Turning points

Dear One,

When you died about one month ago, you caught me off guard. You became suddenly ill, and 24 hours later, you were eating pizza, fruit cake, and pudding cups in heaven.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI can’t say I didn’t see it coming. There was something inside of me that whispered, “Go see her more often” about one year ago. I don’t know if it was in reaction to Big Jim, my father-in-law, moving on to The Great Resting Place, or if it was because Maggie finally became a better traveler and visitor. Regardless, I’m eternally grateful for God’s voice nudging me to visit you more often.

Even though you suffered from mental illness, you were almost always pleasant, welcoming, and in good spirits. Your little smile and bright eyes let me know you were enjoying our time together, even if you preferred that I do most of the talking. When you had something to say, it was always smart, quick-witted, and on point.

I remember two turning points in my relationship with you.

One was when Mom and I visited you at the time of her high school reunion. We stayed with my uncle, but we came to see you almost all day long while we were there. As the day evolved into evening, we knew we needed to head to Mom’s reunion.

As we drove away from your apartment, Mom continually expressed that she just didn’t feel right about going and leaving you all evening.

“Mom, then we just don’t have to go to your reunion. What are you going to regret if you don’t do it in 10 years?”

That was about 10 years ago. And Mom still doesn’t regret turning the car around, picking up a pizza from your favorite diner, and surprising you by spending the evening talking and laughing, just the three of us.

The other turning point was when we visited after your mother died. We didn’t attend the funeral, but we’d been invited to look through her belongings to see if we wanted  specific items before they were sold or given away. I’ll be honest–prior to that day, I lacked compassion for your mother and only saw her in negative light. Something about sifting through an entire apartment’s worth of silent items spoke to me.

Then we visited Mom’s cousin. I wanted to do nothing–even though I was only a junior high student at the time–but sit and listen to Mom’s cousin recant your life experiences, both as a child and into adulthood. These were stories you had never told me yourself, and chapters you rarely flipped back to, probably in an effort to avoid those memories. Being sent to live somewhere else as a child–not knowing why. Undergoing exploratory, inventive procedures in a time when doctors didn’t understand that what they were doing did more harm than good. Being homeless. Feeling alone.

When we remembered you the evening after you died, these untold stories are what I reflected on in my mind–not because I wanted to focus on what felt sad and painful, but simply because these moments made you who you were. I can be grateful for you even though parts of you were broken.

I do not regret who you were nor wish to change my time with you. I know all of you, and I accept all of you. You were always enough.

 

Any other way

Today’s post is written by Jessica Nicol, a former student of mine, who has truly had her fair share of traumatic experiences this semester. In the midst of them, she has managed to maintain her composure and serenity to the best of her ability, and I think she’s become a stronger person as a result. I’ve always heard that the situations and problems we face in life either make us better or bitter–the choice is ours. Thankfully, Jessica seems to be making the better choice.

February 12th, 2015:

“But you’re not. You’re not selfish, you hit the nail on the head, you’re human. Plus, your life is way more put together than mine. At least you have a job. At least you know what you want to do with your life. I don’t have a clue. My goals in life right now are 1) Not die and 2) Love Jessica with all that I have.”

“I love you.”

February 13th, 2015:

“I didn’t see Taken 3 playing at this theater online.”

“Checked Searcy, too, and not playing there either.”

“Are you ever going to answer me? We have plans tonight. You do remember, right? :/”

About this time, I got a call from my boyfriend’s mom asking me what I was doing and if someone was there with me that she could talk to. I knew in that moment that something was terribly wrong. You see, my parents and his parents have not yet met; yes I know, we have been dating over a year now, and our parents haven’t met. Anyway, I knew when she wanted to speak to one of them that something had happened. I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watched my mother’s facial expressions change with every word that his mother had uttered. “Mom, Mom, what’s wrong?” As she hung up my cellphone, she told me that Nick had been in an accident and that he was medflighted to UAMS and was in surgery as we spoke. I felt nothing just completely and utterly numb. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t move. I could do nothing. I just stared into space. At one point my mom told me I could cry, but I really couldn’t.

The night before, I had been upset with him because he hadn’t told me that he was going to be in South Carolina helping his sister move for five days and that he was leaving that Sunday. I had only learned that night, and I yelled at him and asked him if he’d forgotten to tell me something. He was almost in tears. He tried to apologize and said he had forgotten. Of course, I didn’t understand because how can someone forget to tell their girlfriend that they were going to be 12 hours away for a week? Was he going to just up and leave and I was supposed to find out after he left? We had plans the thirteenth to go to dinner and see a movie because we didn’t get to have date nights often since I had taken a full-time key holder position at work. I missed being able to see him when I wanted to. Of course, plans changed.

Once I learned of this news, I was scared. We didn’t know his condition or whether he was going to make it through. All I wanted was for him to live. Before the accident, I had not been completely certain of this relationship. I had loved him, but I was reluctant to give it my all. I had a lot of pain in my younger years of living, especially with men, and I just wasn’t completely trusting. When I heard he was in critical condition, all of that washed away. I wanted to be able to feel the touch of his hand on my face again and hear him tell me he loved me again. Everything was all a blur. I had finally known that this relationship was the one I wanted to be in for the rest of my life. He may have been struggling to find a job and get his life together, but that was only temporary. That was not going to be forever. How dare I let someone who loves me so much and would never hurt me for anything go? How could I even want someone else to have my happy ending?

On Valentine’s Day, I was able to go to UAMS and spend some time with Nick. I was given orders the day of the accident to stay home until his parents knew if he was going to be okay or not. I understood that they were trying to protect me. I was so relieved to arrive at the hospital and walk into that hospital room and see Nick again. I sucked in my tears and tried to be strong for him. I knew he was in an enormous amount of pain because of all of the injuries he had sustained in the collision. I won’t go into all of his injuries, but the one that is the most pressing right now is his hip. His right hip was shattered in the accident and had to be put back together. Because of this, his sciatic nerve was bruised. That nerve and his hip are healing well, but he feels flares of pain in his toes, and his hip hurts often. I hate to see him hurting as much as he is. Sometimes it brings tears to my eyes involuntarily.

I’ve been so afraid that he is going to become tired of me or not want to be in a relationship with me anymore that it’s unreal. I’m sick of feeling insecure all of the time, but it’s always been a problem for me. I do know that Nick wants nothing more than for me to be happy, and I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life with him. I have sat next to him nearly every day since he has been home from the hospital and taken care of him as best I can. His parents leave me with him sometimes when they need to go out for church or something. It’s nice to feel like I’m needed and useful. In some way I’m thankful for this incident because it has made us closer and stronger. It’s hard, yes, but I think it was God’s way of giving me a wake up call. I was told that if I had been with him that morning, I would have been killed. So, in a way, both of our lives were spared. I guess that means we both have awesome things that are going to happen in our lives. I hope one of those things is for us to be together. I’m so happy we found each other. I wouldn’t have my life any other way.

The greatest love

Today’s post is written by my friend Betty Gail Jones. Thank you, Betty Gail, for the beautiful reminder of the greatest love of all.

There once was a man who lived in perfect paradise where he was surrounded by riches and beauty.  Every hour was filled with wonderful music, and he continually experienced peaceful serenity in his home.  He had servants who adored him and met his every need.

His heart, however, was overwhelmed with a longing to be with his love.  He had watched her and seen her struggles.  Her life was filled with grief and disappointment.  She was a victim of the chaos which surrounded her.  War and pestilence had torn her.  He was to be her “knight in shining armor,” her rescuer, and nothing could hold him back.  He would go to her – move into her neighborhood – and care for her like no other had done.  He knew the danger and the pain that he would be inviting into his life, but he loved her and nothing else would do.

So he left his protected palace and went to her.  He fought for her, and he created her anew.  He would stay with her forever.  His plan was to make her his bride.  He would lavish all of his own riches upon her and never let her go.  He changed her and made her whole by his love.

But then the unthinkable happened.  There were those who had wished to bring harm to his love and keep her for themselves as a slave.  They were very angry and began to plot against this man who had come to save his love.  And so they killed him.  He, who had given all – his very life – for the one he loved, was laid to rest and covered by the cold grave, which had been prepared for his body.

There is a fairy tale ending to this story of sorts, however.  The good guy wins.  And the best part is – it is not a fairy tale at all.  The story is true.  You see, the man of whom I speak was more than a man – He was God.  And the love that he came to rescue was his Bride, the church.  This is the greatest love of which I know.

Office pic 2God always had a plan for his church.  Though she has battle scars, has failed Him, and throughout history has been embattled and bruised, He loves her – enough to die for her.  He has made a plan for the day when His Bride will meet Him at the great wedding feast.  She will be adorned with the purest white attire, and He will await her at the alter.  At that time, all the scars and disfigurement caused by the hardships of this present world will be gone, and she will stand before her Greatest Love, in perfection.  He will make all of this possible, because of His great love for her – His most prized creation.

Now – THAT is a love story!

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.

My mother’s Bible

*Thank you, Lorie Mink, for sharing your reflections and gratitude in this post.*

While searching my closet for a pair of slippers, I came across my mother’s Bible. It’s been sitting on the shelf since we moved in the house three years ago. And I can’t remember the last time I opened it. Mama’s been gone for ten and a half years now, and it’s been almost that long since I took it out of its case and looked through it. So I did.

My mother’s Bible is a treasure trove of memories. There are pictures of the grandkids, notes from the grandkids and from her former Sunday School students, bits of paper with Bible verses written on them, even old letters from family stuffed in between the pages.

Even the cover, with her name pressed in faded gold lettering, holds memories. The corners are ragged and chewed on, thanks to a Maltese Poodle mix named Critter, who passed away at 13, just two short years after Mama died. Rubbing my fingers over the jagged edges immediately brought forth the memories of that dog, who Mama swore she didn’t care that much about but loved as much as I, sitting at her feet on the porch, head resting on her house-shoed foot, while she drank her morning coffee and read the Word of God each day.

Ribbons and bookmarks were placed here and there by highlighted bits of scripture that she felt were important to remember. Even Valentines and inspirational cards could be found.

My mother’s life is held in this Bible. The scriptures she liked and highlighted, the bits of paper she felt important to keep, even her driver’s license, birth certificate, and marriage certificate are nestled in the pages.

As I leafed through her Bible, I immediately felt connected to my mother again, as if she sat beside me telling me the stories of what each piece of paper and picture meant. As I read over the highlighted passages, I also felt my connection to God rekindle.

God and I are just now renewing our old friendship. He’s been there patiently waiting for me to come back to Him. I stubbornly held myself aloof. I’ve always believed in God, thanks to my mom, who instilled this belief in me at an early age. But I kind of took a veering path, not necessarily away from Him, but distant to Him nonetheless. Shifting through the pages of Mama’s Bible seemed to shift things in my mind. And suddenly I saw God, sitting quietly beside me as if He’d been sitting there for a long time patiently waiting for my return. As if He had nothing better to do but wait for me to come to my senses.

It’s been a tough two years for me. I’ve had to deal with some situations I really wish I hadn’t. But I mistakenly believed I had to deal with them on my own. Now I know I don’t have to. I talk to God every day. Sometimes, He still seems distant. Sometimes I feel like I am talking to Him as if through a long tunnel, where the voices carry but are faint. I know this is me, not Him. I know He hears me perfectly and answers me in His way. I am the one who is distant, who is unable to hear Him clearly or understand all that He says to me. But I know that the distance is fading every day.

And though I am still going through troubled times, I know He is with me, drawing me nearer every day. I am truly grateful for all He has given me. Especially for leading me back to my mother’s Bible.

Lost but not forgotten

Big thanks to one of my students, who is a vivacious and wonderful person, Jessica Nicol, for sharing her story in today’s post.

You know the point in your life where you just don’t feel like being angry anymore? I’m there.
I’ve found that in life there is always that one person who you never forget or stop loving… that is your first love. Don’t tell me you don’t remember. It’s the best and the worst love you will ever have in your lifetime. So, with that being said, here’s my story about my first love.
Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography & Design

Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography & Design

It all started in second grade. I was 7 years old and had just moved to Arkansas, so I didn’t know anyone at school. Halfway through my first week at Southside, I saw him. I was going to the only available swing left on the whole playground, and he was in the swing next to it. I had never felt the way I felt at that moment. My heart kind of… sped up. He was short with blonde hair and blue-green eyes. I wasn’t as shy as I am now, so when he got off the swing I went up to him and asked if I could play with him and his friend. He said yes, and so it began. Weeks after, we continued to play together, and the feelings grew. It was such an amazing feeling to care about someone so much. Of course, at the age of 7, I didn’t understand what I was feeling. Later in life, though, I realized I loved him.

The next year, in third grade, I finally found out his last name because his class, which was across the hall from mine, posted the students’ names outside the door, and I already knew his first name. When I found out, I made a note asking him if he would be my boyfriend with a check box saying yes or no. I gave it to him after school let out, and we went home on our buses. The next day after school we met outside of the building, and he gave my note back. It said yes! I was so happy. Did I mention he had a very thick southern accent? That was a lot of the attraction, right there. I’m so attracted to accents.
Once we moved into higher grades, such as middle school, it was all up and down. We were starting to become teenagers, and we didn’t have much of a serious relationship in elementary school. After all, how serious could a third grade relationship be? We were best friends and inseparable, despite my constant love for him. We ended up back together in eighth grade, and that was the year I realized I had been so in love with him for all of this time. I decided I wanted to marry him and that we’d be together forever… ha! Moving into ninth grade we broke up again. So devastating. I simply wanted to be with him, but he wanted someone else. We remained best friends because, again, our relationships hadn’t been super serious.
At the end of freshman year we got back together. It was a joyous moment for both of us. We  felt the same way about each other, and we both agreed we were going to get married and have kids and be happy. Well, that summer his father had a terrible accident. He fell off his truck–he was a truck driver–and hit his head. He lived for two days in a coma, and then he died. I felt so guilty because I was on vacation in Branson and couldn’t be there to love my boyfriend and comfort him. I cried so much and enjoyed nothing. All I wanted to do was go home and be with him. Finally my vacation was over, and I rushed to his house. He was so happy to see me. I stayed strong and tried not to cry when I saw him and his mother. I loved his mother, too, by the way. She was like a second mom.
During the visitation, I could not contain myself. I cried to the point that people thought I was related. I felt my boyfriend slipping away from me, and I just wasn’t ready to give him up. At the funeral, I kept composed. I hugged him and his mother afterward, reassuring them that I was there for them always. Days passed, and our relationship was in turmoil. He closed off and started rethinking everything. I fell into a depression and stopped eating because I was losing him. I had to get a therapist to help me because I ended up with an eating disorder, and I was majorly depressed.
We ended up breaking up. That was a devastation I cannot fully describe. If I could have died, I would have. I went through my therapy, and about halfway through it, we got back together. At the time, I had no idea how bad that was going to be. It was verbally abusive and painful to stay in, but I wouldn’t leave him because I was dead set on marrying him. My therapist said that it was an abusive relationship and wasn’t built on anything, but being a teenage girl, I didn’t listen. I closed off from the world because all I had in my life, I thought, was him. We spent another year together and then we broke up. It was a bad break up, but I continued therapy, and I just finished this past December.
Though it sounds like it was a horrible tragedy, I took away from it a knowledge I could never have gained without it. I learned the essentials of a relationship and the kind of strength within myself that I never thought I had. I rose up from it and am now very happy with my life. I plan to become a therapist for teenagers who are in the same position I was in. I also have a very amazing boyfriend who treats me like I deserve to be treated. I am no longer bitter and sad about this. I take it as an experience. I loved, I lost, I lived.

Day 29: Dear Dawn

*I’m thankful for my college friend, Lorie Mink for sharing her letter to her friend, Dawn, on Day 29 of the Dear Gratitude project.*

Dear Dawn,
Dawn and me at Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut in 1987.

Dawn and me at Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut in 1987.

I remember the day we met like it was yesterday. It was June of 1980, and I was three months shy of turning 9. We just moved into the lower level of Mr. O’Brien’s house, and mom and dad were busy sorting the boxes and unpacking. Mom insisted I go outside for a bit as I was getting in her way. Since it was a new neighborhood, I was only allowed to go into the backyard, but it was beautiful there. Mr. O’Brien kept plots of a variety of flowers, some I’d never seen before, and I spent time wandering around them pretending I was a fairy tending to the latest crop of magical flowers.

I remember seeing you and your friend splashing around in the above ground pool in your backyard, but I pretended not to notice. Oh how envious I was of the two of you because you were both laughing and splashing and carrying on, and I was on my own. I never spoke to you or even looked over, except for a few glances out of the corner of my eye. Your aunt made the first move, coming over to the fence to say hi. I remember thinking she must be your grandma because of her white hair. She had a bright smile and was very friendly to me, and I shyly smiled back at her.

You and your friend finally acknowledged my presence then, hanging onto the side of the pool as you called out questions to me. I didn’t think you liked me as you dismissed me pretty quickly and went back to playing in the pool, though your friend remained to talk to me. It was several weeks before you said anything to me, and that was to tell me to stay away from your friend. She came over with her Barbies, and we played on my front porch while you watched from the window up above. It took her calling your name several times for you to come down. But you wouldn’t play with us, no matter what. It took your friend moving away for you to finally show interest in being my friend.

And what a friend you became.We were together so often back then; your grandma kept saying we must be stuck together with glue. You were my first sleepover friend, and I was yours. You finally played dolls with me, and I rode bikes with you, keeping a happy balance between the girly girl I was and the tom-boy you were. No matter who I hung out with or what I did, you were always with me and vice versa.

We forged a bond that would go on to last over 30 years, though we haven’t seen each other since 1987.Through phone calls, letters, and emails, we stayed in touch over the years, keeping our friendship strong the only way we could. We’ve been through it all together via phone and letters. I remember the day you called and told me your grandma passed away. She was the only mother you’d known, as your mom had passed away when you were only two weeks old. You were heartbroken, and I tried to find the right words to comfort you.You did the same for me when first my mom, then my dad passed away. Saying things I needed to hear and telling me how much you wished you could be with me. And it never failed that the days I seemed so down and defeated would be the days I would receive a letter or a card from you full of love and encouragement. How did you always know when I needed you most?

I can look back on a wonderful, fun-filled childhood thanks to you and your family, who always made me feel welcome, as if I belonged in your family. I only hope my family did the same for you. I pray every day that we will get to see each other again before we die. It’s the number one item on my bucket list. But even if we never set eyes on each other again, I know our friendship will last to the very end because of the powerful bond we created back in those early days when life still had that special glow and our biggest concerns were having enough money to get penny candy from the store or a ride to the local skating rink on Saturdays. I will always be grateful for the special friendship we created and managed to maintain for over 30 years and hope we have many more years of friendship to come.