Dear Momma

This letter was written by Gabrielle Holmes, one of my students, as a tribute to her mother.

Dear Momma,

I want to let you know how thankful I am to still have you in my life considering all the obstacles we have faced in life. Since Pawpaw died, you have stepped up and really showed me there is life at the end of the tunnel.

mother-429157_1280I want to thank you, Momma, for helping me with my children even though I know it’s a hassle for you. I want to thank you, Momma, for always inviting me and the kids over for dinner even though you don’t have to. Thank you, Momma, for being my biggest fan through every single stage of my life. I just want you to know I couldn’t have ask for a better cheerleader.

Thank you for becoming my best friend and being my biggest confidant. You always answer your phone with the same friendly attitude every time I call no matter if I call ten times in a row. You have shown me how to respect people and treat everyone with kindness no mater what. You let me know it wasn’t okay to judge people at a young age, and I respect you for that.

You have been my rock through breakups, life decisions, and new chapters. Thank you for teaching me the importance of hard work and the importance of getting your education so  I can have something in life. You have always told me if I wanted something in life, I have to work for it. Thank you for making me independent and telling me to never rely on anyone. Every single day I become more confident in myself.

My hope this Christmas season is for you to find joy, peace, and happiness, and let’s not forget to still cook! I just want to say I love you and thank you for being my backbone.

-Gabrielle

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.

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!

Three lessons from my mother

Today’s post is written by one of my students, Jesse Shoemaker. Jesse wrote this essay in response to the prompt: Write about your mother or someone who has acted as a mother figure in your life. Describe this person and share at least three lessons you’ve learned from her.

Painting By Luplau Janssen

Painting By Luplau Janssen

My mother is a great influence in my life. She has always been there for me when I needed her to be. No matter what the circumstances might be, she always tries to find a way to fix my problem, even though I am resistant to the idea of help or advice.

My mother is a small woman. She has shoulder length hair that is coal black with heavy fades of brunette and blonde blended throughout. Her voice is slightly shrill considering she prefers to yell across the house to talk to someone rather than walk in the same room as they are and speak in a normal tone. Her eyes and mine are the same, heavy brown hazel that can change from green to brown to gold.

My mother loves to sing and dance. I remember as a child, when we would finish a movie as a family and the credits were rolling, she would jump up and grab my hands, pulling me off the couch and into a little dance we would go. She is so full of life.

When I was 11 years old, my mother was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a muscle disease, which later became neuropathy, a nerve disease. As I entered my teenage years, it seemed like she was at her worst. There were days that she could not get out of bed; most of the time she could not get around without the use of a walker, crutches, or a wheel chair. Even the softest touch from anyone could cause her to have an inflammation of tremendous pain. Even though she has endured so much pain on an everyday basis, my mother is still one of the sweetest ladies ever. I have had very few friends that dislike my mother, and the few who do just think she is too nice, and it freaks them out a bit.

One lesson I learned from my mother is to explore the world around me. When I was young and before she became sick, my mother would always take my sister and I on hiking trips, canoeing, or some other outdoor activity that we could do as a family. If it was not for my mother I would have never experienced the thrill of white water rafting or the rush of adrenaline I get when rock climbing.

The second lesson indirectly learned from my mother is to always let go of the past. When I was a teenager, and my mother was sick, my sister or I would have to stay home and take care of her while our step dad was working. Needless to say, I felt like part of my youth was taken away from me. I held a grudge for several years towards her, until finally we sat down and talked, and I finally vented what had been bothering me for so many years. It was as if a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I could finally see some happiness and joy coming back into my life.

The last lesson I learned from my mother is to never give up on yourself or your dreams. Like I mentioned earlier, she was very sick for several years; however, she never gave up on trying to get better. My mother overcame significant weight gain from her sickness and is now a little older woman who likes to dig in her garden and work on as many projects as she can. It is as if she is trying to make up for all the years of not being mobile enough to do the things in life she enjoys.

My mother is a great influence on me. She has taught me to explore the world around me. She always reminds me to let the past go and, most importantly, to never give up on myself. I cannot think of any better lessons a mother could teach her son.

My mother’s Bible

*Thank you, Lorie Mink, for sharing your reflections and gratitude in this post.*

While searching my closet for a pair of slippers, I came across my mother’s Bible. It’s been sitting on the shelf since we moved in the house three years ago. And I can’t remember the last time I opened it. Mama’s been gone for ten and a half years now, and it’s been almost that long since I took it out of its case and looked through it. So I did.

My mother’s Bible is a treasure trove of memories. There are pictures of the grandkids, notes from the grandkids and from her former Sunday School students, bits of paper with Bible verses written on them, even old letters from family stuffed in between the pages.

Even the cover, with her name pressed in faded gold lettering, holds memories. The corners are ragged and chewed on, thanks to a Maltese Poodle mix named Critter, who passed away at 13, just two short years after Mama died. Rubbing my fingers over the jagged edges immediately brought forth the memories of that dog, who Mama swore she didn’t care that much about but loved as much as I, sitting at her feet on the porch, head resting on her house-shoed foot, while she drank her morning coffee and read the Word of God each day.

Ribbons and bookmarks were placed here and there by highlighted bits of scripture that she felt were important to remember. Even Valentines and inspirational cards could be found.

My mother’s life is held in this Bible. The scriptures she liked and highlighted, the bits of paper she felt important to keep, even her driver’s license, birth certificate, and marriage certificate are nestled in the pages.

As I leafed through her Bible, I immediately felt connected to my mother again, as if she sat beside me telling me the stories of what each piece of paper and picture meant. As I read over the highlighted passages, I also felt my connection to God rekindle.

God and I are just now renewing our old friendship. He’s been there patiently waiting for me to come back to Him. I stubbornly held myself aloof. I’ve always believed in God, thanks to my mom, who instilled this belief in me at an early age. But I kind of took a veering path, not necessarily away from Him, but distant to Him nonetheless. Shifting through the pages of Mama’s Bible seemed to shift things in my mind. And suddenly I saw God, sitting quietly beside me as if He’d been sitting there for a long time patiently waiting for my return. As if He had nothing better to do but wait for me to come to my senses.

It’s been a tough two years for me. I’ve had to deal with some situations I really wish I hadn’t. But I mistakenly believed I had to deal with them on my own. Now I know I don’t have to. I talk to God every day. Sometimes, He still seems distant. Sometimes I feel like I am talking to Him as if through a long tunnel, where the voices carry but are faint. I know this is me, not Him. I know He hears me perfectly and answers me in His way. I am the one who is distant, who is unable to hear Him clearly or understand all that He says to me. But I know that the distance is fading every day.

And though I am still going through troubled times, I know He is with me, drawing me nearer every day. I am truly grateful for all He has given me. Especially for leading me back to my mother’s Bible.

What I learned from my parents

This piece was written by my former professor, who I like to consider one of my writing mentors, Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, as a tribute to her parents. They will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary this month. Happy anniversary to a couple who obviously understand what it takes to love others well.

My parents outside their first apartment in Long Beach, California

My parents outside their first apartment in Long Beach, California

My parents were both teachers, so there were lessons galore at our house.  I’ve written the following two stories to illustrate what I learned from each parent before I even “formally” started school.

From My Father

My sister, Liz, and I were tucked in our warm bed when the pre-dawn stillness of our house was rattled by the sound of a ringing phone.  I lay awake, listening to my dad’s voice as he took the call, paying close attention for clues as to the identity of the caller.  Then I heard the sounds of my dad’s footsteps coming into the room Liz and I shared.

“Teresa,” my dad said.  “I’ve got to drive the bus this morning.  Do you want to go with me?”

Did I ever!  I sprang out of bed and into my clothes.  The caller had been the superintendent of the school where my dad taught, informing him that one of the bus drivers was ill, asking if he could take that driver’s morning route.  In those days, there were no requirements for school bus drivers to have a commercial license.  They just had to have enough nerve to navigate the twists and turns of rural Arkansas back roads while ferrying a group of school kids.  I knew driving the bus was an unwelcome chore for my dad, but I was always thrilled when he got the call because there was a chance that I would get to ride with him.

I followed my dad out to his car, and we took off through the streets of our small town.  Lights in the houses along the road that led to the school flickered on as their inhabitants woke up and prepared for the day ahead.  The school building where my dad taught was not yet illuminated when we arrived at the space out front where he parked his car. Together, we walked to the area where the buses were kept and then we were off.

I could barely contain my excitement as I slid into the seat behind my dad.  To me, this was as good as a carnival ride, particularly the moment we left the familiar streets of our town, and the bus lurched onto the gravel road where most of the kids on the route lived.  Sometimes, we stopped for a single kid standing in front of a house tucked far back into the woods.  Other times, we collected a whole family of kids, often having to wait a few extra minutes while one of them, struggling into his or her coat, ran across the yard having perhaps overslept or lingered too long at the breakfast table.  Always, when my dad gave the silver handle a yank, and the bus doors whooshed open, the kids’ voices registered both surprise and delight to see “Mr. Burns” at the wheel of their bus.  As they made their way to their seats, some of the kids even spoke to me, and I basked in the glow of these older kids’ attention.

Those bus rides added texture to my mostly monotonous days.  Since I wasn’t yet old enough to attend school, my dad had to drive me back home when the bus ride was over.  In retrospect, I’m sure it would have been much easier for him to have tiptoed quietly out of our house, leaving me in my bed, garnering a few moments of peace and quiet before embarking on his task of driving the bus.  But he didn’t.  He invited me to go along on the journey, and I am all the richer for it – gaining in those few hours a glimpse of my dad’s world beyond the confines of our home.

From My Mother

The year I turned four, my sister, Liz, turned six.  That fall, she not only got to go to first grade, she also got to move out of the nursery at church and into a regular Sunday school class.  I knew there was no way I could go to school with her.  There were laws against that; but, I felt I had a good chance of joining her Sunday school class.  After all, this was church where you weren’t supposed to be a respecter of persons.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that my mother was going to be teaching Liz’s class.

I was sick of staying in the nursery with a bunch of babies and coloring those Bible story sheets using broken crayons worn down to a dull rounded shape, most of them with their paper wrappers peeled completely off.  Some of the crayons were even pocked with teeth marks where either the babies or nervous preschoolers had chewed on them.  I just didn’t think I could take another year of coloring with those gross crayons or pushing thread through those silly little sewing cards and being lumped in with a bunch of drooling, bawling babies while Liz joined the big kids in a class where they’d have actual lessons.  While my mother was no push-over, I felt it was worth a shot to begin my begging campaign to join her class.

“Pleeeeease,” I pleaded.  “Please, let me move up to Liz’s Sunday school class.”

I’m sure my mother finally grew tired of hearing my pitiful appeals because she reluctantly said, “Okay, but only on one condition.  You have to do the work that the older kids do.”

Even though I wasn’t at all sure I could meet that demand, the vision of myself spending another year in that nursery propelled me to promise my mother that I would do everything the older kids did.

I was beyond excited that first Sunday morning when I got to walk right past the nursery and into the first grade Sunday school classroom.  The other kids eyed me suspiciously, but they didn’t say anything for fear of making a bad impression on my mother.  When my mother announced that our first lesson was to learn the books of the Old Testament, my crisp enthusiasm wilted.  I was hoping we’d learn some Bible verses, preferably short ones like, “Jesus wept,” or even the books of the New Testament.  At least I could actually pronounce those names.  I wanted to whine, but I knew a complaint would send me straight back to the nursery, so I kept my mouth shut and focused on the assignment.

All week, I pestered my mother to go over the names of the books of the Old Testament with me.  This would have been going the extra mile for any mother, but my mother was completing her B.A. in English at Arkansas (now Lyon) College.  So in addition to dealing with regular motherly things – like preparing meals, doing laundry, and refereeing fights between Liz and me, she had tons of homework to do.  Still, she listened night after night as I stammered over all those names until I could say them without missing a single one.

I could barely sit still in my chair the next Sunday morning.  When my mother asked if anybody could say the books of the Old Testament, I shot my pudgy hand in the air.  My mother looked from face to face, but no one else moved except to narrow their eyes at me.

Finally, my mother said, “Okay, Teresa.”

To my amazement, I said them all from Genesis to Malachi, and then I held out my hand.  My mother’s pledge to pay fifty cents to the students who could reel off all those Old Testament books just sweetened the deal.  She smiled as she plopped the two quarters into my open palm, while the older kids looked on with what I’m sure were unchristian thoughts roiling through their brains.

Who cared what they thought?  With my mother’s help, I had learned that tenacity plus hard work could equal success even for an underdog like me.

From Both My Parents

Both of my parents took the time to teach me many other lessons, and they continue to teach me lessons even now.  Some of these lessons have been easy to learn.  Others, well, let’s just say I’m still working on them.  Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from them is the lesson of commitment.  Throughout our lives, my parents have remained committed to my brother, Rob, to my sister, Liz, and to me.  And, they have remained committed to each other for many, many years.  This month, my parents will celebrate their sixtieth wedding anniversary.  The symbol for that year is a diamond.  This hardest of gemstones was known to the ancient Greeks as adamas, the same word they used for anything that was indestructible or unmovable. My parents’ love for their family and for each other has been both enduring and constant, and that has been the most important lesson of all.

The gift of family

Today’s post is by one of my students, Derek Chandler, who wrote this essay in response to the question, “What are three gifts you have received in 2013, and why are they significant to you?” I will really miss having Derek on campus!

familyThis year has been a very hard year to just be thankful for something. With my dad losing his job and selling our house, things have just became hard. He has been searching for a job for several months and with no luck; it’s just added stress. Without my family, I’m honestly not sure where I would be. Of course I’ve stayed positive and tried to not let this affect me. For the most part, it’s worked, thanks to God and my family. I don’t expect a pity party, or look for attention. It is a situation I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Like I said, it has been hard, but there is always something to be thankful for. First I would like to say I’m thankful for my mom. My mom is my go-to person or my rock. Whenever I was younger I remember her always tucking me in at night, making sure I got to sleep just fine. That is always memory I will hold onto and hopefully find a wife that would do the same for my kids one day. Whenever I had a bad day I could always go to my mom and talk to her. Talking to her was easy, and I could tell her anything, good or bad. She was always supportive of anything I did. She is very soft spoken with a very kind heart, always looking for good in people, even if they don’t deserve it. She wears her heart on her sleeve and does what she can for anyone in need. She is a blessing to me and my sister. Without her support and her kind words I would be lost in life with no direction. I am proud to call her my mom, and sometimes that term is loosely used, but without a doubt I have the best mom.

The second thing I am thankful for is my dad. Wow, without my dad I wouldn’t be as strong as I am today, that’s for sure. My mom is my rock, and my dad literally is a rock. He is a very sensitive guy, but won’t show just anyone. Of course that doesn’t seem very manly, but he is a tough guy. Along with my mom, my dad has taught me so much. I will never forget going canoeing with him and all the fun we had. Like my mom I could talk to my dad just as well. Of course he didn’t always tell me what I wanted to hear, but he was honest. He was straight to the point and didn’t sugar coat it. I’ve always respected him for that. I owe both my parents for pushing good moral values on me. That will get me farther in life than anything else I have learned throughout life. My dad has supported me for 19 years, my sister for 20 years, and my mom for 30. He has allowed for my mom to be a stay at home mom, because he doesn’t want her to have to work. He has taken on a huge responsibility, and losing his job has caused stress. He is a good man who wants the best for my family and me. I’m sure everyone feels like they have the best parents, but it’s not possible when I have them.

The third and final thing I am thankful for is my sister. With a five year difference in age, you can say we didn’t get along. That was when we were younger, and as time went on, we got pretty close. Since Dad lost his job, we had to sell the house. My parents packed up all our stuff, and family took them in so they could save money. My family live out of state, but me being in school meant I had to stay around for this semester. My sister and her fiancé without a blink said they would take me in until I finished school. Without my sister, I’m not sure how I would have finished school. This is such a blessing, and I couldn’t thank them enough for allowing me to move in. They have been supporting me since I don’t have a job. I have been trying to focus on school considering so much stress. I cannot repay them for the kindness I have been treated with.

Since my story didn’t start out so positive, it’s only best that it ends that way. The bottom line is that my family has supported me and helped me though this tough time. I am so thankful for them and the nice things they have done. I will be officially moving from Arkansas a few days before Christmas, and it will be hard, but this only marks a point of a fresh start.