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.

Family

*Today’s post is written by friend and frequent contributor Debra Dickey. Debra is like family to me! Thank you, Debra, for sticking by me all these years closer than a sister.*

Last evening, I had the rare and lovely opportunity to get together with my favorite great-aunt and one of my delightful cousins over dinner, combined with a wonderful two hour visit.  O????????ur conversation of course began with checking on everyone’s children, asking about their lives and their jobs, bragging over their one great-grandchild, all interspersed with comedic tales of my aunt’s recent surprise birthday card party.

We commiserated and laughed and recounted memories of times, family, and events past.  We recalled fun visits at each other’s homes, vegetable canning stories, traveling up north together with the eight of us in one car–what a hoot!–and our recollections of that summer trip.  We had an emotional conversation about two of the brothers of that generation being part of two wars, our losing one to his war, and the other coming home to live with a devastation that would plague him throughout his life.

We talked about the love that is very visible in our families, and the integrity that abounds within our heritage.  We chuckled over early reputations that came from hard-scrabble upbringings and a rough living that made those good folks as we came to know them, who they were, and how those enigmatic layers added character and such great stories to our family tree, and how truly proud we are to be a part of this renowned family lineage.

We caught up on recent news being celebrated and current situations troubling us, and we ambled back in time with ‘dating’ stories and ‘movie star’ photographs that we love.  As our thoughts understandably turned to our mutual appreciations regarding our families, time and distance just slipped away as if we were all standing at the same point in our lives if only for a moment.  Extraordinary.

Our family can create these moments.  Our family has history.  People in our family take time to share these stories that we pass around.  They remind us of the legacies that we connect with, the ancestries that we define ourselves with, and the shared roots that are the light of our heritance.  Heirlooms of kinship.

As we ended our evening, we were reluctant to go — promising to do it again soon, but not quite knowing when soon may come.

I had such a wonderful time that I could hardly fall asleep. These are people of my heart and my soul, and getting to spend time with them is a bona fide adrenaline rush!  Like all of us sharing the same skin for a while in an exquisite timepiece connection.  Beautiful.

Fun times, fun people, fun family!  All of which I always look forward to, and none of which I would trade for anything.

Day 20: Dear Grandma

*Today, we have the pleasure of reading a post from fellow blogger Mark Luker. Be sure to check out Mark’s blog!*

Grandma,

Mark Luker grandmaThis is a letter I should have sent you a long, long, time ago, and even though you can no longer remember your life, or who I am, and you can’t even read anymore, I still feel a need to write it because I want to thank you. But in saying thanks to you, I will also be thanking God for your presence in our lives. I want to say thank you for being in my life, for taking care of us kids when our mother couldn’t. I thank you for being willing to be my father and mother – it must have been so hard to do, and I know I didn’t make it easy for you either.

I thank you for always managing to provide wonderful food on the table and for patching up my jeans and making those hand me down clothes somehow fit and look nice. I was too young to notice that you really didn’t have the means to feed us – and I was really too young to see how you trusted God to provide! But I guess I learned how to trust God from your example even though I didn’t know it.

I want to thank you for sacrificing your life, your wants and needs, at a time when you should have been retired and enjoying us like “normal” grandmothers would – from a distance. I am so thankful you never let there be a distance between you and us kids. I need to thank you for each instance when you gave away your own life so that you could care for ours. I need to thank you for not only caring for our physical needs, but also for keeping us focused on God.

You tried so hard to protect us from this world and I was so selfish; I thought you were just being mean. I’m sorry that when it came time for going to church, I was more like Tom Sawyer and gave you so much grief. I am so sorry I forced you to use that willow switch on me, because I know now that it really did hurt you more than it hurt me. But I am so thankful you never gave up on me! I apologize for not taking church seriously at a time when you were trying to keep me before God. I wish you could know how important God is to me now and how he has redeemed me.

I thank you for literally saving my life when I was so close to death- oh I know that you have always said it was God who saved me – and I agree – except now I know that God chose you as an instrument to keep me in this world, and I am so thankful that you answered his call. I remember all those times when I tried to sneak out the front door with nothing but my t-shirt on, with sleeves rolled up like the “cool” kids. I could never quite get past your door, could I?

Looking back, I remember how you would say that you wanted me to remember that God saw me before anyone in the world did, and that was all that mattered. I want to thank you for teaching me things that I ended up using in raising my own daughter – except I haven’t been as good at it as you were. I wish you could see her today, Grandma – using the very same things you taught me as she serves God herself. I see a lot of you and hear you speaking to me at church when I see her.

I thank you, Grandma, for showing us what serving God really means. I want you to know that all those times of struggling were not in vain. I need you to know that you can rest now from all the time you’ve spent in this world. Please know that you have served us well; now it’s time for you to have peace and look forward to going home. I know God is going to reward you in heaven for all the great work you have done on earth!

I love you.

Godmothers

Godmother

Henry with his godmother and mother after his christening

*Thank you, Henry Petty, for serving as today’s guest contributor!”

My Godmother, Dr. Estrella Aesjo, had a major influence on me and my cousin (her daughter).  She is a pediatrician in Southern California, but she exhibited such warmth and kindness that it resonated in my being.  Like myself, she is also Filipino.  I guess us Filipinos are made that way.  I also have her to thank for having me Christened and Baptized as a Catholic.  While It took 31 years to fulfill the requirements to become fully Catholic, I thank her for influencing my grandma, who was predominantly Baptist, to go the Catholic way.  Not knocking Baptists, but it means a lot that she had a vested interest in my faith as an infant.

While I write to her and my Godfather regularly, and she has friended me on Facebook, I haven’t actually “spoken” with her since the last time I saw her when me and grandma visited there in 1992-3ish.  There was even a time when I almost was adopted by her, but luckily it never came to that.  I must believe that if I, God forbid, lost everything and had no place to turn, she would still take me in with open arms, or genuinely tell me,”You’re a grown A man – here’s the classifieds, you can crash here while you’re figuring that out.”

So let’s remember the moms around this time, of course, but also remember the other “mother figures” in our lives that aren’t just mommies by bloodline.

Day 12–Sensing

*Thanks to my friend Kristy Hutchinson for sharing today’s post. May all of us be granted the ability to find gratitude wherever we are today.*

I wasn’t there when he died. He sat on the couch, they say, choking and sputtering. He asked my mother and my aunt to go to the store to get him some decongestant. He asked for his brother. Then he couldn’t ask for anything.

I’m sorry I didn’t hear.

His daughters weren’t there when he died. They didn’t see him struggle for his last breath, didn’t hear him choking on his phlegm.  They couldn’t watch as the coroner closed his eyes and removed his body.

I wish I could have been there, to hold his hand and hear his straggling breath, to tell him I would be better, that I would learn from his mistakes, that I would succeed, that I would make him proud, fall in love, and die someday, too. I wish I could have closed his tired eyes and died for a moment with him.

I’m sorry I didn’t see.

How many times have you suddenly lost the ability to use one of your five senses? Whether it be out of convenience or out of sheer over abundance of sensitivity, we just don’t use our God-given tools to observe and experience life.  Think of how much we could learn by watching, hearing, feeling life if we could just take the moment to do it.

I have been a smoker for the better part of sixteen years. The story I told above is true. My grandfather died of Emphysema in our living room, days after I had returned to Lyon to complete my Senior year. I lived with him for an entire semester.  We were roommates, and he swallowed morphine every night to go to sleep, hacking and coughing the whole way.

Yet, I didn’t see him struggle to do everyday things.  I did, but I wouldn’t absorb it, believe that I too one day wouldn’t be able to take a shower on my own, use the bathroom, or get dressed. I let the things I saw pass by without taking stock in them, without really seeing.

I work in an office in which I routinely ask for someone’s first name. Over half of the time I usually get “Joe Smith,” the person spitting out their first and last name before I can protest. Or I ask for an email address and get a street address, et cetera.

The above examples are trivial, but you get the point.  So much of our lives we experience on auto-pilot. We go about our days ( or at least some of you may) in a bit of a self-absorbed fog, where we sit in a drive thru, not listening to the song playing on the radio, not listening to the operator taking your order and not listening to the person on the other end of the cell phone dangling from your ear.

Next time you think about it, just stop everything you can, just for a moment, and think about what our senses are meant to do. We as a species must evolve, adapt, learn and change to survive. If we can’t bring ourselves to learn from the mistakes of others, if we can’t stop and feel a little pain, we won’t learn, we won’t adapt, we will become stagnant and fail.

I wish I could have been present for his death, but even more, for his life. Now, if I try to recall his struggle, the memories are faint and fleeting. For nine days now, I have tried to remember, to realize that I, too, would one day hack and cough, be unable to breathe, need someone to tie my shoes if I were to continue to smoke. For nine days now, I have tried to use my senses to absorb as much of this bittersweet, enrapturing, miracle called life. And for this, I am grateful.