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.

 

#firstworldprobs

One in 10 children lives in a country or region defined by armed conflict. This means about 230 million children grow up in the midst of war and serious conflict, according to the 2015 UNICEF Report. Many of these children experience bomb attacks in their schools and homes. Many of them are kidnapped, raped, sexually abused, recruited as soldiers before the age of 12, if they’re not killed. MANY of 230 million children live this way.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

From 2013-2015, at least 70,000 children were born on the floors of refugee camps. These floors are typically dirt floors.

In 1993, the UN General Assembly declared an elimination of violence against women and created an action plan. 20+ years later, one in three women still experience physical or sexual violence.

At least 200 million women and girls have experienced female genital mutilation in 30 countries, most of them experiencing infection as a result. Almost all experienced this mutilation before the age of 5.

As of 2012, according to UNICEF, 2 million children were subjected to prostitution in the global commercial sex trade. It is estimated that 600,000 to 800,000 women, children, and men are bought and sold across international borders every year and are exploited for forced labor or commercial sex (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime).

I don’t always get what I want in life. My life has not always been a cake walk. Yet when I reflect on the reality of the world around me—the WORLD around me—it helps me regain a realistic perspective.

I don’t know why, but I have nothing but #firstworldproblems.

God forbid I ever forget that and unjustly spend my time focusing on or whining about problems—including politics in this relatively peaceful country of mine–which are not really problems at all.

 

Dear Nana

Today’s post is by one of my male students who prefers to remain anonymous. 

Dear Nana,

I know I am not the best at showing appreciation to you, but during this time of year thankfulness is a common subject that comes up.  I want you to know that I am very thankful for you.  You have always been there for me.  You have always made sure that I have had everything I need.

I am thankful I got to spend the first four years of my life with you before starting to school.  Not having to go to a babysitter while my parents worked was pretty awesome.  I also enjoyed the camping trips we would go on during the 4th of July.  You were pretty good at making worm beds so my brother and I could go fishing together.

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Photo courtesy of Pexels

You are also a very good cook.  You make the best banana pudding, from scratch, just the way I like it.  I am also thankful for your ability to sew.  You have patched a few knees for me over the years and have sewn a number of patches onto my letterman’s jacket.  We all know my mom can’t sew, and it would have never been done without you.

I also enjoyed all the family time we got to spend together at your house.  You have always opened up your house to others.  You have accepted my friends and treated them just like they were your own grandkids.

Recently, you purchased a camper for me to stay close to my college so I would not have to drive three hours a day.  I really appreciate that you didn’t get mad when I decided living alone was not for me, and we brought the camper back home.  I found driving easier than loneliness.

I am also thankful for your general knowledge of “life.”  You always have good advice to give, even when I didn’t think I needed any.  I have found in the end, Nana is always right!

Thank you for being my Nana!

Love,

Your grandson

A letter to my wife

Today’s post is written by one of my students, Roy Meisinger, as a token of appreciation to his wife. 

Dear wife,

I would like to take the time to tell you how thankful I am that God chose you to be my wife. I think sometimes I take you for granted, but truthfully you do and have done so much. I am thankful about how supportive you have been especially in the last five months. Being laid-off caused big changes, and you have tried so hard to be positive about it all. Not only am I thankful for being supportive of me through though times, but I also appreciate how much you do for our children.

image1-1It takes a lot to raise our kids. Practices, art classes, and modeling is a lot for one person to run around to and from constantly. Yet you do it each week and have shown me in the last five months that though it is exhausting, it is also worth it. Allowing our children to do all these different things will better them in the long run. Sometimes I wonder why you push yourself to let them do so much, but you are letting them do what they love. I know as their father I have agreed to let them do everything as well. What I did not realize at the time of these decisions is that school was going to keep me from helping with it all. You have taken on the challenge, though, and I could not be more thankful. It is hard to understand what all it takes to care for a house and kids. The time I have been home these last months have shown me how much work it actually takes. It truly makes me more grateful for you each day.

You did not stop with just me and the kids though. This semester while I had class, you took on Wednesday nights with the youth. I am so thankful that you are ready to step up while I go to school in hope of bettering our future. You have done a great job with teaching them. If I am completely honest, it is not just Wednesday nights that you have helped me. You have been such a huge help with the youth over the last year. From scheduling every event to just adding your thoughts during a lesson, you have helped me do the best for them all.

This is not just for brownie points; I am seriously most grateful for you. Supportive of me, a great mother to our children, and an awesome youth minister’s wife, I am thankful that God sent you to me. I look forward to many more years and many more reasons to be thankful.

” I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy.” Philippians 1:3-4 (ESV)

Love,

Your Husband

Dear Kai

Today’s post is written by my student, Katrina King. As a mother, I can relate to the love and pride she expresses for her daughter in this letter. I hope to write a letter like this to Maggie someday.

Dear Kai

Hey girl, so I got an assignment in my Comp class, and I think it is the best assignment yet, in my opinion of course. We were given an assignment to write a letter telling someone how thankful we are to have them in our life (on the topic of gratitude). I feel really comfortable writing this because I knew  before I finished reading the assignment that I would be writing about you.

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Katrina’s daughter, Kai

I know that I am your mother, and we will always have that special bond that so few share and so many others could relate to, but not many know what we have gone through just this fall semester. You had a full course load with 14 hours, me working two jobs, taking my first online course and attending an in-class lecture so I can finally finish school. To say it has been tough is most definitely an understatement.

I appreciate how hard you worked to try to maintain a good GPA in a very unfamiliar territory. I know you have had your struggles; I couldn’t imagine some of the fears you may have faced, especially since you are a deaf child, leaving your mark in a hearing world, a world that does not always understand you. You are doing your best to have your voice heard. You have helped me with getting your brother back and forth to school–practice, tutoring, feeding him–the whole nine, while I work some crazy hours, and you have done it all with a smile and not too many complaints.

Your grace and beauty defines the way a young lady should act and carry herself. I am so proud of you. I am thankful the Lord saw fit to pair us up to do this life together. There will never be enough words to tell you how truly grateful I am to have you as my daughter, and I thank you for being a positive role model to not only your brother but to others who cross your path as well. I pray you continue to strive for greatness; your hard work will not go unnoticed at times when you think you just can not go any further or things start to get rougher than you had hoped. Just know that you have not come this far to turn back.

I love you to the moon and stars and back.

Mom

 

To my loving husband

Today’s blog post is by my student, Ladonna Williams, as part of a brief writing assignment celebrating her marriage.

To my loving husband:

I want you to know that you have been a great inspiration in my life. Putting our friendship with love, we created our marriage. You accepted life’s responsibility and turned it into a blessing.

img_1345There are great benefits of being your wife, including unconditional love. We look upon ourselves as under no obligation. Being your wife has been amazing. Not because of the things that you do for me, and not even because of how much love you have for our family. Just because you are someone special. I am so thankful for the little things that I may have taken for granted. Washing dishes, grocery shopping, and even taking care of me on my late nights. Those days when I didn’t say thank you, count it to my mind not my heart.

I strive to have a heart as big and warm as the one that you share with me. I value the kind heart that has brought sunshine to my life. I thank you for the love and kindness you share with me on a daily basis. I thank you for being my umbrella on the rainy days. When you felt as if I weren’t happy, there was joy pulled from within your heart to share with your wife. I thank you for the encouraging words when situations got a little hard for me. Always there to keep pushing me to the next step in life.

I can’t express enough of how special I feel to get to spend my life with someone as great as you. Someone who always has the next person’s concern on their mind. Standing there ready to do your best to brighten up their day. I thank you for sharing your love with people who may need a kind word. I want you to know I am always grateful for the things  you share. I love you!

-Ladonna

 

Oh, to be thankful!

Big thanks to my lifelong best friend, MeLissa Massey Horseman, for making gratitude a family affair. I love you, MeLissa.

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Dailen (9 ½) – I’m thankful for a house, my family, and myself.  I feel that thankfulness means you are appreciative and have a good attitude about stuff people give you.

 

Lexa (8) – I’m thankful for a roof over my head to keep rain, snow, hail, thunder, lightning, and wind off my head.  I’m thankful for my dad and mom who take care of me when I am sick, cold, or hot.  I’m thankful for my brother and sister because they play with me.  Thankful means you are thankful for something like your clothes or you are thankful for something your mom and dad gives you like maybe a bowl of ice cream.  Well, thank you for listening to me.  Love, Lexa

 

Lydia (3 ½) – Thankful for Momma, Daddy, music, milk, tea set, (I think we were looking at what was on the kitchen table when we answered, lol), swimming with Daddy, making creative art with Mommy, playing school with Sister, playing puppy with Brother, and that God is strong.   Being thankful is loving all around us.

 

I asked my three kids to tell me a couple of things they are thankful for and what they think thankfulness means.  I transcribed my older kids’ answers from what they wrote and interpreted the response of my youngest.  I like that my oldest said to be appreciative.  I like that my middle child is so specific and fun.  I like that my littlest is in the present and happy for the simple things.

Sometimes it is so hard to be thankful.  I am thankful every day because I know we are spoiled.  Our needs are met, and we are healthy.  However, I don’t know that I am truly grateful.  I mean, at the end of that day when I am a frazzled mess, I don’t stop and think, I have a home, family, running water, and ice cream.  I get short with the kids because they weren’t getting their bedtime stuff done.  I get irritated with my husband because he half cleaned up the kitchen.  I’m mad we didn’t read Bible stories before bed, again.  I worry if my back will have issues tomorrow and when will my shoulder feel better and if I will write that piece for my best friend’s gratitude blog like I said I would.

As I lay pondering the day after everyone is asleep, I think, tomorrow. Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow I will not be a stress ball by evening.  Well, that may be a lofty goal but today, I will put more effort into slowing down and being thankful.  I love fall.  It is my favorite season.  I love cool weather, pumpkin spice, peppermint, and cozy sweaters.  As I was walking my kids to their bus stop this morning, the fall colored trees seemed especially stunning with the sun shining down on them.  My kids are like trees with God’s love and mine shining down on them.  They are constantly growing and changing like the beautiful autumn leaves and there are times I am not thankful for that process.  Sometimes I am selfish and want them to stay little and innocent, and sometimes I am so stressed with life I don’t make time to watch the process.  I can get tired of hearing people say, ‘enjoy the moment, they grow up fast,’ and ‘you’ll miss it all when their gone.’ In the midst of clutter and sassy attitude, I want everything to be organized and polite.  However, I do need to be more thankful of the everyday memories.

20161114_073150This morning I took a picture of the gorgeous trees.  I took time to document that my son wrote his name in cursive and be thankful that he is growing up.  I am thankful I have a patient God.  He may be frustrated that I don’t put the time and energy into Him that he most certainly deserves, but He still loves me.  I am thankful for my husband who works hard at his job and strives to protect and defend me and our three children.  I am thankful for my son who is so smart with school and still loves to cuddle with me.  I am thankful for my older daughter who is a silly spark of individuality and a sensitive spirit.  I am thankful for my younger daughter who is a fun little monkey and keeps me smiling with admiration and amazement.  Being thankful is slowing down and truly appreciating life in big and small ways.  It doesn’t have to be so hard. I may have a few, ‘Today is the Day’ days, but that’s okay because I am thankful I can try again.