Anything Is Possible

In a lovely little chapel on the campus of Houston Baptist, I received kind words, a pen, and a pin. This was the last Friday night in May. I had taken the classes, put in the work, and completed requirements for my MFA.

Now, I hear Frank McCourt in my head, and he says, “Stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it.” I notice his two polysyllabic words and the strength of his monosyllables. Now, I will work with my tools, read books, study language, and hone my craft. I will put my bloody manuscript in a drawer and let it rest. Same for me, sans drawer, just rest. I’ve learned that good art takes time.

Even though my angel mother grew up in the Baptist church, the “B” in HBU filled me with trepidation. I leaped with faith anyway. God played a role in my story, and I wanted to do Him justice. Still, I never imagined I would find my tribe of like minds at HBU. Now, I see God’s plan. I’ll be forever grateful for these people—my cohort and professors. They became my friends and family, encouraging and inspiring me with their ideas and insight, persistence and growth, love and prayers. All of this without judgement. Even their criticism was kind.

At HBU, I’ve learned to make time and space for my writing and for me. And I’ve realized we all feel like imposters sometimes. I’ve learned to be scared and do it anyway. And I’ve realized the power of continued progress. Anything is possible with belief and persistence. I’m still learning trust and patience in God. At the same time, I believe He is using my story in a way I never could’ve imagined.

Listen.

My mother visited me not long ago in a dream. I sat in a campus classroom when someone came to the door and said, “Your mother is here to see you.” That seemed weird—one, because my mother passed away this past Christmas Eve, and two, because my classes are online, but this time my cohort surrounded me.

I left my spot and walked into the next room where my mother stood with a radiant smile on her face and a gift in her hands. Neck scarves, probably four of them, rolled up in a long plastic tube. “I wanted you to have these before I leave,” she said.

“Will you come meet my friends and my teacher before you go?” I said. Mom nodded her head and followed me to my classroom. I introduced her to the people who’ve supported my writing most this past year. She came to leave me a gift before she left.

***

Sometime last month, my friend David wrote about Mother Teresa, and I carry this story with me. An interviewer once asked what she said to God when she prayed. She replied, “I don’t say anything. I listen.”

The reporter said, “Okay, when God speaks to you then, what does He say?”

Mother Teresa replied, “He doesn’t say anything. He listens.” She offered no other explanation. To her, prayer was spending time with the One she loved. The One who created her and cared for her

***

The sun rose on Sunday, the night after my dream. I walked the streets of my neighborhood, and I listened. The voices of unknown birds and rustling motions in the treetops filled the morning air. I thought about how my feathered friends can sing whatever their hearts desire, how their songs are as much a part of their nature as soaring through the sky. Sunbeams streamed through the leaves and lit the grass with gold. My mother and her scarves seemed a comfort—as if she came to my school to approve of my work, to protect my voice, to validate my story, and to say, “Don’t let anyone shut you up or shut you down.”

Sympathy
BY PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR
I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
    When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;   
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,   
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
    When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,   
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
    Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;   
For he must fly back to his perch and cling   
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
    And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars   
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
    When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
    But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,   
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!


Happy Birthday, Dear Mama!

Photo by Skylar Kang on Pexels.com

I don’t want to feel sorry for myself. Geez, if you hang in here with me after that line, well, then, God bless you.

Today would have been my mother’s eight-first birthday, and every time I tried to write something eloquent, I failed hard. She was the best, and I miss her. During these last couple of months, I have been overwhelmed by the outreach of kindness and sympathy from friends, hers and mine. These words are among my favorite:

“I have sat beside, under her leadership and so close in prayer with your mother, on many Monday mornings—

She brought life, laughter, peace, memorized scripture passages, prayer needs and most importantly she taught me about “grace notes” and moments our Lord gives to us and our family: encouragements, joy, blessings—these are prayers of praise!

Praise prayers were prayed for you: in your teaching positions, your home sales and purchases, your honors, her grandchildren, births, graduations, and accomplishments. She thanked God for Kody, his strength and promotions, provision for you. We as a circle of friends “cheered you on” with our hearts lifted in unison for any concern, worry, or need. She prayed lovingly and with faithfulness, waiting patiently on our Lord to answer. I am still learning “patiently”. So, so thankful for her wisdom and understanding our Holy God and His promise, Psalm 31:15 “our times are in His hands.”

May you, sweet Crystal see and hear in this note, your mother’s deep spiritual love, her constant commitment to you…”

And these words go on. So, today I celebrate my mother. I see her as the picture of health with a smile that radiates sheer joy, and I hear her voice through the thoughtfulness of her friend. I hope she hears me, too. Happy Birthday, Dear Mama! Happy Birthday, to you!

I Awoke to the Moon

The Waning Gibbous Phase

I awoke to the moon shining through the trees and studied it with delight in the cool Sunday morning breeze. I felt God with me. My mother and my dog Rain, too. No longer here. But vividly here. In my heart.

Great are the works of the Lord;
They are studied by all who delight in them.
Psalm 111:2

The Lord created the world. That thought alone boggles the mind. His works are great. I will study and delight in them.

This spring semester, I’m studying William Wordsworth’s epic poem, The Prelude. According to my syllabus, “it is often said that The Prelude represents the true beginning of modern literature.” Book One depicts the poet from his youth, studying and delighting in the works of the Lord. Wordsworth never directly credits God, but he contemplates nature—the time of year, the warmth of the day, the placement of the sun in the sky, the color of the clouds, the illumination of the ground, and the peace of his surroundings—in connection to his own place in the world.

‘Twas Autumn, and a calm and placid day,
With warmth as much as needed from a sun
Two hours declined towards the west, a day
With silver clouds, and sunshine on the grass,
And, in the sheltered grove where I was couched
A perfect stillness. On the ground I lay
Passing through many thoughts, yet mainly such
As to myself pertained…(74-81).

Wordsworth provides a basic lesson of gratitude in his appreciation of small pleasures, and in this case, the world’s beauty. God resides in His creation, and like Wordsworth, we can find God’s peace if only we stop long enough to see and breathe in His presence in the world. Through a meditative pause and an eye on divine creation, Wordsworth found inspiration, hope, and a soothing balance in his life, and so will we.

…Thus long I lay
Cheared by the genial pillow of the earth
Beneath my head, soothed by a sense of touch
From the warm ground, that balanced me…(87-90).
Taste and see that the Lord is good; 
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him…
Psalm 34:8

Sharing Sharon

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.

My Mama’s Voice

My Mama and Me
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.
Mama had three children. Somehow she always made me feel I had her undivided attention. How adorable is she? Family vacation, July 1972, Hoover Dam.

On the Turning Away

Church started with Pink Floyd last Sunday. Technically it was Domino. With his iconic dreads and electric guitar, he sang, “On the Turning Away.” I saw it online, and I just happen to have a link. Next came Jeff Jones, he’s the senior pastor, and the current series is “Love Like Jesus.” Feel free to scroll on. I’m posting it believing someone might need to hear and will watch.

Jeff started out his sermon with some word associations: “If I said ______, you would say _____.” Eventually making it to his point. “If I said, ‘Christian,’ I don’t know what you would say, depending on what your experience is…”

I knew where Jeff was going. I knew what should go in the blank, but I’ll be honest, my first thought was not positive. Forgive me for going there. I know there are lots of good Christians, amazing humans who give generously of their time and resources and have an unbelievable level of grace for others. But I also know lots of people who won’t step foot into a church…who feel judged by Christians…who have had bad church experiences. Almost daily during my online scrolling and sometimes in overheard conversation, I hear and see Christians passing judgement. And I think—what would Jesus do? What would Jesus say? What would Jesus post?

Jeff continued, “…but I know what we should be able to say, what anybody in the world should be able to say whether they are Christian or not or believe anything about Jesus…the first thing they should think about when they think about ‘Christian’ is love…because that’s the one thing that Jesus said,…’Love like I love.’”  

The weekend before last Ryan Leak kicked off the series. He’s a teaching pastor and a professional speaker. And the strange thing is—I saw him for the first time preaching at a church in Houston about a year ago, and then suddenly he’s popping up at my home church back in Dallas. Throughout the pandemic, Chase Oaks Church is my go to for Sunday mornings. I find extra inspiration and hope here. The sermons are archived on their website if needed, and you can fast forward through the music—or not.

 

Anyway, I go to church each Sunday for my weekly attitude adjustment. I am far from perfect. FAR. But I try. On the day of this U.S. Presidential election, I might not be perfect. Despite results, I’m sure I’ll need to be back in church by Sunday.

Jesus knows we’re all messed up. He offers forgiveness as a gift. And because He would, I’m sending love and peace your way—no matter who or where you are, no matter what you’ve done or what you believe. ❤️

Armies, Fighting, and Being Still

The White Stripes released “Seven Nation Army” in 2003. Somewhere in that era at Christmastime, my English teacher friend Erin gave me a mixtape including liner notes in the compact disc jewel case. According to Erin, “Seven Nation Army is a song that makes you feel cooler just for listening.”
I love Haley Reinhart of Postmodern Jukebox since her days on American Idol back in 2011. She just celebrated her 30th birthday, and the comments on this video crack me up. Luke Klein says, “I watched this video and ended up in a gray suit and a fedora, smoking a cigarette in the rain in 1939. Pls help.”

“I’m gonna fight ‘em all / A seven nation army couldn’t hold me back.”

The White Stripes

I’ve heard the White Stripes in my head this past week, and their words convey my attitude. As I leave my house each day for my morning walk, my posture and stride seem to say, “Do not get in my way because I will kick your ass.” And that’s how I’ve been making my way through recent days. I carry this mixture of fury and hope, this “I will spit in your eye” mindset along with “God, please help me and most of all please help Drew.” My friends and prayers keep carrying me like a gondola up the mental health mountain I face.

Drew came by our house yesterday morning. The morning sun backlit his silhouette as he unlocked the front door and stood at the threshold. His long curly hair stood on end. A white boy’s afro. He said he was going to use the restroom.

“Did you sleep at the group home last night?” I said.

“No, no,” he said, shaking his head. He proceeded to the bathroom where I heard the flush and then into the garage where I heard the buzz of a variable speed drill. Alone in the house, I decided to write this post.

If you happened to read my post about prayers and friends carrying me last week, you know my son Drew was in the behavioral health hospital. Hospitalization #6. After ten long years of battling paranoid schizophrenia. Drew still has good days. When he left with HPD for the hospital, I found crystal meth in his room. How long have I been finding meth in his room? Has it been two years? Did I ever find meth three years ago when we lived in the La Quinta after the hurricane? How many times have I thrown meth in the trash? Where does he get his money to buy? Is he selling it? Does he have a medication efficacy issue? Is meth or schizophrenia the larger problem? These questions beat me down. Who knows?

Anyway, Drew spent five good days at the hospital. I have no idea what they did for him because he is thirty years old, and HIPAA laws protect his privacy. Drew reports that nothing happened, which could be true or false. The hospital doctor determined he was good to go. No further treatment necessary. The problem is Drew’s behavior leading up to the hospitalization proved dangerous to himself and/or others. Over the past three years, his delusions have progressively worsened along with his reactions to what he hears and believes. His dad and I are not willing to have him in our home at this time, partly because of a police report filed by our neighbors that in part led to his hospitalization. His psychiatrist is aware and unhelpful. Hospitalization #6 was unhelpful. Drew agreed to stay in a group home following his discharge.

By the way in Texas, group homes are not accredited in any way. If I wanted to open a group home for mentally ill patients and feed them and oversee their medication, I could—TOMORROW. IF. If you want to make some money, or at least have someone else pay your mortgage, move to Texas, open a group home, call psychiatric hospitals, and let them know you are open for business. From what I understand, it doesn’t take much more than that. Also, Texas ranks near the bottom of our fifty states for mental health expenditures per capita. Go figure. Should we move?

A Mr. Taylor drove Drew from the hospital to the God’s People group home where Drew called an Uber and returned home to pick up clothes and his car. His car that he had been using as his personal trash can. The same car I had removed trash from little by little—four full kitchen trash bags of McDonald’s trash, two uneaten apple pies and an empty sardine can, seemingly unending soda bottles and cans, empty American Spirit cigarette packs and cigarette butts everywhere—all kinds of empty cardboard box recycling—from a Ryobi Variable Speed Drill to a floor lamp, a Kobalt Retractable Hose Reel with Hose, a DeWalt Heavy-Duty Electric Wheeled Portable Compressor, and sex toys. Oh, and laundry, lots of dirty laundry. Some of which went straight to the trash. Some of which I’m airing now. Again I ask, where in the world is Drew getting this money? Have I been burying my head in the sand? All I know is that I have done the best I can. There is NO REASONING with mental illness, and NO ONE seems to want to help. Oh, unless, we happened to be millionaires. We MIGHT get some help that way. By the way if you Google God’s People in Houston, you won’t find anything. When I type the address into Google maps, I see the location of this group home in a one-story house in a residential neighborhood, likely three bedrooms and two baths.

So—after being released on Thursday, Drew didn’t spend Thursday or Friday night at the group home. However, he had been in contact with me by phone, and he was okay. He said, “I’m at a friend’s.”

“Are you planning to go back to the home?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. Drew is good at telling me what I want to hear. Like when I say, “Will you take a shower?” or “Will you take a trashbag and clean all of the trash out of your room?” I repeat the same question for his car. His response—always the same. Years and years of yesses. How are we supposed to help? By telling him he can no long live with us? By towing and selling his trashed out, torn up, paid for 2010 Honda Accord? I’m tired, and I’m trying to live my own best life despite challenges. How do you help someone who doesn’t want to help himself?

Mr. Taylor says he will let me know if Drew shows up, and for my own mental health I drive to the beach on Saturday. Drew makes a Saturday group home appearance—forty-eight hours after his hospital release. Mr. Taylor texts me about his arrival, and stupidly we pay a pro-rated fee for September housing. I say stupidly because Drew is at home when I return from the beach. He has eaten the leftover pizza, and I am thankful for his nourishment. We have a peaceful conversation about his aquarium and the fish he has recently purchased for his bedroom, and I am thankful for the calm. Drew says, “Their names are Patches and Duke and Catfishy.”

I say, “I named them Tom, Dick, and Harry.”

“Those are terrible names,” he says, and I am thankful for the laughs. Then, he leaves for the night.

Do you remember where this started?

Drew came by yesterday morning. The morning sun backlit his silhouette as he unlocked the front door and stood at the threshold. His long curly hair stood on end. A white boy’s afro. He said he was going to use the restroom.

“Did you sleep at the group home last night?” I said.

“No, no,” he said, shaking his head. He proceeded to the bathroom where I heard the flush and then into the garage where I heard the buzz of a variable speed drill. I would’ve thought the noise a buzz saw if I hadn’t found the cardboard box for the drill in his car. Alone in the house, husband out of town, I decided to write this post. Drew was gone within the hour.

Drew probably slept in his car last night. Possibly for the last four nights. If he’s lucky, he has a friend. Officially this means Drew is homeless. AND THIS IS THE PROBLEM WITH MENTAL HEALTH IN THE GREAT UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (and exactly why I want to kick somebody’s ass).

Mid-rage, I stumbled onto Perth Girl’s Saturday post. It begins, “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14).

Perth Girl wraps it up by saying, “Be still, my friend, be still. Let the Lord be your shield and your sword. Let Him be your rock and your shelter. Be still and surrender to Him, leave room for God to work, let Him fight for you.”

Then I went to church at Chase Oaks online, and the service ended with this song. Do I hear God’s voice?   

“Even when my eyes can’t see, I will trust the voice that speaks peace over me.”

And so, as I attempt to re-make my own Monday, to re-make my own week, my own life, today, I choose to let the Lord fight my battles, to be still and surrender, to let go and let God. Oh, and I do have one phone call to make—to a church that can potentially help me. That might not happen today. 🙏🏻

V is for Violoncello, Voices, and a Vision

My son Drew is a cellist. These days he doesn’t play often. His cello stands in its case next to the media console in our living room. The voices Drew hears stand in the way of his gift.

img_3487

But—I have a vision. I believe in better days and a brighter future. I decided long ago that I can choose hope or not, and I choose hope. I wouldn’t know how to do that without God, and I lean on the words of the good book:

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalms 147:3).

“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matthew 9:35).

“Then [Elijah] stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the LORD, “LORD, my God, let this boy’s life return to him! The LORD heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived” (1 Kings 17:21-22).

I believe in a God who will return Drew’s life, a better life with a cello to play and the light in his eyes. And today, I have a gift for you, actually Drew does. Four years ago, Drew managed the symptoms of his schizophrenia better than he does today. He found an app on his phone that allowed him to record a four-part cello piece, and he makes it sing. It’s the gift—I hope you have a minute to listen:

A to Z Challenge

It looks as though I will make it to the end of my April A-Z blogging challenge. I had some doubts along the way, but I kept doing what I do—being grateful each day. All of this goes to show the importance of our beliefs. Life is not perfect. And now for those times when my world shakes so hard that the sky falls off my life, I have a little collection of reminders to help me carry on:

A is for Apple and B is for Boozer and C is for Champagne and Chanel No. 5 and D is for Dad and E is for Epiphany and F is for Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope and G is for Great _______ and H is for Hatbox and Honeysuckle and I for an I and J is for Jesus and K is for Kody and L is for the Lovely Lauren and M is for the Marvelous Misti and a Dirty Martini and N is for the Numbers and O is for the Oversized Owl and P—Prayer and My Grandmother’s Pearls and R is for Ripples Colliding and S is for Siblings and T is for the Tomlinsons and U is for Untamed