gratitude

Gratitude through adversity

Today’s guest contributor is one of my English Composition I students, Ryan Clack. He’s graciously given me permission to share his first essay of the fall semester with all of you. I was inspired and touched by his essay; I’m sure you will be, too.

What Makes Ryan Clack, Ryan Clack?

pexels-photo-1308713Answering the question above is neither simple nor complicated, but somewhere right in between. In order to start this “Who I Am” essay, I’ll begin with an introduction. My name is Ryan Clack. I am a 20 year-old Caucasian red-headed male from Temecula, California. I was born into this beautiful, yet harsh world on May 18, 1998, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I have three other siblings. Two are my half siblings, and my parents’ names are Ron and Heather Clack. I am not afraid to admit that I’m a little bit of a mama’s boy and have been that way forever, so it’s safe to say I love her very dearly. My father and I share a huge bond in the game of baseball, and he has been such an important piece to my maturity and manhood throughout the years. With that being said, baseball has been my identity my entire life; it’s where I’ve met just about all of my friends, and it has given me the blessing of an opportunity to play collegiate ball on a scholarship on this very campus.

If I were to ask my friends or peers, they would likely tell me that I’m a very outgoing, funny, loving, kind, and smart guy. These are some attributes about myself I cherish and am very proud of. My mama always said, “You’re the most like me,” because she is the same exact way.

Throughout this year I’ve dealt with a great bit of adversity, and that adversity is what makes the overall question a little difficult to answer. Why? I’ve had to learn many lessons since January 17, 2018, the date of my mother’s passing. I feel as if my attributes include being outgoing, funny, loving, kind, and smart. These have not changed due to the fact that those are practically my foundation as a person, but a lot of other things have changed. My mom passed away after a year-long battle with stage 4 colon cancer. The messed up part about everything is the fact that she beat breast cancer in 2016 only to find out six months later that she would be fighting another battle for her life, being diagnosed with colon cancer.

Throughout being there for the process of chemotherapy sessions, sores, and week-long streaks of her being so tired and weak she wouldn’t leave bed, I witnessed a woman who was literally dying become the most positive, loving, fierce, and fearless warrior goddess of all time. Whilst on hospice, she would write on paper because she could no longer speak.

One thing she wrote is so beautiful and powerful that it is what I live by and identify with on this day and every other day. She said, “I live every beautiful day and I can find beautiful on even the worst day.” Since the day that I watched her write this on her deathbed, my whole life changed. I learned to embrace the good, bad, and ugly and endure everything with a smile on my face. I learned how to cope with such immense pain and how to overcome the depression that comes with it.

If you ask “What makes Ryan Clack, Ryan Clack?’ today, I’d be able to give you a great answer. Adversity.

pexels-photo-325790Adversity has turned me from a teenage boy to a man, and although going through it is never easy, I wouldn’t want it any other way. With adversity I have learned countless lessons, great and awful, and it helps me learn through real life experiences. Those real life experiences are free, stone cold, and hard life lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. As of now, I couldn’t be happier with my situation, and I’m extremely blessed to be a part of such an amazing opportunity for me to continue to grow, obtain a degree, and continue to work on becoming the best person that I could possibly become.

gratitude

Liz, Mom, and the Witch

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

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

Liz, Mom, and the Witch

By Teresa Burns Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liz shook her head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gratitude

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.

gratitude

Just a moment to say thank you

Today’s post was written by one of my English Composition II students, Crystal Riley, on the topic of the motivation of gratitude. I have known Crystal since junior high school. When God allowed our paths to cross again and for me to serve as her instructor, I felt truly privileged and have enjoyed watching her grow as a person and as a writer. I have learned at least as much from her as she has from me–isn’t this the beauty of teaching?

We all have had someone to wait on us and say thank you for your patronage. Have you ever really said thank you back to the person who waited on you in a way that was meaningful?  In my life I have had several jobs that required me to wait on people.  It is not a gratifying experience.  Sometimes I wanted to say, “Here is your crap, please don’t come back!”  I never did; I always took the time to force a smile and say thank you. I got so good at the routine that I caught myself sending off my unwanted family guests in the same way I thanked the unwanted customers who left the store.

There was an old man who came to the gas station every morning at 4:30. I made his coffee and waited on him every day.  I thought he sat in that booth sleeping until his friends came in shortly after.  All the old men would drink coffee and share stories.  My shift ended at 7:00.  Every morning just before I closed my drawer, he paid for his breakfast and told me I was a good ole’ girl or told me how good the gravy was.  He always said something nice; he even commented on how well I had shined the floors!  I never thought much of it.  I always just thought he appreciated that I personally filled their cups instead of making them get up to get their own coffee.  It was a small thing.

Later I worked at a video counter in the local grocery store and missed the old men from the gas station.  One night my old man came in, and I waited on him and his granddaughter.  He had been left to babysit.  I helped them select a video, and as he was paying for it, he thanked me.  He had a genuine smile and kind eyes.  He patted my hand and told me he knew I was a nice girl.  It is a crazy thing that the way he said thank you to me just made my day even if the praise didn’t come from my boss.  I told him I just loved waiting on him and how nice he was.  He responded that it costs nothing to let someone know that they are doing a good job, but it could mean the world to the person doing the job.

I thought about him often and what he said.  I’ve had some of the worst jobs you could imagine, and I think about my co-workers at times, and how awful things are for them. I make it a point to say thank you when someone helps me, to take that extra moment to let them know I appreciate them.

It only takes a moment, and it may be the only kind word that person hears all day.  If we all just take a moment to offer a word of encouragement or take a moment to simply be kind, we could all make a world of difference in how someone’s day goes. I never knew that old man’s name, and he never called me by my name, but I think about him because he was so nice, and his extra words of encouragement made my day nearly every day.

gratitude

The golden ticket essay

*One of my students, Jared Tickner, in Comp II this semester gave me permission to share this essay with all of you. This is his first essay for the semester; I read it after reading a stack of other essays that were good essays but didn’t quite measure up in one way or another. Some of the essays contained interesting content and fit the assignment criteria (write a 2-3 page essay explaining your core beliefs and how those beliefs impact your daily choices) but fell short in the grammar, style, and mechanics departments, or were more polished grammatically but somewhat boring or unorganized. I kept looking for my “golden ticket” essay–a real winner in each category. 

Then I read the opening line of Jared’s essay. I was hooked. I literally stepped out into the hallway and did a happy dance and announced that I’d found my golden ticket. I’m sure my fellow faculty members were thrilled by my discovery :). The essay isn’t flawless, but it’s beautifully written and impacted me upon reading it. 

Thankfully Jared agreed to allow me to share this essay with all of you. Thank you, Jared, for your honesty and the sharing of your gift of writing. As my former professor (and wonderful poet), Andrea Hollander, used to always say, “Keep writing!”

 

I saw my first murder when I was four years old. I don’t remember much about my childhood, but I remember that. I grew up in a town of 100,000 people in central California. My family tree is not one that would be considered ideal. I come from a long line of addicts and abusers. I am the only male in my immediate family who has not been to prison; therefore, I never had any good examples when I was growing up. I did, however, have plenty of bad examples. I never noticed just how abnormal my life was when I was a child. I never expected or strived to be different from anybody else, but what I’ve come to understand is that I am not ashamed by anything that I have done or anything that I have been witness to. The events of my past have shaped me into the man who I am today. I am not proud of some of the things that I have done in order to survive, but I am not ashamed of any of my actions either. I was physically abused by my father, and I watched my brothers quite literally attempt to kill each other.

I was fifteen years old the first time that I realized that I was destined to be a failure in life. My father had come to visit me for the first time in five years (he had been in prison). I was excited because I was old enough to attempt to get into his head and try to understand why he made the decisions that he had. I had gone through a multitude of questions that day while I was waiting for him to come over. When he finally showed up, he said hello to me and then ignored me for the rest of the time that he was there. My father chose to sit outside with my half-brother and talk to him. I could not understand why he didn’t want me, why he chose my brother who wasn’t even his biological son. I had never felt more unimportant in my life, and it made me angry. I decided on that day that I was going to accomplish everything in life that he wanted and failed at. That was the day that I began to live my life for all of the wrong reasons. That was the day that I chose to let my inner rage control me, instead of me controlling my inner rage.

In November of 2005, I lost my ability to know love. That month, my grandmother died, and I felt my sense of normalcy die with her. My grandmother is the women who truly raised me. I lived with my mother, but I spent all day with my grandmother. My brother was born with a very rare bone disease in his left leg, and he had to have it amputated when he was eight years old. My mother spent the majority of her time in San Francisco with him. When she wasn’t at the hospital with him, she was at work. When my brother was a teenager and into his early twenties, he made life hell for all of us. He had been addicted to morphine since he was eight years old and spent the majority of his time fighting, drinking, doing drugs or stealing my mother’s car. Due to his misgivings, he received all of the attention which I perceived as love. The only person who ever showed me unconditional love was my grandmother, and once she passed away, I felt alone. At this point, I felt wronged by my family. I had never been in trouble; I had never done a fifth of the things my brothers did, and yet all of the love went to them. I now understand that my mother did the best she could, but at that time, it just made me hate the world. My trust issues come from this time in my life. I felt that I couldn’t trust those closest to me because I was not appreciated. I had nobody left to turn to for help, so I turned to prescription pills.

Being addicted to pain pills is what changed my life. I was numbed to all of the outside world. I did not care about anything, and it was amazing. All of that changed on January 9, 2008. My fiancé at the time left me and took my one year-old son across the country. It was the first time I openly wept since I was a toddler. As my depression grew, I sank deeper and deeper into my vice until one day I put a loaded nine millimeter pistol into my mouth and pulled the trigger.

It did not fire. Something greater kept me alive that day, and I started to realize that I have a purpose in this life. I dropped the gun and cried even harder. I then looked in the mirror and decided I was no longer going to accept the stigma that comes with my last name. I stopped taking the pills, I stopped drowning in self-pity, and I started looking for my purpose in life. The thing I believe in is that nothing can guide me down a path that I don’t want to walk. I am the creator of my own destiny, and I refuse to accept anything but redemption and success.

The most influential and guiding force in my life is my past. I am now able to reflect on the way I grew up and let all of the hate go. I am a better man than my father, and I have the ability to raise my children to better understand their emotions. My goal in life is to give my children every opportunity I had to sacrifice for. They will not grow up in a home where they are scared to go to sleep at night. My greatest fear is that my children will grow to be like me and not want to look at themselves in the mirror. That is a fear that will not come to fruition. I am no longer going to be part of a broken chain. I am starting a new chain with my family, and I will be the strongest link. I will raise my children to be confident and curious.

They will be loved, and they will know it.

–By Jared Tickner