Dear Momma

This letter was written by Gabrielle Holmes, one of my students, as a tribute to her mother.

Dear Momma,

I want to let you know how thankful I am to still have you in my life considering all the obstacles we have faced in life. Since Pawpaw died, you have stepped up and really showed me there is life at the end of the tunnel.

mother-429157_1280I want to thank you, Momma, for helping me with my children even though I know it’s a hassle for you. I want to thank you, Momma, for always inviting me and the kids over for dinner even though you don’t have to. Thank you, Momma, for being my biggest fan through every single stage of my life. I just want you to know I couldn’t have ask for a better cheerleader.

Thank you for becoming my best friend and being my biggest confidant. You always answer your phone with the same friendly attitude every time I call no matter if I call ten times in a row. You have shown me how to respect people and treat everyone with kindness no mater what. You let me know it wasn’t okay to judge people at a young age, and I respect you for that.

You have been my rock through breakups, life decisions, and new chapters. Thank you for teaching me the importance of hard work and the importance of getting your education so  I can have something in life. You have always told me if I wanted something in life, I have to work for it. Thank you for making me independent and telling me to never rely on anyone. Every single day I become more confident in myself.

My hope this Christmas season is for you to find joy, peace, and happiness, and let’s not forget to still cook! I just want to say I love you and thank you for being my backbone.

-Gabrielle

Gift list

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embodying the spirit of giving

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas is family

*Special thanks to writer Toinette Thomas for sharing her Christmas memories in today’s post.*

It’s is pretty much impossible to talk about holiday memories without talking about family. Family makes the holidays for me. After getting married, my holidays became our holidays, and we had to start dividing our time between our two families. People may joke or even seriously gripe about in-laws, but where I’m from, you take the good with the bad and love anyway. I make a point most of the time not to distinguish in-laws, distant cousins, what have you… it’s all family to me.

So today I will share two funny memories spent with both of my families.

Let’s start with a tale of Christmas with the in-laws. My husband and I have been married for eight years and have spent either Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s with my new family every year, alternating with mine. In all the seven years prior to last year the holiday celebration was simple, sweet, and pretty much the same. Then someone got the idea to take me, because I was whining about missing seeing lights with my family, to see the lights at Bristol Speedway…

This is where I had an inner monologue with myself to talk myself out of throwing a colossal fit. For seven years I’ve been sitting around watching football and Hallmark movies when I could have been looking at light as Bristol Speedway!

Anyway, the lights were amazing and so was the time in the car; driving around and singing to Christmas music was reminiscent to the tradition I’ve spent with my family, but that wasn’t the end. At the end of lights show, you get to actually drive on the Speedway. For someone who’s never done this, and didn’t know it was even an option, that was really awesome!… Then there was more.

There was a little carnival set in the middle. It was snowing and freezing cold, but my husband and I took our nephews out to walk around and eat sweet treats. My father-in-law even choked a little on some spiced apple cider, but we did warn him not to chug it- he’s a little feisty sometimes.

It was a truly wonderful experience I’ll never forget.

Now for a funny moment spent with my family.

clark-griswoldA few years back, my family was all gathered for the holiday trying to figure out what to do as we awaited midnight.  This group opens presents to accommodate my sister’s in-laws (see how we all work together so nicely!). We decided watch a holiday movie. This was back been my sister’s youngest was about six and the oldest was ten, I believe. Everyone decided they wanted to watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, a truly funny movie in my personal opinion.

Since the movie was not scheduled to air on basic cable that night, and my family didn’t have Netflix then, my mom had rented it. Immediately, my husband and I cautioned everyone that as much as we love that movie and think the older cousins would be okay to watch it, we were concerned about the language for the little ones. We pointed out that the TBS version is a little different than the theatrical version, but no one seemed overly concerned. Needless to say that we all watched it and enjoyed it, but there were quite a few gasps, red faces, and covered ears and eyes from time to time… and when Clark Griswold made his comment about “Danny #@&$ Kaye”, the whole family fell out, the movie was paused, my mom said a prayer, and we explained to all the kids that that was not an appropriate way to talk.

What’s really great about this whole story is that the kids remember it fondly. They talk all the time about us letting them watch that movie unedited and that it was an important part of them understanding how the world is and maybe how it should or shouldn’t be. Now that the kids are older, we all still watch that movie together and love it. We even quote from it throughout the year in anticipation for when we’ll all be able to see it together again.

 

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.

 

 

Give them their flowers

Today’s beautiful post is written by Latresha Woodruff Johnson, one of the most encouraging people I know. Latresha, thank you for continually pointing me to God and reminding me that there is always hope in Him.

IMG_7283My grandmother was named Jewel, and how fitting, because she always gave us little pearls of wisdom.  She also left us with some funny saying as well, some laced with a few four letter words (I won’t repeat those here), but I will share these:  When talking about my uncle, whom she said couldn’t keep a secret, she would say, “That boy couldn’t hold 5 ounces of water in a 10 gallon bucket with a lid on it,”  or for people who think they know it all, “His head is bigger than yours and he don’t know everything so neither do you.” And this is what she would say when you were “testing her nerves” by doing something she told you not to do: “You don’t believe fat is meat greasy!” 

Momma, as we all affectionately called her, tried to teach us to always be grateful to people even for the small things that they do.  Now here is where I insert a pearl of wisdom from Momma, “Give them their flowers while they are here.”  

 

Latresha Woodruff-Johnson

Latresha Woodruff-Johnson

That’s pretty self explanatory, but I will further break it down. She meant — say thank you to people while they are living on this earth; don’t wait until it ‘s too late.  I  know what it feels like to smell the flowers of gratitude.  I spent 16 years as a television news reporter, and now my job is to keep news reporters informed.  There was one particular reporter who I saw some promise in, but she tended to be very inconsiderate of my time and would show up unannounced.  I am a matter-of-fact person, so I definitely put her in her place, nicely though.  But again I saw promise in her, so whenever she would come by, I gave her pointers on being a great reporter and putting her stories together to make them effective.  I have watched her grow into a seasoned reporter, always thinking some veteran reporters at her TV station really must be spending time mentoring her.  Well, to my surprise, she sent me flowers this week – not literally but figuratively the way momma sent flowers.  I got a card (a nice handwritten one the way I like them–all personal) from this young reporter which read:

 

LaTresha,

You have taught me so much!  Your encouragement and feedback has helped me grow over the last 3 years into the reporter I am today.  I’ll be sending you my work from Cincinnati for more tips!  Thank you for always being so sweet, so accessible and such a joy to work with. I wish you all the best! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…..

 

I can still smell those flowers… the fragrance will linger in my mind for years to come.  I feel like a proud parent. She is going to one of the largest TV markets, and I, the little ole girl from Mississippi, played a small role in molding someone into not only a master at her craft but into a kinder person. 

 

*So Lisa, I am giving you your flowers and showing you gratitude for making me proud of you and for making me feel that my words to you resonated and made a difference.  

*Bethany, I am showing you gratitude for being that person who isn’t afraid to share with the world your struggles with raw and pure emotion and honesty and allowing us to celebrate your victories and milestones and sharing that beautiful baby girl with us.  I know you, like us all, are a work in progress, but it’s clear GOD has his hands on you.  It’s so nice to be there to watch you continue to evolve.  You are a wonderful person and a woman of GOD, and I love you.  Smell the flowers!!  

*and God,  I try to show you gratitude daily by praying, reading your word and being an elevator person to others instead of a basement person.  Thank you for looking past my faults and seeing my needs.  Thank you for your Grace and Mercy (or as momma would say “thank you for dem old twins  — Grace & Mercy”), they are new everyday.  I love you Lord, I have your flowers, and I know one day you will call me home to heaven, and I will be there with a big bouquet saying,”Here I am Lord; smell your flowers!”

 

LaTresha Woodruff Johnson