It Is Well with My Soul

Thanksgiving Episode I

I’m on a two-week church streak. Since moving to Houston in 2016 and leaving behind my seemingly irreplaceable Chase Oaks in Dallas, well, let’s just say I sort of slipped off the church wagon. I visited here and there, and in a city the size of Houston, it’s weird that I couldn’t find a place that felt like home. Eventually, I gave up and just lived in sin.

(Ha Ha! I kid. We’re all sinners and by that I mean imperfect. But I keep trying to be a better human anyway.)

Two Sundays ago, I found myself at the Methodist church in my Oklahoma panhandle hometown. Olivia, my five-year-old great niece, was singing in the children’s choir, and well, I couldn’t miss that. Their song went something like this, “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings for what the Lord has done.” And I did. While the kids sang, I counted my blessings.

  1. Seeing my sweet mother again.
  2. Hearing my mom say, “I love you,” to me one more time.
  3. Seeing and hearing Olivia’s performance and gleaning a jewel of wisdom.
  4. The opportunity for some time off of work to spend time with my family.
  5. A safe solo trip to the panhandle.
  6. My three-year-old niece Allyson, playing hide and seek with me in the next pew.
  7. My last class of my 12-week, long-term sub job, where we had a round of Show and Tell, and Jennissa and Neicko brought down the house with their own rendition of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s duet “Shallow” from A Star Is Born.

I could’ve continued counting, but I zoned back into the service in time for the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul,” which led into the sermon and the backstory of the song writer Horatio Spafford. A lawyer from Chicago, in 1871 Spafford’s four-year-old son died of Scarlet fever and the Great Fire destroyed his real estate investment and ruined him financially. Two years later his wife and four daughters headed to Europe on vacation, where he planned to later join them, and their ship the S.S. Ville du Havre sank in the Atlantic Ocean. His wife’s telegram read, “Saved alone.” Their four daughters had drowned. He wrote “It Is Well With My Soul” on his journey to England to meet his wife while passing near the spot where the ship went down. In the face of more tragedy than the average person could bear, Spafford’s soul was well. Mid-blessing count, my soul is well, too.

Click here for Episode 2.

How’s Your Day?

It’s Monday again, and this past week I just couldn’t shake last Monday’s lunch conversation. As I sat down with my leftovers, a young and adorable first-year teacher asked me and another twenty-something in his fifth year, “How’s your day?”

“Good,” I said, nodding my head up and down, no details to offer.

“Great!” said our other co-worker at the table. “Monday’s my jam. It’s my second favorite day of the week.”

Young and adorable laughed out loud, and so did I. “Why?” she asked.

“Well, Friday is my favorite obviously, and the weekends don’t count. Monday is a brand new beginning.”

“I love that. I’ve never thought of it that way before,” she said.

“Right? So many people hate Mondays,” I chimed in.

“Thursday is the pre-Friday,” he continued justifying the goodness of the other days. “And Wednesday, you’re halfway there. The only one I have a beef with is Tuesday.”

“My dad always said, ‘You can choose your attitude.’ I believe you’re onto something, Mr. B. I’m going to spread the word.”

Anyway, that’s it—I’m spreading the word. Monday, any day, life. It’s all a matter of perspective, and I’m thankful for my co-workers and their good energy. How’s your day?

The First Time I Fell in Love

The first time I fell in love, I was five—and I fell in love with a monster. The Monster at the End of This Book starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover. The illustrated Grover would read the title page, and when I turned the page, he would freak out in all caps:

“WHAT DID THAT SAY? On the first page what did that say? Did that say there will be a Monster at the end of this book??? IT DID? Oh, I am so scared of Monsters!!!”

Overcome with fear, Grover would muster the strength to politely ask me not to turn the page, which of course, I did. I knew Grover’s words by heart, and in my five-year-old mind, my impersonation of his Sesame Street voice was spot-on. I flipped pages as he tied them together with rope, nailed one page to the next, built a brick wall, and BEGGED me to stop turning pages. In the end Grover finds himself at the end of the book. He. Is. The Monster. And this Little Golden Book taught me some important life lessons.

Lessons from Grover: Labels lead to misunderstandings, and even monsters can be furry and lovable. Fear can be crippling, and more often than not, outcomes don’t turn out as bad as the build-up in your head.

Photo courtesy of listal.com, The Monster at the End of This Book was written by Jon Stone and illustrated by Michael Smollin.

I suppose my love of a good story started here with Grover, and I suppose that same love compelled me back to school to become an English teacher. I suppose this love is why I’ve spent the last twenty years in the classroom, and I suppose it compels me now to write stories of my own. And most of all, I suppose I owe the lovable, furry old Grover a huge debt of gratitude for forever changing my life.

Where I’m From

For so many years, my students have studied and discussed George Ella Lyons poem, “Where I’m From” and then written their own.

So many years later, I wrote mine.

Where I’m From

I am from wide open spaces,
from endless horizons and Oklahoma skies.
I am from dancing lessons on Main Street.
(Pirouettes and plies
and a shuffle ball change,
it felt like Broadway.)
I am from faith and gratitude, peace and hope.

I’m from banana bread and books,
from Sharon and David.
I’m from “Treat people how you want to be treated”
and “Participate.”
I’m from “I can do all things
through Christ who strengthens me” and
“When you know better,
you do better.”

I’m from Ada and George, Catherine and Ed,
many more books and second-hand shopping.
From lifelong friendships
and hometown happenings,
hard work and hellos.
From mistakes and heartaches
and forgiveness.

Turned pages of my history
bookmarked to guide me
through the next chapters of
my unwritten future.

Welcome to Houston!

The morning of August 27 began with two feet of water inside and out of my house. That was two years ago, but the memory is unforgettable. (You can read my first ever blog post about our Hurricane Harvey evacuation by clicking here.)

When I meet Houston locals and reveal my fairly recent relocation, the conversation usually goes something like, “How do you like Houston?”

“Well, we made it here just in time to flood and lived in a La Quinta for ten months.”

“Oh, Man! I’m sorry to hear that. Welcome to Houston!”

I always exhale that monosyllabic Ha! “I know, right? Thank you. It’s okay. Other than that, I really like Houston, except I do miss my friends. We were in Dallas for over twenty years.”

Anyway, if I’ve ever given Houston a bad rap, today I count my blessings. Welcome to Houston!

Silence by Moriah Alise

While living in the La Quinta, Kody and I dined out for almost every meal, often eating at restaurant bars, making friends, and changing up the conversation. In this way we met Moriah Alise, an up-and-coming, young local artist/former high school art teacher with the drive and determination to open her own District Art Gallery. Moriah invited us to her gallery opening, and her artwork Silence spoke to us. I needed the calm, and I feel blessed to know Moriah and share this piece of her [he]art. Did I say we brought it home? (Well, technically many months later when we finally moved home again).

While returning to District Art Gallery, we’ve enjoyed getting to know another top nationally-known emerging artist, Shawn Artis. All of his pieces have stories, he’s a storyteller, and the one above spoke to me.

Elevation 80 ft., Houston is the most populous city in the state of Texas and the fourth largest in the United States. We have a large and growing international population, a Chinatown, a Mahatma Gandhi district, and an estimated 1.1 million residents born outside of the USA. Houston is a cosmopolitan destination with world-class shopping and award-winning dining at every turn, and there’s always something to do, even for free (Wikipedia and me).

This is the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. I probably stumbled across a photo on Instagram one day and then Googled with intrigue. For followers of Hinduism, the Mandir is a place of worship and prayer and a house of God. No matter your views, you will feel His LOVE and ACCEPTANCE, PEACE and HOPE in this place.

McGovern Centennial Gardens, Hermann Park, Photo Cred Texas Monthly

Welcome to Hermann Park Conservancy, Houston’s 445-acre urban park, situated at the end of the Museum District. This past spring, I chaperoned around 400 high school students here for a day of freedom and a break from school at the park. You might think that would be a problem, but everyone made it back to the busses on time and unscathed. Our kids explored the Houston Zoo, Miller Outdoor Theatre, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The Hermann Park Golf Course is right there, too. Then there’s a reflection pool and a recreational lake with pedal boat rentals and a train and picnic areas and statues and walkways and gardens galore. You can kill a whole day here, no problem (Wikipedia and me).

Then there was that time when my Alma Mater’s symphony came to Houston. I’m a sucker for the symphony, a blessing indeed.

And there was that time when the Indigo Girls came to town and the Houston Symphony accompanied. Um, WOW, and I may or may not have almost been kicked out for not-so-covert, banned recordings.

And speaking of concerts, we attended a couple of more this year. Matt Heckler is a banjo/fiddle-playing genius, who opened for the Lost Dog Street Band in an intimate, standing room only venue upstairs at White Oak Music Hall on Mother’s Day. We returned to the White Oak lawn for Texas songwriter Shakey Graves just a few nights ago, and what a performance! If you don’t know these guys, give them a Google or click here for Matt and here for Shakey.

Then there’s the theatre: high school, college, or professional musical theatre. So many performances, so little time.

So I love the arts. One of my all time favorite outings here in H-town includes feeding my soul at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. ProTip: Thursdays are free. (Oh, and photo cred to Wikipedia for museum façade below).

My friend Misti accompanied me to Van Gogh earlier this summer, and it was amazing, but crowded as the exhibition was grinding to a halt. Now I know. Don’t wait. Go early. Besides Misti and I had a mini-road trip planned to Galveston, just an hour from Houston for beaches, relaxation, more feeding of the soul, and Mexican food for our stomachs.

Then there are professional sports, which I don’t really do, but we have the Astros and Texans and Rockets and Dynamo. And there’s the rodeo, which is sort of a big deal with big name concerts every night for the month of March. Tickets are already on sale for 2020. And there’s NASA, maybe I’ll check that out one day.

It’s the morning of August 27, and today I’m thankful for so much. Welcome to Houston!

#FeelingGrateful

I try not to think too hard about my blog statistics, but sometimes they amaze the heck out of me. Today the blog passed 5000 views for the year, more than 1000 over my entire 2018. I just wanted to say thank you to anyone who has stopped by to give me a chance and to those of you who continue to return and for the writing support and for the friendships made. All of this means much more than the stats and much more than you know.

A List of Praises

by Anne Porter

Give praise with the psalms that tell the trees to sing,                                                         Give praise with the Gospel choirs in the storefront churches,                                          Mad with the joy of the Sabbath,                                                                                                       Give praise with the babble of infants, who wake with the sun,                                          Give praise with children chanting their skip-rope rhymes,                                                    A poetry not in books, a vagrant mischievous poetry                                                          living wild on the Streets through generations of children.

Give praise with the sound of the milk-train far away                                                          With its mutter of wheels and long-drawn-out sweet whistle                                                 As it speeds through the fields of sleep at three in the morning,                                              Give praise with the immense and peaceful sigh                                                                       Of the wind in the pinewoods,                                                                                                       At night give praise with starry silences.

Give praise with the skirling of seagulls                                                                                           And the rattle and flap of sails                                                                                                          And gongs of buoys rocked by the sea-swell                                                                               Out in the shipping-lanes beyond the harbor.                                                                        Give praise with the humpback whales,                                                                                  Huge in the ocean they sing to one another.

Give praise with the rasp and sizzle of crickets,                                                                katydids and cicadas,                                                                                                                    Give praise with hum of bees,                                                                                                            Give praise with the little peepers who live near water.                                                               When they fill the marsh with a shimmer of bell-like cries                                                    We know that the winter is over.

Give praise with mockingbirds, day’s nightingales.                                                                Hour by hour they sing in the crepe myrtle                                                                              And glossy tulip trees                                                                                                                         On quiet side streets in southern towns.

Give praise with the rippling speech                                                                                            Of the eider-duck and her ducklings                                                                                             As they paddle their way downstream                                                                                          In the red-gold morning                                                                                                                      On Restiguche, their cold river,                                                                                                 Salmon river,                                                                                                                              Wilderness river.

Give praise with the whitethroat sparrow.                                                                                      Far, far from the cities,                                                                                                                   Far even from the towns,                                                                                                             With piercing innocence                                                                                                                 He sings in the spruce-tree tops,                                                                                            Always four notes and four notes only.

Give praise with water,                                                                                                                   With storms of rain and thunder                                                                                                And the small rains that sparkle as the dry,                                                                             And the faint floating ocean roar                                                                                               That fills the seaside villages,                                                                                                     And the clear brooks that travel down the mountains

And with this poem, a leaf of the vast flood,                                                                            And with the angels in that other country.

Courtesy of https://poets.org/poem/list-praises

Everyone Needs a Denise

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 2015 my son was hospitalized, and believe it or not, I was a complete wreck. Denise was there to say, “You got this.”
In 2017 Hurricane Harvey flooded my house, and here is Denise showing up to help with the packing, the trashing, the decision-making, saying, “You 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.

Whatever challenges you meet today, just remember, “You got this.”