It was July 14, 1975. Up the street, a vacant lot and three houses away lived my friend Jennifer. I was five in 1975, and Jennifer turned five that day, so I walked to her house with a gift in hand to celebrate her birthday. Jennifer’s social calendar was packed for a five-year-old. After her party, she would head across town to another birthday party for a girl I didn’t know. Although the details are fuzzy, I remember crashing that party with Jennifer and meeting the tiny, precious, blonde-haired, hazel-eyed Denise. We would grow up together, sharing classrooms and friends and happenings of the Oklahoma panhandle. Little did I know that one day in the distant future, Denise would forever change my life.
Flash forward to Memorial Day weekend 2008 and our twenty-year high school reunion. When I caught up with Denise for the first time in at least nineteen years, we discovered that we lived within twenty minutes of each other. And guess what? We both needed a friend. One dinner at a time, one text message at a time, over months and months, then years and years, Denise learned all my deep-dark secrets, and I learned hers. We shared our imperfections and struggles, our wins and celebrations, and that’s how the girl I’ve known since age five became my bestie. And OMG, everyone needs a Denise.
Speaking of wins, her 20-year-old son Ryan, a junior on the Baylor Men’s Golf team, won the Texas Amateur golf tournament back in June with Denise caddying and coaching him toward the victory. She coaches kids’ golf, by the way, and teaches private lessons, too. In case you don’t have an extra two minutes to watch this news clip and see AWESOME in motion, my favorite part is when Ryan says, “If I got down on myself, no matter what happened, she would be the one to say, ‘All right, we got this. Let’s just keep on moving forward.'” So many times, Denise has kept me moving forward with a little positivity and a little “we got this.”
In that same news clip, Denise says, “You don’t see very many mothers [caddying], but if anything, I hope I’m encouraging more mothers to get out there.” That’s my Denise, the ultimate encourager. Life’s too short for anyone who brings you down, and I’m so very grateful for my forever friends who lift me up.
It is July 14, 2019, and I’m hopping in the car, driving the four plus hours from Houston to Dallas to crash her party again today. Forty-four years later. I wish Jennifer could crash it, too.
( Blog if I want to, blog if I want to. You might blog, too, if it happened to you ).
December 30th came and went. Celebrations commenced with family and friends. And my heart is full. This year proves that good things come to those who wait.
My 2018 began in approximately 400 square feet at the La Quinta where we (a trio of Byers plus our Rainy dog) would rest and breathe for six more months. Reconstruction continued on our Harvey-wrecked home, and the year whizzed by in a blur. The first half of the year now seems like a fuzzy dream that left me with an eye-opening perspective and an ever-expanding heart, I carry 2018’s lessons forward. I carry them in my heart. While trudging through flood water with a water-proof overnight bag on my shoulder and my chihuahua in my arms, I stumbled upon life’s deepest secret.
Are you ready?
Here it is.
Life’s Deepest Secret.
You can’t take it all with you, and you can’t save it all, but in the end, things don’t matter.
But people do.
My dear friend Pamela introduced me to e e cummings. I carry his words, and he shares my deepest secret. Thank you Poetry Foundation.
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
I’m not an interior designer, but I play one on my phone. The game—Design Home. The object—to decorate a room with required elements to win prizes like money and diamonds, both of which can be used to purchase furniture and accessories for your room. Each day brings multiple, changing challenges: an industrial-style living room for an engineer in Krakow, Poland; a modern dining room for this new, critically-acclaimed chef in Moscow, Russia; a luxe bedroom for a tennis athlete relaxing in style after a match in Wimbledon, London. It’s a guilty pleasure. If only designing real homes could be that clean and easy, you know, with prizes involved and all.
Two weeks ago after ten months of flood displacement, we were given the okay to move back into the still incomplete but livable house. We had then and still have one completed bathroom, just missing a vanity mirror, which we have—outside—in the POD—in our driveway.
The POD has been a sore spot for the past ten months. Our contractor had some of his guys load it, and my husband had specifically asked to be there to supervise. Instead they moved everything without a heads up. Kody had specifically asked that our wardrobe boxes be loaded last, so we could access our winter clothes. Instead the wardrobe boxes went in first, and last, barricading what I could unload myself and what I need now, is an extra refrigerator and a large garage shelving unit. Back in October, our contractor offered to have everything moved out and back in for us, but moving everything two more times than necessary screamed trouble to me, so I just shook my head and played Design Home.
At the moment, silverware and pots and pans—inaccessible in the POD—would be useful. And our newly installed lower kitchen cabinets wait for cabinet pulls—the ones we saved from the moldy cabinets that we dumped on the curb—the ones that must be in the POD. And speaking of kitchen problems, some of the white subway backsplash tiles had to be replaced, and just when I thought the kitchen was practically complete, I discovered that the newly installed wavy tiles did not match the original flat tiles. So now we have more demolition and more tiling and more construction dust everywhere, in the garage, on the street, not to mention in the unfinished kitchen, in the incomplete master bathroom, and on the souls of our shoes. First world problems, right?
So I could go on complaining, but what good does that do? I could also move forward in gratitude. I realize I have a choice, and so I will try. After the thumbs-up on the move-in, I drove to Dallas on a Tuesday and helped our daughter Lauren pack. Turns out she has missed us since our move south two summers ago, a mutual feeling. Even at age 26 1/2 , she will always be our baby girl, and we want her near. Kody joined us in Dallas that Thursday, we picked up a U-Haul on Friday, and the three of us loaded the truck bound for Houston. In return Lauren has been my super helpful sidekick, assisting me with the minutiae of moving and decision making, not to mention the building of some IKEA furniture as we refurnish our house from scratch. Lauren will live with us temporarily while adjusting to her new life in a new city, and having her here makes our house seem like home. For my family, I am MOST thankful.
After the final furniture delivery last Monday, we packed my Mazda once more and drove far, far away to the Oklahoma Panhandle for the fourth of July with family…
and then on to the mountains and the cool, clean air of New Mexico with my sister and brother and other brothers.
My nostalgia for these places and my people runs deep, the peaceful skies unforgettable. Where I grew up in Oklahoma, the waving fields of wheat and corn kiss the endless cornflower blue. Where I snow skied all my life in New Mexico, a gazillion stars sprinkle the midnight navy. Especially in these places, I realize the world is larger than one life, and I know there is a God who designed this home for us all.
For nearly a year I’ve consumed a plant-based diet. Yes, I cheat from time to time, usually with fish. Kody and I did split a Sweet and Spicy Bacon Burger from Whataburger not long ago. I have no regrets. We used to eat that way all the time. Without the split.
Last week I indulged with a Frito pie at Local Foods here in Houston. Topped with cashew queso, a soy protein, the most beautiful tomatoes, fresh red onion and jalapeño and cilantro and a little hot sauce, it was soooo good. I’m confident I can make a similar pie myself when we move back home soon.
And this Hopdoddy Impossible burger is in the weekly rotation. Hold the cheese, please. The meat-free patty, developed by former Stanford biochemist Patrick Brown and a team of researchers at Impossible Foods, is made entirely of plant-based ingredients. Potato protein allows the exterior to sear, and coconut oil melts like beef fat. However, heme is the magic. This legume-derived, iron-containing molecule also found in blood, gives the “meat” its texture, smell, and a pinkish interior.
I used to have a cholesterol problem, but plants don’t have cholesterol. Problem solved, medication and cardiologist no longer needed. Anyway speaking of doctors, I’m reminded of my fungus. Seriously, it’s on my right foot—uncomfortable and ugly, itchy and flaky. I thought maybe it was eczema and tried to treat it myself like I did the cholesterol. I’m embarrassed to say how long I self-medicated, just hoping it would go away (for years) before realizing that I needed professional help, and then even knowing I needed to see a doctor, how much longer it took me to make an appointment (another year or so).
I searched my insurance company’s website for a dermatologist for the first time ever, and within a day I had an appointment and saw the doctor who diagnosed the fungus and prescribed me some cream. In my head I had exaggerated the difficulty of seeking treatment. From beginning to end, the process was painless, which is more than I can say for my foot. The doctor, who specializes in skin conditions, was compassionate and kind.
A long-time good friend of mine recently reached out via text to tell me about a silent health struggle: “I am seeing a [insert type of doctor here] for more tests…All I know is that the pain has been almost intolerable and I need an answer and some relief. I didn’t want to say anything because it sounds like I’m complaining, but it’s time I let you know that something isn’t right and I’m trying to get answers.”
With my mind on my fungus and my fungus on my mind, I continue to think about health in general and suffering people and reasons why a person might choose to delay the help they need and challenges for those pursuing relief. Like other illnesses, fungus does not discriminate, and our medical problems, like a fungus when ignored or denied, grow and fester. I’m thankful to live in an age of medical access, and I’m thankful for friends and family who have listened to me when I needed to talk about my fungus. And that’s really what life is all about, right? Friends and family and being there.
Beyond our day jobs, Kody and I moonlight as managing partners and co-owners of Three Keys Properties, where we invest in and re-design residential fixer uppers, improving neighborhoods one house at a time. We’re not quite Chip and Jo. Less charming. No shiplap experimentation. No aspirations for our own show. However, Kody finds the deals, I have an eye for aesthetics, and together we grow in our experience.
Why Three Keys? One might ask. Bear with me.
Once upon a time, after nineteen years of marriage, I called movers, packed my bags, and left Kody behind. The details no longer matter. Neither one of us could afford to stay in our home without the other, so sadly we lost our most-favorite house…a spacious kitchen, ample storage, oversized master, en suite garden tub, best shower so far, his and her walk-in closets, a sparkling pool, a relaxing spa…so many things to love including my good friend, neighbor, and walking buddy Martha.
Within a year of the divorce, I missed “the family,” Kody hung in there as my “friend,” and together we vacationed as “friends” with our kids in the Big Apple. I ❤️ NY, and I returned to my rented Plano townhome realizing that I ❤️ Kody, too. Sometimes time and space and amazing food and art museums and Broadway and romantic cities reveal the importance of people and things once taken for granted. Somewhere in that timeframe, Kody purchased a house in foreclosure, a dilapidated structure with beautiful bones and a sordid history. There may or may not have been a prostitution ring living and working in that house, abundantly wired, for surveillance purposes I presume. I swear. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. Somehow we both related to taking on a neighborhood‘s dirty secret, giving it new life and a renewed sense of hope.
I remember sitting on the back patio of my townhome on a clear fall day, the sun shining, and Kody asking for my advice on his new renovation. I flipped through the Sherwin Williams paint color fan deck, searching for the perfect exterior trim color, matching the chip to the metal trim of MY patio furniture—Enduring Bronze. Eventually I assisted in decisions on flooring, granite, and interior paint as well. Somewhere along the way, Kody’s house felt like MY house, so I called movers, packed my bags once more, and moved back in with Kody. Together we lived in sin. (I joke—I’m pretty sure that God approved of my decision to live with my former husband of nineteen years).
During our live-in-lover stage-of-life, my parents looked forward to their 50th wedding anniversary, and my dad planned a family celebration on a Mediterranean cruise for my mother. The family included my sister and brother, their spouses, and me and my boyfriend Kody. I cannot condense this story with justice, but all of my blabbity-blah leads up to the formation of Three Keys Properties. If an extended, kind-of-cute love story interests you, click the link of The Deep Sapphire Blue of the Mediterranean Sea. Anyway, while on that cruise, outside of Kuşadası, Turkey, near the ruins of Ephesus, Kody and I drank from three sacred water fountains, which, according to our tour guide, symbolized health, wealth, and love. (As an English teacher, I loves me some good symbolism). After quenching my thirst that day, I kissed Kody before writing a little prayer of gratitude to God for my family’s health, wealth, and love. I stuck the little piece of paper into a prayer wall with a million other prayers. And before the end of the day, June 23, 2011, Kody asked me to re-marry him on the Turkish coast of the Mediterranean, ring and all. Ironic, right? I say, “Name it and claim it.”
Side story: Kody had this thing (and still does) about spotting 11:11, mostly on digital clocks, but anywhere really…addresses…telephone numbers…consecutive 11s continued appearing. “It’s 11:11,” he would say, and with or without him, I began noticing the number coincidence, too. Apparently, many people see it, and theories abound on the 11:11 meaning. Google it. Angels are communicating…make a wish…oneness. Once engaged, we chose November 11, 2011, which seemed the obvious date for wedding #2.
A few years after incorporating as one in holy matrimony, we decided to incorporate for residential redevelopment purposes in an official limited liability company. While brainstorming business names, Kody came across the symbolic meaning of three keys. When worn together, they unlock the doors of health, wealth, and love, which we continue to name and claim, not only for us, but for anyone we work with along the way.
Upon arriving in Houston, we moved into another fixer upper, a mid-century modern home, built in 1960. We consulted with interior designer Jessica Brown, who drew a new blueprint, and then started from scratch to build a network of home specialists–contractors and painters, flooring and brick and foundation guys, window installers and plumbers–in a new city. We stumbled through finding the right contractor to accomplish the goal, tearing down walls and redesigning an open-concept kitchen, living, and dining space while expanding the existing laundry room. After months of construction, two contractors, and phase one completion, we planned to update the bathrooms and create a new outdoor living space when Hurricane Harvey poured trillions of gallons of rain upon the city of Houston, flooding our investment and, just like the board game Trouble, sending us back to start. Slowly but surely, Three Keys Properties makes a comeback. 6″ x 36″ wood look porcelain tile installation close-to complete, an expanded master bath soon-to-be a reality. Photos and home again…in the not-so-distant future.
Returning to school this past week after a rejuvenating holiday, I had an action plan to keep my mind right with a simple formula of God and gratitude. Monday started strong, but by Friday, my positivity was shot to Hell. Ironically, I missed my devotional that day, and I may or may not have been nursing a hangover. I haven’t mastered the art of not allowing people and circumstances to suck the good mojo right out of me.
Thankfully I had pre-packed my bags and loaded my Mazda for an overnight stay in Dallas with a couple of my forever friends, if you call 38-43 years forever, before driving on to Oklahoma to visit family. With ample time to think while disentangling myself from Houston traffic, I reflected on my own best advice for those times when life fails to go my way:
Pre-divorce, I needed a psychologist. Mine came highly recommended by two different teacher friends after having a meltdown or two at school. I’m flashing back about fourteen years, which seems a lifetime ago. Through counseling, I became more self-aware and discovered my role in my own life. Each session, Dr. Stevenson probed, I verbally processed, and my eyes malfunctioned with a non-stop leak. Through her questions and my answers, I became conscious of my guarded nature, my inability to speak of heavy things, and my inclination to stuff my feelings. The doctor listened more than she spoke, but I’ll never forget her saying, “Crystal, don’t you have any friends?”
And me sobbing, “No!”
And her saying, “You’ve got to open up to people.”
In the first fourteen years of my marriage, we had lived in three states and moved five times. I had attended one junior college, two universities, and worked at eight different jobs. My friendships and relationships in general were surface level, in part due to continual change. Dr. Stevenson’s advice was pivotal. Slowly and over time, I made meaningful bonds by sharing my truth.
Denise and I met at age five when I crashed her birthday party. K-12, we shared many teachers, birthday parties, and childhood memories. After high school, our lives diverged, but at our twenty-year high school reunion, we discovered we lived within twenty minutes of each other in the Dallas area. One dinner at a time, one text message at a time, over months and months, then years and years, Denise learned all my deep-dark secrets, and I learned hers. Neither one of us judged. I was her vault, and she was mine.
Pamela entered the montage of my life in the fifth grade. From humble beginnings, she put herself through school at Notre Dame, sending me ND baby booties for Drew and letters from India when she studied abroad. Somehow before cell phones, we always maintained our connection even as her life led her from one adventure to the next. We reconnected on Facebook when she lived in NYC, and she flew from her home in Miami to mine in Dallas when I remarried Kody. Now living in the wild west near Waco, Pamela, Denise, and I have formed a trio of Mutual Admiration.
After my extra-long drive from Houston to Dallas, I beat myself up in front of my friends through the rehashing of my day, and by the end of the night, I felt renewed strength. On Saturday morning, before I departed for OKC, I asked Denise and Pamela, “So what are your take-aways from our time together?”
Pamela responded, “Flowers don’t blossom every day. They have their season. I learned that from Glennon Doyle Melton. Don’t be too hard on yourself. I’ll be right back.” She returned with gifts, wrapped in gold tissue paper, for both Denise and me.
I look back on this weekend and laugh out loud. Pamela observes with a keen eye and knows me well. Apparently, our journeys are similar, and by ‘our’ I mean, all of us. I don’t know about you, but I seem to need some reminders, so I pass them along, just in case.
Pamela continued, “I’m also reminded of something that Tony Robbins said…” Whatever Tony Robbins said was good, something about being self-consumed, but I didn’t write it down, so I quickly forgot. The three of us said our goodbyes with hugs and vows to see each other again soon.
I trekked on to Oklahoma City to visit my precious mother in memory care, my super hero dad, who makes the ten-hour round trip each weekend, my sort-of cool brother Scott and his awesome wife Gerri, who have quite possibly worn their very own ruts on the road between Stillwater and OKC, and my closest cousin Angie, who would have a guest room, a bottle of wine, and a hot tub waiting for me at the end of the day. Of course, I kid about my bro. From my standpoint, he plays the role of son, husband, father, and brother like a pro. And Angie and I, well, we solved all the world’s problems in our swimsuits in her backyard, oblivious to the 29 ̊of a January night. < span style=”color: #000000; font-family: Calibri”>On Sunday morning, I joined my parents for church, at my mom’s assisted living community. We sang “God Will Take Care of You” and listened to a sermon about three Jewish men: Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego from the book of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar had the men bound and thrown into his furnace for refusing to worship an oversized gold statue. The three men told the king that God would deliver them. Sure enough, the king looked into the furnace and saw four men, not three, and then commanded Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego to come out of the furnace. The men were no longer bound, and they were untouched by fire. In the end, King Nebuchadnezzar does a 180 ̊turn around and praises the God of the Jews for sending an angel to rescue the men. God took care of Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego, just as I know he will take care of me.
My visits with Mom are always too short and too sweet. Especially as her memories fade, I cherish those moments until our time ends abruptly, and I find myself once more behind the wheel. Time and time again, I feel most bolstered by my family and friends only to set myself up for a fall, right back into my pity party. ☹ Wah! From the road, I shot Pam and Denise a text: “Remind me what Tony Robbins said, Pamela. Something about thinking about yourself.” She responded, “The fastest way to misery is making everything about you.” The End
This Christmas morning, I have Pamela on my mind. It’s her birthday.
Travel back with me to the year 1980, a beautiful creature and soon-to-be forever friend graced the entrance of Mr. Hale’s fifth-grade, home-room class. I’m sure there are more photos somewhere.
1985. Pamela stuck with me at our 9th grade graduation celebration and during really bad hair days.
1998. Even though our lives led us thousands of miles away from each other, BC (Beautiful Creature) stuck with me and always found a way to visit.
2017. Pamela in Houston post-Harvey. Distance-wise, we’re now closer and friendship-wise, too. I suppose that’s what happens over the course of 37 years.
She’s a sage and a wisdom seeker, and I often find myself writing down what she says and quoting her, even if she is quoting someone else.
A few years ago Pamela attended an Oprah-sponsored Life You Want Weekend in Miami. She texted me a selfie, and I texted her back, “Awesome! Take notes and forward!” I mean, seriously, who doesn’t want to live the life they want?
She texted me back, “There were so many takeaways but what rings in my ears right now is something Rob Bell said, ‘The life you want starts with being grateful for the life you have.’”
Happy Birthday, Beautiful Creature #1! You have taught me much, but the lesson on gratitude continues to serve me, and I am so thankful to have you in my life!
Wishing you ALL blessings of joy, peace, health and love today and in the new year!