Sweet 16

Happy anniversary to my best friend, MeLissa Horseman, and the love of her life, Shawn. I’m grateful I was able to be there with them 16 years ago to celebrate their wedding. 

My husband and I celebrate our Sweet 16 this July.  Marriage is probably the hardest thing I have ever done, aside from public speaking.  Honestly, there are times I never thought we would make it this far.  As I reflect on the past 16 years of life and marriage (over 18 years together), I ponder the highs and lows.

11008554_672905729488252_8464733163433890297_nThe years have been full of laughter and tears, fun and worry, love and dislike.  Just this past Saturday, we laughed more together than we have in a long while, and then the very next day got into a heated ‘discussion’ about house repairs, home improvements, and finances.  While the lows at times seem never-ending and the highs fleeting, I can’t help but be amazed and thankful we have made it to this milestone.  There have been moments I have wanted out (I’m sure he wanted to quit, too), but we have persevered.

20160701_204901We have three awesome children, ages 9, 7, and 3.  We have a nice home to raise them in and food to feed them.  We have friends, family, and our church to love on them.  We have life experiences to share with them.  And we have each other.  Our marriage is nowhere near perfect, and I’m still waiting on the magic year when it gets easier, but each day is another day God spoils me with the opportunity to be a wife and mom.  While some days I don’t make the most of it or feel I have the energy to do either, God lays on my heart that there is someone doing the parenting and spouse thing alongside me. So, happy anniversary dear hubby, and may we resolve to rely on God to continue to strengthen each other for each other.

Embodying the spirit of giving

With MIdge on My Wedding Day*Today’s post is written by contributor Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, one of my former professors. Dr. Murphy is a fabulous writer; I’m thankful that she regularly contributes to my blog and still takes the time to mentor me as a writer, demonstrating to me the true spirit of giving as well. Merry Christmas, Dr. Murphy!*

Christmas is just around the corner, and I know of no one who embodies the spirit of giving more than my aunt, Midge Brewer.  I’m grateful to her, and I can say without reservation that many other people have also benefited from her acts of kindness – not just at Christmastime, but all year around.

One of my favorite stories about Midge happened when I was fifteen.  For Christmas that year, Midge gave me a beautiful turtleneck sweater from Neiman Marcus.  She had spent the fall taking an extensive training course in Dallas, but she took the time to go Christmas shopping and find a lovely gift for me.  I had never had such a fancy sweater before, and I wore it for years.  On that particular Christmas, the sweater was the perfect present because it provided a beautiful cover for the back brace I was wearing for my scoliosis.  She probably had no idea how much that sweater meant to me, just as I’m sure she has no idea how much her kindness has meant to me and to the other people she has come in contact with over the years.

Another Midge story occurred one day while I was waiting to have my hair cut in my hometown of Batesville, Arkansas.  Even in a small town, it’s rare to overhear perfect strangers engaged in a conversation about someone you know, but on that day I overheard a man and woman talking about Midge. Of course, I listened in.  They were discussing a wedding shower she had given for someone at the church they all attended and remarking on what a wonderful job she had done. I’m certain that Midge lost count years ago of the number of showers she has given as well as the number of weddings she has directed.

In addition to giving showers and directing weddings, Midge is also skilled at making wedding cakes and has made dozens of them.  Several years ago, she made a wedding cake for a relative and placed it in the church kitchen so it would be there for the reception.  In the meantime, a man broke into the church and helped himself to some of the food in the church pantry, including a slice of the beautiful wedding cake Midge had made.  When the mother of the bride discovered what had happened, she called Midge.  With no time to bake another cake, Midge whipped up some frosting and filled in the space the thief left behind with a Twinkie.

Midge is generous and resourceful, but she is not one to call attention to herself, and I will probably get into trouble for writing this post.  I’ll take the risk.  We live in a culture where sensational acts of heroism are celebrated.  While that’s important, people who quietly practice acts of kindness and generosity on a daily basis rarely get the recognition they deserve.  Midge has spent her life in service to others, and this Christmas I’d like her to know that I am grateful for all the things she has done.

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.

Thankful for everyday love

Today’s guest contributor is my childhood friend, Leslie Ferguson Thomas, who is on a fearless journey to become who she wants to be. Be sure to check out Leslie’s blog!

My husband always refers to us as two puzzle pieces, and when we met, he says, “The world could hear the click”.

I grew up dreaming about what it would be like to fall in love. I imagined it just like the movies.  I grew up watching Dirty Dancing, Lifetime movies, and Grease. In my mind I fell in love a million times. Each time was different and special, but the girl in the image never looked like me. She always had the perfect figure, perfect hair, and pretty much perfect everything. So each year I would start a new diet and live in my fantasy land. I was always waiting for me to be perfect, so I could meet the perfect guy.

Photo by Say Cheese Photography

Photo by Say Cheese Photography

I met Josh, my husband, through an online dating site called Plenty of Fish. I was 29, and he was 32.  I had gone through a breakup about a year prior that really shook me up.  I had seen myself continue to stay in a horribly one sided relationship because I thought this guy was a great guy simply because he wanted to be with me even though I was overweight. I drove way too many miles each weekend, spent money I didn’t have, left a job I liked, and gave up who I was for someone else. After that relationship ended, I promised myself I would never do that again. So when I met Josh, I was very guarded.

Josh was nothing like any of the guys I had dated before. I remember one night in particular, it was storming outside, and I didn’t have any minutes on my phone. I had planned to go visit him, but he insisted that I stay home. He didn’t want me to get out in the weather. After being with guys who didn’t even consider me, I assumed he really didn’t like me. I soon learned that was far from the truth. Day after day, conversation after conversation, we became closer and closer. I never worried about my weight around him, what I wore, or what I said. I was totally myself with him. He told me he felt the same.

In March 2010, Josh asked me to marry him. It was a day I will never forget. Seven months later we said, “I do”!

LeslieandJoshweddingIt was the most magical ceremony. Josh has never once asked me to change anything about myself, but the funny thing is that being with my husband makes me want to be a better person. I am getting healthier. I am going after my dreams. I am letting go of hurt, and loving deeply. But what I have learned is that Josh is romantic in his own sweet way. Sometimes he will hear me singing a song, and the next thing I know he has gotten me the song. Sometimes I will think he is not listening to what I am saying, and then a week later he will bring it back up.

 

Second chance love

Special thanks to my former professor and friend, Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, for sharing this beautiful piece on gratitude, friendship, and love with us today.

At the beginning of 2014, Bethany wrote a beautiful essay identifying still as her word for the new year. When Bethany invited other people to identify their words for 2014, I had a difficult time narrowing mine down to a single choice.

Teresa and Leisa in Carmel the summer after college

Teresa and Leisa in Carmel the summer after college

Finally, I selected friendship. During the course of my life, I have been fortunate to have wonderful friends.  One of those friends is a California girl named Leisa who was my college roommate.  From the day we met, we became friends and have remained friends over the years.  Shortly after Leisa married her high school sweetheart Scott in 2006, I wrote an essay for her titled “Boomerang Hearts” about her wedding and a long-ago memory I had of her relationship with Scott.  This post is an extension of that essay.

Friendship is a gift that yields many happy returns, and I am grateful to call Leisa my friend.

 

Two Valentine Memories

By Teresa Burns Murphy

 

Bethany's Blog, See's Candy Display (2) It happens every year around Valentine’s Day.  I walk past a display of See’s candy, and a memory is sparked of a Valentine’s when I was a college freshman.  My friend Leisa and I both had boyfriends back home, and we decided to make them heart-shaped pillows.  We had lots of fun getting the material, making the pillows, and sending them off so they would reach their respective destinations by Valentine’s Day.  My boyfriend sent me a dozen red roses, but no Valentine’s Day present arrived from Leisa’s boyfriend Scott.

During the days following Valentine’s, Leisa must have checked her campus mailbox a hundred times, returning to the dorm disappointed, but certain that Scott would not have forgotten her.  About a week after Valentine’s Day, Leisa came back to the dorm with a Valentine from Scott.  It was giant heart-shaped box of See’s Candy.  Apparently, the box had gone to the wrong address and was a little beaten up during the detour though the candy inside was unharmed.

Bethany's Blog, Leisa & Scott's Wedding

Leisa and Scott’s wedding

Several years later, just after Valentine’s Day in 2006, on the beach in Carmel, California, Leisa and Scott got married.  As they stood inside the heart-shaped rope on the sand, their smiles illuminated by the sun shining through the puffy white clouds, the turquoise sea foaming in the background, I thought about that long-ago Valentine’s Day.   Like the heart-shaped box of chocolates, Leisa and Scott’s hearts got re-routed to other relationships for a while, and they experienced their own share of less-than-gentle handling. A chance meeting brought them back together, and they discovered the love inside their hearts was still there, resilient and better than ever.

Since then, when those ubiquitous heart-shaped boxes start showing up in stores, I recall those two Valentine memories, and I’m reminded of the gift of second chances.  But most of all, I think of my friend Leisa and smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 27: Dear heaven-sent lady

*Thank you, Cecilia Baker, for sharing your love story with us on Day 27 of the Dear Gratitude project.*

Cecilia Baker weddingI wish I could thank the lady who decided to do her laundry one Friday night.  She was my fairy godmother.  She appeared one night, and I guess I will never know her until I get to heaven.

The thing is she was not too busy to speak to a young man who had recently moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to take a new job after having been in the Army for two years. He was doing his laundry as well in the apartment laundromat. She struck up a conversation and said, “What is a young man like you doing his laundry on a Friday night?  You should be out with your friends having a good time.”

He must have told her that he was new in town and didn’t know anyone yet. She just “happened” to go to Belmont Heights Baptist Church and decided to tell him they had a Single Young Adult department that had around 50 young professionals his age and that he might like to visit the class. Being shy, he probably wouldn’t have gone to the class without more encouragement.

It didn’t end there because she remembered his name, John Baker, and told the director of the Singles class and must have also told him the apartment number. A few weeks later John had a knock on his door, and the director, Joe Haynes, and a young man from the class were paying him a visit.

Maybe you have participated in an outreach from your church before and visited newcomers to your town or visitors to your church.  Don’t ever think it’s just a minor thing to do. It can change someone’s life.  These two fellows introduced themselves and told him about the class and gave him directions and the times of services, and one Sunday when he was not going back to his home in Memphis, he decided to visit.

He walked in the door of our class which was in a house adjacent to the church. I saw him right away and really didn’t get to meet him personally that day.  I was disappointed when they put him in a different small group from mine.

He started coming when he was in town, and I did meet him later. The whole Singles department was planning a weekend retreat, and the week before the retreat, I summoned up my courage and asked him if he wanted to sign up to go on the retreat.  He said he was thinking about it.  I told him it was the last chance to sign up today, and he said he would like to go if I would ride with him!  Of course I said yes.  Cecilia Baker's wedding

He and I began dating after that, and the rest is history!  I am so thankful for the mystery lady who I now think was heaven-sent to encourage a young man to go to church, my husband, Johnny Baker.

Day 24: Dear Ricco

*Day 24 in the Dear Gratitude project is written by my friend and former fellow board member, Latresha Woodruff. I’m thankful Latresha was willing to fill in for another writer and still submit today’s post for the project, too.*

RICCO

Latresha and husband 2I want you to know I think you are the most awesome husband anyone could have.  The day I met you my life changed for the better.

You are all I could ever want in a husband; you love the Lord, you’re caring, you’re a good father, you’re a good person, you take care of me (sometimes better than I take care of myself) and you would go to the ends of the earth for me.

I have fond memories of WXVT because doing that job (even though they worked my fingers and nerves to the bone) led me to you one sunny day down by the casino on Lake Ferguson.  That day propelled me into the happiest time of my life.  We’ve had nine wonderful years together, and I pray GOD blesses us with at least 109 more.

When I have a bad day I know that when I get home you will be there to comfort me and let me know things will be alright. Wherever you go, I will follow because you are the best part of me.  You make me a better person.    Latresha and husband

I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. YOU’RE MY WORLD.

YOUR WIFE,

LATRESHA