The Ravine

*The following essay was written by one of my students, Samantha Jones, in English Composition I about a place of significance. While this essay is not in letter format, it does pay homage to the memories of her childhood and her sister. For that reason, I asked for her permission to share it with all of you this month.*

arkansas pinesThere are many places that make lasting memories, but there is one special place I will never forget. Lynn, Arkansas, is where that special place is for me. Take a right on Lawrence County Road 318. Pass the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, and Dry Creek Cemetery on your left. Then there is the old Highfield place down the road. The next driveway leads to my childhood home. Behind the house there is a barbed wire fence. Crossing over the fence leads to a thicket of pine trees. Those pine trees enclose my special place, the ravine.

As children, my brother, sister, and I spent many days in that ravine. The pine trees surrounded the entire circumference of it like a security fence. This kept our hideout a secret. The pine needles blanketed the ground, making it a great place to take a nap. When I woke up I would smell of pine, and would have to pick the pine needles out of my hair.

We gathered old pots, pans, and other miscellaneous things from an old dump pile. Throughout our childhood we hoarded up quite a stockpile. We even had old tables and chairs. We used rocks, mud, and grass to pretend we were cooking. We made good use of the pine cones too. They made good baseballs and kick balls. The ravine was our own little paradise.

We would spend the entire day down in the ravine. There was not a game we did not play. Sometimes we would play house, school, or hide and seek. I liked hide and seek the best. I would cover myself in pine needles. When my brother or sister got close I would jump out and scare them. I can still remember how they would jump and giggle. We would also use the fallen branches as swords. That usually ended up with someone tattling to mom and the swords being confiscated.

When we got older, we thought we would camp out in the ravine. I was scared out of my mind. My brother kept making coyote howls. He was trying to scare my sister and me. It sure did work. However, he did not know that a real coyote was going to visit us that night. We heard something moving around outside our tent. Even my brother was scared. So we unzipped the front zipper. That is when we saw the vicious coyote. All we had was a pellet gun. Thankfully, that was enough to scare it away. Needless to say we went running and screaming to the house. That was the last camping trip in the ravine.

As we grew, so did the pines around the ravine. It seemed as if they touched the skyline. We got too grown up to play the silly games we used to play. Even though we did not play there anymore, the ravine still served its purpose.  My sister and I would go there to talk about boys we liked and all the things girls talk about. I can still feel her head in my lap, and hear her talking about the cutest boy in school. We were at peace there. It was the only place we could go where it seemed as if the world stopped for us. Anything we said inside the confines of the pines stayed within them.

The biggest trouble we ever got into was in the ravine. We would ride the bus to school. After first period classes, a friend would drive us to a field that was near the ravine. We would climb over a fence and walk through a pasture. That is where we would all hang out and smoke. My brother even snuck us our first beer there. One day the school called our mom to ask her why we were not there that day. So mom waited at the ravine, and there we all came running through the pasture. She had gathered our empty beer cans, and cigarette packs, and was waiting inside the ravine. We were grounded for what seemed like months.

I guess you could say we grew with the pines. My roots are planted there just as theirs are. Every time I smell pine in the air I am instantly brought back to the ravine. With each memory I get to be a child again, even if it is just for a moment.

Now that we are all adults, it is hard to imagine what our childhoods would have been like without the ravine. My brother and I lost our sister in a car accident five years ago. The memories we made with her and the trouble we got into in that ravine are priceless. Even nowadays when I see those pines standing tall, I can still see her trying to get us to eat her famous mud pies. Those pines and that ravine gave me a place to make the happiest memories of my life.

Day 30: Dear Erin

*It’s the last day of the Dear Gratitude project! My friend and soul sister, Amie Seaton, is today’s guest writer.*

Dear Erin,
I just got in from spending time with you today. I have so much fun with you these days. We didn’t even do much, just unloaded all your clothes into your new apartment. But, during those hours (let’s be honest, you have WAY too many clothes), I wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else on this earth than with you.
amieerinlapIf I say I trust God, then I must believe He had reason for not having us grow up together in the same home with the same parents. I’ll never forget finding out I had a new baby sister. By that time, I was nine years old and had spent much time playing alone in my room, wishing I had a sibling to play with me. I didn’t get to see you much as an infant, but I do remember once when your mom brought you over to our house. You were about nine months old. You looked like one of my baby dolls as your mother held your hands and you tried to balance on your wobbly little legs. Your precious little face topped with wispy white hair looked up at me and smiled a gummy grin. You then reached for me, and pulled my hair… you little toot. I am so grateful for that memory.
Many years slipped by and although I was so thankful for a stepmother who wanted to arrange for us to spend time together, and she did, as often as possible, I still felt as if we lacked that sibling bond. Maybe we dodged a bullet by not living together. Fighting over the phone and yelling for you to get out of my room, tripping over your Barbies and bickering over who gets the last cookie. But, in my imagination, everything would have been amazing. Long talks, late night giggles, hair braiding and baking cookies. Maybe Dad taking us fishing on occasion. As a teenager, I loved thinking about what we could’ve been. It was during this time that I committed my life to follow Christ and began to pray for you and your mom, as well as our daddy, to someday follow Him as well. Later on, God spoke to my spirit, telling me that He would indeed call you, and that Mom and Dad would follow. The doubting Thomas in me thought, “I guess we’ll see.”
amieerin1Still time passed. We both did some growing up. We both had some wonderful accomplishments, and we both hit a few brick walls, trying to fill voids that we were never intended to fill. In passing we’d share hugs and smiles and words of encouragement. I have always felt blessed to have you as sister to call my own. But, I still wasn’t sure what our relationship was supposed to be. It was about the time my second marriage was spinning out of control that I started to get a glimpse of what “sisters“ was supposed to look like. One afternoon, you let me cry my eyes out. You didn’t tell me what to do, but instead reassured me that you’d always be available for me at times like that. I remember feeling very humbled at the thought of my baby sister acting so mature. Not long after that, in the midst of troubles of your own, you hit the bottom of the deepest pit I’d ever seen a loved one fall into. I hurt deeply for you. I spent countless moments on my knees, crying and pleading for God to snatch you up and save you. At times, I felt physically sick with worry and wondered if you‘d make it out of the mess alive. I remember hours on the phone, trying to talk you through the turmoil, but I just didn’t have the words. You needed Jesus.
About a year ago now, you shared with me that you’d been attending church services with a new man in your life. I remember feeling a little sprig of hope spring up in my heart, and thinking, “Lord, it won’t be long now, will it…” Sure enough, one day I heard the words, “Sissy, I said YES to Jesus!” I was overjoyed to say the least, and my hope had been restored! 20 years of praying for you, and the time had finally come. HE SAVED YOU, SISSY. He pulled you up from that pit. He held you in His arms, then set you on your feet and made you something new. He washed you clean and called you His own beloved daughter! And what do you know… Mom and Dad came shortly there after. My God is SO good. He was so sweet to answer my prayers. I began to see changes in you, Sissy, and I knew your conversion was absolutely real. I will never forget watching yours and Mom’s baptisms. (Still praying for Dad to get up the nerve.) And, certainly I will always hold close to my heart the Father’s Day I stood next to Mom, you, and Daddy as we worshiped together.
amieerinbeachJust recently, I had another thought. We finally have Jesus in common. You know, physically we are as opposite as can be, with the exception of bad eyesight and flat feet. (Thanks, Dad..) We have very differing personalities as well (not discounting our mutual love of animal humor.) But, I think I finally figured out that the cornerstone of the relationship I had always wanted with you…. was Jesus. So, now I see us in a whole new light. You are becoming a kind of best friend I’ve never had before, and I pray I’m becoming that for you. God gave me the gift of you, many years ago, knowing we would end up here. And for that, I will forever be grateful.
Proud to call you sister,
Amie

Day 15: Dear Serena

*Thanks to my friend Samantha Hogan for sharing her letter to her sister, Serena, on Day 15 of the Dear Gratitude project. Her letter reminds me to share my gratitude with the people I love TODAY.*

To my sister Serena:

Sam Hogan familyI know I should have written you this letter long before you went to be with Jesus, but sometimes, a person doesn’t realize how thankful they are until it is too late to say so.  So, today, I am writing this letter to tell you all of the things I should have told you before now.

First of all, not a day goes by that I don’t think about you.  We definitely had our ups and downs in our relationship, but you taught me so much as my older sister.  Growing up, I can remember you doing some of my chores because I just wouldn’t do them.  You’d swear to me that you were going to tell mom on me when she got home, but I’m pretty sure you never did.  I specifically remember sitting down in the hallway one time and refusing to empty the bathroom trash.  You told me you’d had it and were telling on me, all the while, emptying the trash that I was in charge of doing.  Never once did I get into trouble for that.  Thank you, for saving my rear.

So many basketball games I had to cheer at from fifth grade to senior year.  You weren’t always at mom and dads, but when you were, and it was ‘french braid’ day on the squad, you never complained to get up at 6:30 in the morning to braid my hair.  I wonder now how I’d have ever gotten my hair done had you not been there. I’m sure I’d have gotten a demerit for sure!  You even tried to teach me to do it myself.  To this day, I still practice some, but can’t quite get it.  Thank you for being patient enough to try and teach me.

On my wedding day, you were there. Sitting quietly and out of the way.  I remember you were so excited to get to be there, and offered so many times to help.  Thank you for showing up for me. I know I didn’t say it that day. I have a picture of us from that day that I will forever cherish.

Sam HOgan Christmas 2011Thank you for all the Christmas presents you worked feverishly to find for me. To make sure that even if it wasn’t much, it was just the perfect thing for us.  I see now just how much love and heart went into the things you did for me.  And I am so thankful for them.

Last, but certainly not least, thank you for the dozens of telephone calls you would make to me on my birthdays.  So many times I would pick up the phone, thank you for the birthday wishes, and so many times I would ignore the calls, because I’d just talked to you an hour before.  Oh I wish I could ‘ignore’ your calls now on my birthdays! But, time passes and God had other plans for you.

So, on this day, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for all those times you covered for me, for all the times you helped me out, for loving me when I probably didn’t deserve it, and for being my sister.  You truly made my world a better place to live in.

I love you,

Samantha

Day 9: Dear Pate

*Thanks to Mary Agrusa, a fellow blogger, for writing the entry for Day 9 of the Dear Gratitude project!*

I’m honored to contribute to Bethany’s blog this month. I dedicate this post to my sister.

Dear Pate,

Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography at www.phoopla.com

Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography at http://www.phoopla.com

As one of the two remaining members of our immediate family, I’m happy to spend these final chapters of my life with you. You’re amazing.

Opposites can attract; however, as kids we often withdrew to our respective corners to avoid the weird one. You’re probably right on this point. Today, our differences add depth and dimension to our relationship. I love you exactly the way you are.

Despite personal experiences to the contrary, you remain unswervingly devoted to your family. You’ve never been afraid to enter the arena and take the bull by the horns. I’m more apt to stay safely behind the wall to venture out only if and when the dust settles. You are one brave woman.

A true champion of the underdog, you’re willing to spend yourself and your resources to help others despite your own needs. You have the heart of a giver.

Circumstances beyond our control kept us apart for too many years. Mom’s death brought us back together. Although we can no longer traverse the Metro D.C. area as before, any time we spend together is priceless. You are a treasure.

I thank God for giving me a person of excellence, courage, determination, generosity and love for a sister. I am truly blessed.

I Love You,

Mary

 

 

Day 8: The Beaver Kids Give Thanks

*Today’s post is a three-in-one: three first-time guest writers, who happen to be children and siblings, share their gratitude in these inspiring, unedited posts. These kids are amazing, and so are their parents, Jessica Cline-Beaver and Luke Beaver, who I had the privilege of knowing in college. It’s worth your time to check out Jessica’s blog, too.*

The Beaver family

The Beaver family

Dear Family,

I am thankful for you.

I am  thankful for my brothers and sisters. If i am scared i always have some one to sleep with. When I am lonely I have someone to play with. The babies make me laugh.

You always take me on trips. When we go you make sure I have the stuff I need. My favorite place to go is Ohio. When I went to get my American Girl doll.

You love me with all your heart. You show me love by celebrating my birthday. I also feel love when you say, “I love you.” I feel love when you tell me it.

You always cheer me on when I ride my bike, dance ballet or have horse lessons.

Thank you family for what you have done.

Love,

Ashlee

 

 

 

BeaverDear Baseball,

I am thankful for you because you are my favorite sport. Here is why.

You are fun. I enjoy throwing a ball. I like to hit the ball hard. I run fast around the bases.

You are my favorite way to spend time with my Dad. He teaches me how to play. My Dad and I like to go to ballgames.

You help me make new friends by showing good sportsmanship and spending  Time together with my friends.

Thank you baseball for all you give me.

Your Friend,

Lucas

Dear School,

Beaver ElizabethI am thankful for you school for many  reasons.

I am thankful for the subject of reading . Wen you are able to read you can learn.And it is fun! Especially wen you can read books by your self!

I am thankful for the subject of spelling. Because it teaches me how to spell. I am thankful for grammar because it teaches me how to write. I enjoy read aloud because it is relaxing and quiet.

I am thankful for you, school, because I am able to learn. Some kids in other countries are too poor to go to school But I am able to learn freely.

I am thankful for my teacher. She is fun. She also happens to be my Mom!

Thank you school for all you have taught me.

Your Friend,

Elizabeth

 

Oh brother!

*I’m so thankful for Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy for sharing this piece!*

With our book satchels on our arms, my sister Liz and I tumbled out of our dad’s Ford Galaxie 500.  We crunched across the winter grass and bounded up the concrete steps that led to our grandmother’s white frame house.  Our car coats hung loosely on our shoulders as the temperature that January afternoon had climbed into the lower seventies.  We stood at the door and waited for our grandmother, whom we called Mom, to let us in.  Liz and I had spent lots of time with Mom – learning to crochet, putting together jigsaw puzzles, and sleeping in her featherbed.  Usually, I was delighted to spend the night at Mom’s house, but not this time.     

     Mom was short and plump and typically wore an apron over a floral print dress.  She appeared at the door, a twinkle in her mischievous brown eyes when she said, “You two better get in here!”

Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, the year her brother Rob was born

Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, the year her brother Rob was born

Mom waved at our dad as he backed his car out of her driveway and headed to the hospital to check on our mother and our brand new baby brother.

     Liz and I followed Mom through her living room into the kitchen that always smelled of home cooking – roast beef, chicken and dumplings, and biscuits that tasted better cold than most people’s tasted right out of the oven.   She led us back to the den where we generally did our visiting and playing.  Sunlight streamed through the open slats of the Venetian blinds as Liz and I took our places on an overstuffed couch, and Mom sat down in her rocking chair.   

     According to Mom, when the conversation rolled around to our new baby brother, I folded my arms across my chest and proclaimed, “I’ll tell you something right now.  I’m not going to take anything off of him.”

     I’m sure I said it because even though I was seven at the time, I still remember that weighty feeling of distress the day I found out our family of four was about to become a family of five.

     “But I like our family just the way it is,” I remember telling my mother.

     “You’ll like the new baby, too,” she reassured me.

     I wasn’t convinced.  Liz is two years older than I am; and, while she had proven on numerous occasions to be excellent in a crisis, she could also be a bit bossy.  I feared I was about to be bookended by a boss and a baby. 

     Already, I was feeling crowded out by that new baby.  When my dad picked Liz and me up from school, I was all set to tell him what a horrible day I’d had.  Of course, he was full of good news about the baby!  And, worst of all, we didn’t even have time to swing by our house and pick up a change of clothes for the next day.

     “Great,” I thought, fuming in the backseat.  “Not only did I flunk my science test today, I’m going to have to wear these same clothes to school tomorrow.”

     Lo and behold, I survived spending the night at Mom’s house as well as being an outfit repeater the next day at school.  A few days later, my mother and brother came home from the hospital.  The day I had dreaded for months had finally arrived – the bassinet with the blue trim was occupied.

     “This is Robert,” my mother said.

Teresa's little brother, Rob

Teresa’s little brother, Rob

When I peered beneath the bassinet’s hood, I was speechless, and I was in love.  Robert wasn’t the horrible creature I was anticipating.  He wasn’t flimsy either; he weighed nine pounds and twelve ounces when he was born.  In a word, he was perfect.  And, best of all, he couldn’t talk; hence, he couldn’t boss.

     It wasn’t long before Robert, whom we called Rob, could play.  I liked to sit on the big braided rug that covered our living room floor and roll a ball back and forth to him.  We spent many happy hours pulling around his Fisher Price milk wagon and taking the milk bottles out of the wagon and putting them back in again.  On his first birthday, I got him a wind-up toy dog, and my mother told me that was his favorite present.

     A few years later when Liz and I had morphed into pesky adolescents, Rob was a cute kindergartener.  One night, when we were all sitting around the supper table, Liz or I had done something to annoy our mother.  I had possibly stayed in my room after being repeatedly called to the table. (I sometimes got carried away, holding my hairbrush-microphone, singing along with the radio and pretending to be a rock star.)  Or, maybe Liz had lingered in her own room too long, reading a thick novel or practicing her clarinet.  Either one of us was perfectly capable of being the source of our mother’s frustration.

     “I’m running out of patience with you!” she said.

     Rob was sitting next to her, and he held out his pudgy little hand and said, “Here, I’ll give you some of mine.”

     That same year he was the valedictorian of his kindergarten class.  Always the smartest guy in the room, Rob has racked up more academic awards than the rest of the family combined.  He went on to earn an MBA from the University of California at Irvine and become a business owner.

     Everybody hits rough spots in his or her life, and Rob has certainly had his share.  I’ve read a ton of novels and even written a few.  In recent years, Rob’s life has unfolded like a novel you would not be able to put down.  At times, you would love to be the protagonist.  At other times, you thank your lucky stars you aren’t.   My brother has navigated the twists and turns of his life with integrity and a great deal of patience.

     Whenever I have hit rough spots in my own life, Rob has always been there for me.  He is the most loyal person I know.  Funny how it works out, isn’t it?  That baby brother I was so intent on disliking turned out to be a very good friend.

 

 

Day 28–The best he could

I’m very thankful to the guest writers who participated in the “28 days of love” project this month. It’s been inspiring to read about the various ways love and gratitude coincide in so many very different people’s lives. I had guest writers lined up every day, but a few people weren’t able to write their posts, and it left me wondering what to do about today’s post, the last of the series.

I have a nice generic piece about gratitude sitting in front of me on my desk that I thought about posting. It’s very well-written , but when I sat down to post it, something gave me pause. It was that same nagging feeling I get when I know something isn’t right or when God is trying to get my attention in that mysterious, silent way of His. So I took my hands off the keyboard, folded them in my lap for a moment, and said a very short prayer.

“God, if there’s something else you want me to write about, let me know right now.”

He answered.

With my dad, probably taken the year my parents got divorced

With my dad, probably taken the year my parents got divorced

“Your dad.”

Then I wished I hadn’t asked.

It’s not easy to write about. It never has been.

Once I attended a poetry workshop at Lyon College by my former professor, Andrea Hollander Budy, and a visiting writer, Peter Abbs, whose beautiful, smooth recitations still echo in my ears when I read his poetry seven years later.

One of our assignments was to write a poem, in similar fashion to one of his, about gifts we’d received from someone significant in our lives. I wrote about my mom and all the ways she’d impacted me. I know the poem hides in the recesses of a maroon binder in the bottom of a storage box in our quilting house next door, but I don’t have the time to find it today. Each stanza begins, “From my mother” and then lists a gift I’ve received from her, namely lessons and principles she has passed on to me.

The last stanza, which has haunted me since writing it, is about my father.

“From my father,

nothing

worth having

or wanting.”

When I read the poem aloud after listening to beautiful odes to wonderful people by the other aspiring poets at the workshop, Peter Abbs had the reaction I always shoot for when writing last lines to poems.

“Hmmmm.”

What heavy words I’d written.

Sadly, they were true.

My father has nine biological children. He is currently raising one of them. The others were raised by their mothers or other generous people without financial support. He was consumed with other things. Drugs, namely.

Favorite softball season ever, with my dad as assistant coach

Favorite softball season ever, with my dad as assistant coach

My father is an addict. His addiction has led him to make countless poor decisions, hurtful decisions, which have cost him his relationships with almost all of his children and most of his grandchildren, not to mention the mothers of his children, his friends, and his other family members. During his periods of sobriety, he is brilliant, hilarious, animated, inspiring, loving, and thoughtful. During the periods when he is ravaged by addiction, he is not.

About five years ago, my father faced legal consequences for his addiction-related actions. He began attending 12-step meetings, and it changed his life. At the same time, I was working the steps in my own 12-step program for family members and loved ones of alcoholics. I reached the point of making a list of people I needed to make amends to. My father fell into the category of “maybe never,” meaning I knew I owed him an amends, but I was not ready yet, and I might never be.

God decided to move my dad up on the list, though. I began to feel that nagging feeling about making amends to my father. I called him on my way home from a meeting one night and managed to choke out the words.

“Dad, I need to make an amends to you. I have hated you my whole life for what you have done and haven’t done for me and my sisters. I hated you for the way you treated my mom. I want you to know I forgive you, and I know you have an addiction, and please let me know if there’s something I can do to make it up to you.”

Silence.

Then words wet with tears came through.

“You don’t need to do anything for me. I owe you an amends.”

So that day, in 2008, we made mutual amends to one another. For the first time in my life, I felt completely at peace with my father. Well into my late 20s, I had no desire to attempt to form some warm and fuzzy father-daughter bond with him. That seemed unrealistic. But I felt good knowing that we’d cleared the air between us, and we occasionally talked on the phone, and it wasn’t as awkward as it had been my whole life. When I said “I love you,” I meant it. I no longer felt forced to say “I love you” to someone who I felt had not demonstrated real love to me.

Things changed. My dad’s addiction got the best of him again. He served a prison sentence. He willingly placed his two youngest children in the care of other people. And the little girl in me felt her head drop in disappointment. It seemed the same old story just picked up where it had left off.

Today, I choose to refrain from contacting my father, and he knows why. But I see things a little differently today than I used to.

In my heart, thanks to my own spiritual growth and work in my recovery program, I’ve written a new closing stanza to that heavy poem.

“From my father,

four sisters and four brothers.

A shining memory of gifts

wrapped in aluminum foil

under a miniature Christmas tree.

A moment of complete

safety on the back of his Harley,

eyes closed, hugging him close

at five years old.

The most fun I’ve ever had

playing softball.

A dozen roses at 29,

the card reading, ‘Daddy loves you.’

From my father,

the best love

he could give

at the time

with what he had.”

The most meaningful bouquet I've ever received

The most meaningful bouquet I’ve ever received