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

Maggie’s first job

My daughter earned her first $1 bill today. Is that legal? Surely not. Well, it happened, nonetheless.

We enjoyed lunch after church at a local diner. Our waitress, a young, cheerful woman who told me she had a five year-old son, went out of her way to express kindness to my daughter, and I was thankful. She brought Maggie chips before our meals arrived. Any parent understands the magnitude of this gift (if this doesn’t happen, your child morphs into some sort of monster in 5.2 minutes). She entertained all of Maggie’s detailed questions patiently. Maggie enjoyed her gigantic flower-shaped pancake, coated in margarine and syrup, and had a grand old time. After the meal, the waitress jokingly asked Maggie if she wanted to help clear the table to help pay for the meal. And lo and behold, Maggie agreed to help.

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She jumped up from the table and followed the waitress around, asking what she could do to help. My mama heart burst with love and joy, watching my daughter serve. She didn’t expect anything in return—she genuinely wanted to clean, serve, and assist our waitress. Our waitress allowed her to help clear the table and then gave Maggie a $1 bill as a gift for helping out. Maggie thought she’d won the lottery and beamed from ear to ear with pride, clutching the money and her stuffed puppy dog, Homer, as we headed to the car, waving goodbye to our new waitress friend.

I remembered all the times that week I’ve felt grumpy and cantankerous about doing laundry, cleaning up after dinner, and loading and emptying the dishwasher. How many times had I begrudgingly washed my daughter’s hair or felt annoyed that I couldn’t enjoy my coffee alone in the afternoon? I specifically recalled feeling disgruntled about trying to hurriedly finish editing a presentation while Maggie attempted to crawl in my lap. And while I have to extend grace to myself–because parenting is difficult, and I am not perfect–I can also learn a lot if I watch my daughter closely. Maybe if I attempt to approach life with just a little bit more of her attitude of service, enthusiasm, and joy over what seem to be tiny moments, I’ll feel less overwhelmed, less disgruntled, and less annoyed when I’m juggling parenting, housekeeping, friending, and working. And maybe if I find pleasure right where I am, I’ll also feel a little less brokenhearted when she slams the car door and walks into school morning after morning, year after year, in just a few short months.

 

 

gratitude

Sitting comfortably: Gratitude & couches

Last night, my friend Janet and I shared our dreams with one another.

I’m not talking about lofty dreams about life goals. No. I’m talking about couches. Yes. Couches. #MomGoals

“I just want a deep, rich blue couch. I love blue. Royal blue, you know, and textures. Lots of textures.” I think Janet might have begun drooling at this point. Pretty sure.

“I’ve always wanted an emerald-green couch, like dark emerald green… Oh! There! That color right behind you on that metal wheel. That’s it!” I, too, salivated a little while sipping my 8 p.m. cup of coffee while sitting on Janet’s floral sofa. The same sofa cushion Janet admittedly accidentally scorched on her wood stove that very week after one of her children peed atop it.

Yeah. Our lives are super glam.

While we dreamed about couches, we both recognized that we lacked gratitude for our current couches. Sure, the couches are worn. Our children have peed on the cushions. Do you know how to remove urine from couch cushions? It isn’t easy, and honestly, the smell never fully dissipates. And milk? Same. Then there’s the glue, the markers, the Sharpies, for the love of parenting.

But at the end of the day, we both own two couches. We can sit on the couches and even sleep on them if we must. The couches serve a purpose, right? Yep. So even though we dream about luxe versions, we’re okay with what we have, ultimately.

Sometimes it helps to sound off to a friend. And sometimes it helps to have a friend remind you that she wants your worn floral sofa! Here’s a video capturing some of our conversation from last night.


If the video is not playing click here.

Maybe you can relate if you’re a mom struggling to get by with your crusty old couch for a few more years while your kids continue to trample over it. Or maybe you can relate because you don’t own a couch. You don’t own a home. You don’t even have a place to call home, and you’re reading this blog on a computer in the public library, wondering why this pretentious woman would ever find room to complain about a crusty old couch at all.

That’s exactly why I’m writing this blog. Because I need to remember to maintain perspective. What I have really is enough. It’s not enough for me to accept that “it is what it is.” I must sink into my couch, smell its stench, and remember that it stinks because we’ve lived here. WE LIVE here. And thank God for our lives.

And then, only then, can I live in contentment and peace. In gratitude.

gratitude

Teaching me to mother

Lizard,

205302_503087736842_9842_nThank you for breaking me in back when I turned 22. There was nothing Taylor Swift about it. Your dad and I tied the knot three weeks after I graduated from college and three weeks after my birthday, and I frantically searched for employment while serving as your stepmom. I felt like I was playing house sometimes, the way my sisters and I played Barbies as kids. Ken and Barbie smooch and hug and ride in the Barbie convertible, and then they get married, and they have a baby, and then what?

I learned the then what from you. No matter what obstacles your dad and I faced in our marriage, I always enjoyed being your stepmom. I loved taking you grocery shopping when you were five years old and answering your bazillion questions about produce and spaghetti and magazines. I obtained a great repertoire of bumblebee, elephant, and duck songs because of you. I got a big kick out of playing Tooth Fairy and helping you learn how to do backbends and make macaroni and cheese and use the washing machine and dryer. I remember the summer after second grade when I realized you lacked some important skills, and I decided to make it my mission to teach you to become more self-sufficient. You were so open to learning new things. I remember you telling your mom and Meme and Papaw about every new accomplishment over the phone, beaming with pride from ear to ear.

262960_519156345222_5013781_nYour willingness to learn never waned. We had The Talk in bits and pieces beginning at age five. I was always candid with you, telling you enough to satisfy your curiosity but not enough to bore you to tears. That strategy seemed to work. I also promised to tell you the truth no matter what, and I never wavered on that promise, and I still haven’t, even though we both know there have been some times when it would have been easier and softer if I’d lied. Because of your willingness to learn, and my willingness to be honest, we’ve made a pretty good team.

Fast forward to 2015. You’re finishing up your sophomore year of college, and I teach students the exact same age as you, my Lizard. Of course, I also teach non-traditional students, too.

Talk about having my life flash before my eyes at work every single day.

I see you in so many of my students. Here are a few examples.

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Hannah and Joey 

There’s Hannah, a beautiful spirit who is seriously perpetual sunshine to everyone who knows her. She reminds me of how I feel around you from the first minute you pull into my driveway until the minute you drive away.

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Nathan

There’s Nathan, a jokester on the outside with a serious interior he tries to disguise from his classmates most of the time—sound like anyone you know? This guy even donned a tutu once during a demonstration speech to help a fellow student out. I have proof of this beautiful moment :). I only taught him for one semester, but he was certainly one of the most memorable students I’ve ever taught.

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With LCreighton and Charmstrong

There are Charmstrong and Lcreighton, two little cuties I came to know outside of class before they became my students. They are both just adorbs (are you proud of me for using that term, Liz?) and often send me pictures of Edna Mode of The Incredibles, who they believe I emulate, in the middle of my lectures. They have filled a little bit of the Lizard void in my heart and life by walking with me to class and laughing with me and reminding me that I’m not THAT old.

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Crystal
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Sheila

There’s Crystal, who I have known for decades and had the pleasure to teach last fall. She has faced more than her share of obstacles but has chosen to become better, not bitter.

There’s Sheila, a non-traditional student who loves her family more than anything. She is also a total survivor and fighter. She has earned her spot in my heart and has proven herself to be hard-working and diligent even when it would have been easier to drop out of school. These are qualities I see in you, too, Liz.

11149462_10153220074068826_6559028102695630203_nAnd then there’s Lauren, who lost her lifelong love this semester. She is now raising their baby alone and is persevering against all odds. She’ll graduate in two days with honors. She will not allow others’ choices and tragedies to dictate the direction of her life.

And this, my Lizard, is what I hope for you, too.

With all that you have taught me about being a teacher, Liz, and with all that my students continually teach me about being a mom, I’m not sure why I’m being paid to teach. The least I can do is pour my very best self into my teaching, and offer my very best self to Maggie every day as her mom.

Happy Mother’s Day, Liz, to you and to all my babies.

gratitude

Being a mom: it’s hard, y’all

Today’s post is the first in what I hope to be a series of post by friends and guest contibutors on the topic of Mother’s Day and all things related. Big thanks to my guest writer today, blogger and former Arkansan Kambri Davidson, who now lives a more glamorous life with her husband Drew in New Orleans. Be sure to check out Kambri’s blog or follow her on Instagram @kambridavidson & @kambris_closet. 

NKL5I’ve wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. I’ve always daydreamed about holding babies, having toddlers running through my house, and hearing tiny mouths call me “Mom.” Now that I’m old enough and am in a position where children are actually a possibility for my husband and me, I’m absolutely terrified of raising children. I think a lot of people think being a mom is a lot easier than it actually is. I know I used to. My mom makes it look easy, but man, sometimes I don’t know how she does it.

NKL1Between my sister and me, my mom has had her hands beyond full. I went through a period when I never wanted to be around my mom. I was rude to her, ignored her, and used her only when I needed money or wanted her to buy me something. I honestly cannot imagine how badly I must have hurt her. Kids are mean. I was mean. And yet she still wanted to be my friend. She still loved me and cared for me.

NKL8A couple of years ago, my sister was having a really rough time. She was in an abusive relationship, an alcoholic, a heavy smoker, doing drugs, and wanted nothing to do with my mom, my dad, or me. I can remember where I was every time I got a phone call from one of my parents telling me that my sister was back in the hospital for overdosing. My feelings, these wounds she was creating, would callous and callous until I wanted nothing to do with her. I loved her, yes, but I hated everything she was doing and didn’t want her to communicate with me at all. I built up so much anger against her. My parents didn’t. My parents loved her, were there for her, forgave her, welcomed her, and encouraged her to get better.

3328I’m not telling you any of this to scare you. I’m telling you so you know a few of the obstacles my mom has had to put up with over the past 26 years. Regardless of the situation in front of her, she asks God for help. She leans on Him. She is kind, even when people are unkind to her. She listens, even when you don’t want to talk. She supports whatever decisions my sister and I make. THAT is why we love celebrating Mother’s Day; to celebrate my mom, Karen Grace Campbell, for every moment she has been there for her daughters, for showing us what a mother should be like.

NKL3So, happy Mother’s Day, Mom! I love you!

PS: My sister is now married to the love of her life and has been sober for over TWO YEARS! Jesus is good, y’all! Oh, also, I am no longer a jerk. My mom, my sister, and me are all BFF’s now!

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

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.