Q is for Quirk and 5 is for…

I have this quirk. Okay, I’m sure I have more than one, but today I only admit to this—I count. Not as in I matter. Of course, I know I do. We all do. I’m talking numbers here. Sometimes in ascending order. Sometimes descending. Compulsively and obsessively. I find myself counting the number of essays I have left in my grading stack, even when eleven remain, I’ll grade the next, forget the number eleven, and re-count. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. I find myself counting the stairs to the third-floor room at the La Quinta. Almost daily. Two flights of sixteen equals thirty-two. I find myself counting the stairs to my second-floor room at school. Two flights of eleven equals twenty-two.  When I walk at a brisk pace, I find myself counting off my steps by eights. I attribute that to sixteen years of dance lessons with five life-shaping instructors: Charlene Blackmore, Gayla Smith, Billie Grabeal, Norma Ansley (God rest her beautiful soul), and Claudia Winters. If any of you are reading, when the music is good, I still dance. Anyway, speaking of five…

I passed the five-week mark of second semester and the five-month mark at my beloved La Quinta. I use beloved sincerely. These past five months I’ve learned minimalism and grown content here, where I sit on a king-sized bed, propped up on pillows, with my man and my dog in approximately 300 square feet. These past five months when I call Kody after work each day, I’ve learned to conjure Ricky Ricardo and say, “Hi Honey. I’m home.” Home. It’s where the heart is. And each day Rain, the sweetest eight-pound dog in the world, proves that maxim at the door with her big smile and waggedy tail. And each day, Kody and I try to prove it to each other with understanding of each other’s moods, a caress, and an unexpected kiss when life tries to stand in the way of our good time.

Dad and Rain
So much love in those eyes.

Daily I drive past the homeless stationed by the traffic light near the overpass, not far down the access road from our temporary home: the Hispanic man on crutches with an amputated leg and a smile, selling M and M’s, a tall, thin African-American man who washes windshields for spare cash, an aging white man with John Lennon glasses and a long, grizzly beard, holding his cardboard sign, “Disabled Vietnam Veteran. Anything helps. God Bless.” I give away my cash when I have it, and these people of the street without fail will look into my eyes and say, “God Bless You.” A few dollars for a blessing from God. I wish I could do more. Some will impart their wisdom, and I find the words of a man with a deeply tanned and weathered face echoing in my memory. With his pale blue eyes locked on mine, he said, “Happiness is a choice. You can wake up each day and choose to be happy.” Then he turned to Drew in the car with me on our way to see his doctor. “Stay in school, young man, so this doesn’t happen to you.” I think to myself, he saw right through me, and I ponder his attitude against all odds. I know he’s right. My dad always said the same thing. I think about the tent under the overpass near home and wonder how many of those familiar faces huddle there at night as temperatures drop. No doubt they would be grateful for five months with a roof over their heads, a dry room with a heater, a bed with pillows to spare, a hot shower with soap and shampoo, a complimentary breakfast with hot coffee. I feel fortunate—and grateful.

For anyone new to my blog, Welcome and let me fill you in! And to all of you reading, thank you for your interest in my excerpted life. I’m humbled by over 2300 views since September and readers who have stumbled upon my words from all over the world—Romania, the United Kingdom, Ireland, India, Indonesia, Russia, China, Malaysia, Australia, Japan, Ukraine, Cameroon, Moldova, Vietnam, Indonesia, Canada, and the good ol’ USA. I see you, like the homeless man saw me. And like him, I pass the torch of his message to you in hopes you keep the fire alive and pass it forward. I wish I knew his name. If I see him again, I’ll let him know he is making a difference from the streets of Houston. 

On August 27, we evacuated to the pet-friendly La Quinta when the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey invaded our Houston home, and well, rebuilding takes time. And—so does mold remediation. These past five months, after many-a-bleach treatment, four mold tests, removing all remaining items from the house, including all cabinets, the bathtub, and the shower, knocking out more walls and the ceiling in places, cleaning the air ducts, pouring a new concrete subfloor throughout the house, and painting all studs within the exposed walls with a mold barrier, WE PASSED OUR MOLD INSPECTION!!!

In five months’ time, I’ve watched my androgynously short hair grow less androgynous and my over-sized ass shrink in size in the mirror before my eyes. Growing and shrinking takes time, and you know what else takes time? Settling with our insurance company. Soon after the flood, our insurance adjuster had flown in from the east coast to assist with the influx of claims in Houston. He inspected our home when it still had floors and cabinets and bathroom fixtures, all of which ended up on the curb after his visit. Early on our insurance company shot us a ridiculously low-ball number to settle, and we hired Kelly, an experienced public adjuster to help us battle Lloyd’s of London, who holds our flood insurance policy. We compiled a massive itemized list of our losses and tracked down proof of purchases where we could. Lloyd’s countered again with a number twice as high as the first number, but still less than the cost to cover our damages, so we requested to have another adjuster come out to the house. A little over a week ago, that meeting happened with Kody, Kelly, and the new Lloyd’s guy. Kody told me later, “I just kept my mouth shut and let Kelly take care of it, but it went really well. This guy was local, so he knows what people have been through and sees it all the time. He feels it. Our first adjuster mis-diagrammed the house, and this guy found other mistakes and agreed with a lot of what Kelly said. He said they would let us know something as soon as possible.”

Paint Colors
What do you think of St. Bart’s for the front door?.

Meanwhile, we wait and hope and proceed the best we can. Kody and I received an advance from our to-be-determined insurance settlement, and we have taken out an SBA loan for work to progress at home. New electrical—check. New plumbing—check. Insulation and drywall in progress. We selected Sherwin Williams colors and painted the outside of the house: the bricks Neutral Ground, the siding and garage door Dorian Gray, the trim Urbane Bronze, front door to be determined. From the street our home shouts, “Look! My people gave me a makeover, but I’m still mid-mod at heart.”  We plan for new outdoor lighting and landscaping once construction is complete. Photos to come, but don’t hold your breath. Rebuilding takes time. Yet I see the light at the end of the tunnel and much excitement ahead. As I count down the days to our sixth month at the La Quinta and check off the days of the upcoming sixth week of the second semester, I look forward—to cooking in my own kitchen, to sleeping in my brand-new bed, to showering in my brand-new shower, to relaxing in an actual living room, oh, and to Spring Break. 

This kid spoke to me on Facebook. Listen to him for two minutes. From the mouth of a child, “I propose you practice joy.” From the mouth of my dad, “Crystal, you can choose your attitude.” From the mouth of a homeless man who reminded me again on a dark day, “Happiness is a choice. You can wake up each day and choose to be happy.”

And about that 5? It represents what I would like to call my past tendency to obsess over the things I cannot control and my new intention to stay focused on the following five: Faith, Gratitude, Peace, Hope, and Joy. I choose all five, and I will continue to practice.

“What do you practice?”

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My Top Ten A-Ha’s and To-Do’s (Give or Take a Few)

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.

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The devotional that would have saved my week.  His name will redirect my thoughts.

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:

  1. Talk to God and trust him (That Time When I Met Harvey).
  2. Ask for help when necessary and accept it when people offer (The Most Humbling Part of Harvey).
  3. Wait and hope (Wait and Hope and Other Mantras).
  4. At times you must dismantle to rebuild (And Rebuilding Takes Time).
  5. Seek inspiration (Eyes Open and Seeking).
  6. Surround yourself with positive energy (Flawed but Still Trying and The Power of Positivity).
  7. When God speaks, listen (A Divine Intervention).
  8. Practice gratitude (The Deep Sapphire Blue of the Mediterranean Sea).
  9. Love Liberates (Five Years before I Said, “I Do.” Also, Love Liberates).
  10. True friends nurture the soul (A Life You Want and Eyes Open and Seeking).
  11. Forgiveness and kindness reverse worst case scenarios (How to Deal with a Purse Snatcher).
  12. Through challenges we learn and grow in strength and wisdom (Goodbye, Beef Pot Pie).

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.

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11/11/11 wedding celebration with my forever friends.

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.

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A book from Pamela. Have I mentioned being a Brene Brown fan?

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.

God's card
My dad handed me God’s card when I arrived on Saturday.

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

How to Deal with a Purse Snatcher

I’m not saying this would work every time, and I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have dealt with a mall parking lot robbery in this way, but apparently my daughter Lauren has a gift for dealing with purse snatchers.

On December 24th, Kody, Drew, and I packed our bags, loaded my Mazda, and dashed up I-45 from Houston to Dallas. We swung by Lauren’s house to pick her up, looking all adorable in a little black dress with wedged ankle boots to match, and we were almost on time for the 3:30 Christmas Eve candlelight service at my home church, Chase Oaks. Merry Christmas to me! One of our traditions, our family together for carols and a Word in the presence of God. (The sixteen-minute sermon is linked, just click on Chase Oaks).

Afterwards, Kody and I would run to the grocery store, so we dropped Lauren at her home and car so that she could make one more run to the mall. Little did she know that she would need her tennis shoes. Lauren found what she needed as the mall closed, and back at her car, a girl approached her and asked, “Do you have a dollar?”

Lauren said, “No, I’m sorry. I don’t have any money, just my debit card.” And with that the girl snatched my daughter’s purse, her Louis Vuitton with her new iPhone inside, and ran. I suppose Lauren looked like an easy target in her cute dress and heels, but a competitive soccer player in her day, her instinct kicked in and said, “Oh, no, you didn’t.” Lauren chased the thief through the parking lot in front of oncoming traffic, and talk about a foot race—in her wedges—she ran as fast as she could. The other girl was bigger, and Lauren knew she would outlast and catch her in a matter of time. Lauren also knew she couldn’t fight her.

When the crook could run no more, Lauren said, “What is wrong? Why are you doing this?”

The other girl said, “I’m just going through a really hard time.”

Lauren said, “We all go through hard times, and I’m crazy, too, but I would never snatch anyone’s purse. How can I help you? Do you need a ride? Do you need a hug?”

forgiveness

And that’s how Lauren retrieved her purse from a thief. On Christmas Eve, Lauren showed this girl forgiveness and kindness, and she got her purse back.

And yes, Lauren did hug the girl and give her a ride, which wouldn’t have been my instinct, but maybe I will rethink future interactions gone wrong. This purse snatching worked out, and I couldn’t be any prouder of my little girl or any more thankful for the angels watching over her.   

LB (2)

 

Love Liberates

As the first semester at my new school winds to a close, the students have had some extra down/review time leading into exams. “I’m taking song requests,” I said to my class while sitting in front of my computer at my desk, double checking potential failures in a final attempt to give kids opportunities to pass.

“Rihanna. Love on the Brain,” Rebecca responded.

Ironically, I’ve had love on the brain for a while now although my thoughts on the matter don’t quite align with Rihanna’s lyrics. Love keeps knocking at my door, showing up in phone calls, texts, mail, books I’m reading, on television and social media, almost everywhere, persistently, as if to say, “Let me in. Don’t let me go. Oh, but share me because I will multiply. Pass me on.”

Flashback with me a couple of months or so, one month after evacuating from my Harvey-flooded house, I left Houston on a weekend getaway through Dallas and into Oklahoma, a break filled with family and friends and Love. It was a wonderful escape to places I-call-home during a time when I didn’t have one.  

Family Oct. 2017
Family Walk for Alzheimer’s in OKC
Misti, Zeme, Erin, Meghan
School Family of Fourteen Years in Dallas

On the return trip, I began my mental preparation for my work week, telling myself that everything was going to be okay. But, thoughts of nurturing kids and making up two weeks of lost curriculum time amid so much personal loss overwhelmed me, and thoughts of doing that without my former co-worker friends seemed impossible. Anxiety attacked a place in my chest that felt like my heart, and bitterness crept into my head about living at a La Quinta in Houston.

When I arrived back at the hotel that Sunday, Kody wasn’t there. I texted him after waiting awhile to announce my return, “Will you bring food when you come back?”

I never heard from him.

I said never, but I’ll rephrase. I didn’t hear anything from him until his key scratched at the door, and he stumbled through, wasted, and promptly passed out on the bed. I saw red. Anger coursed through my veins, pounding at my temples, anger towards my husband for handling his stress like an alcoholic, anger towards Oxy for transferring us from Dallas to Houston away from a home and friends and a job I loved, anger towards Harvey for destroying my house and taking most of my furniture, anger with myself for taking a job without knowing exactly what I would be teaching. And all of that anger turned my heart black, into a thumping conglomeration of hate. At that moment in time, I HATED my life. 

The next day I endured school and texted Denise afterwards. In the back and forth, three things resounded:

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Not the “come live with me part,” which I totally considered, but the “Hang on? Love others….” followed by, “Are you going to run away?”

Forty-seven-year-olds don’t run away. At least, I don’t, or I don’t think I do. Her question helped me realize I had to let it go—I had to let it ALL go—the anger, the moving back to Dallas fantasy. I needed to breathe, put one foot in front of the other, and choose Love and grace. If you’ve read any posts since October 2nd, hopefully you’ve noticed I’ve been practicing. Recovery is a process.

I’m fascinated by how YouTube reads minds. Maya Angelou popped up the other day. I’ve seen this video before, but not in a couple of years. Now, I can’t stop hearing her words: “I am grateful to have been loved, to be loved now, and to be able to love because that liberates. Love liberates. It doesn’t just hold. That’s ego. Love liberates.” Hey Rihanna, I recommend listening to Maya Angelou (just click the link on her name above).

From Maya Angelou, my thoughts shift to Jesus. After all, he is the reason for the season, and reminders of Him abound this time of year. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). As an English teacher, I notice he said, “must.” Love is imperative. 

Recently I started a book called The Gift of Crisis: Finding your best self in the worst of times. I know the author and psychologist Dr. Susan Mecca through a friend, and I’ve been to Susan’s house for dinner. Her book had been on my To-Read list, and post-hurricane, Susan offered a free download of her book on LinkedIn. She knows crisis. Her son Nick and her husband Vito simultaneously had cancer after Vito had recovered from the paralysis of Guillain-Barre. Nick is now healthy and cancer free. Vito lost his battle. I feel guilty claiming a crisis in comparison. Susan says, “In the years our family fought for the survival of our men, Nick and Vito taught me love always brings transformation to our lives. That love is endless and can never be taken away from us, even when we can no longer see its source.”

In chapter one, Susan suggests some strategies and exercises for a crisis:

  • Imagine it is six months after your crisis has passed. Your best friend is talking to you about what s/he admired most about you during the crisis. What do you hope s/he will tell you?

Strength, grace, and love popped into my head.

  • Reflect on someone (real or fictional) who has gone through severely challenging times in his or her life. What are the qualities or traits that person demonstrated through his or her personal crisis?

Sydney Carton, Maya Angelou, Jesus, and Susan Mecca come to mind.

If you don’t know Sydney Carton, let me introduce you. In A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney was a miserable alcoholic before meeting Lucie Manette, but his character shows how love liberates. His love for Lucie frees him to be a better person and my favorite literary hero. Sydney tells Lucie, “For you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything. I would embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you…think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you.” Sydney Carton’s sacrifice at the end demonstrates a Christ-like strength, grace, and love.

Dr. Maya Angelou survived rape at age seven and coped by not talking for the next six years. She grew up in the segregated U.S. and became the first African-American trolley conductor at age fifteen, a civil rights activist, a poet, a journalist and author, an actor, director, producer, and professor to name a few. The epitome of strength and grace, Dr. Maya Angelou says, “Love liberates.” And I have witnessed that truth in my life time and time again.

I’m sure most of you have heard of Jesus. So many celebrate His upcoming December 25th birthday, but the night before he carried his own cross to his own crucifixion, he commanded his disciples to “Love one another.” As a believer and Christ-follower, I want to live my life like that—with His strength and His grace and His love, and when I speak of His grace, I mean His kindness and His forgiveness.   

And as for Dr. Susan Mecca. Well, I look forward to finishing her book. She has made me realize my crisis is over. All of my people are alive. After losing her husband to cancer, Susan shows strength and grace through her message, “Love always brings transformation to our lives.” 

And I say, “I am practicing. And you know what? I feel both liberated and transformed.”

(And the messages keep showing up…)

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This one showed up in the mail along with a gift from someone who would’ve had to ask someone else for my address. Hopes for love, grace, and wine! What more could I want?
Brene Brown
This one showed up on Instagram. As of a few days ago, 13,772 others LOVED this post, too.
classroom
This one showed up above my desk in the classroom. Sometimes spelling doesn’t matter.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a new year filled with STRENGTH, GRACE, and LOVE!

Five Years Before I Said, “I Do.” (We were totally kids and totally friends.)

I’m not exactly sure when Kody realized that I existed.  For me, it’s like I have always known him. In small towns, everybody knows everybody, and we grew up together in the middle of the Oklahoma panhandle where fields of corn and wheat meet the endless blue sky. I remember one summer day in 1984, marking the beginning of our friendship. (Kody remembers an earlier episode during the winter of the same year involving a high school basketball game, my pink snow boots that looked like high-top tennis shoes, a detonated firecracker inside the gym during the game, and our junior high principal Mr. Wolgamott, but that’s his story to tell). In my memory, I was fourteen, slathering myself with baby oil and sunbathing with friends at the public pool. I remember Kody showing off with flips, dives, and cannonballs from the high board and me enjoying the show.  I also remember needing a ride home. Kody drove a 1977 white Chevy Silverado pick-up even though he was barely fifteen. I don’t really remember talking to him that day, but looking back I’m betting my mom would have been available to pick me up, and I’m pretty sure she would have disapproved of a ride from any boy, not to mention one without a license. I most likely asked Kody for a lift for the sheer thrill of it. 

I don’t remember anything out-of-the-ordinary about that ride except for the drop off. Kody pulled into the circle drive at my house and slowed to a stop. I opened the passenger door to let myself out and say, “Thanks for the ride.” But Kody never parked, instead accelerating again, completing the circle while I held on to the open truck door and cracked up. Within seconds and once more outside my front door, he stopped for another mock drop-off, and like a record, we rotated through the drive, the scene repeating, the Silverado pausing, then rolling on, Kody’s laugh infectious. Finally, he let me go. We were kids, being kids, and I found myself giggling about that ride for days.

At the end of the summer, Kody attended high school, and I remained at the junior high. However,  we saw each other at least twice a week at the Victory Center church–in Sunday school and again at youth group. Most people probably don’t know that, but I believe God had a plan for us.

Flash forward a couple of years to our first date and three more to our first marriage and twenty-eight more through our journey of ups and downs, human mistakes and equally human reactions, break-ups and make-ups, for better and for worse.

Look at us. On November 25, 1989, at the Victory Center, I was a child-bride, marrying a man-child. Over time and together, we’ve learned a thing or two about imperfection and forgiveness, family and unconditional love. And speaking of love, this photograph–so much to love here: the way Kody looks at me, his little brother Thomas in the background, the fact that Hurricane Harvey tried to take our wedding album, but the photos survive and the fact that twenty-eight years later so do Kody and I.

The Deep Sapphire Blue of the Mediterranean Sea

For my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, my dad wanted to take my mom to Israel.  Many years ago, he asked: “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?”  I don’t think my dad anticipated her answer.  My mom wished to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, and my dad set out to make her dream come true.  I guess that’s how people stay married for fifty years.  My dad, however, wanted a family celebration—including my sister, brother, me and our spouses.  And his plans didn’t stop at Israel.  He planned a Mediterranean cruise of the Holy Lands for all of us.  Now I have to re-phrase part of this scenario.  The trip would include my parents, my sister and her husband, my brother and his wife, me and Kody Byers, my ex-husband, or maybe I should say my former husband, of nearly nineteen years.  Through divorce we found friendship once more, and through friendship we found love again.  And that’s where my relationship stood with Kody when we boarded our cruise ship for the opportunity of a lifetime.  Seventeen days and six countries:  Venice and Ravenna, Italy; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Nazareth, Galilee, and Jerusalem, Israel; Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt; Kuşadası, Turkey; and Patmos and Athens, Greece.  In my wildest dreams, I never imagined seeing the pyramids.  I never imagined such a spiritual experience.  And I never imagined the deep sapphire blue of the Mediterranean Sea.

Kusadasi, Turkey

On June 23, 2011, we ported in Kuşadası, Turkey, a major Aegean resort town and cruise ship port, the gateway to the renowned ruins of Ephesus, and a moment in time I will never forget.  Our first tour bus stop:  the house of the Virgin Mary, excavated in the 1800s based on the visions of a German nun.  According to the scriptures, St. John tells us that Jesus, before dying on the cross, entrusted him with the care of His mother.  After the death of Christ, St. John traveled to Ephesus to spread the gospel and probably brought Mary with him.  Now you can believe me or not, but I felt the spirit of God at Mary’s house.  Chills on my arms, a shimmer of tears in my eyes, and upon examination of my soul, I felt an emotional awareness.  I don’t know how else to explain the sensation.  We stood on holy land.  Our tour guide explained that the spring water here is believed to be sacred, and there are three fountains:  one for health, one for wealth, and one for love.  Kody and I stood in all three lines, filled our water bottles, drank the water, and shared a kiss.

health, wealth, and love

Next to the fountains stands a wall covered in thousands of paper prayers. Kody and I wrote down our prayers and left them for God on the wall.  I thanked God for my family’s health, wealth, and love.

prayer wall

Our tour of Ephesus concluded in a Turkish rug store, where our tour guide invited us to support the Turkish economy.  We witnessed silk cocoons transformed into raw silk, spun into thread, and dyed into every color on the wheel. A weaver pushed the yarn back and forth through a rug backing assisted by a tool to weave the rugs by hand. From there we were ushered into a show room. Next came the beer and wine. Then came rug after rug. Then came salesman after salesman.  Kody and I narrowly escaped the Turkish rug store without committing to purchase.  However, the rug store led directly into a jewelry store, where a sapphire caught my eye and whispered encouragement to Kody. The next thing I knew, the ring was sized to fit my finger.  On the Holy Lands of the Aegean coast, Kody gazed into my eyes and proposed marriage again, and this time I knew without a doubt that our relationship would last forever.  The sapphire symbolizes sincerity, faithfulness, and new beginnings.  Mine will always remind me of my parents’ example, God’s presence, and the deep sapphire blue of the Mediterranean Sea.

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A Divine Intervention

bestill

In a repeated day dream, I load my few remaining possessions into the back of my Mazda CX5, turn up the radio, and drive away from post-Harvey Houston with the wind in my hair, destination TBD and a return unlikely. In my head, the music plays, “Here I go again on my own, going down the only road I’ve ever known. Like a drifter I was born to walk alone,” as if I’m thirty years younger, thirty pounds lighter, and the star of a cheesy 80s hard-rock video. I know this fantasy reeks of selfishness. I can smell the stench. Don’t get me wrong. I love Kody, and together we share the responsibility of parenting our adult son Drew with a disabling brain disorder. I can’t think of anything more rotten than leaving my people behind at the La Quinta and disappearing forever. The make-believe melodrama playing out inside my head is simply an escape from my reality.

Solo, I’ve hit the open road twice now since Hurricane Harvey. Each time I feel untethered, as if I’m literally running away, at least until I arrive at my planned and temporary destinations. For the past month, as my nephew Gant and his girlfriend Kennie planned a trip to Oklahoma City for family and football, I planned the same, minus the football. My trip included more Mom time for me, with a healthy dose of Dad, Sis, Bro, and the outlaws (that’s what we call the in-laws, or maybe that’s what they call Kody—I’m not sure).

On Thursday after school, I planned a much-needed first day off from my new job. Hurricane aftermath plus learning the systems of a new job has been a test and a driving force behind my escape fantasy. With Kody’s job transfer, the school I left behind was a few years new and beautiful, where suburbs meet country and students say, “Yes, ma’am.” That school ran like a Swiss timepiece. Technology outstanding. Copy machines abundant. A staff of friends. I taught honors English and creative writing. Those students wanted to be there. I rarely raised my voice in class. Frisco ISD spoiled me. I know I must stop making comparisons, at least until the end of May. With nineteen years of teaching experience, I know I have options.

But I digress. On Thursday after school, I planned to drive with my waggedy-tailed, little buddy Rain and spend the night in Dallas with my friend since 1975—Denise. Denise planned to keep Rain as a foster dog while the real work begins on our gutted Houston home. Until now, Kody has dropped Rain off each morning at the empty house, where she roams free in the back yard, breathes the fresh air, and naps in the sun. I pick her up after work. However, with workers at the house, that routine must come to an end, so my overnight with Denise would be a long-term stay for Rain.

From Dallas, I planned an early Friday drive to OKC for a hair appointment with my cousin Kaylee before spending the afternoon with Mom and Dad, Liz and Mike, Gant and Kennie. Next, I planned to round out my day with one more, short jaunt to Stillwater for courtside seats at an OSU basketball game and an overnight stay with Scott and Gerri and Dad. What I DID NOT PLAN that day was that moment of divine intervention.

As I paid for my new hair, my phone rang, and I absorbed the tension in Denise’s voice on the other end of the line. During my trip to OKC last month, Rain stayed with Denise—a trial run and a visitation success. But—one thing had changed since the last time: Denise adopted a Goldendoodle puppy named Piper. Rain is ten, a Chihuahua/Terrier mix, territorial and feisty. In her maturity, my pooch has mellowed, socialized with other dogs, and acted like a surrogate mother to our two cats who’ve passed over the rainbow. I didn’t foresee any issues with a puppy. When we arrived at Denise’s house on Thursday night, Rain tucked tail between her legs and sought safety. Piper wanted to befriend and chase. Rain returned Piper’s playfulness with spite, growling through bared teeth, snapping at the poor puppy as fair warning. I figured in time Rain and Piper would fall into a rhythm, but before leaving Denise’s house that morning, I said, “If it doesn’t work out, Pamela and my friend Misti both offered to help out. Just let me know. It’s no big deal.” At the time of the call, I had been gone six hours, and Denise needed a Plan B.

With Denise on the phone, I left the salon, found my car, and drove to the Qdoba on the other side of the parking lot. Talking and walking into the restaurant, I said, “I texted with Misti earlier, and she is out of town, but she will be back tomorrow. Let me call her and see what we can do, and I’ll reach out to Martha and see if she can help out.” And with these words, a man leaving Qdoba opened the door for me. His face took me by surprise as did mine for him. With eyes wide and jaw dropped, I said, “Denise, you will never believe who I just ran into to. It’s—it’s—”

“Robert Gibson,” he said.

“I know!” I drawled the vowels, shocked to see Robert after at least twenty years. “I just thought it was a possibility you were Timmy.” Robert and Tim are twins and two of the nicest guys I know. They graduated with Denise and me. We all grew up together in the Oklahoma panhandle, and their dad was my dentist. With phone in hand, held to ear, I said, “Denise, it’s Robert Gibson!” Then to Robert, I said, “I’m talking to Denise Watson.” Then back to Denise, “Okay, I’m going to let you go, but I’m working on a Plan B. I’ll be in touch. I love you.”

“Do you live here now?” Robert asked.

“No, I’m living in Houston and just drove into town. I’m headed to see my mom. She’s at Epworth.” Robert’s eyes stared into mine with disbelief and empathy. “We moved her here in July. She has Alzheimer’s.”

He shook his head back and forth, a sort-of non-verbal I’m so sorry. “And how are you?”

“Well, I’m okay. Our house flooded in Hurricane Harvey, and we are living in a hotel for now, so it’s good to get away.”

“Just you and Kody?”

“Yes, and our son Drew. He was diagnosed seven years ago with paranoid schizophrenia, so he lives with us and probably always will. He’s twenty-eight.”

At these revelations, Robert gave me a hug and said, “I’m so sorry. That sounds like a lot to deal with.” He pulled out his phone, showed me photos of his kids, much younger than mine, and updated me on his wife and his life as well as his brother. “Tim is a pastor in Pennsylvania. I’m going to call him and text you his number. We’ll be praying for you. Are you sure you’re okay?”

I tried my best to nod my head and fake it, but Robert saw right through my cracked façade.  The floodgates of my truth opened, and tears streamed forth. “You know,” I said, taking a second to fight for my composure in the middle of the Qdoba, “I’m one of those people who will be okay as long as you don’t ask.”

“You’re not okay,” he confirmed.

“Well, my house flooded, I live in a hotel and will for a while, my son has schizophrenia, and my mom has Alzheimer’s.” With a wet face splotched crimson, my response seemed sufficient. The details from this point to the next blur in my memory.

You can call my run-in with Robert random or fate, but I know God intervened that day. I had carried some extra pressure in my heart and soul all week long that culminated with a seven-hour drive and a separation from my service dog. Robert connected me to his twin-brother Tim, also my friend and a now a pastor, at a time when I needed a pastor. In recent months, I keep hearing from God. Just when I forget to lean on Him, the voice returns saying things like, “Crystal, I am God, and I have the plan. I know it’s all you’ve got to just be strong, and it’s a fight just to keep it together, but hope is never lost. Just put one foot in front of the other. You’ll get through this. You’re stronger than you know. You’re gonna be okay.”