Bless your heart

Tell the truth. How many times a day do you say “Bless your heart?” Extra points if you’re not from the south…..because we use it, abuse it and wear it the heck out. We use it sarcastically, sympathetically and sometimes when we don’t know what else to say…

Examples?

  • “Bless her heart, that dress was too dang tight!”
  • “She tries too hard, bless her heart”
  • “Bless his heart, his wife keeps him hoppin’ and his dog died last week”

Or

  • “Bless your heart, how can I help?”
  • “Bless your heart, I’m so sorry”
  • “Bless your heart, I’m praying for you

It just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it? It surely does mine. Which brings me to my issue.

Bless, Blessing, Blessed.

I have used the phrase “I’m so blessed” many times…thousands of times…almost boastfully.

Usually I’m speaking of my family, my friends…….you know the drill. But how hurtful is it to other folks who many not feel the same? How do I shout to the world what a blessing it is to have grandchildren to someone who doesn’t have them? How do I say how blessed I am to have wonderful friends to one who feels alone? How hurtful is it to declare how blessed I am to be surviving when someone listening has just lost a loved one? Or someone embroiled in a health issue of their own…. or fighting to just keep their heads above water.

When I declare my blessing am I trying to thank God but instead causing someone (most likely a much better person and Christian than me) to question why their blessing isn’t the same? When the tornado blows my neighbor’s house away and mine is left standing, do I tell the world that God blessed me and protected me? Sorry neighbor, guess he forgot about you…..yeah… that’s always a good word isn’t it? If you know me very well you understand that I spend WAY TOO MUCH time in my head. The question of a blessing is one which I can’t ignore. In fact I cringe when folks flippantly expound how God has blessed our country above all others and we are the his chosen. Really? Has almighty God decided to NOT bless other countries?

He did create the world right?

I guess I’m crazy enough to believe God loves us all the same, no matter the circumstances of our birth. Do you really believe God’s blessing is ours alone and not the starving babies in Africa or the Haitian refugees trying to flee a country torn apart by earthquakes, hurricanes and a corrupt government?

How does this work exactly?

Bless

Blessing

Blessed

Before you quit reading and assume I’m some sort of heretic, please know that I’m a believer. But I’m also a questioner. Call me crazy but I’m pretty sure that God is big enough to handle my questions…..and after all, it’s GOD so he/she knows what we’re thinking anyway! Can’t fake it kids. Recently my beloved Sunday School class studied Matthew 5:3-12. Yes, the well known Beatitudes. Words we’ve all heard and studied our whole lives…but this time my ears heard it differently. Those blessings were not of health or wealth or THINGS… Take a minute and read these verses again!!! ……Read them with fresh eyes! WHAT ARE OUR TRUE BLESSINGS?

The Beatitudes Matthew 5:3-10 Christian Blessings Wall Art image 0

I am SO NOT a theologian (as I’m sure you have already ascertained ha)…

But Here’s what I did NOT hear as I read those blessings

  • The promise of wealth
  • The promise of health
  • The promise we won’t be poor in spirit
  • That we won’t mourn
  • That we won’t feel meek
  • That we won’t search or question (like me….ha)
  • That we shouldn’t strive to be merciful and be peacemakers (convicting much?)

So……….

Bless your heart

Blessed are….

Blessings

Will I continue to thank the Lord for my life and all that I have? Surely. Every hour of every day. Will I still say “bless your heart”….. ALL THE TIME…. But, will I conflate every good fortune with true blessings from God? I hope not….. but at the very least I’ll think before I speak. I’ll be more cautious and careful with my words….. especially with those who are hurting or wondering why their hopes and dreams aren’t coming to fruition.

AND….. I’ll try to remember our true blessing is being a child of the King.

Bless your heart.

Mine too.

My Road, Our Road

Did you ever google songs with the word road in the title?

  • On the Road Again
  • Life is a Highway
  • Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
  • Hit the Road Jack

The List goes on and on…..

Driving back from our latest Houston journey I wondered how many trips I have made back and forth…. I couldn’t even estimate how many.

Our first trip was in July of 1997. After a more than grim breast cancer diagnosis here in Jonesboro, I was determined to head to Houston and MD Anderson Cancer Center for a second opinion, treatment, whatever. I was 39, had lost my mother to the disease, had two small children I wanted to raise, and was willing to do whatever necessary for the best chance of survival.

Many of you have heard the story ad nauseum so I won’t repeat, only to say the first road trip was a flight out of the Little Rock airport and we used a travel agent, ha.

Many of my best friends remember that time and were there to help with everything from child care, travel, phone cards (remember those) and most importantly prayer.

1997-1998 saw many trips down the road. Mostly by air but some by car. Starting monthly with the chemo, then the surgery followed by the 3 month stay for the stem cell transplant. Later, when it looked like I would survive, the road trips became a 6 month ordeal, then once a year, with most of them made solo… but never halted completely. 2016 brought another diagnosis with more frequent road trips and surgery and then most recently (2019) even more, and the road goes on and on……

We almost took the roof off of Jerry Bowen’s van in 1997 when the road took us to the Houston Galleria…..The road also took us to an NBA game to see Charles Barkley with hold the ball from the ref….. while I sat in the stands with a fanny pack of Adriamycin.

Before I learned about car services from the airport my sister Becky and I left in a cab with a very gassy driver who took the long road to the hotel.

When I was alone in the hotel and bored, the road took me to the hotel courtesy shuttle where I rode around with a driver from Africa ( a learned man with a degree) who was desperately trying to secure a Visa and bring his family to the US.

The road to Houston (America’s 4 largest city) offered us insight. The world (believe it or not) is bigger than Arkansas. Patients, health care workers, doctors….. many from other countries…. opened our eyes to God’s people who didn’t look or sound like us.

An acknowledgement that to this day humbles me, while simultaneously making my skin crawl, when fellow Christians are so darn sure the USA is God’s chosen nation and we are the chosen people. …

Not on the road I’ve traveled.

I’m pretty darn certain God created the world and all its people and loves us all the same….even if we’re rascals at times.

I am continually amazed at seemingly intelligent folks on today’s road who claim to “research” health care and find suddenly they know more than the doctors and science. Incredible actually….. I repeat, not on my road.

Science, research and doctors have kept me alive since 1997. And just like the need for a travel agent and that trusty phone card, SCIENCE and HEALTH CARE have evolved and changed tremendously.

Case in point…. when initially diagnosed with breast cancer I was enrolled in a clinical trial. A trial that included pre-op chemo. Something new to us in 1997, standard procedure now.

And let’s talk drugs. Neupogen was new in 1997….. Mother didn’t get it in 1984 and the chemo took her life…. For those of you unaware, it’s a drug that raises your white count when the chemo knocks in down (simple explanation). In 1997 I had to inject myself. In 2019 when I started chemo again I was introduced to Neulasta, a contraption they put on your arm for a steady injection during the first few days of treatment. Crazy huh?

In 1998 it was thought that a stem cell transplant was my best chance to defeat the cancer and keep it from recurring. Guess what?

THEY DON’T DO IT NOW…. because research evolved and there are better drugs and more effective treatments available.

I get my “dander” up (is dander really a word?)…. when people argue that the CDC or Dr. Fauci change recommendations for fighting this hellish virus. What can’t we understand about scientific discovery and change? Just like we tell our children… when you know better you do better!

I have to admit that not once have I gone to my oncologist and argued that his advice is different than what I saw on Facebook or Fox news… I’ve never said “how about some horse wormer with a chaser of bleach”…..

Call me CRAZY but the doctors and health care professionals I’ve been BLESSED to meet on my road have been amazingly intelligent, passionate and competent.

AND… they wear masks, they ask about my vaccination……..and I’m not offended. My freedoms have surprisingly remained intact.

My road has had many twists and turns, not the least of which has been the blessing of living to see my little boys grow, graduate from high school and college, get married to beautiful, Christian women and now to have PERFECT grandchildren.

As the song says “the road is LONG with many a winding turn”....

One of the blessings of being “older”…. looking back on my road. And yes, it’s been filled with tremendous joy, but also deep grief. The loss of my parents, my three siblings and so many friends…

You get it, I’m sure, because your road is no doubt full of the same….. especially if you’re the ripe old age of 62 like me.

What have I learned on the road? Well…. I’ve learned that the only thing that is consistent….. The one thing on the road that won’t change for better or worse?

The security found in my Faith. my God. and Love.

The rest is uncertain.

This past week my road was long and filled with anxiety and fear. And yes, I know I’m not supposed to feel that way, but it’s my truth, God knows about it and we’ve talked. I’m working on it, promise.

Anyway….

2 years after a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis I’m still on the road. Thanks to those medical professionals GIFTED by God (and I believe that’s today’s miracle) I’ve been told my road isn’t ending as soon as I thought…clear scans and another 3 months before we hit the road again.

Today my road takes me to the patio……ha…. where I can hear the JHS band (best in the state) practice. I see the sunlight after last night’s storm and can almost see the hibiscus open to a new day. But the road also stops with concern for a dear friend whose mother has COVID and another whose husband has just recovered. It takes a turn as I worry about my children who are educators and the battles they face just entering the classroom this fall….and it stops when I think about my precious grandchildren who are so vulnerable…..

I try hard to replace anger and irritation with love for those SCREAMING at physicians for simple telling the truth, or spouting irrational comments at school boards and administrators who valiantly want to save the lives of children and keep them in school.

But …….it’s getting more difficult by the mile.

The road continues doesn’t it?

One of my favorite quotes from Anne Lamott (she probably got it from somebody else) is that “we’re all just walking each other home”…… We are on the road together and we need to find a way to help each other on the journey however best we can.

A dose of compassion, acceptance and if possible a diet coke or a great cup of coffee for the trip.

Enjoy the road. I’m trying.

Lipstick and a Highlight Reel

lipstick on a pig

“Some superficial or cosmetic change to something so that it  seems more attractive, appealing,  or successful than it really is.”

I’m not the pig! I’m not the pig!

Seriously though…..I get bored when I have my chemo/immunotherapy treatments. I listen to music, I listen to podcasts, and yes, I take pics. We’ve already established my “oversharing” tendency on facebook so there’s that.

Last week I didn’t have to wear the mask in my cubicle (I’m vaccinated as was my nurse) and of course I had on lipstick. Funny thing….almost everybody commented that they loved the lipstick!

Whoo Hoo, right?

hmmmm….. why was it important for me to wear lipstick? Was I doing a Lancome commercial? No. I wanted those who saw the picture to believe I was doing well and feeling great. But on this particular day I was really, really fatigued…….. and my hip and leg were hurting like a big dog…. but the lipstick told a different story on facebook.

I’m fine, life’s fine.

Why is it that others’ opinions are so important to me? Am I programmed to care what others think about me? The answer is a big ole’ yes. It’s my nature. Or is it my flaw….

I’ll bet it’s yours too.

Bruce Tippit, our former pastor and a dear friend, preached a sermon once about friendship and how rare it was to have a friend or friends with which you could be open and brutally honest, and he was spot on…..as Bruce usually is.

I’m lucky to have many of these friends in my life.

Lucky and Blessed for sure.

Recently I had a heart to heart with one of these friends who lives far away but takes time to phone in and check to see how I’m doing. The last phone call included my confessing to feeling guilty when I’m having a dark day and others are struggling with issues and events much tougher than mine.

She laughed and told me I wasn’t running for “sainthood”…… and to get over myself. EXACTLY what I needed. Later in the week she sent a pic of Saint Susannah (this Baptist had never heard of her) and reiterated that the saint position was already taken.

I’m blessed to have her.

But the fact remains.

I need the lipstick.

I need to be positive. I have 2,500 facebook friends, family and acquaintances that I need to send a positive messages to! And honestly, the more I focus on the beautiful things the better I feel. I’ve always had a few “dark moments”, even before all this cancer nonsense, so I need the self help, ha…..

After all………..

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Philippians 4:8 King James Version

So. What do you think about this crazy social media world? Has it helped? All of those pictures of perfect people on perfect vacations with their beautiful families? Those gorgeous babies and flowers and accomplished children etc……..

Ha……YASSSSSS…. I’m guilty! I’m home all day (I’m retired and gimpy) so I post WAY too much. But dang it all, I love my family and those cute babies…… and my flowers and music….. c’mon, can’t do with them!

Highlight Reel much?

A few years ago a very wise administrator commented (while we were in a mental health session during inservice). He very simply stated that social media was a place students posted their HIGHLIGHT REEL…..when their lives probably contained more bloopers than highlights.

How’s that for wisdom?

When you’re 14 and all you see are those cute pics of perfect friends who have it all? Who have parents that love each other, who seem too perfect? When reality is so LESS than.

Oh friends, be so, so careful. Be transparent with your precious children. Discuss those highlight reels and don’t compare!

And adults…….Even if your impatiens are wilting and there’s a resident raccoon living in a tree behind your patio. Even if you feel like…well, even if you aren’t feeling well. Don’t fake it. People want your truth.

But I must confess, I’m going to keep my lipstick handy. I’ll still post when I’ve had an awesome dinner with good friends or my flowers seem especially beautiful or my grandchildren are doing something INCREDIBLE…haha… and you should too!

But let’s promise each other to be more cognisant of what’s real and realize when things look too perfect. I’ll bet they aren’t.

Be real..

Even when it’s really, really hard…

Keep the lipstick.

Smells like Summer

Memorial Day.

Grandma Rosie Smith called it Decoration day. If I’m correct, it was a day set aside to decorate the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers, always commemorated on May 30th. I believe it was President Johnson who changed it and declared Memorial Day a 3 day weekend and federal holiday… (forgive me if I’m wrong)

My family always enjoyed the day. We ALWAYS visited the cemeteries (yes, plural) and made certain family graves were cleaned, manicured and decorated with flowers. Perhaps this tradition is more common in the south and for those who are living close to where loved ones are buried.

It saddens me to think it’s a tradition that will someday come to an end.

Memorial Day for me was just a glorious time. I loved the warm weather, the excitement of getting out of school for the summer, the family visits to New Salem and Myrtle cemeteries, the stories, the laughter and even the tears.

I loved that Aunt Lucille and Uncle Pat always came from Tulsa to visit on this holiday. There were always fresh strawberries…. Mother made certain there was food for an army. Lunches of cold cuts from the store, tubs of homemade pimento cheese and huge dinners for my family and friends as we celebrated.

If Mike happened to be in town the Spring River canoe races were a must. Mike and Strawberry England were always sure to win or get mighty close, ha. What a small town celebration….so much fun!

When the holiday became a “long weekend” by celebrating on Monday, we sort of lost the one day celebration feel and it became a vacation weekend opportunity. And guess what? That’s perfectly fine with me. Everyone deserves a vacation!

But this past weekend I have noticed a distinct difference in focus….. at least online.

Perhaps it’s just cynical me, but it seems there is a patriotic competition taking place. Have you ever seen so many patriotic posts? So many flags helping sell everything from cars to insurance to ice cream?

Hey, whatever works I guess.

I’ve always considered myself as patriotic as the next person. I feel obliged (why is that?) to preface any comment about patriotism with “Daddy fought in WWII and dear family members (Uncles, nephews, cousins) also proudly served”….as if this pedigree gives my words some sort of relevance, which of course it doesn’t.

As it happens, a few years ago I was the MC at our school’s academic award ceremony. A job I loved doing. Each year I chose a student to sing the National Anthem before the ceremony began. As with all choral directors, we worry and are protective about our solo performers. On this day the student I had chosen did a fabulous job, singing acapella in front of a huge audience, staying in the same key (ha) and without adding a million unnecessary flourishes (as many are tempted to do). Proud moment for her and for me, her teacher.

Until….

That evening when a grandparent attendee confronted me at a restaurant asking why I didn’t put my hand over my heart and was I trying to make a “statement”….. Are you kidding me? For a moment I felt like Captain Von Trapp when he’s forced to hang the flag…

Had I not been so taken aback by the grandparent question I might have stood up for myself instead of profusely apologizing and assuring her she was mistaken…..

Really? Can somebody tell me where in the BIBLE it says thou shalt put thy hand over thine heart during the national anthem.

C’mon now.

I’ve heard so many bad renditions of the national anthem I really want to put my fingers in my ears most of the time.

Trust me, it has nothing to do with my patriotism. Just my ears.

For years I have taught choral students whose religion prohibits them from saying the pledge or participating in “holiday” music. And guess what? They sat out the events and nobody threw a fit about it and we moved on. Can we just do that now?

Please don’t take me the wrong way. I love my country. A lot. I marvel at the REAL sacrifices others have made to protect our DEMOCRACY. They gave their lives so I could have the freedom to write my silly little blog. I get it. I really do, I promise.

And while I love my country……….. I also abhor those who trampled and rioted and trashed the people’s house on Jan. 6th. Many of whom thought it a great idea to use the flag to break windows and hurt police officers. Actions that seem a little more dangerous to me than my failing to put my hand over my heart…

Bottom line?

Patriotism isn’t a competition and isn’t a time to “one up” each other….and it’s surely not something that should be forced, mandated or legislated. It’s a free country. At least for now.

Hitler certainly found a way to force the German people to pledge allegiance to a flag and to him….but I’m hoping that’s not a blueprint for what serves as American patriotism.

Sometimes I think the country just needs to take a huge cleansing breath and

calm the heck down.

Wouldn’t it be a great idea to just rest for a while and not assume the worst in each other. To not be continually angry with those who think differently than you? Those who choose to live their lives differently? Those who look different, Those who worship differently? I’ll bet they love America too! Isn’t that what freedom and being an American really means?

And by the way…….to embrace the realization that God loves us all EQUALLY? All of us….All of us. American or not. Isn’t that statement amazing and HUMBLING! Shouldn’t it cause us to love more and judge less?

Here’s an idea. Just for today….

Grab a cup of coffee, a glass of sweet tea or what other beverage makes you happy, and thank God for the rain, the sun, the blooms (not the mosquitoes, I have to pray harder about them) and head to the patio. All of this pairs well with your music of choice (vintage George Jones is a suggestion) and quit trying to fix everybody and everything.

And yes, I’m preaching to myself.

Smells like summer, doesn’t it?

Good News guilt.

I’m an oversharer. Totally. Is there a rehab for that?

In my defense, I’ve used FACEBOOK for years to promote my choral program, my church, my politics…. I’ve shown off my family and lots and lots of food. OVER SHARE. Over share on steroids.

But I have to tell you that during this past year, well two years, It’s become a lifeline for me. Being sick, being cooped up at home, worrying about getting COVID while having lung cancer…. my oversharing definitely ramped up. But it was worth it.

Well, most of the time.

My oversharing this week featured my good news. your see, I go to MD Anderson Cancer Center every three months for a PET/CT scan, a MRI and visits with my oncologists. I try to handle the stress and the nerves as best I can, but…..hey, when the good news arrives telling us that the scans are good you just lose control.

At least that’s my excuse.

After texting family and a few close friends, I texted my good news to the world on FACEBOOK. I mean…. I really spilled my guts big time.

Some people keep their emotions and thoughts private (or so I’ve been told, ha)…… but it seems that clearly isn’t me. If I meet you, have ever met you, or you are a friend of a friend, I’ll tell you my life story if you just hold still a while.

Seeing as how I’m the ripe of age of 62, I’m pretty sure I’m not changing.

But here’s the rub my friends. After I had posted my good news and had 700 friends and prayer warriors comment on my post…..well, the guilt fell on me like a ton of bricks. All I could think of was how many of those friends had lost a precious friend, family member or loved one recently. How many widows had lost the loves of their lives…. How many were in treatment for cancer right now…. the mere idea that my good news could be hurtful just got next to me. What was I doing screaming out about my tests when others were in such pain.

Let’s be clear. I’m a believer. Always have been, always will be.

But how does God allow one person to get good news when another believer (much better person, I’m sure) not get the good news? Why does God allow the tornado to blow my house away and save the one next door? What did the young man with a bright future get taken from his parents when another did not? I’m sure you have many more of these questions…. And how often do we use the phrase “I’m so blessed”…. does the connotation mean another person is not so blessed….?

I pretty certain when I pray God shakes his/her head and says “oh good grief, it’s that question woman again”….. Surely some of you feel the same way. A wise Sunday School teacher with the initials Richard Lusby once declared in class that God is perfectly capable of hearing both our truth and our questions. If you believe our God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent…… then nothing is off limits and nothing has to be held back. God is truth. He already knows my issues. Even if my questions are never ending…. and aren’t answered. Isn’t faith believing when we don’t know the why me or the why not me?

We are born to die. There’s a time to die…. for sure. None of us know when our time will come. ….

But, I still don’t feel comfortable thinking that my good fortune might have been difficult for my friends to hear and for that I’m incredibly sorry.

Nobody said it…but I can’t help but wonder if they felt it.

My 3 month respite is just that. 3 months. I have stage 4 lung cancer. Stage 4…… so the name of the game is to extend my life and postpone the inevitable. But isn’t that what we are all doing anyway? Trying to postpone the inevitable? I happen to have a little advanced knowledge of what’s to come….

Many of you have asked about Keytruda. The drug I’m taking every 21 days for the rest of my life……Keytruda is a relatively new immunotherapy drug. It causes my immune system to attack my specific cancer. After extensive testing my tumors had the right markers to respond. Heave duty medical facts that this retired choral director can barely understand and surely can’t explain.

Funny fact, I trust my doctor. And science. And all I know is that it seems to be working.

For now.

I watched both my mom and my sister suffer greatly with cancer. Mother with breast cancer and my sister with ovarian. It was terrible. I know this path all too well. Some of you do too. I pray for you. And I know you pray for me. I pray a little differently now. I’m 62, my kids are adults, life’s been good. I can’t imagine a better one. So I don’t always pray for healing…. it’s mostly for courage in the face of the unknown, for grace and comfort for the journey home.

I’d love to assure my friends that I’ll stop oversharing about all of this life and death stuff but well, we all know that’s probably not happening. I’ll try to keep it positive. I promise.

What I do want to convey is there’s hope for a extended life for cancer patients because of incredibly brilliant scientists and gifted physicians. I am proof of that. To live 2 years with stage 4 is pretty rare. And I realize each 3 month extension is a miracle in itself.

I also have faith in life after death. And yes, I have about a million questions about how that works. But my faith means I don’t have to have all the answers to believe.

I just today visited with a precious friend whose husband recently passed away. Her heart is simply broken, as are many of yours. We talked about grace, about questions and about guilt. What a blessing she is. She’s faced the absolute worst (short of losing a child) so we can talk about the “hard stuff” without the awkwardness. I hope you have a friend like her.

Forgive my oversharing, I’ll work on my guilt….and

May the real GOOD NEWS be ours forever. Not just for 3 months.

Irene

First of all, Irene is a lovely name.

It’s old-fashioned, it’s spelled correctly, and it’s not one of those “made up” names….. but honestly? Her name was FRANKIE Irene.

I’d probably go by Irene too.

It’s Mother’s Day weekend so this is my ode to her and to all the mothers reading this.

My mother, just like yours, was special. I’m certain you are thinking right now of your mother, maybe you’re missing your mother, maybe you’re thanking God for her…or sadly, maybe you’re one of the thousands of women desperate to BE a mother….

Indulge me as I share a few reasons why my mom was so special. Notice I said special, not perfect.

  • Irene was FIERCELY independent before it was the norm, or acceptable. She learned to drive in the farm truck. She fell in love and eloped, without the blessing of her parents. She was one of the first to teach while married and eventually while pregnant (if she were here she would scold me for saying pregnant… it should be “expecting”, the word pregnant was a little uncouth…. She always had her own bank account, separate from my dad. Not just separate, but in a different bank, ha. All finances were divided and never the twain should meet. She was first to bravely wear pants to church…woo hoo….how about them apples?
  • She was a TIGER MOM before we had ever heard the term. When Mike and Carla had Matthew she was determined to be a part of his life, even after the divorce, and because of her determination that special relationship exists still today. When JoKay was teaching at Couch and her job was eliminated, mother loudly protested to anyone who would listen and almost lost her own job doing so. When I was in a “fuss” with another girl in high school and went to mother for help (she was on the same campus) she marched my behind to the Superintendent’s office, pointed her finger and said she wanted him call all the girls in and “sort it out”…ha. AND HE DID.
  • She didn’t SUFFER FOOLS and if you were her friend you knew this all too well. She expected everyone to act appropriately, and if you didn’t she didn’t hesitate to explain your infraction….
  • She was FRUGAL. She had to be. She could stretch a dollar like nobody’s business. She did without so she could take care of us. She was honest. If we couldn’t afford it she said so. She wasn’t mad or sad, just direct. I dared not question. I wanted to attend a private college and she “matter of factly” explained to me that for that to happen I would have to have enough scholarship money…..otherwise I’d go to SMS (Missouri State) like the rest of the family. Dear ole William Woods came through with those stacked scholarships and we were all happy, thank God. When my $1,200 Volkswagen beetle died she bought yet another used car for me, then it died, she got mad, told me to go to the Ford dealership and pick out a reasonably priced new car. Daddy and I came home from Alton with a new mustang and mother wrote a check for it. How did she have that much money in her account? We don’t know.
  • She PRAYED. Unbeknownst to me she prayed every day that I would NOT find a husband at Westminster (William Woods was female and Westminster male). Her mouth to God’s ear. When I graduated I moved home and fell in love with Jack. ….talk about a praying mom, ha. She faithfully attended our church and her belief was deep and strong. She didn’t hesitate to defend the local alcoholic (who who seemed to always be in the ditch) when the gossip reached an unacceptable level in Sunday School…. but she just as easily would go to someone she knew wasn’t “saved” and ,during the invitation, pray with them until they walked the aisle…. evangelistic she certainly was.
  • She loved. DEEPLY. She was almost broken when her brother died in a farming accident and within weeks her father also died. When Mike was flying helicopters in the arctic and it looked like he was missing and dead, it was almost too much, but Mike survived and so did she. When Mike’s life choices stretched the limit, her love never wavered. Actually, I think he was her favorite, ha….Funny fact. When I taught at Couch I snuck into the permanent record vault to compare IQ scores between JoKay, Becky, Mike and myself. And of COURSE Mike’s was the highest. Haha… can you believe I did that? She loved him so much. And proud doesn’t begin to describe how she felt about Becky and Jack and JoKay and Jerry. She was over the moon about Dawn and Matt….. I mean OVER the moon.
  • Sometimes her TRUTH-TELLING was a little embarrassing…honest, but embarrassing nonetheless. …..When I was on the phone, being asked out by an older boy she loudly exclaimed “absolutely not he’s much too told”…. that took care of that.
  • She HURRIEDLY did household tasks because she hated them (this is so me) and one time she managed to wash something red with Mike’s basketball uniform and turned it a lovely pink. It was after school so no time to fix.. Mike started and played the entire game with a lovely pink uniform… .not her best work. She was forever hurrying while cooking and always cut her fingers… she never had a bandaid so she just put a piece of adhesive tape on it and carried on.
  • She was INTOLERANT…..When a little boy showed up at school from child services, and placed in mother’s 1st grade classroom, he was called N——r on the playground. Mother witnessed it, lost her temper and slapped the guilty kid… she came home that day certain she was going to lose her job, but she must have scared the guilty kid so badly he never told anyone. (hope he doesn’t read this). When they couldn’t find a foster home for the little boy from child services because he was black (our entire county was white)…..mother took him home with us and he stayed until a family was found. Keep in mind this happened in the early 1960’s…. and yes, she shouldn’t have slapped anyone, but times were different then. Trust me, she was my first grade teacher and she popped me too…for answering “yep” several times instead of “yes ma’m”…..ha… and I survived.
  • She was CRANKY every Mother’s Day because she never won the First Baptist Church corsage for 1) the oldest mother 2) the youngest mother or 3) the mother with the most children….. ha…. If you’re my age I’ll bet you remember those corsages… sometimes home-made from peony blossoms.
  • She was HUMAN. With trying to pay for JoKay’s college, keep Becky on track in high school, Mike in junior high and an unexpected late in life baby (me) who had colic and apparently cried non-stop….working full time, and keeping Daddy’s shirts ironed, going to church 3 times a week and attending all the basketball games..etc… she one day simply went to bed, shut the door and didn’t come out. I obviously was too little to remember this episode but the story was…..she was just done….like lots of mothers out there who simply don’t know if they can manage one more stinkin’ day. …… JoKay was called home from college to help and after a while it got better. But Lord have mercy, it must have been hard for her. I think often about that event and how in those days folks just didn’t talk about depression or exhaustion or mental health.

I have a million other examples of Irene’s character and traits…. and what a blessing it was to have her for a mother. It seems that by the time I realized how extraordinary she was, the cancer struck and

she was gone.

She didn’t get to meet my boys, she was not there for motherly advice or sympathy or to be proud of my family. No graduations or weddings or the birth of grands…..I’m sure that’s why I am “over the top” when I write about her. Her memory…all these years later, looms large and for that, I’m incredibly thankful. I’m pretty sure I’ve unconsciously tried to emulate her my entire life.

Mother’s Day, for many years, wasn’t pleasant for me. It just made me sad. But life goes on., doesn’t it? I’ve discovered I have many of the same traits as Irene….the good and the bad (I haven’t slapped anybody but I did throw an earring once during choir rehearsal in Brookland)…. Mother’s Day has become a happy day for me!!

In 1997 when I was so sick (the first time..ha) I prayed hard to not die but to be here for my boys so they would remember me….How dang lucky am I? God decided to allow me these extra years to be a mother…. and it’s been wonderful.

Hallelujah.

So here we are…….I well remember when my boys were little and they brought home gifts from school or Sunday School on Mother’s Day, and how it made my heart simply burst with pride and love.

(I’ll bet you moms out there feel the same)

However, things change when you get older. for me this day is not at all about gifts but instead it’s about TIME. Time spent with my boys and now my daughters in law and grands. I’ll wager your mom says the same thing.

TIME

This is the only gift I want.

(of course if one of them was in the NFL I’d ask for a new car but that’s not happenin….)

It’s my hope that on this Mother’s Day you’ll spend time with your moms, if you’re lucky enough to have them close…. and just be together. Talk, listen to her stories AGAIN. And if your mom is gone…. well, use this day to tell someone about her! Share a story, share a laugh, remember her! Put on a peony corsage and roll.

Here’s to you IRENE, my sweet Mother ……You were so loved.

Happy Mother’s Day

Up from the grave he arose…

So many of my friends were raised similarly to me…..I’m almost embarrassed to write anything about the Easter holiday for fear that my stories are nothing special or out of the ordinary. So I suppose writing this morning is simply a way for me to walk through my memories and help you recall yours….

First of all, there is (in my mind) nothing wrong with Easter eggs, hiding Easter eggs or bunnies, chocolate or otherwise. Never did I worry about it being Pagan or Wiccan or anything other than fun and tradition and neither did my parents. (some Christians are out to ruin everything)….JUST KIDDING!

And we were BIG on tradition. Real Big.

Let’s start with those EGGS. Boiling Easter eggs on Saturday before Easter was just the best! No cute little kits or paper wrapping for us. We used food coloring and vinegar and if we wanted them to be fancy we would use a crayon on the egg before dipping…usually it was the sign of the cross (told you we weren’t pagan). The eggs made a tremendous mess in the kitchen but this time. mother didn’t seem to mind, because she loved it too.

Easter Sunday meant a new outfit for us all. A new dress, new shoes and when I was little, a hat and gloves. We took the traditional picture before walking across the road to First Baptist Church to celebrate BIG.

Between Sunday School and worship the men all stood outside and smoked. (I’ll bet they did at your church too) and nobody worried about it at all. Sunday School was shortened on Easter so we could have the big FBC egg hunt, and believe it or not, one year I WON! Whoo-Hoo! How exciting! What would the prize be? Money? Candy?………

A RABBIT. A REAL LIVE RABBIT.

Lord have mercy, I was so excited! This big fat bunny was mine! Needless to say, Irene was not as excited. NOT AT ALL.

In my mother’s world animals were for eating or hunting other animals. Her depression era mindset meant not wasting money on anything not useful.

After all, it had only been a year or two since I convinced (begged) her to buy 2 chickens (dyed pink and yellow) at Senn’s Five and Ten in Thayer. It was Easter week and the chicks were outside the store in cardboard boxes. All colors!! Those chickens, my two chicks, were so precious!! I named them JoKay and Eleanor after my big sister and her best friend.

Of course I did.

Then there was the Sunday that we had fried chicken for lunch and somebody (probably Mike) broke the bad news that mother had hand-idly made JoKay and Eleanor our sacrificial lunch. I was pretty darned upset but I got over it….and you know, it was really good fried chicken after all.

In her defense, the color had grown out and off the feathers and they were just really mean chickens running around our yard for no good reason.

See what I mean about the animals? But I digress.

Back to my bunny. Mother had bought a rabbit hutch for my Easter rabbit and she sprang for the rabbit food too. Everyday I got off the bus from school and took my bunny out of the hutch and fed him clover from the yard. He apparently loved it. He got fatter and fatter and meaner and meaner.

Don’t judge unless you’ve dealt with a really fat, mean bunny.

And of course you know what’s next. I get off the bus one day and the bunny was gone, hutch and all. Mother sold him to Clifford England. At least that was the story……

After that we didn’t really get into chickens or rabbits much.

But my Easter memories are still rich and precious, sans animals.

Memories of spring. Memories of family gatherings, memories of wonderful church services and music, all which helped us understand that death is defeated. The sacrifice has been made. It is over.

This season, this year….my goodness, how many sacrifices have we all made? We have stayed inside, we have forgone in person worship, in person school……business owners have sacrificed profits and we’ve learned how to do everything differently and safely.

We need a resurrection.

We need assurance that this dark night is over. We need rebirth and joy. We need each other.

We need church.

We need faith, friends, the promise of spring. The promise given through Christ’s death and resurrection. The promise of new life.

And if by chance, you throw in a few bunny or chicken memories it’s all the better.

I close my eyes and listen…. “Up from the grave he arose “…… Daddy singing that bass line loud and strong! I hope he’s singing it in heaven…..and I hope he gets the words right. No animals mother, not a one…. but instead there are little grandchildren and Easter eggs and all the fun. You would love it, because…..

Easter is here and we are saved.

Low in the grave He lay
Jesus my Savior!
Waiting the coming day
Jesus my Lord!Up from the grave He arose
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes
He arose a Victor from the dark domain

And He lives forever with His saints to reign
He arose! (He arose)
He arose! (He arose)
Hallelujah! Christ arose!Vainly they watch His bed
Jesus, my Savior!
Vainly they seal the dead
Jesus my Lord!Up from the grave He arose

With a mighty triumph o’er His foes
He arose a Victor from the dark domain
And He lives forever with His saints to reign
He arose! (He arose)
He arose! (He arose)

Hallelujah! Christ arose!Death cannot keep his prey
Jesus, my Savior!
He tore the bars away
Jesus my Lord!Up from the grave He arose
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes
He arose a Victor from the dark domain
And He lives forever with His saints to reign
He arose! (He arose)
He arose! (He arose)

Hallelujah! Christ arose!Up from the grave He arose
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes
He arose a Victor from the dark domain
And He lives forever with His saints to reign
He arose! (He arose)
He arose! (He arose)
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Calling Nicholas Sparks

I don’t know if it’s my age, my health or a combination of the two, but I’m obsessed with telling the stories of my childhood and the history of my family.

I’m more than positive those of you reading my little blog have your own precious family stories. I encourage you to write them down, save them for generations to come. Tell them, share them. Don’t let them fade away. Keep them alive.

All of this sentimentality leads me to my story. The story of my parents and their love for each each other.

Buster and Irene

First of all, your should be aware that my parents didn’t view their story as anything particularly special or newsworthy. They lived during a time in history that every broken nail didn’t warrant a 20/20 episode. They didn’t ask for sympathy. They lived with their hardships and moved on.

Daddy lived south of our little town of Myrtle, across the Missouri-Arkansas state line. Because the one room school he attended only went through the 8th grade, Daddy went to the 8th grade twice (always a source of humor for my mother). The only option for Daddy to continue his education was to move away from his home to attend Couch High School where he met my mother. Daddy would laugh when telling us about living with a buddy during those years, high school boys who couldn’t keep the shack warm in the winter or find enough to eat. But they did it….. they survived and graduated. An accomplishment for sure.

Mother often told us that NOBODY had it easy during those days. But I suppose, as with all things, there were degrees of hardship. Daddy’s family, the Wilkersons, were probably at the bottom of that rung. They were poor. Happy, but poor, ha.

Mother’s family, the Smiths, owned land and had a farm. Their lives were just a bit easier. Plenty to eat and a home built from a Sears and Roebuck plan. (Quite the thing, I’m told). The Smiths were a little on the cranky order at times, ha….(I acknowledge that trait in myself quite often….ha)

As fate would have it, mother and daddy met at school and fell in love. My grandpa was not at all happy. Not at all. My Daddy was not in the plan he had for his daughter….

Life continued, and both mother and daddy graduated from high school and took the teacher’s exam. They each passed and began teaching in one room schools (ala Little House on the Prairie). A college degree wasn’t necessary in those days, just a willingness to teach and the passing of the eacher’s test.

They swept the schools in which they worked, they built the fires to keep the students warm, and they often gave away whatever food they had to the students who didn’t have enough. Mother often said she TAUGHT school but she feared Daddy just KEPT school. Not that she would ever be critical of course.

But what about LOVE?

Because mother’s teaching contract prohibited marriage (can you believe that?) mother and Daddy secretly eloped with another couple, getting married in the night and coming back home as if nothing had happened. Their secret. Pretty romantic don’t ya think?

And then Daddy got sick

Contrary to what anti-vaxxers believe, diseases like mumps and measles were often death sentences before vaccinations existed. Daddy managed to get the mumps and it was bad. He was really sick…..Mother wanted to go visit but my grandpa said no. So…… she had no choice but to tell my grandpa that Buster was her husband and she had to go to him. She did and Daddy recovered, but then mother had to convince the school board she should keep her teaching job while being married…… I’m not sure who made that decision, but he did the right thing…ha

Fast forward

The war. The big one. World War II. Daddy was drafted and left for parts unknown. Communication was limited, his telegrams and the few letters that made it from Europe to Missouri, were rare and redacted….. Every communication was believed to be an opportunity for the enemy to spy…all of this to say mother had little idea of his location.

When mother discovered she was pregnant Daddy was long gone and she had no idea where he was or if he was even alive.

She hid her pregnancy as long as she could. Teachers were surely not allowed to be pregnant. On the advice of the school board president she bought compression garments (can you even believe this?) to hide the baby bump as long as possible. When it was evident she was expecting and couldn’t hide it anymore, she moved home with grandma and grandpa and she waited.

And waited.

Mother would tell this story with tears in her eyes. The story of a pregnant young woman walking to the mailbox every day with desperate hopes of communication coupled with the fear that the communication might be a death notice…..excruciating.

The Baby

My oldest sister JoKay (Jo Kathryn) was born in June of 1944 and the months passed. Daddy spent those months chasing Nazis in Northern Africa and Italy. He was a country boy who was a good shot, and spent lots of time scouting and crawling on his belly before the Americans would start an attack… And, by the way, Daddy RARELY talked about his experiences. Sharing only a funny story or two about friends or places.

I can’t imagine what he did and what he saw during those months. He just didn’t talk about it.

Tires

And then it happened.
Daddy was on his way home. He called mother to say he was in Walnut Ridge and was trying desperately to find a ride home. In those days everything was rationed. Not just food but things like TIRES. Mother started crying during the phone call because her family didn’t have a car with tires that could make the trip…. but the “party line” phone came to the rescue. A woman listening in on the conversation spoke up and said her husband had tires that would make it!

Gotta love a party line

My oldest sister JoKay was 22 months old at this point. (Again, I can see my mother crying as she told us this part of the story…..) She had given JoKay a picture of Daddy and she (JoKay) carried it around kissing it and saying Daddy. I think about our Camryn who is about the same age… and can’t imagine. Anyway, thank God…..Daddy came home.

Mother would tell the story about Daddy arriving and going quickly into the bedroom where JoKay was sleeping. He stroked her face and gently woke her. She immediately said “Daddy” as he picked her up and embraced the daughter he had never met. TEARS.

Bravery…..

Mother and Daddy lived during perilous times. They were strong beyond measure. They relied on their faith and their family to get them through those days, just like many of your parents and grandparents did. No fanfare. Like I said before, no Dateline or 20/20, just a resolve to meet the challenges head on and survive.

I contacted Nicholas Sparks ….. (I’m like that) hoping he would tell my parents story in a fabulous book and I could consult on the movie and pick out my favorite stars, to portray them, but alas, he was not interested. Can you IMAGINE? C’mon Nick.

So while I’m still here, I’ll tell their story.

The love story of Buster and Irene.

The story of ordinary people who lived during an extraordinary time.

A time where love won.

But doesn’t it always?

Hit me with your best shot

Health care isn’t for sissies.

I’ll bet most of you have had to deal with our monolithic healthcare system. God forbid you’ve had to navigate insurance, lack of insurance, reimbursements….all while trying to actually stay alive or keep your loved one alive.

Even when the health care you or your loved one is receiving is the BEST in the world. Even when your doctor is so amazing you want to invite him to Thanksgiving, even when you include the AFLAC duck in your nightly prayers….

It’s just HARD.

The last two week have been difficult, so let me whine a bit about it. Or wine about it…both of which have in fact, happened.

Jack and I headed to Houston for my 3 month checkup last week. It’s tax season at our house so you realize there’s a bit of extra stress to begin with when Jack’s missing work. We arrive in Houston and check into our awesome “home away from home”, the Rotary House.

We began the next day with a 6:30 am appointment followed by back to back appointments until 4:00 pm.

There are numerous locations at MD Anderson to have a CT scan and we received a call telling us my scan had been moved to a different building in order to keep us in one location for the rest of the day. Great right? Well, not so much. When we arrived the nurse (I lovingly refer to her as nurse Ratchet) was not happy. She ask why I was there and who told me I could change locations. HA…. girlfriend was in a MOOD. I finally convinced her that I had no control over the change and I’m thinking I might have responded with a “I don’t want to have the D_______ test in the first place”. … At that point I’m pretty sure Ratchet got my drift.

Little did I realize that the move of the scan required my being in the SMALLER machine. Funtimes. The top of the tube/cylinder was about an inch from my nose and my arms touched the sides. Lordy Mercy! As per usual I kept my eyes closed and quoted every scripture I knew, the Lord’s prayer and hymns where I didn’t remember the 3rd verse.

I made it. But I think the stress of the day finally hit Jack. He asked for Ratchet’s real name and then blistered her. Very much “unJack” like. By the time he was finished she was practically hugging me and asking how she could help. Oh Ratchet, I’m sorry. Kinda.

Bottom line? My hero, Dr. Gay (looks like Pete Buttigieg) told us that both the CT scan and the MRI were very, very positive. At that point nothing mattered except getting back to Jonesboro. Funny how every emotion flips on a dime when those results are read. You can almost feel the load lift.

After this news I had my port placed (kinda a bigger deal than expected) and we stayed the night before leaving H town for home.

In true Jack fashion we left early in the am. I slept most of the way, Jack drove like a bat out of… well, like a bat. We stopped ONCE and pulled into Jonesboro in time for him to get in a half a day at the office, ha.

THEN the snowpocalypse occurred on Monday when I was scheduled for my treatment. At Jack’s assistance I did not cancel. We (he, I had my eyes closed) made it. We even made it to the dentist to fix a tooth I broke on Gardetto’s. Impressive, huh? “Grandma, what old teeth you have”….

Since that time Jack hasn’t missed a day of work and I haven’t left the hacienda.

As it should be.

All this to say…… we survived.

  • We got out of Houston BEFORE the emergency situation in the city (bless them all)
  • I’m tired but I’m here….sleep is medicine, right?
  • I babysat Cooper Friday and he’s just the most precious baby on the PLANET. I held him the entire time and it might as well have been a steroid shot.
  • High school football players did a fabulous job of clearing our driveway
  • My port worked beautifully, albeit an allergic reaction to something raging on my chest.
  • I always mourn on Feb. 20…the day I lost my mom…. but I’ve had visits from beautiful cardinals this week and I know they are sending me love from her.
  • God is good. Not because bad things don’t happen….they surely do… but when you pray hard enough you find the blessing from the bad… and the courage to carry on.

Hit me with your best shot, indeed

Fire away.

When I’m 64.

When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine? If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four

First of all, for what it’s worth, I’m only 62.

If you don’t recognize these wonderful lyrics then my little blog post is probably not going to resonate with you. But if you do…..

Let’s talk.

Teaching kept me young. Well, at least aware. I tried to keep up with popular music, fashion, trends… I’m sure I was still the “grandmother” figure to most of my students but I did put effort into being the “cool grandmother”… who knows if that worked. I enjoyed the respect given me by my younger colleagues and looked forward to helping them when asked.

In addition to surrounding myself with 12-14 year olds, I was required to learn how to use technology for everything… grading, discipline, teaching methods…..(took me twice as long as the average 30 year old) however I was proud to say that I could accomplish most of what was required….. with the assistance of great tech people and equipment anyway..

Getting my National Board Certification in 2008 was a matter of writing, recording, testing and self evaluation. You did it, printed it all out and popped it in a BOX in the mail. Fast forward to the renewal process just a few years later. ALL online. Upload, download, attach sound files, attach video files…etcetera! Yes, I managed to do it… but I’ll admit I asked a much younger colleague to help me submit because I was beside myself with “tech anxiety”…. If I remember correctly it took her 10 minutes and she ate a candy bar while doing it, while I stood behind her having a complete breakdown. (Yes, I passed.)

But let’s talk about the average senior? The ones without computers. The ones without grandchildren to help them navigate the tech world? Or the grandparents struggling to raise their grandchildren and do online school for heaven’s sake!! Can you even imagine the stress? I know I can’t. I know it’s difficult to believe but not everyone in the world has 1) a smart phone 2) a computer or laptop and 3) they don’t want one and shouldn’t have to have one

Again, if you don’t recognize the lyrics below….just ignore, or google them, whatever.

People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we get around (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I hope I die before I get old (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)

Think about this for a second…

  • Seriously. Can you believe some folks can’t even get a newspaper anymore… just an online version with a free IPAD nobody wants to use?
  • Church and community newsletters are things of the past because after all, you can get all your information online. If you’re online. Talk about isolation!
  • Customer service is now reduced to an online form. Good luck with those responses folks…and if you call? Well, all lines are busy at this time.
  • Telemedicine, telebanking…and TV? What the heck! I have 4 remotes….4. I own a smart tv. Apparently much smarter than me.

Now we have commercials telling us how “not to be like your parents”… I know, I know, they are hysterical. Mostly because I can relate so closely to them.

  • The guy making noises as he gets up from the chair (that’s me)
  • The staring at the blue hair
  • The desire to give feedback when it’s not requested (again, me)
  • hashtags..(ha, don’t even)
  • pronouncing Quinoa (my favorite)
  • Printing a map (Jack for sure)

And honestly, what about those Facebook ads….

  • 10 hairstyles older women should avoid
  • Fashion mistakes women over 50 continue to make
  • Decorating mistakes people over 50 make.

For the record, you’ll have to pry my red lipstick out of my hands when I die, and I don’t care

And have you counted the pharmaceutical ads during the news?

  • Take this pill and you’ll enjoy a bathtub in the forest with your spouse
  • This one will help you roller skate with your grandchildren
  • This one turns you into a great Salsa dancer!

What I need to know is which one helps you drag you old tail out of bed?

In all seriousness…

The virus has been incredibly difficult for the older generation. Not only did many ignore the virus because “young people” weren’t as susceptible, it was almost like losing Grandma and Grandpa was the price we had to pay to get back to “normal”. Be honest. Don’t you believe that if the virus only attacked 15-40 year olds the initial reaction might have been a little different?

I wonder.

I have recently become aware than many elderly folks (those without local family and still living at home) have had issues with getting the vaccinations. My dear college friend lives in LA (Los Angeles, not lower Arkansas) and she’s had a heck of a time getting help for her 90 year old father who lives (independently) in Missouri. Thank goodness we are finally recognizing these issues and trying to rectify….

As I sit here this morning at my desk (just a messy table in the sunroom) I let my mind ramble. I think about wisdom and experience, humor and inevitable loss….about dignity and respect for those more “seasoned” like me.

We are here. We are full of ideas and thoughts we want to share. We’re not always CRANKY (oops) or depressed about our lack of a current hairstyle, ha. Please don’t discount our wisdom or our love. Listen to us. You might learn something. We might be able to help.

The great prophet Willie Nelson once said “It’s true. I’m old. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll get to be old too”….. Gotta love my man Willie.

And if Willie doesn’t convince you then perhaps the good book will.

Job 12:12

Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.

Talkin’ ’bout my generation……