“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” I’ve carried Wordworth’s words awhile. I've worn them around my neck. Today I breathe a few of my own onto this page with my whole heart. Wordsworth would say, “The Poet thinks and feels in the spirit of the passions of men… he must express himself as other men express themselves…” with “a greater readiness and power in expressing what he thinks and feels.” It’s about the expression, man’s or woman’s, keeping it simple. Relatable. He would say, “…in proportion as ideas and feelings are valuable, whether the composition be in prose or in verse, they require and exact one and the same language.” So Mr. Wordsworth, Do your words a poem make? Today my heart stopped breathing. So did the heart of my dog Rain. She was fourteen years old with a heart of gold, a heart that failed. But did it really— when she gave so much love away? One month ago, my mother passed. Rain traveled across the state line. A good eleven hours in the car each way. Away from home eleven days. The trip was hard. For both of us. Rain suddenly seemed her age. On the third day of the new year, a Sunday, Rain couldn’t breathe. I was ready then to let her go. But oxygen and medicine, a hospital stay and a dollar or two could fix her good as new. For a moment. Just ten days after my mother’s death, I couldn’t do loss again. But I knew Rain’s time would come. And now—“The rain is over and gone!” Yet somehow my heart breathes on.
Word of 2018. HOPE. When I began this self-imposed writing gig while living in a La Quinta and rebuilding our house that had been flooded by a hurricane named Harvey, I named my blog Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope. My dad gave me a silver bracelet engraved with HOPE for my December 30th 2017 birthday, and I wore it almost every day for the following year as a reminder that HOPE, in all caps, is a choice. Dad taught me years ago that I could choose my attitude. Even amid crisis, I have a choice. HOPE or DESPAIR? I choose HOPE. Even though I’ve retired the word as my focus, I want to say I’m eternally hopeful. I credit Mama, too, for the faith she passed along.
Word of 2019. BELIEVE. Yes, I realize HOPE and BELIEVE are practically synonyms. In my mind Belief removes all doubt and fuels the Hope. Belief reminds me to trust God in the process. In 2019, I was back home and typing my posts on the comfort of my new couch. Then and now, I BELIEVE in a better, healthier future for everyone in my family. I BELIEVE in the progress of medicine and stem cells and cures for paranoid schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s and addiction. I BELIEVE that together we are stronger, and our relationships are important. I BELIEVE my writing is evolving and helping others evolve. I BELIEVE one day I will publish my first book, the first of many more. All through the grace of God. In 2019, my best friend Denise sent me a new bracelet. This one said BELIEVE.
Word of 2020. I broke the rules to the whole one-word idea. I picked two: HONESTY and COURAGE. In 2020 I returned to school to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. Through this program, I’m finishing my memoir that focuses on my son Drew, the effects of his paranoid schizophrenia on our family, and our search for help. This story cannot be told without HONESTY and COURAGE. It begins in 2010 and spans the course of six years. Our journey begins with the realization that something is wrong. Post-diagnosis, we come to terms with needing help and learn that help is a perfect formula of medicine and counseling, family and community support. I understand now that help is not possible without Drew’s full investment, and the story I’m writing is about me. My reality and my hope. It’s about sharing to help others know they are not alone. At the end of 2020, I felt like I fell short of complete HONESTY and true COURAGE. I considered a 2021 repeat. A second chance.
Word of 2021. PROGRESS. Truth be told, I’m lacking inspiration at the moment. I might even be feeling sorry for myself. I suppose pulling myself out of my slump will be PROGRESS. I suppose giving myself some extra compassion when I struggle with feelings of inadequacy, grief, and anger will be PROGRESS. I will graduate with my MFA in May, and I’ve learned so much in a year. We don’t know what we don’t know, and I know I have more to learn. That’s PROGRESS. I can say I have written a book. More PROGRESS. Now to PROGRESS with revisions—word choice and phrasing, metaphor and humor, insight and transitions. To PROGRESS with courage and honesty. To PROGRESS with living my best life despite circumstances. I wish you PROGRESS, too.
For anyone struggling with “Meh” at the moment, I recently stumbled across Ashley Peterson’s “Action for Happiness” post, a compilation of information from actionforhappiness.org and the eight pillars of joy from The Book of Joy by the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Ashley includes visuals that I continue to contemplate in this year’s PROGRESS. I learned something new and wanted to share.
On the corner of the desk at my mom and dad’s house, a stack of addressed envelopes in my mother’s handwriting remained for years. Three, four, or more. The cards inside were written to her nieces and nephews. One was for my daughter Lauren. I always wondered why they were never mailed, but one cannot argue with Alzheimer’s. Upon my mother’s death, we opened one that was not addressed, and we found a story from my mom and a letter. I think she wants you to have it. I think it’s all to say that everything will be okay.
I want to tell you a story. This is a true story. It is about me. How my life was changed. From Sharon Savage Petty
When I was a very little girl, before I went to school, our family went to a little white frame church. It was about a half a block east from our house. We walked to church every Sunday. I loved going to church. I loved Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. I loved all the songs and the stories that I learned. I loved Jesus and knew that He loved me. When I was in grade school, the church had grown so much that they decided to build a bigger church. It was built about half a block west of our house and it was made of stone. We continued to walk to church every Sunday morning and Sunday evening and sometimes on Wednesday night. I remember one of my Sunday School teachers more than any other. Her name was Mrs. Ward. It was about that time that I began to listen to what the preacher said that we are all sinners and need a savior. He said that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. I knew at the young age of ten years old that I was a sinner and I wanted Jesus to be my Savior.
Our little Baptist Church asked people who wanted to invite Jesus into their lives to be Lord and Savior to come to the front as a witness of our commitment to follow him. I wanted to walk down the aisle to make that commitment, but I was a very shy little girl, and I couldn’t make myself go.
I believe it was the next Sunday. I will never forget what happened that day. I heard a small sound, and I looked across the church and saw one of the girls from my class at school. She was walking down the outside aisle. I thought, “If she can do it, I can too.” So I went down the aisle. I prayed to Jesus asking him to forgive my sins and be my Savior and Lord. It was a strong commitment to follow Jesus.
That afternoon, my Mother’s friend came over to visit. She said that she didn’t believe that I was saved, and she thought I went to the altar because my friend did. Her words put doubt in my mind, but I knew in my heart that Jesus was my Savior. That night when I went to bed, I prayed and prayed asking Jesus if I was really saved. I prayed for a very long time that night and, suddenly, I felt great peace come over me. I knew then for sure that I was saved. I got out of bed and went into the living room where my Mother was and told her that I really believed that I was saved. She said, “I believe that you are too.”
I truly know that Jesus has been with me since that day. He promised us that He would send His Holy Spirit to be our Counselor, Guide, and Teacher. He helped me understand the Bible. The Fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). I can’t say that I have had a perfect life, but I can say that I have had “A Wonderful Life”. My relationship with Jesus has grown through the years. I read my Bible and pray often. I am very thankful for the life I have had. I have been truly blessed. I hope that you will make a commitment to follow Jesus and have a personal relationship with Him too. I can truly recommend him.
When my mother tested positive for COVID-19 before Thanksgiving, I was winding down my fall semester. On the last Sunday of November, she left the nursing home via ambulance to the hospital. On December 7th, she returned to her home of forty-five years for hospice care. My dad, my sister Liz, my brother Scott, and I were all there to hold her hand and love on her some more. Somehow, I believe, my mother orchestrated all of it and brought her family together for our goodbyes. Meanwhile, in the final weeks of my mother’s life, John Berger’s novel Here Is Where We Meet spoke directly to me, and I had a final paper to write. This post is an excerpt. In a fusion of fiction and autobiography, Berger weaves separate and seemingly unrelated threads of memories and experience and time and space to depict the interconnectedness of life and death.
The novel begins in Lisboa with the narrator, an author named John, ruminating on his dreams. In John’s dreams his parents are alive, and he phones them for various reasons, forgetting they are dead (2-3). When the Lisboa scene resumes, John’s mother takes his arm, they cross the street, and she says, “John…The thing you should know is this: the dead don’t stay where they are buried” (3). A person who continues to live in the hearts and minds of others can never truly be dead. We carry the dead with us wherever we go, whether we are awake or asleep. John goes to Lisboa and meets his long-dead mother there.
In her farewell to John, Mother shares a final philosophy on life and some motherly advice, which shapes the course of the novel. She says, “we are here to repair a little of what was broken” (51) and “we come to the eternal conundrum of making something out of nothing” (53). She advises her son, the writer, to “Just write down what you find…and do us the courtesy of noticing us” (53). For the rest of the novel, John does his mother the courtesy of practicing her advice, noticing the dead, and writing down his memories of them. Perhaps the narrator John and the author John Berger are one in the same, and in writing this book, perhaps both Johns repair a little of what was broken.
John, the narrator, spends the rest of the book traveling throughout Europe, from Lisboa to Genève to Kraków to Islington to Le Pont d’Arc to Madrid and to the Polish village of Górecko, as if travel is one of life’s secrets. He moves fluidly between settings, the past and present, the living and the dead. His travels reveal the most important people, places, and experiences of his life. John Berger published Here Is Where We Meet at age 79, probably when he considered the influences and interconnections of life and death more than ever before.
John Berger’s eight chapters conclude with chapter 8 ½, a one-page dialogue scene with his mother that ends where the novel begins and connects it all together. Mother repeats her earlier advice, “Just write down what you find” (237). Perhaps life ends in the same way—we remember our loved ones and their words and connect all the pieces. John’s mother returns to her point in the way that people do when they want to make sure their audience has heard the message. Yet, even after eight chapters depicting the courtesy of noticing and writing it down, John responds by saying, “I’ll never know what I’ve found.” He doubts what he knows as we all tend to do, but in truth, John has found more than he realizes, making something out of nothing.
My mother passed at home on Christmas Eve, surrounded by her family. She is no longer here, yet she is vividly here. In my mind, my beautiful Mama radiates the sheer joy of her prime and laughs a sparkling twenty-year-old laugh. She lives on through my family, in our hearts and minds, and in the countless number of trees she planted around my hometown. I can only hope to do my mother the courtesy of continuing to notice, to write down what I find, and to repair a little of what was broken..
Sharon Sue Petty, 80, passed away peacefully at home amid family on December 24, 2020. The third of five children, Sharon was born February 26, 1940, at home in Oklahoma City to Edward Tony and Catherine Leota Barker Savage. She brought extra joy into this world.
As a young girl, Sharon wanted to be president of the United States. She met David Kent Petty at the end of her eighth-grade year when she was elected Student Council president. David, as the outgoing president, swore in Sharon as the new president. These kids fell for each other at Northeast High School in Oklahoma City, and they swore their lives to each other in marriage on May 29, 1961. Sharon chose to be the best wife and mother she could be, and she was.
Sharon attended Oklahoma State University and delayed her graduation to support David through law school. When the family moved to Guymon in January 1970, Sharon continued her studies and graduated from Oklahoma Panhandle State University with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education.
Sharon loved gardening. Over the years, she cultivated many productive vegetable gardens and gave away bushels of zucchini. She applied for and received grants of over $100,000 for trees to beautify Guymon. She planted and watered many trees personally. Sharon also served several terms as the president of the Rose Garden Club in Guymon, where she mentored other gardeners. Sharon’s top gardening tips included 1) Only trim shrubs in the months with “R” in them. 2) Planting trees in the fall gives them a chance to grow before leaves require moisture. 3) Knockout roses are wonderful. They bloom from spring to the first freeze. They are hardy and resist disease and drought.
Active in her church and community, Sharon taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School and helped with Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts. She volunteered as a tutor in Guymon Public Schools, as an ombudsman at the Heritage Community, and as a committee member for Guymon on the Move. Sharon visited, mentored, and shared hope with inmates and met weekly with her beloved ladies’ Bible study groups. A member of Victory Memorial United Methodist Church, Sharon was involved with United Methodist Women, the UMW Clothing Ministry, the Stephen Ministry, Martha Ruth Circle, and several church committees. UMW honored Sharon with their special recognition for her service. In 2002, the City of Guymon recognized her as Citizen of the Year. In 2004, Beta Sigma Phi sorority awarded Sharon the honor of Woman of the Year. In 2008, Main Street Guymon recognized Sharon for her efforts toward the city’s beautification. Sharon only wanted to make a difference, and she did.
Sharon touched many lives with her beautiful smile, unconditional love, and constant kindness, and her life was a living example of her favorite Bible verse, Isaiah 41:13. “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” Sharon fought the challenges of Alzheimer’s and complications from COVID-19 with the supernatural strength and courage of her heavenly Father. At age ten, Sharon knew she needed Jesus, and she felt His presence throughout her days.
Sharon is survived by her husband David of the home; daughter Liz Lee and husband Mike of Guymon; son Scott Petty and wife Gerri of Stillwater; daughter Crystal Byers and husband Kody of Houston, Texas; grandchildren Chase Lee, Gant Lee, Drew Byers, Lauren Byers, Catherine Petty and Will Petty; two great granddaughters Olivia and Allyson Lee; her brother and his wife, John Paul and Nancy Savage of Granbury, Texas; her sister-in-law Linda Savage of Norman; and many nephews and nieces. Sharon was preceded in death by her sister Carol Rose Payton and two brothers James Edward Savage and Joed Cleve Savage. All of these she loved and touched deeply.
Sharon’s life will be celebrated with a graveside service at Elmhurst Cemetery in Guymon on Monday, December 28th at 2:00 pm. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Rose Garden Club of Guymon or the Panhandle State Foundation scholarship fund. In her memory, please wear a mask and maintain distance in public.
At the beginning of December, I started Year One of what I hope is a new tradition. I challenged myself to read the Book of Luke, an entire account of Jesus’s life, a chapter a day, leading up to Christmas. Below. My summaries. My interpretation follows. I’m no Bible scholar, just a regular person, trying to be better than the person I was yesterday. Maybe next year I’ll add to this outline. Maybe this year you’d like to join me for the last ten days of Luke.
- Luke 1:
- The angel Gabriel appears to Elizabeth’s husband and Mary (separately) to announce immaculate conceptions for both.
- Luke 2:
- Jesus is born.
- Within the chapter he is twelve, listening and asking questions of temple teachers.
- He grows in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.
- Luke 3:
- Genealogy of Jesus.
- Luke 4:
- Jesus is tested and rejected, and he heals the sick.
- Luke 5:
- Jesus call his first disciples.
- He heals leprosy and forgives and heals a man with paralysis.
- He eats with sinners.
- Luke 6:
- Jesus prays before choosing his disciples/friends.
- He heals more and more people.
- He teaches:
- Love your enemies.
- Do not judge and you won’t be judged.
- Forgive and you will be forgiven.
- Luke 7:
- Jesus performs a resurrection.
- He forgives a sinful woman.
- He teaches with a story of debts and forgiveness.
- Luke 8:
- Jesus teaches with parables—the seed sower and the lamp on the stand.
- Jesus chooses his family.
- He calms storms.
- He heals.
- He resurrects.
- Luke 9:
- Jesus gives disciples the power and authority to heal and humbly spread news of God.
- Jesus feeds five thousand, heals more people, and speaks about God’s kingdom.
- Peter declares Jesus the Messiah.
- Jesus, as son of man, says—
- That he must suffer.
- That he will be rejected and killed.
- That he will be raised from the dead.
- Follow me if you want to save your life (for everlasting life).
- Peter, John, and James pray with Jesus on the mountain.
- Jesus transforms and his face glows.
- Moses and Elijah appear in glorious splendor and speak of Jesus’s departure.
- A cloud descends and God speaks—“This is my son, listen to him.”
- Jesus heals another person and predicts his death a second time.
- He tells his disciples to get rid of their egos.
- He says—Whoever is not against you is for you.
- On the way to Jerusalem (to his death)—
- Jesus isn’t welcomed by the Samaritans, and he moves on.
- People say they will follow him, but they have excuses in the moment.
- Luke 10:
- Jesus sends out 72 to spread God’s word.
- He teaches with the parable of the Good Samaritan.
- At Martha and Mary’s house, Martha busily prepares to be a hostess.
- Mary spends time with Jesus.
- Martha is bitter about her self-imposed work.
- Jesus tells Martha that Mary’s choice is better.
- Luke 11:
- Jesus teaches his disciples to pray:
- Give thanks, ask for forgiveness and help in forgiving others and help with temptations.
- Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.
- Jesus says that kingdoms and houses divided will fall.
- Jesus says to let the light within you shine.
- Jesus instructs us to be generous to the poor.
- Jesus teaches his disciples to pray:
- Luke 12:
- Jesus says, “Whoever acknowledges me before others…will also acknowledge before the angels of God.”
- “Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”
- Jesus teaches with the parable of the rich fool.
- Jesus tells us we won’t prolong our life through worrying.
- Jesus says, “Be ready…the son of man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
- He says that there will be division in families and asks, “Why don’t you judge for yourself what is right?”
- Luke 13:
- Jesus instructs us to repent or perish and uses the parable of a man who has a fig tree that doesn’t bear fruit.
- The advice to that man is—leave it alone for another year and see what happens.
- Jesus heals a crippled woman who cannot stand straight.
- Jesus uses the mustard seed and yeast parables for God’s growing kingdom.
- Jesus says that the entrance into God’s kingdom is a narrow door.
- Jesus hears that Herod wants to kill him. (This is a different Herod than Herod the Great who tried to have Baby Jesus killed).
- Jesus instructs us to repent or perish and uses the parable of a man who has a fig tree that doesn’t bear fruit.
- Luke 14:
- Jesus heals a man with abnormal swelling.
- In a wedding feast parable, Jesus concludes, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
- In the parable of the great feast, the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame are invited.
- Being a disciple costs you yourself. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
No matter what you believe about Jesus or Christianity, in Luke we see Jesus spreading good news and deeds, in a humble, non-preachy way. He’s a natural teacher, using stories that allow people to draw their own conclusions. He doesn’t judge, and he forgives. Satan tests him, others reject him, and he suffers. Such is life. I believe that he calms storms and heals people and resurrects the dead to show us perfection in the afterlife. I don’t know about you, but Jesus gives me hope—and shows that our struggles strengthen us, that better days lay ahead. I could use a little hope. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and good tidings to you!
My first memories include my Mama’s voice. No matter where she is, no matter where I am, I hear her— “There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead.” Mama points in thin air, draws a circle. “And when she was good, she was very, very good,” she emphasizes very, nods up and down, “and when she was bad,” she exaggerates bad, lifts an eyebrow, “she was horrid.” Mama shudders, shakes her head. It’s a gentle warning. Her words still ring true. At the end of each day, Mama would always say, “Goodnight, sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite. And if they do…” This is my cue. I say, “Take your shoe, and rub their tummies black and blue.” Mama says, “I love you.” And I say back, “I love you, too.” It's our routine. In times of trouble, Mama stands on God’s word. How many times did I hear her say? “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord to those who are called according to His purpose.” Mama would say it now if she could. And then—"I love you.” But I hear her voice. "I love you, too, Mama." No matter where you are. No matter where I am.
Have you ever opened the bible at random to find a divine message from God? Perhaps I have. If so, it’s been awhile.
A day or two after Thanksgiving, my daughter Lauren called to tell me about her encounter with God. I could hear her smile and energy through my cell phone. “I opened the Bible and ended up in Amos, and I was like, ‘Amos, where am I?’” She laughed her twenty-eight-year-old laugh. “And this is what I found, I’m going to read it.” She hesitated through the words. “‘Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is’ (Amos 5:14). The words were bolded. They jumped off the page. I was like, ‘Seek good, not evil.’” She paused. The way she phrased the scripture sounded more like a question. “Of course, that makes sense.”
And I said, “No matter what you believe, the Bible has some good advice.”
Lauren agreed, and eventually we said our goodbyes, and a day or so later while Facebook scrolling, I found this:
I texted the image and a message to Lauren: I saw this today. I think I’m going to do this.
She texted me: Oh that sounds good maybe I should do that
Me to her: We could read it and talk about it. New tradition.
And so I read Luke 1. If I ever knew the story, I didn’t remember that the angel Gabriel appeared to Elizabeth’s husband as well as Mary to announce immaculate conceptions for both. Two immaculate conceptions. One for a menopausal woman. The other for a virgin. I love a good miracle. Miracles keep my hope alive.
On December 1, my friend Denise called. Denise, my friend since age five. I told her about Luke, and she wanted to join Lauren and me in the new tradition.
Later she texted me and some friends: I’m reading Luke – a chapter a day. I hadn’t remembered Mary going to Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist). All we need is that one friend right!?! God knew.
And I texted: Love that perspective.
And Cheri texted: Same here. I’ll join you.
And now for Luke 2. Let me tell you, Luke is not messing around. He jumps into the story. Jesus is born, and within the chapter he is twelve. Sitting among teachers at the temple. Listening. Asking questions. Growing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
And no matter what you believe, Jesus was a good guy. We could all learn a little something through him. Who’s in? New tradition. The reason for the season.
It’s me, Crystal. Today is Thanksgiving. I want to be thankful, but I’m so scared, God. So many people in my life are sick, and some of my relationships need your help. Suppose my friends and family suffer? Suppose we all can’t call a truce? Please help me find joy despite circumstances, God. Don’t let today be too horrible. Thank you.
Rosa was on a mission. At the time, I didn’t know it. On a crisp November morning, she pulled us into the parking lot at Memorial Park. Me in the front passenger seat. Her daughter Kimberly, age twenty-one, in the back. We had just dropped off her son Andres for his day at kindergarten.
This was my first Seymour Lieberman Exercise Trail expedition. 2.9 miles. Once you start, your only option is to make the full loop or turn back. We would never turn back. The three of us opened our car doors, extricated ourselves, slammed the doors shut, and stretched a bit. Kimberly waved, smiled, and took off running. Rosa and I followed at a quick walking pace, then jogged some. She wanted to resume the walk before me, and that was new. My endurance for jogging has improved since I met my neighbor Rosa back in July. At age fifty I discovered that I could run and make progress after all.
Along the way, Rosa told me about a family tradition. Back in Mexico, when she was a little girl, her father would set off for the mountains and bring back a Christmas tree. For Rosa, he would find a tree branch, fallen and dead. He would clean it up and spray paint it white, stick it in a bucket of sand, for lights, angel hair, and decorations of her own. Rosa’s tree. And Rosa wanted that tradition for Andres.
About a mile-and-a-half into our walk, we spotted the perfect branch, dead and fallen. We stopped and together snapped off the extraneous twigs. For the final mile-and-a-half, Rosa carried it like an Olympic torch. A five or six foot branch. At one point she said, “Let’s run.” And we did.
And other runners shook their heads. And other people on the trail shot photos or video. And Rosa and I jogged and laughed. A laugh that jingled all the way. And when Kimberly discovered her mother walking toward the car, carrying the dead tree branch, she covered her face with her hands and turned various shades of crimson, but she didn’t run and hide. Kimberly laughed a jolly laugh and said, “Oh my gosh, you’re going to be all over social media.” And she helped her mother fit the tree for Andres into the back of the SUV.
And Rosa reminded me of how the dead and fallen can take on new life, how the broken can bring new joy, how traditions are a form of magic, a way of speaking with the past.