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. ❤️

Meet Kionna Walker LeMalle

Kionna is my close friend, my classmate, a fellow educator, a motivational speaker, a mother and a writer, like me. She calls me her “soul sister,” and I love her with my whole heart. We are the same in so many ways—except for the color of our skin and our experiences based on race.

“I’ve been quiet about the Ahmaud Arbery case, not because it doesn’t move me but because it almost breaks me. You see, I have four brothers, three sons, and a husband — and ALL of them can share stories of mistreatment because of their race, even my youngest. My husband who is a local pastor has been held at gun point more times than most who know him (except for other black men) can imagine. I suppose one time would be too much. But there have been multiple incidents, including one which my then toddler sons had to witness. We live in this reality though we do not always speak about it out loud.

“I was retwisting my hair a few days ago, and sitting there still and quiet with my household at rest, I found myself crying for Ahmaud. This was the Saturday before Mother’s Day. I cried tears of pain and anger that yet another black mother would not see her son on Mother’s Day for no fault of his own. And it isn’t that unjust murder doesn’t ever happen to others, it is that it so often happens to ours. If you are not raising a black boy, married to a black man, or living in our brown skin, you may not fully get this. That doesn’t make you a bad person. There are things you will never understand. But please stop the rhetoric that turns an innocent black man into a criminal after his death: the rhetoric that says he is aggressive because he tried to defend himself, the rhetoric that turns the self-defense case upside down and makes the murderers justified for defending themselves against an unarmed black man.

“Someone will be angry with me when they read this, and it will likely be someone I love and care for deeply. I know because I read your posts sometimes in silence and pain. Some of you have no idea how much you hurt me with your words, but I lay in bed and pray that the God in me and the God in you, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, will keep bringing us together until the point at which all of us truly value life—all life—as much as our own and our own kind. Kind. It’s a strange word, a word that offends me deeply. We are human—all of us, are we not? And I pray for my husband and my sons and the strength to continue to raise and support them in this world that we live in that vacillates between love and hate in extremes I cannot understand. Ahmaud Arbery could have been any of my sons, and what would you say then? My heart goes out to yet another family who didn’t have a chance to say good-bye and who has to relive the sin of their son’s, nephew’s, brother’s, uncle’s death over and over again while the powers that be try to make a case against yet another voiceless, lifeless black man.”

We are human—all of us, are we not?

Kionna Walker LeMalle, May 14, 2020

A Day in the Classroom

Back in the fall, I had the privilege to spend twelve weeks as a long-term sub for a good friend and former teaching peer while she took her maternity leave. In English II, our students studied culture, exploring their own backgrounds and heritage before reading Robert Lake’s essay, “An Indian Father’s Plea.” It’s not a piece that students love, but it serves as a study of persuasive writing and a segue into some important conversations about cultural conflicts.

Lake, AKA Medicine Grizzlybear and Bobby Lake-Thom, is a member of the Seneca, Karuk, and Cherokee Indian tribes. He is a native healer and university professor who writes his son’s kindergarten teacher a compelling letter about the systemic racism his five-year-old son Wind-Wolf has faced during his short time in public school. The teacher wants to call Lake’s son Wind, insisting that Wolf must be his middle name, and the other students laugh at him. The teacher also labels him a “slow learner,” yet in Wind-Wolf’s home experience he is learning several Indian languages.

Wind Wolf does make a new friend at school, but when he invites the child to his house, the friend’s mother responds, “It is OK if you have to play with him at school, but we don’t allow those kind of people in our house!” Another little white girl who is his friend at school always tells him, “I like you, Wind-Wolf, because you are a good Indian.”

This is a non-fiction piece. Wind-Wolf is five, and he doesn’t want to go to school. His father advocates on his behalf. Sometimes we all need advocates in our corner.

After reading the essay together and jumping through the hoops of the curriculum, I asked students to put their heads on their desks and close their eyes and answer a yes or no question by raising their hands. The question, I borrowed from Ms. Ranmal, my Canadian/South Asian/Muslim/first-year-teacher/friend next door: Does white privilege exist? I tallied the results.

Two of my three sophomore classes were equally divided by race. In those classes, the black and brown students voted yes, and most white students voted no. The students wanted their voices heard, and they went on to have eloquent, civil dialogue to support their opinions based on their own life experiences. My last sophomore class had a white majority. The one-sided conversation fell flat. Instead we watched Bryan Stevenson’s Ted Talk, “We Need to Talk about an Injustice.”

Overall, the student discourse on the topic of race was the best I had witnessed in my twenty years of classroom teaching (Thank you, Ms. Ranmal!), and students left feeling empowered that day. Do I need to say this makes me sad? Sad, not only to hear so many stories of discrimination, but also because of my own missed opportunities to intentionally structure these conversations into lesson plans for the past twenty years. The interchange is imperative from K-12. Our educational system can do better.

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In the days ahead, I’ll be featuring voices other than mine here on the blog. Thank you for listening and learning along with me.

Meet Dawna-Diamond Tyson

Diamond was my student in English II Pre-AP about seven years ago. In December 2019, she graduated with a bachelor of science in criminal justice around the same time that she posted the following on Facebook. In recent weeks I’ve remembered her words time and again with a heavy heart.

At this hour… I am reminiscing on growing up. And my heart goes out to the people that are my age that experienced heavy bullying, and those that are younger than me attempting to deal with bullying. Growing up, I remember being told a countless number of times that I was “too dark.” I had a guy in elementary school tell me that I was so dark that there would never be a shade of makeup for my complexion, and he too was of my ethnicity and with a similar complexion. I remember being called an “ugly monkey,” by a white child in middle school because I didn’t know how to control my emotions and I thought that I was “in true like with him.” I remember being called “nothing but a slave,” by a kid that was bi-racial, after watching the movie Roots in class. At least once a week the kid would call me a slave name from the movie. I remember being bullied by a large amount of girls because I didn’t dress the same as them…

As a backstory…

This summer I had the opportunity to work with and speak amongst very prestigious and empowered young women in the NEW Leadership Texas Program. And within the week that I was honored to be in their presence, we learned that we all struggled, but we arrived and we are going to continue to arrive and make a positive impact on the world…

Back to the prior issue…

Eventually I grew up. I have said things out of insecurity and I built a barrier around me for so long because I didn’t want to get hurt… But… Eventually I realized that I had to find the real me and I had to remove all of the labels on my skin that had been plastered and rotting for years. I listened to my parents and grew up. I found out who I was, and what I was worth. And I’m still growing. To any kid or to any parent that has a child struggling with a bully, be there for them. Love them, and don’t let an insecure child strongly affect the mental state of you or a child. Support and love is really everything. Remember that you are loved.

I notice that Diamond never called the bullying racism. But it is. Instead I heard her say…

Support and love is really everything.

Dawna-Diamond Tyson
December 7, 2019

Happy Anniversary #59!

Happy 59th Anniversary to my parents! They were high school sweethearts. On May 29, 1961, they exchanged vows at 21, just a couple of kids.

May 29, 1961, Oklahoma City
Headed toward their honeymoon
Looks like the late 70s or early 80s, probably Mexico.
Newport Beach, California, May 2011, 50 Years Strong
Venice, Italy, June 2011, The Holy Land Tour
Walk for Alzheimer’s, OKC, September 2017
Mom’s Birthday Celebration, February 2019
Dad’s new van complete with wheelchair lift.
Celebrating Mom’s big 8-0, February 2020.
My mother kept a book of writing prompts. It includes questions that her kids might have, but never thought to ask, and my sister Xeroxed a copy for me. Today I’m turning the blog over to my mom for a guest post.

How old were you when you met Dad and what attracted you to him?

We really met at the end of my eighth grade [1954]. But I was attracted to him earlier that year. The Rainbow Girls were having a dance and everyone was going. I didn’t have anyone to ask. Betty Sue suggested that I invite David Petty. He was so cute. After dragging my feet for several days I finally got up the nerve to call him. He told me that he already had plans that night. I didn’t ask anyone else and so I went to the movie at the Ritz that night. There was David with his friends. He didn’t even know who I was.

At the end of that school year, I won the election for Student Council President and your Dad was the outgoing President and he swore me in. I still think he didn’t know I was the one who had invited him to the dance.

We really met the end of the 10th grade. He played baseball on the vacant lot on Mary’s street, but we didn’t meet until a Slumber Party at Donna Moreland’s home.

Anyway, I’m dying to know what happened at Donna Moreland’s home, but knowing my mom, it was the most innocent of meet-ups. And I’m thankful for Betty Sue, who encouraged my mom to ask my dad to the Rainbow Girls’ dance. And I’m thankful for that vacant lot on Mary’s street. And I’m thankful for this little book of prompts. And of course, I’m thankful that my parents still have each other after fifty-nine years. Here’s one more:

Did you ever go to a dance? Tell me about it.

My most memorable dance was the Junior/Senior Prom when I was a Senior. I had not even thought about what I would wear. Carol, my sweet sister, brought me a beautiful dress without telling me ahead. It was white, sheer organza with a design flocked in white. It had large scallops around the bottom and across the strapless top. It was the most beautiful dress I had ever seen. My date was your Dad and it was a very wonderful night.

 

O is for the Oversized Owl

A week or so ago when I pulled the hatbox from the top shelf of the hallway closet, I found a photo inside of Dad with my 4’11” Granny. It was the early 90s. She was 80ish. My dad 50ish. Granny wore a necklace, a long gold-plated rope chain with an oversized owl pendant. The owl’s eyes suspended, dangling rhinestones. My Granny’s eyes sparkle, too. Her smile warm and true.

When my Granny passed in January of 1999, I inherited her owl necklace, and I didn’t need anything else. She was born in November of 1911 (11/11), and she was 87. I’ll always remember her love of books and her seemingly endless collection of Louis L’Amour, her love of animals and her tiny Chihuahua Chip, her talking cockatiel Bird and her calico cat Calileo. I’ll always remember how she asked about my grades in school and after my report how she would say, “That’s my girl!” I’ll always remember her ability to stand on her head into her 60s and the way she took a stand when it came to other people’s shit. The owl symbolizes wisdom, in the Greek tradition the owl was also a protector, and mine will forever stand for my Granny.

brown owl perched on brown wooden post under white clouds
Photo by Victor Miyata on Pexels.com

I appreciate you for taking time to share my memory of Granny and for supporting my first A-Z blogging challenge! One more favorite Granny story is that time she sprayed the neighbor boys with a water hose when they were all dressed up and going somewhere, church, I think. I’m sure my Dad could supply the missing details. From what I remember, the boys started it. Granny ended it.

“Though she be but little, she is fierce.”

My other posts are clickable below:

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

 

J is for Jesus

I woke up to Good Friday and said to myself, “Duh! J is for Jesus.”

jesus saves neon signage
Photo by Patricia McCarty on Pexels.com

It was just before the Passover Festival. After the evening meal, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and predicted his betrayal. Then Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

As an English teacher, I notice he said, “must.” Love is imperative.

The night before Jesus carried his own cross to his own crucifixion, he commanded his disciples to “Love one another.” As a believer, I try. I’m the first to admit, I’m not perfect. I like to say that I get along with 99% of everyone I know, and the other 1% is not my problem. I admit to using the word hate from time to time, and honestly I hate myself for that. I hate to give someone else that sort of power over me. And so I ask myself—what would Jesus do? And I try to follow His teachings and live with His love and strength, His grace and forgiveness. And you know what? I can’t do that on my own.

A to Z Challenge

If you’ve been following my A-Z blogging challenge, thank you so much! Tomorrow I plan to rest and enjoy an Easter celebration, I wish all the same for you, and I hope to see you Monday with gratitude for the letter K.

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

G is for Great _______

You know what I LOVE? My GREAT nieces. AND being a GREAT aunt. It’s just—well—GREAT! And to think I don’t have to do anything to be GREAT, and neither do they. How GREAT is that!

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Meet Olivia Grace (R) and Allyson Kate (L), almost six and three.
Just look at her face, and those curls!
Pure joy!
My braiding needs practice, but what about those perfect highlights?
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And this little snuggler!
Girls
We have a bond.

Everything about these girls reminds me of where I’m from—the wide open spaces, endless horizons, and Oklahoma skies. And they’re growing up before my very eyes.

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When I see these girls next, we have some catching up to do, Lego building and coloring sprees and playing Memory cards. There will be braiding of the hair and swimming in the pool. It looks like we may have some wide open spaces to explore, and I can’t wait. It will all be GREAT. 

So I’m curious, what is great in your life just because it is? This month I’ve committed to the A-Z blogging challenge. Each day I’m reflecting on what is GREAT and what I love and what carries me through this crazy life. I hope these posts inspire more of the same:

A is for AppleB is for BoozerC is for Champagne and Chanel No. 5D is for DadE is for EpiphanyF is for Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope

A to Z Challenge

 

Butterfly, Butterfly,

Butterfly, Butterfly,
Go home to my mother.
Please tell her
how much I love her!

Not too many years ago in an old shoebox of memorabilia, I found a Mother’s Day card I made for my mother. I’m betting I was in Mrs. Goff’s second grade class when I created a butterfly with tissue paper wings and glued it to the front cover of the folded construction paper. On the inside I scrawled a poem with a No. 2 pencil:

Butterfly, butterfly,
fly home to my mother.
Please tell her
how much I love her.

Although it’s entirely possible that I copied this poem for an elementary school assignment, I want to say that I wrote it myself. I’ve Googled the lines, and I’m not finding them on the World Wide Web.

In the spring of 2015 or 2016, I re-gifted the handmade card to my mother, and she was thrilled with what I had made as a child and saved as an adult. This was before the Alzheimer’s advanced.

Today as my mother turns 80, I’m thankful for the opportunity to spend her birthday with her. And when we can’t be together, I’ll forever send her butterflies with all my love.





Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Thirty Years in the Blink of an Eye

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.

Those big brown eyes.

And with this little baby Andrew Riley, 8 lbs. 8 oz., came a love and joy and pride I never knew.

Those curls and that laugh.
There was baseball and football, basketball and soccer.
Good-looking and just plain good.
And we totally grew up together.
Our cellist. As his Nana likes to say, the maestro.

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!