‘Tis the Season

Without the details, I attended a church service within the last few months that left me feeling, well, excuse my language, shitty. Judged and hopeless and disillusioned with the church. I won’t go back, not to that church, at least, not to hear that pastor. I know others who have had BAD experiences with the church—or with Christians—and they don’t see the point in trying. I get it.

Lucky for me I’ve had GOOD experiences, and so this past Sunday I began my day online at the church I attended for the first time back in 1998. This church leaves me feeling hopeful and loved, inspired to adjust my attitude each week and be a better person. Lord knows I’m not perfect, but I try.

Back in 1998, the church was called Fellowship Bible Church North. It was founded by Dr. Gene Getz, who was a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary in the early 70s. He taught people to be pastors at a time when the culture in the 60s coming into the 70s had changed drastically, and a lot of churches were not being effective in reaching a changing culture. Many of his students didn’t like church. They questioned church as a concept. They asked questions like, “Who needs the church?”

Dr. Getz came to class in the middle of one semester and said, “Men—” There were no women studying in the seminary at that time. “Obviously, I haven’t prepared this class to answer your question, so I want you to tear up your syllabus with all the assignments…We’re going to go back to the syllabus…We’re going to go back to the book of Acts. We’re going to go into the epistles. We’re going to go as far as we can the rest of the semester and see what God intends the church to be.”

I know this story because I went to church this past Sunday, and what I heard was SO GOOD that I’m leaving the link right here. Gene was there! In 1981, he started this church, which grew and changed locations and became Chase Oaks in 2008. He retired about seventeen years ago. 2021 minus 17 equals 2004. So, I listened to him preach on the Sundays I made it to church for about six years. And let me tell you, this guy is incredibly smart. He knows the Bible—the geography, Greek, you name it, and he breaks it all down into simple, relatable terms.

Why do I feel compelled to tell you this? So glad you asked. After “retiring,” Gene went to work creating a study Bible, the CSB Life Essentials Study Bible. In addition to the scriptures, the text includes QR codes that link to videos of Dr. Gene Getz explaining 1500 Principles to Live By. This includes 300 hours of in-depth teaching. For a sample on Principle 1, Intense Prayer, click here. I’ve given a couple of these Bibles away as gifts, and I just purchased another one. I’m not on commission. I just love Gene, God, and this Bible. Maybe you are looking for a special gift or maybe you want an interactive Bible or maybe you just want to listen to someone who has GOOD news. After all…

‘Tis the Season

P. S. So, let’s say, a person didn’t have time to watch a church service now, but was halfway interested in the concept of finding some spiritual guidance, Chase Oaks Church has a YouTube channel. Click here to subscribe. This is all part of the church adapting to our ever-changing culture.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Just a little formula I apply to life’s circumstances…

Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope

My Grandmother’s Legacy

Grandma had a ninth or tenth grade education. Even so, she had a gift for words. Sometime in her mid-fifties, she wrote out her memoirs, long hand. Somewhere along the way, my mother made copies of those pages that mean more to me than anything else Grandma left behind. She has been gone for thirty years this December. The 11th. 1991. One month later, I would give birth to a baby girl. My grandmother’s legacy and love would live on.

My Legacy by Catherine Savage

“I’ve never really enjoyed anything written in the first person—a primary rule about writing, and one of the few I know. Even in a letter is the abhorrence of the word or letter I. But just how do you begin or end or even put anything in the middle of this title without its use.

Money is such a transient thing, even more than life, that I haven’t considered it of great value. Possibly because I never had much money, I have just had a sour grapes attitude about it.

Love is the greatest commodity, and the giving of it always begets it. The thing I have to leave my children are their own lives. James Edward, Carol Rose, Sharon Sue, Joed Cleve, John Paul, each a lovely and loving person—all made possible by Edward Tony Savage.”

From l-r, my mother Sharon, aunt Carol, grandmother Catherine, uncles, Johnny, Joed, and Jimmy. Photo taken for a Wonder Bread campaign and missing my grandfather Ed, whom I’m sure was hard at work on an Oklahoma oil rig that day.

Native American Heritage Day

Native American Heritage Day (better known as Black Friday) is a not-so-highly publicized civil holiday observed on the day after Thanksgiving in the United States. That’s a shame considering the role of the Wampanoag people in the first Thanksgiving. They “shared their land, food, and knowledge of the environment with the English. Without help from the Wampanoag, the English would not have had the successful harvest that led to the First Thanksgiving. However, cooperation was short lived, as the English continued to attack and encroach upon Wampanoag lands in spite of their agreements” (Native Perspectives on Thanksgiving). How many of us even recognize the Wampanoag name?

Each year, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma sends me a Christmas tree ornament and a story from my ancestors. In recognition of the Native American role in Thanksgiving, in sadness of subsequent forced removal of natives from tribal lands, in memory of my proud Choctaw Granny who faced systemic injustice in her own life, as a reminder of the Choctaw blood that flows through my veins and blessings large and small, I share with you:

“The Gift of Corn”

“Long ago, two Choctaw men were camping along the Alabama River when they heard a beautiful but sad sound. They followed the sound until they came upon Ohoyo Osh Chishba, Unknown Woman, standing on an earthen mound. The men asked how they could help her, and she answered, ‘I’m hungry.’ The men gave her all their food, but the lady ate only a little and thanked them with a promise.

“‘Tell no one you saw me. I will ask the Great Spirit to give you a gift. Return here at the new moon,’ she said. The Choctaw men went home and said nothing.

“At the new moon, they returned to the river as instructed, but Ohoyo Osh Chishba was not there. In the place where they had seen her, though, stood a tall green plant. That plant is corn, and it is a great gift, indeed!”

Tanchi is the Choctaw word for corn.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.

Melody Beattie
Thankful for new candles and the reminder on my Hobby Lobby paper placemats. Oh, and for the champagne. Cheers!

Thanksgiving in School

‘Twas Wednesday the week before Thanksgiving. An English IV student volunteered to read Gwendolyn Brooks 1959 poem…

We Real Cool

THE POOL PLAYERS. 
                   SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

(Courtesy of poets.org)

“What do you notice?” I say.

Crickets.

“What makes this a poem?”

Here they speak of the rhymes, the structure, the alliteration, the repetition of “we.”

“Who is the ‘we’?”

They speculate.

“Why do they think they’re cool?”

They provide examples from the text. 

When there’s not much more to say, we read Andrew Spacey’s article, “Analysis of Poem ‘We Real Cool’ by Gwendolyn Brooks.” Spacey takes some of our beginning ideas about the poem to the next level with sophisticated sounding words about the enjambment, ambiguity, and monosyllables along with insight on the anti-establishment and a miniature tragedy in eight-lines.

“I would love to see you all write like this,” I say. But on this day, I don’t make them write. Instead, we listen to an audio of Gwendolyn Brooks explaining her inspiration behind this poem and giving a reading. The words from her mouth and rhythms of her speech sound different than how my student had read.

Then we watch a video. Same poem another person’s thoughts. The ending goes straight to my heart. I might have seen students wiping their eyes. Students in a class later that day laughed, a contagious laugh. I’ve learned I can’t control anyone else’s reactions, only my own. 

I move on to another poet for comparison, United States poet laureate Joy Harjo. We read an NPR article: “In ‘An American Sunrise,’ Joy Harjo Speaks With A Timeless Compassion.” The article reviews Harjo’s 2019 poetry collection. Then we read along to Joy Harjo’s audio of “An American Sunrise,” a poem within the collection of the same name.

An American Sunrise

We were running out of breath, as we ran out to meet ourselves. We

were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights, and ready to strike.

It was difficult to lose days in the Indian bar if you were straight.

Easy if you played pool and drank to remember to forget. We

made plans to be professional — and did. And some of us could sing

so we drummed a fire-lit pathway up to those starry stars. Sin

was invented by the Christians, as was the Devil, we sang. We

were the heathens, but needed to be saved from them — thin

chance. We knew we were all related in this story, a little gin

will clarify the dark and make us all feel like dancing. We

had something to do with the origins of blues and jazz

I argued with a Pueblo as I filled the jukebox with dimes in June,

forty years later and we still want justice. We are still America. We

know the rumors of our demise. We spit them out. They die

soon.

 

(Courtesy of poetryfoundation.org)

 

We speak of the first Thanksgiving and how the Native Americans were later robbed. The lesson is heavy, but thought-provoking, and the students quite like the two poems side-by-side. I’m posting from my phone today and unable to format this poem as intended. Otherwise, you would clearly see that each line ends with the following words consecutively: We strike straight. We sing Sin We thin gin We Jazz June, We die soon). The students minds are blown.

“Now I want you to create something as a celebration of Thanksgiving—maybe a poem, a song, or art—and give a mini presentation. This is how it works. You entertain me, and I give you a 100. I would be so happy if someone would sing me a song. You have thirty minutes. Go.”

5th period dances to “Beans, Greens, Potatoes, Tomatoes,” also known as the Grandma Thanksgiving Rap.
These images include endangered species. The text says, “To all animals and plants: Thank you for your time spent on this earth. From all humanity: our condolences and apologies for what has been brought upon this earth. May your spirits find a peaceful life after they leave this one. To all humanity: The time has passed to repair for our crimes. Now we are obligated to make the earth comfortable in these times of strife, conflict, loss, and change.
Thanksgiving, a day we spend with family

We eat and munch like an abnormality

We sit around and argue with each other

It never stops, but we love one another.

—1st Period Mariachi

November Gratitude, Or Not

This November, I hoped to focus on gratitude. I’ve done it before. Gratitude is good.

In recent years I’ve kept a journal in celebration of Thanksgiving, listing three reasons to be grateful a day, large or small. But this year—though good things happen every day, though I still admire beauty in this world, though I love so much about this life—I’m on an emotional roller coaster, riding the highs straight into my lows, unable to maintain my attitude of gratitude or my focus on this ride. Of course, I could make myself journal. Sometimes I think I might try. Honestly, that seems painful. And a little fake. So why?

Last year on November 19, COVID-19 found its way to my mother. She suffered alone in her nursing home, closed to visitors due to the pandemic. Ten days later, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, she went to the hospital. Eight days after that she was released to come home, not to the nursing home but to her home since 1976. For hospice. I was there with my sister and brother and dad to welcome her. Mom’s smile lit up the entire room. Her decline was swift. On Christmas Eve, she breathed her last breath. Of course, I’m thankful to have spent those final days with my mother.

I’m not one to let the little things get me down. But losing my mother wasn’t a little thing.

I’m typing these words in solidarity with those (who for whatever reason may be) in a similar frame of mind—an acknowledgement of holiday heartbreak. If you happen to relate, I see you.

God bless.

A reminder from me to me. Maybe it’s good for you, too.

Let’s Have Fun with Jane Eyre

I teach high school English. Can I say how much I hate multiple-choice tests over literature? I never took a multiple-choice test in my college English classes. Instead, I wrote.

In a perfect world, I would teach books I love, and the kids would experience the love of story and language. Then again, the world isn’t perfect. Students have obligations and jobs, and I would be naïve to believe they’re all reading. Let me take a stab and say 50% of them, give or take, are not. Most classic pieces of literature have been made into movies. Take for instance, Jane Eyre. How many of my students watched the movie and called  it a day? Should I give up on the classics? Should I give up on reading checks?

I’m locked into this year’s general plan, but I’m rethinking for next year, my how and my what. Meanwhile, I endeavor to pull my students through a novel I love. In my classroom, I have seven table groups of four or five, thirty-two students total in my largest classes. I have a few go-to activities for literature re-cap: reader’s theatre (students act out a chapter or passage with books in hand, narrating and acting out the dialogue) and ShrinkLits (shrinking the literature or a chapter down to a rhyming summary, a concept developed by Maurice Sagoff in a book by the same title). Of course, there are times I assign specific passages to be read (hopefully re-read) closely for discussion and analysis. And of course, there are writing assignments, too. For the activities, I assign table groups  a specific chapter, as a summary (or a preview for those who have fallen behind), and they present to the class. At a performing and visual arts high school, they take their acting seriously. Our reader’s theatre was quite outstanding. However, as with anything, overdoing it loses the magic. This year when I had used all my best tricks for Jane Eyre, I confessed: “I’m out of ideas. I’m going to give your table a chapter, and you can decide how to present it. You have thirty minutes.”  

And so today I’m thankful for white board space and students with ideas. Some students presented in news reporting format, others did interviews, one group played charades, which actually happens in the novel, and my dancers danced to Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” for Chapter XVI, where Mr. Rochester tries to make Jane jealous through a feigned relationship with Blanche Ingram. (The lyrics go like this: “Hey, Hey, hey, you, you, I don’t like your girlfriend / No way, no way, I think you need a new one / Hey, hey, you, you, I could be your girlfriend…)

And you know what? Some of my students love Jane Eyre as much as I do. That makes me happy.

Gratitude for My Geometry Teacher

A co-worker told me recently about a teacher who inspired him. He had visited his teacher once years later, and the teacher pulled one of his essays from a file and gave it to him. My friend was shocked and flattered that his teacher had kept his work for all those years. We spoke of sending our past teachers thank you notes and apologies.

I said, “I did that once. I’m sure I owe a few more teachers.”

My high school geometry teacher was elderly and kind. In retrospect, she was probably ten to fifteen years older than I am at present.

Back in my high school days, I took my socializing seriously for an introvert. I maximized my time in the hallway between classes, chatting with friends making eyes (or something like that) with my boyfriend. I would arrive at the classroom threshold as the bell rang. Mrs. Lee always stood there waiting with a patient smile. If I remember correctly, I asked her if I could go to the restroom almost daily as I arrived almost late. She always let me go. At some point in the school year, she just started taking my books for me, never with an ounce of exasperation. When I returned to class, my books waited for me on my desk.

When Mrs. Lee’s husband passed (He was my elementary school counselor who administered standardized testing and told us to bubble our answers “dark and glossy”), I searched for Mrs. Lee’s address. I found it and mailed my condolences, along with an apology from my former self and a note of appreciation from my adult-teacher self. Now I’m the one who allows restroom breaks when they might not be convenient and even when the students try my patience. I told her that, and you know what? She wrote me back, the kindest note in keeping with my memories of her.

In my twenty-first year of teaching, I still remind myself that kids are kids. We learn character, by witnessing character. I did anyway. Although I made A’s in my geometry class that year, I’ll remember what Mrs. Lee taught me about patience and kindness above all. And I’m grateful.

Do you have a Mrs. Lee? Someone who made a difference that might not even know?

The Black Cat

To the tune of “Copacabana” by Barry Manilow

Her name is Nora. She is a small cat. 
With a coat of raven black and sharp claws meant for attack.
She would meow loud, stumped by her cat door.
And while she ran the neighborhood,
We would always put out food
Outside of our front door. Then she’d come back for more.
She’d lost her family and now had us
Who could ask for more?

*****

A few short weeks ago, my neighbor Susan told me they were moving into a townhome near downtown. She had three or four indoor cats (including Leonard Bernstein and Victoria) and another outdoor cat, born to a feral mother. Susan had fed the cat since she was a kitten, morning and night for the past five years. Her name was Nora.

Susan was looking for a home for Nora. She asked if I knew of anyone who might be interested. I might be interested. I should discuss this with my husband. Nora didn’t socialize well with the indoor cats, especially not with Vicky. Besides, Nora was accustomed to her freedom.

I told my husband Kody about the situation. With eyebrow raised he said, “So we’re getting a cat?”

“She’ll be an outdoor cat,” I said hopefully.

And so we adopted Nora one week ago, on the Saturday before Halloween. No papers required.

Susan researched the rehoming of an outdoor cat. The suggestion was to keep the cat in one room for a few days until she realized we were her food source. Susan carried Nora to our home across the street in a cat carrier. She brought food and catnip and a cat box and litter and food bowls and flea medicine and a cat tree and toys. Everything Nora might need to be comfortable and everything we might need to care for her.

Nora had a mighty meow. She was mostly content beneath the bed in our guest room. At night, she was restless. She wanted the outdoors. This I knew. We let her check out our home instead and shut her back into her room when we went back to bed that Saturday night and Sunday, Monday, Tuesday.

By Wednesday, Nora’s meowing escalated to a guttural howl. We unlocked our cat door, formerly used by our seven-year-old cat Sally (RIP August 2017) and our fourteen-year-old chihuahua-terrier Rain (RIP January 2021). We pushed Nora through the door, now meant for her and into our back yard. Our fence has a few places for a small cat to escape, and so Nora was free once more.

In the morning, we set food out for her near the front door. Some one ate it, hopefully Nora, and that evening we set out more. Sweet Nora returned. By choice, she walked through the door all nonchalant and sauntered back to her room. Each evening into the dark hours of the night, she becomes restless. Nora still doesn’t quite comprehend the concept of the cat door. It has only been a few days now. And so we keep pushing her through to the back at night, and she keeps returning to the front on her own time.

Nora is on the prowl this morning. I hoped to keep her indoors for Halloween. But something tells me she can take care of herself. Maybe it’s the claw marks on my arms. I just wanted to hold her. But she’s a wild little minx. We’re still becoming acquainted.

Coffee Shop Thoughts (on Poe and Friendship)

The clouds hung low in the sky yesterday as I drove toward a little coffee shop to meet my friends from school with the intention of communal writing. I couldn’t help thinking, “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens…” I had been teaching Poe and started drawing parallels. Except yesterday—the clouds weren’t oppressive, and the day wasn’t dull, dark, or soundless. Traffic hummed, and the sky beyond said clouds was clear, bright, and blue.

“…I had been passing alone…” this was true… “on horseback…” and by horseback, I mean in my Mazda CX-5… “through a singularly dreary tract of country…” if you consider downtown Houston the country or deary. Perhaps, it was opposite day… “and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on…” I mean, I found myself as the morning sun shone brighter… “within view of the melancholy House of Usher…” at my destination, anyway, a packed parking lot at 1111 E. 11th street, hardly melancholy.

Just inside the front door, A 2nd Cup teemed with the aroma of good coffee, the sound of Indie music, a vibe of creative energy, and three of my friends. I wondered if Poe had friends. I bet not. His House of Usher was melancholy from the first sentence. Mine included coffee, friends, and writing…a purpose. Is it all a matter of perspective? If you dwell on the melancholy is your house destined to fall?

*This post was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and brought to you by A 2nd Cup, a non-profit coffee shop and café that raises awareness of human trafficking issues in Houston and develops resources that help create a second chance for survivors.