On an icy Oklahoma day fifty Decembers ago, I surprised my parents with my missing malehood. No one had seemed to consider that I might be a girl, and I would be named David like my dad with no contingency for a daughter. Following my birth and my mother’s subsequent emergency hysterectomy, the hospital window—obscured with crystals of glistening snow and a valance of shimmering icicles—captivated and inspired my parents. I would be the Crystal that melted their hearts.
I suppose I’ve been more reflective as I wind down my forty-ninth year. I was born December 30, 1969. Hard to believe that my time on this spinning blue ball spans seven different decades—the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, ‘00s, ‘10s, now into the ‘20s. Fifty years later, I ponder how many more? I consider my friends who have leveled up to the big five-oh before me with varying levels of acceptance. I remember my friends and their significant others who have passed on too young and too soon.
As for me, I still feel the same as that little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. Do you know her? When she was good, she was very, very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid. The baby of my family AKA the baby princess. Spoiled. Pouty. Ornery—disguised as sweet and shy.
I still feel like that teenager I once was and the twenty-, the thirty-, the forty-something, just with more experience, more compassion, and a little more fat.
What’s not to like about another year of life? A new decade? A brand new era? So many bucket list items, so many things to do, people to see, places to go, and the blue ball spins on.
At fifty years, nothing surprises me anymore. Truth is stranger than fiction. I’ve learned you can’t predict the future or plan for everything, not without disappointments anyway. Life delivers cruel and unexpected blows, mistakes and heartbreaks and devastating losses with love and joy in the midst. Life delivers inevitable bad and sad—illness, death, and natural disasters with something good in every day. There might be someone living with you and unable to care for himself, someone who hears voices in his head and screams at them, someone who slams doors in your house and causes your dogs to run and hide. There will always be people who don’t meet your expectations, people who don’t do things the same way you would, and so many situations outside of your control. Necessary changes don’t come quick or easy. Some need professional help.
At fifty years, I’ve learned to focus on the good, on the love, on the joy. This focus doesn’t make the bad and sad go away, it just makes the bad and sad tolerable. I notice my sad and frustrated, hateful and angry thoughts spawn more of the same. And I notice that happy thoughts do, too. Beside me now, I have two little black dogs with waggity tails and so much love in their deep brown eyes. These are a few of my favorite things. *Cue Julie Andrews. You know what else I love? Deep thoughts…
Seven Beliefs for Seven Decades:
The ‘60s: “And though she be but little, she is fierce” (William Shakespeare).
The ‘70s: “Do the best you can. Then when you know better, do better” (Maya Angelou).
The ‘80s: “Crystal, you can choose your attitude” (Dad).
The ‘90s: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget the way you made them feel” (Maya Angelou).
The ‘00s: “Above all, love each other deeply because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
The ‘10s: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
The ‘20s: “Stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it” (Frank McCourt).
Numbers are just numbers, and who knows when your number is up? And so I try—to live life with an abundance of love and adventure and joy. Carpe Diem, as they say, and Happy Birthday to me! I feel privileged and blessed, thankful and hopeful, and just really happy to be here.
It was Friday, September 29, 1989. I remember the twang of the B-52’s on the radio that morning: “If you see a faded sign at the side of the road that says ‘15 miles to the Love Shack.’ Love Shack, yeah, yeah….” Except I wasn’t headed down the Atlanta highway or headed for a love getaway. Nope. Not this day. On this day, I got in my Honda. I was big as a whale. Nine months earlier, I had spent my time at the Love Shack. On this particular day, I headed down Highway 51, having contractions along the way to the hospital in Stillwater.
Twelve hours later…
It was 11:56 PM. The doctor said, “Do you want to have this baby on September 29th or the 30th?” 9/29/89 had a ring to it, so I plucked up strength enough and gave another push.
And with this little baby Andrew Riley, 8 lbs. 8 oz., came a love and joy and pride I never knew.
Looking back over thirty years, I remember so many moments of greatness, and I realize how often you have to keep plucking up strength enough and giving yet another push.
And today Happy 30th Birthday to my love and joy and pride, my courageous and strong son Andrew!
A few weeks ago on my last trip to Oklahoma, I met up with
my beautiful forever friend Starla who happened to be visiting at the same time
from California. We’ve been friends since second grade, and when you’re 49 like
us, that’s forever, right? Even with the distance, we make an effort to see each
other every year or two, our phone visits in between are always good for the
soul, and there’s nothing like those special friendships that encourage and uplift
you, make you laugh and let you to have a good cry, and always pick back up
right where you left off.
“Your skin looks fabulous,” I said, mesmerized by her radiant face.
“I’ll tell you my secret as long as you don’t blog about it,” she responded. I’m just kidding, you guys—she didn’t say that, and I did later ask if I could share her BIG secret. Truthfully Starla said, “I’ve been eating collagen protein since April, every morning in an açai bowl with frozen cherries and coconut. You can buy the açai as a puree in the frozen section of the grocery store.”
When I arrived at my local HEB, the details of our conversation escaped me, so I bought smoothie ingredients—bananas and strawberries and unsweetened vanilla almond milk and a one-pound cannister of the anti-aging factor. At home I threw that all (not the whole pound, just one scoop) into my blender with some ice and frozen blueberries, and voila! Health in a glass. Today is Day 7, and I kid you no more, I can see a difference in my sun-damaged hands and my nails, too.
One scoop of collagen peptides includes 18g of clean protein, 18 amino acids, and a B-vitamin complex to support metabolic energy. It’s gluten free, dairy free, sugar free, non GMO, and both KETO and PALEO certified, not to mention my extra servings of fruit each day.
Benefits of Collagen Peptides (according to supplementpolice.com)
Collagen improves the health of skin and hair.
Collagen reduces joint pains and degeneration.
Collagen helps in weight loss.
Collagen improves the health of nails and teeth.
Collagen detoxifies the liver.
Benefits of Forever Friends (according to Mrs. Ward, my 9th grade English teacher and me)
Forever friends encourage and uplift you.
They make you laugh.
They don’t mind when you cry.
You can always pick back up right where you left off because you’ve known each other forever.
They are the fountain of youth, literally.
Starla has one more secret. She’s a Plexus distributor and swears by the Joyōme Illuminating Day Serum and Intensive Overnight Repair. For more information go to https://plexusworldwide.com/home. Starla’s sponsor number is 2876670, which should give her credit if you place an order. Sending good vibes your way! Thanks for reading today!
I wish I could remember the specifics of all the books that follow. The details now blur in my mind, lucky for you. This could have been an extra long post. In short, I LOVED them all. In my perfect hypothetical library, these books would stand proud in my bookcases waiting for someone like you to flip their pages and escape to another time and place.
Top Favorite Books of My Life on Earth by Crystal Byers
The Help by Kathryn Stockett*
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini*
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry*
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant*
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden*
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls*
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt*
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides*
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak*
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou*
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
The Book of Bright Ideas by Sandra King
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain*
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton*
Me Before You (#1) by Jojo Moyes
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
I gravitate toward historical fiction and female perspective and memoir and young adult fiction. Anyway, I typed the list in random order, so #1 means nothing other than the beginning of my list. I can’t answer the “What’s your favorite book” question. I can only give you my top 24 and let you know I have trouble cutting my list short. On a second look, I asterisked the ones that truly star in my top ten or twelve, so if you’re looking for a MUST-READ, start there and Google to help you find your next favorite book. Oh, and I left off the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings series, which I LOVE, as well as some classics because I’m nerdy, but I have to shout out my all-time favorite character Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities. You see, my list could’ve gone on and on, so I just stopped at #24.
Your turn. Summer approaches, and I'm a teacher. What's my next MUST READ?
I even had a head start. Starting December 27th, no more.
And so far, so good.
Even now I hate to admit my habit, but here goes.
Goodbye, cigarettes. You comforted me for a time. Thank you for showing me that it’s time for me to work on me.
I remember listening to one of Dr. Wayne Dyer’s audiobooks about ten years ago. He practiced saying goodbye and thanking whatever is bothering him. His daughter had some bumps, I don’t remember the details, but the bumps were a problem, a problem that went away when she spoke to them with kindness and a farewell. Together they wrote a children’s book about it. Recently, Marie Kondo reminded me of the technique in her tv show on tidying up, thanking the items you use and love as you put them away, keeping only the things that spark joy, thanking items for the joy they brought you at one time before bidding them adieu. I try to use these lessons in my life. It’s a work in progress. I believe 2019 will be a year of personal growth.
A second commitment evolved throughout the month. I like to start school each new year on a positive note. A new year. A fresh start. I know for a fact that some kids don’t get much positivity at home, and we can all use an extra dose of positive. Anyway, on January 4th, I read a blog post titled “You need to believe it’s possible.” Click the link to read. Embedded in that post was a sixteen-minute video titled “The Power of Belief.”
I decided to show the video to my students on their first day back, January 7th, and have them journal about what they believe. I watched the video seven times total, once to preview and again with each class. After the third viewing, I noticed an ad at the end for Evan Carmichael’s book Your One Word with a #believe at the bottom of the front cover. I tweaked the writing assignment for my classes to reflect on their one word for 2018 and their one word for 2019 in addition to what they believe.
I didn’t journal at the time, but I thought about my two words and what I believe.
Word of 2018. Hope. When I began this self-imposed writing gig while living in a La Quinta and rebuilding our house that had been flooded by Harvey, I named my blog Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope. My dad gave me a silver bracelet engraved with HOPE for my birthday last year, and I wear it almost every day as a reminder that Hope, with a capital H, is a choice. I can choose my attitude, another gift of a lesson from dear old Dad. I’m fairly certain Dad is also a Wayne Dyer fan. Amid crisis, I have a choice. Hope or Despair? I choose hope along with the opportunity to grow.
Word of 2019. Believe. I realize Hope and Believe are practically synonyms. In my mind Belief removes all doubt and fuels the Hope. Belief reminds me to trust God in the process. I’m in a different place now. Literally. Back home and on a new couch. So what do I believe? I believe in a better, healthier future for everyone in my family. I believe in the progress of medicine and stem cells and cures for diseases like paranoid schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s and addiction. I believe that together we are stronger, and our relationships are important. I believe my writing is evolving and helping others evolve. I believe one day I will publish a book. All through the grace of God. Some of these beliefs I shared with my students, and after one class a student came up to me and said, “Mrs. Byers, my grandfather has Parkinson’s, and my mom is like you. She researched and found a place right here in Bellaire that does stem cell treatments and took him.”
“So your grandfather is better now?” I asked.
She nodded, holding our eye contact with a serioussincerity, “I will find out where and let you know.”
And like that, I had a new avenue to explore. I believe it’s only a matter of time. I believe all of it with faith in God, gratitude in advance, and peace in my heart.
January 11th was our daughter Lauren’s 27th birthday, and Kody and I gave her a three-month membership to a local boxing gym, which included a three-month membership for me. We would go together. Now mind you, I had not worked out in any way for approximately a year and a half, but I believe in a healthier future. Right? So on January 13th, Lauren and I found our workout clothes, drove to the gym with over fifty suspended heavy bags, wrapped our wrists and knuckles, and started our first class—kickboxing. The fifteen minute warm-up included jumping jacks and pushups, lunges and squats. My calves started screaming after about one minute. Somehow I pushed forward. Then we pulled on our gloves and punched and kicked our way through eight, three-minute rounds with the bag before the abdominal-focused cool-down using weighted medicine balls. If that sounds hard, it is. On January 14th Kody joined us, this time for boxing, and he signed on the line for the membership. By January 15th, I could barely walk up a flight of stairs, but two weeks and five classes later, I’m feeling pretty fantastic, and Lauren has made it to at least three classes without me. And the bonus…this gym is motivational, the instructors are motivational, I am motivated, and it’s quality family time.
Last weekend I traveled the three-hour road to Austin to hang out with my like-minded childhood besties overnight. I am so very thankful for Denise and Pamela and our forty-ish year friendships, speaking of sparking joy. For the trip I downloaded Rachel Hollis’s audio of Girl Wash Your Face. I like this girl Rachel, and I can’t stop thinking of something she said, and I want you to read it:
“A few months ago after I was out to dinner with my closest girlfriend which was an impromptu happy hour that turned into an impromptu dinner and ended up going later than any of us anticipated, I went downstairs to the basement where our old treadmill is hidden and ran a few miles. I put the evidence of that workout on Snapchat, and later my girlfriend saw it and sent me a text. “You worked out after dinner? What in the world?”
I wrote back, “Yes, because I planned on doing it and didn’t want to cancel.”
“Couldn’t you just postpone until tomorrow?” She was genuinely perplexed.
“No, because I made a promise to myself and I don’t break those, not ever.”
“Ugh,” she typed back. “I’m the FIRST person I break a promise to.”
She’s not the only one. I used to do that all the time until I realized how hard I was fighting to keep my word to other people while quickly canceling on myself. I’ll work out tomorrow became I’m not working out anytime soon—because honestly, if you really cared about that commitment, you’d do it when you said you would. What if you had a friend who constantly flaked on you? What if every other time you made plans she decided not to show up? Or what if a friend from work was constantly starting something new? Every three Mondays she announced a new diet or goal and then two weeks later it just ended? Y’all, would you respect her? This woman who starts and stops over and over again? Would you count on the friend who keeps blowing you off for stupid reasons? Would you trust them when they committed to something?
No. No way. And that level of distrust and apprehension applies to you too. Your subconscious knows that you, yourself, cannot be trusted after breaking so many plans and giving up on so many goals.
When you really want something, you will find a way. When you don’t really want something, you’ll find an excuse. I know that blowing off a workout, a date, an afternoon to organize your closet, or some previous commitment to yourself doesn’t seem like a big deal—but it is. It’s a really big deal. Our words have power, but our actions shape our lives.”
Wow, Rachel, why haven’t I realized this before? You, my young friend, are right. Okay girl, three times per week, at least. That’s my boxing commitment for the next three months.
Thursday I came home to a package in the mail—inside, a silver bangle bracelet with BELIEVE in capital letters and a note from my Denise–Believe is a powerful thing!!
( 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
A couple of years ago, before we moved to Houston, one of my favorite students gave me a gratitude journal and wrote on the inside cover, “Because you have truly taught me to appreciate the joys of life, no matter how small. Thank you.”
Copyrighted by Chronicle Books with text by Catherine Price, the introduction speaks of our tendency as humans to be consumed by our problemsand how to combat this inclination with a happiness strategy called the “three blessings” approach.
The first prompt says, “PICK OUT THREE THINGS IN YOUR DAY THAT ARE BEAUTIFUL. Take time to notice and appreciate them in the moment; then, when you get home, jot them down in your journal.”
I completed my first entry on a day when I desperately needed to shift my focus…
Aug. 27, 2017
In the midst of Hurricane Harvey.
Today Kody, Drew, Rain, and I were rescued by HFD on an emergency truck with sixteen people including our neighbors and first responders and seven dogs. Water shin deep flooded our house when we left. Our yard was submerged to my knees. I’m thankful for being able to communicate via cell phone and Facebook. I’m thankful for those who have prayed and continue to pray for us. I’m thankful for the La Quinta and breakfast and a room, actually a suite, and space for Drew and for a shower and dry clothes and for our next-door neighbors Boaz and Megan (also sheltered here) who brought us water and snacks and for the restaurant at the Hilton across the street that had wine!!
Looking back, I only grabbed what I needed for an evacuation and packed what I could carry in an over-the-shoulder bag. I suppose in that moment I realized I needed God and gratitude.
Flash forward fourteen months to November 2018. We have a place to call home again, and this month I renew my commitment to gratitude and my journal. Admittedly, I’m behind, but I like the idea of focusing on the little things and journaling three a day.
The next blank page of my gratitude journal says, “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” —Marcel Proust (1871-1922), French novelist
Would you like to join me in my gratitude practice? Let’s call it a happiness experiment.