Each morning, I spend time reading, praying, and meditating. This morning I started reading the book of Joshua in the Bible. I came across a line in verse five that resonated with me.
“I will not fail you or forsake you.”
I underlined that portion of the verse and meditated on it briefly before gathering cookies for Maggie’s classmates, my cup of coffee, car keys, and cell phone. I whisked Maggie out the door and cranked up the heat. It’s that time of year when I feel false hope about autumn coming until about 10 a.m. By noon, I’m sweating and shedding my sweater.
After dropping Maggie off at school, I returned home to a peaceful, quiet house. We live in the woods, and the sunlight strives to shine through the grove of trees on the eastern hill. The verse I selected came back to me as I stood staring at the sun.
“I will not fail you or forsake you.”
God isn’t failing or forsaking the leaves on those trees and has provided them with exactly the right amount of moisture since spring. God doesn’t fail the trees either; the only trees that fall are those ready to die, decaying at the core. I looked at the light reflecting off the dew on our grass and spider webs in the forest. He maintains the smallest bits of creation we overlook.
Of course he is not forsaking me either.
He provides me with just the right clients at the right time. Last week, one of my favorite clients notified me that this year, funding wasn’t available to hire me. My heart sank. A few hours later, a potential client called me and said he was ready to start working together. Maybe that timing was coincidental; I prefer to view it as providential. God always knows what I need when I need it, even if it’s just to confirm that He’s going before me and planning in love.
God is not failing or forsaking me.
I worried off and on for a year about how my daughter would adjust to starting kindergarten. Each time these fears came to mind, I attempted to let go and trust God. Sometimes I felt relief. Other times I wasn’t sure God would come through for me, even though His track record is stellar. But of course He came through. She was placed in a classroom with the most caring, committed, and well-trained teacher I know. She’s thriving. I’ve seen huge leaps in her ability to write and communicate in just three weeks’ time. And almost every day when I pick her up from school, she yells with glee, “This was the best day EVER!”
God is not forsaking or failing my child.
There is no space for fear when I focus on the ways God has come through for me in the past.
There is no room for fear when I focus on how God is providing for me today either.
My daughter earned her first $1 bill today. Is that legal? Surely not. Well, it happened, nonetheless.
We enjoyed lunch after church at a local diner. Our waitress, a young, cheerful woman who told me she had a five year-old son, went out of her way to express kindness to my daughter, and I was thankful. She brought Maggie chips before our meals arrived. Any parent understands the magnitude of this gift (if this doesn’t happen, your child morphs into some sort of monster in 5.2 minutes). She entertained all of Maggie’s detailed questions patiently. Maggie enjoyed her gigantic flower-shaped pancake, coated in margarine and syrup, and had a grand old time. After the meal, the waitress jokingly asked Maggie if she wanted to help clear the table to help pay for the meal. And lo and behold, Maggie agreed to help.
She jumped up from the table and followed the waitress around, asking what she could do to help. My mama heart burst with love and joy, watching my daughter serve. She didn’t expect anything in return—she genuinely wanted to clean, serve, and assist our waitress. Our waitress allowed her to help clear the table and then gave Maggie a $1 bill as a gift for helping out. Maggie thought she’d won the lottery and beamed from ear to ear with pride, clutching the money and her stuffed puppy dog, Homer, as we headed to the car, waving goodbye to our new waitress friend.
I remembered all the times that week I’ve felt grumpy and cantankerous about doing laundry, cleaning up after dinner, and loading and emptying the dishwasher. How many times had I begrudgingly washed my daughter’s hair or felt annoyed that I couldn’t enjoy my coffee alone in the afternoon? I specifically recalled feeling disgruntled about trying to hurriedly finish editing a presentation while Maggie attempted to crawl in my lap. And while I have to extend grace to myself–because parenting is difficult, and I am not perfect–I can also learn a lot if I watch my daughter closely. Maybe if I attempt to approach life with just a little bit more of her attitude of service, enthusiasm, and joy over what seem to be tiny moments, I’ll feel less overwhelmed, less disgruntled, and less annoyed when I’m juggling parenting, housekeeping, friending, and working. And maybe if I find pleasure right where I am, I’ll also feel a little less brokenhearted when she slams the car door and walks into school morning after morning, year after year, in just a few short months.
This letter was written by Gabrielle Holmes, one of my students, as a tribute to her mother.
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.
I 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.
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 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.
*Thanks to my friend Brandon Davidson for serving as the guest writer for Day 21 of the Dear Gratitude project. His post is guaranteed to make you laugh. It will probably cause you to pause and give thanks for all the people and circumstances that brought you where you are in your own life, too.*
When you asked me to write a blog post, I agreed without really thinking about what in the world I would share with your readers.
I typically fly by the seat of my pants.
This is the story of my life.
One week after watching Batman Forever, I packed a trash bag full of clothes and hopped in a buddy’s truck. We were moving to Hollywood. We didn’t have the bankroll to get to Hollywood, CA, so we went for the next best thing–Hollywood, FL. (Newsflash, this is NOT the next best thing.) I spent a few months there and then tucked my tail between my legs and decided to move back to Arkansas and go to college.
I lasted one semester.
It was the classic story. Boy goes to college. Boy doesn’t go to class. Boy drinks way too much. Boy wakes up completely nude in a field, only to realize that he is just outside the outfield fence of a softball field while two high school teams battle it out.
Nothing to see here, just a dude cupping himself waddling back to campus.
Don’t worry, I’ll get thankful soon.
A few weeks later, I was asked to leave the school after mooning the Dean of the school’s wife and daughter.
The next year was a blur of playing semi-pro rugby, naked Trivial Pursuit, and trying to get back on track.
I went back to school only to leave again when my Mom became disabled. I moved back home to be with my mom and brother. It was while in Batesville that I met Kathy and knew that she was the one. I asked her to marry me a little over a month after I met her. People thought we were crazy. We were, but we were also in love. Almost 15 years later, I can tell you without a doubt that I am who I am because of her.
I am thankful for Kathy.
After we got married, I spent the next few years in full time ministry in the Church.
I felt like I had a purpose, and it was intoxicating.
Kathy and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world in 2003. From the moment I met Emily Grace, she has brought light into the world and filled my heart with love.
I am thankful for Emily.
When Kathy and I were first engaged, I was diagnosed with a pretty severe liver disease. The doctor told me that my prognosis was 10 years max and that I probably shouldn’t get married or have kids. I laid all this out for Kathy and told her that I loved her and that I had no plan other than to be with her. I asked her if she wanted to keep flying by the seat of our pants.
SHE SAID YES, YOU GUYS.
Not long after Emily was born, I got very sick. As a last resort the doctors tried a new treatment option. To my surprise, almost 20 weeks later I was cured. That was 10 years ago. Kathy had a newborn baby and a weakened husband, but we made it. She was unbelievably strong.
I am thankful for my family.
Working for the church was demanding and I was horrible at balancing work/home. I was rewarded for being a bad dad and a shitty husband. Something had to give.
I walked away from my career in the church, and I haven’t looked back. I can always find another church if I want, but I can’t find another family.
A couple of weeks later, with no insurance and no jobs (Kathy was fired from her job at the church after I resigned. It’s a cool story; I’ll share it sometime), Kathy found out she was pregnant.
We had been trying for years. That miracle cure that healed my liver also supposedly made me sterile.
NOT SO MUCH.
I had a wife and a daughter and a baby the size of a strawberry on the way. (Side note: why do we use fruit when we are giving reference to babies’ sizes?)
Josh is 3 years old now and painted the most amazing Butt watercolor last night.
Pretty great, huh?
Josh is sweet, funny and a little bit of a dumpster fire. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I sure didn’t plan it this way, but somehow I ended up with an amazing life.
I am thankful.
Brandon Davidson is stand-up comic and social media strategist based out of Tyler, Texas. He is a husband, a dad, and a disappointment to many. He used to have to drink to have a good time; now he doesn’t need to have a good time. Follow @brandondavidson on Twitter if you love carbs.
*Thanks to my friend Latresha Woodruff for serving as the guest writer for Day 16 of the Dear Gratitude project. This is a letter Latresha wrote to her mom on Valentine’s Day.*
I thought this Valentine’s Day I wouldn’t use a card to tell you how I feel about you. It hasn’t always been easy for you, but you did everything you could to make sure your children got the things they needed.
Your strength and faithfulness is admirable. I always felt you were one of the strongest women I knew. Looking up at you as a little girl at Mt. Olive Church, how you would fan me until church ended, I thought, “Does she ever get tired?” When I became an adult I realized a mother would do anything for her child. When life kicked you down, you didn’t stay there; you got back up because we depended on you.
I just wanted to take this time out to thank you for keeping me on the right path, and to thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made over the years for me. Thank you for showing me by example, that no matter how bad things are, you have the power to change your circumstances. Thank you for pushing me to go to college and supporting me while I was there. Thank you for always letting me know you are proud of me because no matter how old we get, we need to know we’ve made our mama proud. I love you from the bottom of my heart. Things haven’t always been rosy, but I wouldn’t trade the life I’ve had because of YOU. I thank GOD he blessed me with you.
*Thanks to my friend Marti for sharing her thoughts on Mother’s Day this year!*
This Mother’s Day will be new for me; you see, my mother died in January of this year. Last year for Mother’s Day I planned a special day – something she really enjoyed. This is a product of the program of recovery that has taught me new ways of thinking. This program has taught me to do things for fun and for free. To give fully from my whole heart. These things don’t come naturally; in the natural I am fearful, fearful that you will reject my gift, that my gift isn’t good enough. Really what I’m fearful of is that I’M not good enough and that the rejection will bring shame and pain.
Through others sharing their experience, strength, and hope with me, I’ve developed courage to try something new. To not depend on the outcome but to trust the process. Not everything I try will be successful, but not trying is a guaranteed failure. In learning from others, I’ve come to believe that there is a Higher Power Who sees around corners and is preparing me to handle whatever comes my way. I have learned that just for today, I can be a lady of grace and dignity. And if I “act as if” long enough, I become the lady of grace and dignity that my Higher Power can be proud of.
Through the gifts of Al Anon, I’ve learned that acceptance is the key to true happiness. I did my best to accept my mother as the person she was and not the person I wanted her to be. I accept her as a child of God on a journey similar to mine. I can accept that I was not the perfect daughter, but in the last few years, we had a kind and gentle relationship that wasn’t always easy but was always worth it. As I look forward to this Mother’s Day, I am glad to say thank you to the God of my understanding for giving me the mother I had and for giving me the understanding and peace that comes from the love we shared. Not always perfect, but perfectly enough.