad losing his job and selling our house, things have just became hard. He has been searching for a job for several months and with no luck; it’s just added stress. Without my family, I’m honestly not sure where I would be. Of course I’ve stayed positive and tried to not let this affect me. For the most part, it’s worked, thanks to God and my family. I don’t expect a pity party, or look for attention. It is a situation I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Like I said, it has been hard, but there is always something to be thankful for. First I would like to say I’m thankful for my mom. My mom is my go-to person or my rock. Whenever I was younger I remember her always tucking me in at night, making sure I got to sleep just fine. That is always memory I will hold onto and hopefully find a wife that would do the same for my kids one day. Whenever I had a bad day I could always go to my mom and talk to her. Talking to her was easy, and I could tell her anything, good or bad. She was always supportive of anything I did. She is very soft spoken with a very kind heart, always looking for good in people, even if they don’t deserve it. She wears her heart on her sleeve and does what she can for anyone in need. She is a blessing to me and my sister. Without her support and her kind words I would be lost in life with no direction. I am proud to call her my mom, and sometimes that term is loosely used, but without a doubt I have the best mom.

The second thing I am thankful for is my dad. Wow, without my dad I wouldn’t be as strong as I am today, that’s for sure. My mom is my rock, and my dad literally is a rock. He is a very sensitive guy, but won’t show just anyone. Of course that doesn’t seem very manly, but he is a tough guy. Along with my mom, my dad has taught me so much. I will never forget going canoeing with him and all the fun we had. Like my mom I could talk to my dad just as well. Of course he didn’t always tell me what I wanted to hear, but he was honest. He was straight to the point and didn’t sugar coat it. I’ve always respected him for that. I owe both my parents for pushing good moral values on me. That will get me farther in life than anything else I have learned throughout life. My dad has supported me for 19 years, my sister for 20 years, and my mom for 30. He has allowed for my mom to be a stay at home mom, because he doesn’t want her to have to work. He has taken on a huge responsibility, and losing his job has caused stress. He is a good man who wants the best for my family and me. I’m sure everyone feels like they have the best parents, but it’s not possible when I have them.

The third and final thing I am thankful for is my sister. With a five year difference in age, you can say we didn’t get along. That was when we were younger, and as time went on, we got pretty close. Since Dad lost his job, we had to sell the house. My parents packed up all our stuff, and family took them in so they could save money. My family live out of state, but me being in school meant I had to stay around for this semester. My sister and her fiancé without a blink said they would take me in until I finished school. Without my sister, I’m not sure how I would have finished school. This is such a blessing, and I couldn’t thank them enough for allowing me to move in. They have been supporting me since I don’t have a job. I have been trying to focus on school considering so much stress. I cannot repay them for the kindness I have been treated with.

Since my story didn’t start out so positive, it’s only best that it ends that way. The bottom line is that my family has supported me and helped me though this tough time. I am so thankful for them and the nice things they have done. I will be officially moving from Arkansas a few days before Christmas, and it will be hard, but this only marks a point of a fresh start.