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.
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!
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.
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!
When I stepped into the blue rubber raft from the safety of the river bank, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and surviving (with faith and gratitude, peace and hope). Before the bus ride to our launching site, I had skimmed the release of liability and waiver of legal rights and acknowledged that whitewater rafting can be HAZARDOUS AND INVOLVES THE RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY/DEATH. Then I signed on the line and proceeded to pick up my wetsuit, spray jacket, helmet, and life-preserver.
Colorado’s abundant snowfall last winter through May translates to deeper, faster water and what may have been the best white water rafting season in decades.
Shout out to my brother Scott and his beautiful, adventurous wife Gerri for having a 30th wedding anniversary and a reason to celebrate with friends and family, to Rapid Image Photography for the complimentary photos, and to Zach, Ivan, and Kerrie of Clear Creek Rafting Company for the safety debrief and an adrenaline-fueled float through he Rocky Mountains. No one fell off of the raft. No one died. And the river of life keeps flowing, sometimes with faster, deeper waters and cold splashes in the face, sometimes with the possibility of tipping, relying on your life vest, and swimming to safety.
When I stepped back into my ordinary life from the perfection of vacation, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and surviving (with faith and gratitude, peace and hope).
Happy Independence Day to my American friends! And Happy 4th of July wherever you are!
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’”
—Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby
F is for F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of Gatsby and master of human insight wrapped in poetry. His novel begins here, his narrator Nick Carraway, grappling with his father’s caution of criticism—
“All the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
In short, people judge, and Nick tries to refrain because his father said so. I think about Nick’s words and my life. I remember how often my mother would stop herself mid-criticism and say, “I’m not going to say that. It wasn’t very nice.” Then Philippians 4:8 comes to mind about thinking on excellent, praiseworthy things.
Speaking of excellence and praise, what about this one for its sheer lyricism? “It was dawn now on Long Island and we went about opening the rest of the windows downstairs, filling the house with grey turning, gold turning light. The shadow of a tree fell abruptly across the dew and ghostly birds began to sing among the blue leaves. There was a slow pleasant movement in the air, scarcely a wind, promising a cool lovely day.”
I want to write like that—grey turning, gold turning light. How beautiful! Fitzgerald makes writing seem effortless. Writers know better.
F is also for Florida, where on the beach, I soak up the sun, snap a few photos, tap a few phrases into my phone, and attempt to be Fitzgerald:
It was spring break now on the Emerald Coast and we went about lounging on Crystal Beach, filling the day with a sparkle of sunlight, turning glittering foam. Tides of translucent sea rolled rhythmically onto the sand and the gulls floated on wings and Sunday prayers. There was a peaceful simple luxury in the pause, scarcely a word, promising more of the same.
49 is for my 49th year of life and my 49th blog post. Somehow I saw neither coming, but there is a peaceful simple luxury here, with words of reflection, promising more of the same.
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!!
I find myself a little twitchy these days…when I feel like writing, but have nothing much to say or perhaps too much to say but nothing of importance. Ideas spin in my hippocampus* and cerebral cortex*, and I Google words like medulla oblongata* (in case I want to use it correctly, and I find words like hippocampus and cerebral cortex and use them instead), and I question this desire not only to write, but also to share details of my life on the World Wide Web.
Speaking of Hippo Campus, have you heard of them? They’re an indie rock band from St. Paul, Minnesota, and a side note, I dig indie rock with a shovel, so here you go.
Anyway, I began blogging fifteen months ago when an actual hurricane blew into town and dumped 20 trillion gallons of rain on Houston (according to ABC News). Twenty trillion. Can you imagine? Well, Harvey flooded me and my family and our dog Rain right out of our house (along with another estimated 13 million people and countless animals region-wide). Friends and family called and texted their concern and support, and in a post-traumatic stupor, I couldn’t talk about it. But—while propped up on pillows with laptop on lap in my king-sized bed at my post-hurricane home, AKA the La Quinta Inns and Suites, I typed out a little memoir titled That Time When I Met Harvey. I planned to share it with my sophomores as an introduction to a writing assignment, and I did, but suddenly I found myself creating a WordPress account and publishing my first blog post. I chose faith and gratitude during that time, and guess what? Faith and gratitude granted me peace and hope, and that’s the message I wanted to share.
And now, fifteen months and thirty-nine posts later, I realize that not all posts can be about hurricane evacuations or psychotic episodes or purse snatchings. Thank God! And now I waver over possible material. These days I consider writing about the cockroach in my classroom that I silently snuffed out as students sat scribbling down semester exam essays, which I should be grading by the way, but then again cockroach murders do not fit the faith and gratitude theme, unless you count the way I saved the classroom peace. And now I wonder, who really cares to read my ramblings and why am I writing anyway? These questions cannot escape my hippocampus (or is it my cerebral cortex?), and although I do not have all of the answers to life’s big questions or for my own baffling behaviors, I hope in some small way, YOU can relate.
(WE are not alone, and I wish you PEACE and HOPE).
* According to Wikipedia, “Humans and other mammals have two hippocampi, one in each side of the brain. The hippocampus belongs to the limbic system and plays important roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory, and in spatial memory that enables navigation.”
* The cerebral cortex “plays a key role in memory, attention, perception, awareness, thought, language, and consciousness” (Wikipedia). I’m fairly certain Hope lives in the cerebral cortex, but Hope in the Hippocampus sounds as cool as the band.
* “The medulla [oblongata] contains the cardiac, respiratory, vomiting and vasomotor centers and therefore deals with the autonomic functions of breathing, heart rate and blood pressure” (Wikipedia). And it reminds me of Bobby Boucher (pronounced boo-SHAY) in Waterboy.
Sunday morning of Thanksgiving week included my parents and my sister, Philippians 4:6-8, and a blood-stained sock.
After breakfast, Dad drove, and I rode shotgun to Mom’s memory care home, where she sat alone with the Christmas tree in the community living room. Dressed for church, she was ready for the day when we arrived, and her eyes lit up like the tree at the sight of us. Dad grabbed a brush from her bedroom and demonstrated his skills as a stylist. I attempted small talk. Alzheimer’s is a thief, stealing more all the time from one of the kindest people to ever walk the earth. Dad helped Mom stand up. He helped her with her coat. He helped her to the car and buckled her in, and together the three of us took a Sunday drive to kill some time before church.
In the sanctuary, Mom, Dad, and I found spots at the very back, where friends stopped by to say hello and check on my mom before the service, and my sister slipped into our row next to me. The graphic design on front of the bulletin read, “…in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God,” and the minister spoke on the same theme for another few verses. The words of the apostle Paul turned over in my head and resonated with me. I remembered my mother’s voice. I remembered times gone by when she spoke these same words. I realized the meaning had stuck. I realized that every meant every. Pray with a thankful heart in every situation. I heard my mother’s voice, now silent. I heard God’s voice, “Peace…which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts” and “if anything is excellent…think on such things.” Leaving the sanctuary that day, I felt thankful for the message, for my safe trip from Houston to the Oklahoma panhandle, for a week of vacation and time with family, for more time with my mother, and for the peace I carried with me.
Dad and I took Mom back to the nursing home. I helped her change tops and took off her shoes to help her change pants, and that’s when I spotted the blood stained sock. Mom’s toe had been bleeding obviously, and I’m not good at this type of thing. “Um, Dad?” I said. He was hanging up her church clothes. “I think Mom’s toe is bleeding.”
I stepped away and let Dad take over. He rolled down Mom’s compression sock and pulled it off her foot. I caught a glimpse of the horror. Dad left the room to find a nurse. Mom’s toenail stood perpendicular to her nail bed, bleeding. It seemed as if the nail had caught on the sock when they had gone on. Then the foot had been shoved into a shoe. My stomach still turns, four days later.
A nurse showed up promptly, filling a pink plastic basin with warm soapy water and submerging Mom’s foot to soak for awhile before the inevitable toenail removal. I’ll skip the details. “Now, are you her daughter?” The nurse darted a glance at me from her position on the floor before further examination of my mother’s toe.
“Yes,” I replied as my mother made a funny face and laughed with unrestrained joy. I looked back at Dad, sitting directly behind the nurse and caught him mid-face-contortion. Mom cackled some more.
“Does that tickle?” The nurse asked Mom, oblivious to the mostly silent comedic flirtation of my parents.
“No, they’re making faces at each other,” I replied for Mom.
“I love seeing them together,” the nurse said. “They really have something special. You just don’t see that very often. She looks at him with so much love.”
I always knew my dad hung my mom’s moon, but over the last year or so, I’ve come to realize that Mom hung Dad’s moon, too. And these excellent things, I will think upon.