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.

Magi

Today’s post is by my friend Amber Hood, who is one of the most generous and compassionate people I know. I’m not sure if her students know how blessed they are to know her!

Most of us know “The Gift of the Magi” by O Henry.  It’s about a young couple that doesn’t have very much money at Christmas. The wife sells her hair to buy her husband a chain for his watch, but the husband sells his watch to buy hair combs for his wife. This week, my 7th grade creative writing students and I read this story. One of my sweet kiddos sitting next to me provided a running commentary as I read aloud.

Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining.”

“Mmm, girl. You get that hair, girl. Work it.” He pretended to play with invisible long wavy hair.

“’I buy hair,’ said Madame Sofronie.”

“What is happening? No! Don’t do it, Della! Don’t do it!”

I read to the end, and he flipped his papers over in disgust. “What do you think?” I said.

“That was a terrible story! Those people are poor! Why would you read that to us?”

I figured he’d appreciate the lesson once he started on the assignment. I wrote on the board, “Are Della and Jim wise gift givers or unwise? Give three reasons. Support your answers with evidence from the text.”

Without exception, all of my students agreed that Della and Jim were wise. The students articulated thoughtful responses about generosity, sacrifice, the true spirit of Christmas, and love. These have always been the themes I think of too when reading the story, and I’ve always felt it was a powerful message.

But the sad story of Della and Jim seemed to really stick with that one little boy, and I found it once again sticking to me too. My kiddo had a point. As much as I love that story, it isn’t very happy, is it? Christmas stories should be happy like getting the bad guys in Home Alone or eating syrup on spaghetti like in Elf.  The original Christmas story is the happiest of all with kings bringing gifts and the skies filling up with angels singing and a shining star and a newborn baby who doesn’t even cry. When it comes down to it, Della and Jim don’t actually have a very merry Christmas, do they? I thought that maybe I shouldn’t have read the story. Many of my students are impoverished themselves. They understand Della’s and Jim’s sacrifice. They know what it is to be generous having been on both sides of it. And they are children, so they understand what it means to love sometimes even more than their teacher does.

In looking at the story again, I started to think more about Della’s hair and Jim’s watch, which before had always seemed like arbitrary props to help O. Henry make his way to the plot twist and life lesson combo at the end. Now, though, I realize Della’s hair is synonymous with her feminine charms that at the turn of the century would have been one of the most important things about her, and Jim’s watch is the only wealth he has. Without her hair, O. Henry calls Della “truant;” she’s in “ravages.”  She’s damaged. Without his watch, Jim has no status symbols. Where does our pair now belong? On the outset, they seem to have lost their worth according to society. But, my 7th graders insist Jim and Della did the right thing. What could this mean? That it’s okay to not fit into a societal standard? That it’s okay if you don’t seem to have much significance to what society deems significant? In fact, not only is it okay to be lost or losing, it might even be wise. This damage isn’t something that makes us merely tolerable– it’s how God intended. It’s our pain and our imperfections and our lack of gold pocket watches and even our baldness that make us precisely who we are supposed to be.

 

 

The gift of growing up

Today’s post is written by my student, Regan Doyle, who wrote this essay in response to the question, “What are three gifts you’ve received this year, and what are their significance?” I’ll miss having Regan in class, but I know we’ll keep in touch–I need a good fashion consultant in my life :).

The year 2013 is almost over, and Christmas will be here soon. With the holiday approaching fast, I cannot help but think of all the gifts I will receive from friends and family. Although opening presents and getting new things is nice, the most important gifts I have received this year did not come wrapped. This year I have received the gift of a new job, the opportunity to travel, and a new puppy.

In September, my mom told me since I was in college, it was time for me to grow up and get a job. I applied nearly everywhere in Batesville, and after two weeks of trying, I was finally hired at Maurice’s. Working at Maurice’s is not a job to me because I enjoy what I do. I am required to dress fashionably and have fashion sense to help buying costumers. Every day I am required to walk in with a positive attitude and be ready to sell merchandise with a smile. It is always interesting to see who is going to walk through the door and to see who I get to help that day. Sometimes I get to do something fun like help a lady put together a hot outfit for a concert, or maybe help a lady put together a professional outfit for work. Another great plus about working at Maurice’s is my co-workers. While getting 10 girls to all get along without any drama seems impossible, we somehow manage it. My co-workers are more like family, and I know I can count on them for anything. I’m thankful for the gift of a job because it has taught me responsibility and has better prepared me for “growing up.” It has helped me learn to juggle school and work, and allowed me to make new friends in the process.

Another gift I am thankful for is traveling over the summer. My mom’s friends hired me as a nanny to watch their child while on vacation. With them I traveled to Chicago and experienced the big city for the very first time. The atmosphere of Chicago is busy, energetic, and unlike anything else I have ever experienced. The buildings are large, cramped together, and seem to go on forever. Things in Chicago never stand still, and even at night the city is alive and busy. I’m thankful for the gift to travel because it gives me the opportunity to experience new things. While I enjoy living in Cave City, it was nice to venture out and get to experience a whole new place. The way people live in Chicago is completely different from the way people live in Cave City.

The last special gift I have received this year is my new puppy. I had been begging my boyfriend for a puppy for almost four months. One night he came over, sat on my couch, and a tiny head peeked out of his coat. He was a solid black lab and absolutely perfect.  My boyfriend and I decided on the name Benny, and it fits him perfectly. Benny is black as night, and cute as a button. He just turned three months old and is potty trained and also knows out to sit. He’s rambunctious, playful, and even a little protective. He’s my company through out the day and my cuddle buddy by night. I’m thankful for Benny because he is my best friend. I know Benny, unlike like most people, will love me unconditionally. I love watching him grow and having the responsibility of taking care of him.        Black%20Lab%20Puppy

I know no matter what I get this Christmas, no gift will be better than the three I received this year. Nothing wrapped in a box with a bow is going to replace the things I was blessed to receive this year. My job taught me responsibility, getting to travel gave me experience, and getting a new puppy gave me a new friend. Since the year is almost over I’m ready to see what next year will bring, and the gifts I will receive then. I am so thankful for all three of these gifts, but I am also thankful for my amazing family, friends, and employers who made receiving these things possible.

The gift of a second chance

*Over the next few days, I’ll be posting essays by my amazing students who wrote in response to the question, “What are three gifts–proverbial or literal–that you’ve been given in 2013, and why are they significant to you?” Their responses made me laugh, cry, and most of all, thank God for the opportunity to invest in their lives. Today’s post is by a student who wishes to remain anonymous but wants to share her story. Names and locations have been changed.*

giftThis year, 2013, has been filled with  many life-changing events and blessings. Out of everything I have received this year, there are three special gifts that have made 2013 one of the happiest periods of my life.

The first gift I received this year was meeting my boyfriend John. We met this April on an online dating website, and we’ve been in love ever since. After a painful break-up with my ex-boyfriend in March, I was determined to find someone who would make me happy and treat me well. On a whim, I created a profile on a popular dating website and waited to see what would happen. It wasn’t long before I received a message from John, and I felt a connection right away.

At that time, I was living with my sister in Jonesboro, while he was living in Batesville. We spoke on the phone for hours every day, and we eventually decided to meet in person. My family and friends were concerned for my safety because meeting people off of the internet can be dangerous, but I was confident that everything would be fine. We met in Batesville for sushi and a movie at his place, and it was one of the best dates of my life.

After that,  we became inseparable. Even though our work schedules and distance apart made dating difficult, we were able to maintain a good relationship and quickly fell in love. Not long after our first date, John  offered to let me to move in with him in Batesville, and I was apprehensive at first. I had made many impulsive decisions in my dating life, and I didn’t want our relationship to end badly. After a lot of thought, I decided to go ahead and move in with him. Even though it was a struggle adjusting to a new town, John made the transition a little easier for me, and I am happier in our relationship than I could ever imagine. John has given me a love that I’ve always wanted, and I am very thankful to have him in my life.

The second gift I received this year was the ability to further my education at the University of Arkansas Community College in Batesville, or UACCB. In high school, I didn’t have any motivation or desire to perform well. Growing up, I had a lot of things going on at home that affected every aspect of my life and made school very difficult to handle. I ran away from home when I was 17 years old, and because of that, I was court ordered to stay at a hospital’s treatment center until I was 18. I graduated high school on the day of my discharge from the hospital in 2007, and I have kept my stay in the hospital secret for many years.

I felt ashamed because I had graduated from a mental health facility, and thought that I would never be able to perform well in college due to my past.  Many people in my life have encouraged me to go to college, but due to financial reasons, I felt like that wasn’t an option for me. When I moved to Batesville with John, I was finally in a position to attend college. Even though I didn’t necessarily want to apply for classes, I thought I might as well give it a try to keep everyone from bothering me about it. Now, at the end of my first semester, I can say that I am very happy that I decided to go college. I never dreamed that I would become a straight “A” student at 23 years old, and it makes me feel very proud of myself. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of my courses and have made a lot of great friends. College has given me the courage to achieve more in life and to believe in myself.

The third gift I received this year was becoming employed at a gas station. Before moving to Batesville, I worked as a Licensed Certified Nursing Assistant at a nursing home and was financially independent. Despite the good pay I received, I was miserable and loathed my job. Once I was living in Batesville, I assumed that I would have no problem finding a job. I quickly realized that wasn’t the case. I spent almost three months unemployed, and every application and job lead that I followed led to disappointment.

Finally, the week before the fall semester of college started, I received a call from the gas station about a job offer, and I gladly accepted. I have prior experience in sales, and I easily adjusted to my new job. All of the employees were very warm and welcoming, and I became fast friends with all of them. I also met my best friend Savannah, who is like a sister to me. My first months in Batesville were very depressing because I had no money and didn’t know anyone besides John. If I wouldn’t have found a job, I was seriously considering moving back home, which would have been a mistake. I have never been financially supported by a boyfriend before, and not being able to take care of myself was a big blow to my self-confidence. Now, I am happily employed and grateful to have a job that I love.

The year 2013 was filled with so many things that have changed my life for the better. I am thankful for all of the gifts I have received and the good people who are now such a big part of my life.

Good times

*Today’s post is written by my friend Debra Dickey.*

Highway signSometimes when I’m driving home late at night after a catering event, with only the quiet and darkness to keep me company, the sounds of the twilight bring back velvety memories of earlier times in my life.

My Mom was from the North, and although my Dad is not, because of work opportunities, his family ended up there as well.  Matter of fact, that’s how my parents met!  Anywho, owing to this fact and that we farmed, my parents rarely got to see their families except once a year and that was at Christmas when we kids were out of school for the holidays.

The very Friday that we finished classes, Mom and Dad had our suitcases packed and loaded, and we left that afternoon and drove through the night, or our suitcases were packed and we all got up and left about 4:00 a.m. the next morning.  Either way, our destination was 500 miles away which, on a two-lane road and going the scenic route that my Dad preferred, took 12-13 hours.

In the early years, we made this journey in a pick-up truck. There were four kids–one in Mom’s lap, two sleeping in the seat, and I usually sat in the floorboard and napped with my head on the edge of the seat.  For us, it was an exciting time.  I think I slept less than the other kids, so I must have concentrated more on the sounds of the trip itself.  Driving in the early morning hours was such a surreal feeling.  There was hardly any traffic, so the miles ticked off in quiet serenity, hushed and blanketed, as if time and space were standing still.  Peaceful, as if all the world had melted away, and all that remained were the six of us going down a ribbon of black toward the edge of the universe into another dimension.

Don’t get me wrong, we had some mighty fine adventures on those trips, not always smooth-sailing, and often goose-bump inducing. Since it was the end of December, and we were headed north, we always expected snow, and that’s usually what we found!  Often we would need to stop to put on snow chains before we even got out of Arkansas, but one year halfway there, the newly-fallen snow had accumulated to the point that there were no lanes left.   Cars were stuck or off the road everywhere, and the only way to proceed was to stop, help push the car in front of you out of the way, go half a mile, and do the same thing all over again!  I’m not sure how long that went on, but I do know that particular trip took 22 hours all told!!!  My parents — indefatigable.

One time a car in front of us flipped, and the occupants were trapped inside, so my Mom and Dad stopped, told us to stay put, then went to help pull the two young people out of their wrecked vehicle and brought them to warm up in our truck until assistance arrived.  That was scary.  Another time, we brought back two Shetland ponies in the back of our pick-up truck.  Poor things stood up for 500 miles, in the cold, but they were fine.  Luggage, you ask?  Yes, Dad created a space in front of the sideboards to stow our luggage.

Good times!  Getting to eat in restaurants, getting to shop in a department store, being treated to a new environment, and family reunions with as many as 45 people all at the same time. Fun stuff, and we’ve never yet figured out exactly how they managed to keep secret our Christmas presents the whole way!

So, nowadays, driving home, windows down, no radio/CD on, in the cool quietness of the night conjures recollections of timeless experiences, vivid and poignant, reminiscent of another life in another time.  Christmases long ago.  A grateful time.  A life and memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world!