Say yes

I found myself whispering, too, even though I wasn’t the one hiding in a closet while a drunken man beat on the door.

“Bridgett, it’s okay. You’ll be okay. You do not have to answer that door. DO NOT answer the door, okay?”

Bridgett cried snotty tears on the other end of the phone.

“But why won’t Tim just wake up? I don’t want to be here! I don’t want to be here!”

At fourteen years-old, I felt helpless to rescue the nine year-old little girl whose alcoholic stepfather had passed out on the couch. His friend knew she was inside the trailer and seemed determined to enter the home. I may not have been old enough to understand everything, but I knew enough to know something was sinister; when a child expresses that level of fear, reality lives in it.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

So I just talked to her, sitting in the hallway of my parents’ home, cradling the old white phone—yes, attached to a cord, which was attached to the wall. In the middle of July, my parents were working, and without transportation, I couldn’t physically rescue her. But I could make her feel a little less alone and give her the option of not answering the door that day.

Ten years later, I worked for a TRiO program at a private liberal arts college. My job included helping underprivileged high school students excel academically and prepare for college. I supervised tutors, coordinated records with high school counselors, taught summer courses in writing, literature, and ACT prep material, and much more. I didn’t go to work expecting a student to disclose his homosexuality to me (he’d never disclosed it to anyone else before).

Jon, an attractive young man, sauntered into my office on a hot June afternoon.

“Miss Bethany, I’m pretty sure I’m gay.”

Deep breathing. Lots of deep breathing. A very beloved friend in college had chosen me to disclose similar information during college, and I’d blown it. I mean, I had ROYALLY blown it and had responded terribly, making a joke of the entire situation because I felt uncomfortable. I always wished I could go back in time to respond differently; I just didn’t know any better at age 18. This was clearly God offering me a chance for redemption.

“Oh, Jon, that’s a major thing. Have you told other people? Do your parents know?” The kid was only 16.

“No. No one knows except my… well, sort of my boyfriend.”

More deep breathing. Trying to do the deep breathing without looking like Kristin Wiig on Saturday Night Live.

“Okay. I’m glad you told me. Do you need to talk about it?”

The lock on the floodgates broke wide open. I listened to his story for about 30 minutes. At the end of his story, I referred him to the counseling coordinator. When he left my office, I felt spent and grateful.

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Toga party for Oral Communication, 2015

Fast forward another decade. While teaching college as an adjunct English instructor, I discovered students feel more safe writing out their secret horrors, traumas, and worries than they do talking about them (try encouraging a college student to schedule an appointment with a paid professional counselor or student services worker and check out the non-verbal response). And what do I teach? English composition and oral communication courses.

Since 2013, I’ve been gasping, crying, and praying while grading certain essays—and not just due to poor grammar and mechanics.

In 2014, I taught Esther, a beautiful non-traditional student. She worked odd jobs to support her children and family. After the semester ended, we kept in touch. She stopped by periodically with books for my daughter, cookies or other baked treats, and cards. She couldn’t afford these gifts, yet she gave anyway. Recently, her dream man (boyfriend) became abusive within their relationship.

“Miss Bethany, I just want you to know you were right… I love you, and I want you to know I’m taking care of myself.”

I shared my experience, strength, and hope with her and suggested options for self-care and protection.

“Esther, no matter what you do, I will always be here for you and love you.”

I could fill an entire book with stories like these (with names changed, of course).

I read an article recently about keeping the awe in our lives. I don’t know how to get rid of it because God keeps using me. God never stops tapping on my shoulder and whispering in my ear.

“Right here.”

Every time, I’m blown away. I absolutely can’t breathe for at least a moment because I recognize if I move when He says move, something miraculous happens. What will it be? I don’t know! It’s a mystery. I love it. I just take action—which many times redeems my own past—and God fits me into a gigantic unfinished puzzle.

Let me never say no. Please God, let me say yes. Let me never refuse the opportunity to use whatever You have given me to help someone in need. Let my gratitude for my own redemption fuel me when I feel afraid, hesitant, or greedy.

 

Why gratitude?

I asked my Composition II students to write a brief essay explaining their motives for expressing gratitude and offering at least one example of a moment when gratitude was expressed to them or when they chose to express gratitude to someone else. This essay was written by my student Jessica Whitmire, who is always smiling. Students like Jessica make my job lighter and brighter!

My family has always instilled in me the concept of treating others the way I want to be treated. Generally speaking, if we are kind to others they will, in return, be kind to us. At times this does not always happen, but that cannot be helped.  The Bible tells us to help those who are less fortunate. I believe that it is my responsibility as a Christian to help others when it is needed. I know that at times I have needed a helping hand or encouragement, and there has been someone there for me.

FullSizeRender-2My Granddad passed away two years ago but was in the hospital for two weeks before he passed, and the amount of love that was poured out on my family was immeasurable. People sent food and cards, constantly for those two weeks he was in the hospital and the week following his death. They came by the hospital and prayed with us and so much more. Without all the love and support I do not know if I would have ever made it through that difficult time. From that moment I knew that I needed to repay all the generosity and love that was given to me and my family.FullSizeRender

I feel that if everyone worked together and lifted each other up instead of tearing each other down, our country would be a much better place. There is too much hate and not enough love. Everyone has the ability to make a difference, and no act of kindness is too small or insignificant.

Being the dish

Giving back, paying it forward, passing it on. . .  these are concepts I live by—partly because other people have done these kind of good deeds for me and to me.

With two of my favorite do-gooders at my baby shower, 2012

With two of my favorite do-gooders at my baby shower, 2012

A friend and mentor of mine once gave me her family’s tax refund to help pay for a mission trip overseas. Their donation funded more than half of the expensive adventure. Countless times, good friends and coworkers have bought me lunch when I couldn’t have otherwise afforded to join them. When I was in third grade, my Sunday School teacher funded gymnastics lessons, a gift that led to the development of my favorite pastime and some of my greatest childhood memories and lessons learned. My gym coach lowered his rates for my parents, allowing me to compete in the sport. When I was going through a divorce and needed temporary housing, two of my friends allowed me a peaceful, quiet break from the chaos, along with plenty of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Texas soup.

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With my mentor, October 2013

I’ve been given other gifts that have nothing to do with finances, too. Many of my mom friends have prayed for Maggie and for me, encouraged me, and mailed us packages of beautiful tiny clothing, toys, books. My boss generously mentored me through the entire fall semester, answering emails, fielding questions, and sharing handouts with not even a hint of annoyance. My mentor in recovery has listened to me, mentored me, and guided me as I took her advice (or didn’t) over the past six and a half years. In college, one of my professors offered to host a few eager students at his house weekly for a Bible study on the topic of love; it changed my perceptions permanently. Many of my friends have trekked into the woods to visit me since having Maggie, making it possible for us to continue to connect in spite of my temperamental little traveler.

This fall, a friend of mine handed me four Wal-Mart gift cards worth $50 each. She explained that a friend of hers, who preferred to remain anonymous, had given her the cards to give to someone else who could pass them on to people in need. Instantly, I thought of two friends—one was caring for three foster children with no financial reimbursement, and the other was in the midst of multiple surgeries, mounting medical bills, broken appliances, and a car on its last leg.

I was so grateful for the chance to pass on the good will of someone I had never met. I was especially grateful for the timing. I’d felt compelled to help these two people, but since it was a lean time of the year for us financially, I didn’t have the means. This anonymous do-gooder did for me what I could not do for myself.

039This is the nature of God. He is always doing for me what I cannot do for myself. Giving to me when I don’t even know what I need and allowing me to extend the same blessing to others, even when my hands and wallet are empty.

Empty hands aren’t such a bad thing. I open them up, and God fills them. I give the blessings away, and I open them up again.

My God has an endless supply of goodness—I’m thankful that He lets me be the dish He uses to dose it out to His other children.

Day 23: Dear Stick

*Today’s post on day 23 of the Dear Gratitude project is written by Toi Thomas, a talented writer and fellow blogger.*

Dear Stick,

Hey man, we been friends a long time, and I just wanted to let you know that I’m glad. I mean, I’m glad that I’ve had a chance to be your friend. When I look back and think about how rocky things started out for us, it makes me laugh, but hey, you were there; you know what I’m talk’n bout.

For more than ten years now we’ve been hanging out and talk’n bout movies, especially the weird ones that none of our other friends or family seem to like or get. We been talk’n bout comic books and action figures, which seems to only become cool recently thanks to The Big Bang Theory, but we were already cool long before that. And now, even our days of vinyl hunting don’t seem so magical now that “Vinyl is back with a vengeances,” but it hasn’t stopped us from growing our collection anyway.

What else can I say man; it’s been really cool having you around for all these years. I hope to continue hanging out with you for many more.

Dear Eric,

Toi and husbandIt’s been so long since I’ve taken the time to let you know how blessed I am to have met you. I remember how much I used to be so annoyed by you and all your “cool” friends, but then one day… you were mine. I know how it happened, I was there, but it still seems so unbelievably amazing to me.

From the beginning, you have showered me with: food, laughter, culture, affection, attention, understanding, acceptance, and most of all, love. You see beauty in me when I don’t see it in myself, and you make others view me the way you do. I could be happy to sit alone with you in a room for days, but you won’t let me. You give me strength to go out into the world and interact with people. You make me look and feel good in so many ways. It’s the way you build me up and make others take notice of me when they normally wouldn’t; thank you for that.

Thank you for being with me through those years of maturing. I’ve shared so much with you, so much more than I ever have or will with anyone else. Mind, body, and soul, I am a strong and fulfilled woman for so many reasons, but one of the major ones is you. Everything I know about intimacy, respect in a relationship, and how to really “be” with someone, I’ve learned from loving you.

Every morning when I wake up, I’m glad to see your face, and every day when I come home, I look forward to your kiss. I hope this never ends. I hope to wake up next to you until the end of time.

Mr. Thomas,

If gratitude could be measured, or perhaps weighed, you’d find yourself only yards from Heaven and showered in gold. For everything you do for me I’d give you a gold coin, and for every sacrifice you make for me, you’d be catapulted that much closer Eternal Peace.

But let’s be practical about this, Mr. Thomas. One cannot do these things, but one can proclaim, acknowledge, and praise where praise is due. You turned your life over and accepted the mantle of husband, and a man of God, and far exceeded my expectations. You are not perfect, but:

You always take out the trash and attend to the yard when it’s needed.

You’re not a slob, and even if you were, you’d feel bad about it.

You actually look forward to spending time with me and talking with me.

You like to share life and daily experiences with me, from all those times you and I can’t be together.

You help out around the house, especially with laundry.

You take care of all the car stuff between you and me.

You actually know me well enough to pick things out for me because I don’t like to shop, and you will even go out and get things for me.

You like me just the way I am even if I’m not the prettiest girl in the room, and you’re always trying to protect me because you think some weirdo is staring at me ( Sometimes I think you’re right).

You take care of me through all my ailments, and though it’s so much more than you had imagined, you show care and nurturing effortlessly.

You know how to make me smile when I get sad for no reason, and you stick with me through all my dark spells.

You believe in my dreams, even though you don’t always know how to say so.

You work two jobs to help make our lives together more comfortable while I pursue my dreams.

You are not a demanding and needy man, unless you fall ill, but who isn’t then?

While you love and enjoy spending time with your friends, you honestly proclaim that I am your best friend.

Mr. Thomas, you have proven yourself above and beyond to be a good husband. Your methods put forth to show me love and affection have been so catered to my needs and desires, that it seems you could not have been made to love anyone else. I do not believe there is an exact or accurate way to properly express the amount a gratitude I have for you.

I am truly a blessed woman.

Eric “Stick” Thomas, I love you dearly and am eternally grateful to have you in my life.

Your adoring friend, lover, and wife,

Toinette “Toi” Thomas

 

 

Gifts

*Special thanks to Debra Dickey-Liang for serving as today’s guest contributor!*

My Mom and Dad were always two of the hardest working people that I have ever known, and they taught their children those same work ethics. They also taught us honesty, integrity, strength of character, and what it means to be part of a family. They passed on their many gifts to us as their children. Yes, I was very lucky!

I recently came across this aphorism:  “The purpose of life is to discover your gift.  The meaning of life is to give your gift away.”  Wow!  That particular truth is mind-boggling.  Hey!  My parents did a great job!

ImageBecause our livelihood was farming, we didn’t take vacations.  But one summer when we were teenagers, my Dad surprisingly bought a boat and water skis!  Now, you would have to know my Dad to understand how completely out of character that was for him, (not to mention the expense) but let me tell you, we packed up the back of the truck many times with camping gear and cooking supplies, drove to the lake, and had a BLAST.  Only years later did I learn from my Mom that my Dad had just decided that that would be a great way for us as a family to do something fun together. Isn’t that amazing?  Gifts. 

As the oldest in a large enough brood, I helped look after, take care of, and was counted on for almost every aspect of our family life.  So whether by nature or nurture, my “gift” turned out to be caretaker.  (Look that up in your thesaurus sometime – the definitions are boundless!)  So yaaay!  I know what my gift is!  But wait!  I have only discovered half of the lesson . . . .

Hmm….a caretaker.  These are just a few of the interesting synonyms that my thesaurus mentions:  a person who maintains something, an interim, a guardian, an observer, a watch-keeper, a guide, a good listener (I just threw that one in there because it should be on the list).  Yes, those all fit nicely into what my life has been all about!  I like it.  But how do I, or have I, gone about giving my gift away?

Turns out, it was simple!  I became a Mom.  Yep, that’s all it took!  Not that my own children are the only beneficiaries of my gift, because I was already a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, an employee, and a responsible person, so interestingly enough, you will very often see me with a little buddy, seemingly drawn to me by some sort of predestined magnetism which I have learned to value and appreciate.  Mine truly is a gift, my gift, a gift that I wish to use wisely, remembering to cherish its meaningfulness and its worth from The Giver of All Gifts who saw fit to bestow it and grant me the opportunity of Service within it. 

*I’m grateful for my friend Debra for sharing her gifts with me as her friend–and thanks, Debra, for sharing your gift of writing with us.*

Brave enough

Special thanks to my friend and former co-worker Jonathan Weigt for serving as today’s guest writer.

So at 5:30 tonight, I was hungry and decided to go to Wendy’s on Broadway for a bite before a late meeting. I had been at school all day at the State Hospital and then worked a full day at HP. I ate, read and studied notes from school, and was closing my books to head to a meeting I was literally going to be a minute late for already when a homeless dude walked up to me and asked if I could give him money for dinner. At first I looked, and I had $2 that I offered him, but he says, “That isn’t enough”… so I said, “Good, I’ll buy you what you want for dinner. Let’s go get in line.”

As we are standing in line, of course I’m assessing this dude as is habit in school. Lethargic, slow cognition, smells of some chemical I’m not exactly familiar with… but good mood and happy to be getting something to eat. I mean… I guess you work with what you got for the day you know? Anyway, I’m asking him about his day, what he’s up to, where he is sleepin’, if he’s got a place to go…et al, and he orders 2 bowls of chili. I ask him if he wants fries, or something to drink, and he says “no…no…” and I tell him he needs to drink something… so I order him a large water. The bill was like $2.89 or something. I mean whatever…right? I actually think to myself I’m helping this guy for $2.89… Hmm… And then the strangest thing happens…a guy behind me in line, whom I hadn’t even noticed, taps me on the shoulder and says, “I got it.” I politely try not to accept his offer, but he waves me off and said, “No…I got it.”

So I’m wondering at this point who it was that I was intended to help…”Tony” the homeless hungry guy or the dude in line… guess it’s probably none of my business, huh universe? But glad I was brave enough to help.

Sometimes, all it takes is being brave enough. ~jw