Thanksgiving started when our daughter Lauren drove in from Oklahoma. For that I am most thankful. Along with our grand pup and a couple of pies, she brought us some boxes from Nana’s house. Nana is Kody’s mom. One box contained Kody’s junior high and high school yearbooks. Mine met their demise during the hurricane of 2017, and since Kody and I went to school together, well, I got my yearbooks back. Never mind all the signatures from girls who were crazy for Kody back in the day. They provided hours of entertainment.
Kody’s 1984 yearbook was proof that we were friends before I remembered. In a way it foreshadowed at least half of our relationship: “You should know that I’m mad at you…”
Jokes aside, today we celebrate 33 years of holy matrimony. Never mind the three-year divorce. We kissed and made up. For the prequel to a love story, click below.
In thirteen weeks, I climbed 8,125 stairs, from the underground parking to my classroom on floor four. Not that I’m counting.
Okay, I am.
125 per day. 6 flights. 5 mornings per week. 13 weeks. Somedays more.
My phone keeps track— 13 flights on Friday, 12 on Thursday, 10 on Wednesday, 11 on Tuesday, 7 on Monday.
Each time, my thighs burn, my heart pounds, I breathe hard— but easier through 13 weeks. I’ve lost a pound or 2— okay 8, depending on when I weigh. Not that I’m counting.
Okay, I am. Blessings have a way of hiding until you look.
I count more around the school Steps and blessings and such great kids.
I don’t know the girl in the t-shirt that says, “Nice is the new cool.” But I smile, as does she. Then my student greets me, “What up, Mrs. Byers?” Her good energy spreads like fire. I overhear another say, “Today— is gonna be amazing.” He catches my eye, and his flicker. I nod and hope mine spark, too, a torch to pass on.
There’s often time in my day for extra steps. Time— another blessing.
Music swells in the stairwells a flute trio, a vocal solo. My heart responds, drawn by the pulse of art and life.
One flight down, Dancers in leotards perfect techniques at the barre. And I— stroll a little straighter, arabesque if only in my head, held a little higher, past the studios, past the tune of piano, down another flight to the art gallery to contemplate lines and images, color and messages.
There are days I descend two extra flights exit the building, walk a few city blocks for lunch and fresh air before ascending the stairs
back to floor four, somedays to the fifth, where rehearsals ensue
and my heart beats to the Mariachi, vocal, and orchestral excerpts.
In a small practice room with an open door, my student sits before a harp. “I didn’t know you play harp,” I say.
“I don’t usually tell," says she, and I leave her to her secret and take the stairs back to my classroom and prepare for my last class of Week Thirteen, not to mention Thanksgiving.
In celebration of my 11th anniversary of my 2nd marriage to my 1st husband and because some stories are worth retelling and some men are worth remarrying and because friendship and forgiveness are the keys to forever.
It’s not like I hear a booming voice in the sky saying, “Crystal? Hello!” But God has a way of showing up. Like, over and over.
Once when I was fifteen or sixteen, I happened to have a severe earache while at church, my little non-denominational church in my little Oklahoma hometown. Pastor Charlie stopped mid-sermon and said, “God has laid it on my heart that there is someone here in pain. Someone with an earache. I’m going to stop and pray.” And so he prayed from the pulpit and returned to his message while I sat in the congregation awestruck. Believe me or not, my pain subsided 100%.
Then when I was twenty-one, I packed my bags with my mother’s help and loaded Drew into his car seat. I drove out of Colorado and left my young husband and the Rocky Mountains in my rearview mirror. I prayed along the way. “God, I don’t know what to do. Please. Send me a sign,” I said. It wasn’t long before Kody drove to Oklahoma to see me and Drew. Time apart had served us well. We had a happy family reunion for three. A month later when I missed my period, I took the positive pregnancy test as my sign. Thirty-one years later on a Friday night, we sit on adjacent couches. Our toes connect on the ottoman, and we smile at each other while the Astros play on TV.
God and I have been tight through the years—and sometimes not. Sort of like me and Kody. My mother once told me, “There’s a fine line between love and hate.” I’m stubborn when it comes to conforming. I tend to hold grudges when life doesn’t go my way. At times, I stick to the mantra—I can choose hope (through God) or despair, and who would choose despair? Then suddenly, I find myself despairing.
This past week, one of my students asked if she could use my room on Thursday at lunch for a meeting. Their regular meeting spot, or maybe their sponsor, wasn’t available this week. “No problem,” I said. I’m not sure I even asked what kind of meeting.
When Thursday lunch arrived, I grabbed my sad little sandwich from the refrigerator in the teacher’s lounge and returned to my classroom where a small group of some of my favorite students sat in a circle of desks. One of them read Philippians 4:6-7. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I sat at my desk on the opposite side of the room. I might have had some tears in my eyes. This scripture was one of my mother’s favorites. I wonder how many letters she wrote me that included this verse. Was my mother speaking? Or God? I believe they’re in cahoots.
The students took turns discussing the meaning of the words.
One said, “Whatever you’re going through, His peace is greater than your anxiety.”
Another one said, “I just know that we’re all struggling with grades and college applications, and God’s going to get us through it.” There was a pause. “We’re not going to do this on our own. God’s going to get us through it.”
And with these words, I felt convicted. How often do I try to rely on my own devices? That’s a rhetorical question.
Confession time. I struggle with alcohol. I like wine. I like bourbon, vodka, and tequila. I like the relaxation that comes from a drink or two and the comedy that ensues after three or four. According to my oncologist, daily drinking is alcohol abuse. She had the nerve to write that in my charts. Alcohol abuse. The American Cancer Society says, “It’s best not to drink alcohol” and recommends that women “who choose to drink should limit their intake to 1 drink a day.” One?! I swear, I’ve Googled this more than once hoping I’ll find a different answer. Anyway, I’m trying to make healthier choices. From the end of August to the end of September, I did great. I was practically alcohol free, but I was pretty bitter about it, and I mean, downright angry. Notice all the I’s. I. I. I. I. I. I…twelve. Then came October, and I fell off the proverbial wagon. I can’t do this on my own. The mouths of babes confirm it.
So—Thursday after school, I drove home and slipped into some leggings and a long t-shirt and my tennis shoes and went for a walk instead of pouring myself a drink. It was a gorgeous fall evening, and my steps fell to the beat of my music. YouTube picked a song for me. I swear, I think it was God again.
Halfway through another post, or mostly finished, I’m not sure—it’s hard to tell with a poem. The thing lacked detail, the kind of detail that develops from noticing—and time. I slid my laptop out of the way, beneath the couch, and slept. It was Friday night.
The next morning, I awoke to the incessant meow of Nora and ignored her. I lay in bed, scrolling my phone, and stopped on a post called Slower:
“Before I thought of myself as a writer, I thought of myself as an artist—not incompatible identities. Among the many lessons I learned as a visual artist also applicable to literary arts: slow down. Wait. Wait. Wait. The eye (thought) moves faster than the hand on the page; you have to slow down so that the hand can keep up.”
My husband fed the cat. I made the coffee. Texas pecan, wildflower honey and cream for me. Back on the couch, I savored my cup, the decadence of the morning, the sunlight spilling through the living room window, the slowness of Saturday. I reread my last draft and started a new one.
Not long ago, my routine mammogram came back suspicious. I examined myself repeatedly and found nothing out of the ordinary. But there was a certain sensitivity I somehow hadn’t noticed. Was it in my head? I distracted myself with a mantra: I am fearless and therefore powerful.
Two weeks later, I endured a repeat procedure, a more thorough and painful flattening of my left boob, followed by an ultrasound, performed by a technician, and again by a doctor. The doctor told me to come back for a biopsy the following day. He scrunched his mouth to the side and locked eyes with me. He said, “I’m sorry. We caught this early. It’s tiny.”
He didn’t say cancer. I reasoned with myself. I’ll be okay…I’ll be okay…I’ll be okay…
At home, I told my husband about the biopsy and failed to mention the rest.
Kody drove me to my appointment the next day and waited. In a back room, they took the tissue they needed with a needle and inserted a tiny titanium post to mark the spot of the tiny tumor.
On the way home, I said, “It’s cancer.” There was silence in the pause. “I mean, I don’t want this to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I know.” All of this happened on a Thursday.
Friday. Saturday. Sunday. Monday. Tuesday. I waited for the official word.
On Tuesday, the second day of school, I received a call that went to voicemail. A call from a voice who requested a return call.
It’s cancer, confirmed, tiny, and we caught it early.
At my first appointment for repeat testing and a second opinion, I met a woman, three years cancer-free. Similar diagnosis and situation caught early. She had flown to Houston from South Carolina for a follow-up. I have a quick drive across town.
And I have treatment options. Not all include surgery. One of my doctors, I can’t remember which one, said, “If you had to pick a cancer, this is the one.”
Last week started with a recurring thought from Maya Angelou’s mother. She was always…
I want to be like that. Unfazed by whatever happens.
Another thought came from the Book of Proverbs…
I want to be like that. Strong and Dignified. Fearless and Joyful.
Meanwhile, I’ll name it and claim it.
When Saturday rolled around, I mindlessly scrolled Facebook when a book caught my eye:
The post said, “Found this book in our move. Everyone could use a little more positive in their life! Ready to apply this with my family, friends, and students! If you’ve read this, what was your biggest take away?”
I read the book about five years ago and remembered the part about energy vampires. I pulled the book from my shelf and flipped to that chapter. These words jumped off the page: “If you want to be successful you have to be very careful about who is on your bus. After all there are people who increase your energy and there are people who drain your energy…Your job is to do your best to eliminate any negativity on your bus and this includes negative people.” Noted.
Charles Dickens once wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” What a paradox! Our times can be both the best and the worst. Let’s choose our focus.
Alexandre Dumas once wrote: “Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes.” The storms of life happen—bad weather, catastrophes, flat tires, politics, rude people, illness, death—and when storms happen, I protect my energy.
I seek out good. I redirect my thoughts. I choose faith and gratitude, peace and hope.
There’s energetic power in the thoughts we carry. And energy, good or bad, travels. It transfers into our cells and to our loved ones. I don’t know about you, but my molecular make-up, my loved ones, too, could use some good energy. So, today I’m thinking good thoughts—for you and me—strong, dignified, fearless, joyful thoughts. Pass it on.
Bleh, bleh, bleh, bleh,
Bleh and bleh,
worry and fear,
sad and mad,
shame and guilt
I have the power
to rewrite my story.
My words and thoughts
have creative power
I think on noble things:
health, wealth, and love,
faith and gratitude,
peace and hope
What if I believe?
Life is good and generous,
and miracles are in motion
beyond my wildest dreams.
What if I say?
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
June has been my least fruitful writing month in years. With bigger priorities, I didn’t care to write about bleh and couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for fluff.
Then, a week ago, I attended an online workshop led by my former student Monique Mitchell.
Monique was my student in sophomore English back in 2007. I’m not sure I realized at the time that she had moved from California to Texas to live with her aunt, but I remember her as a gifted writer. We just connected and stayed connected. I never suspected she almost failed her freshman year.
Three years ago, Monique was living in LA, working for a literary organization, freelancing, and teaching writing workshops. She invited me to lunch at the airport Marriott in Houston, where she was guest speaking at a conference. In the hotel lobby, she oozed good vibes and embraced me with love. In the hotel restaurant, she told me how a job opportunity had presented itself in Ghana. She planned on moving soon. We spoke about our wildest dreams, the power of words, and self-limiting beliefs.
As we parted ways that day, she said, “The world needs your voice,” and she told me she loved me. I said it back. Speaking of powerful words and wildest dreams, I suddenly found myself pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing.
While scrolling Instagram not long ago, I saw that Monique has returned to LA. She had created an online workshop called “Into Existence,” a beginner’s course to speaking your dream life into being. Needing inspiration for my dream life, I signed up.
Within the first six minutes of the course, Monique said so much that resonated. I wrote down these words:
“Life is a reflection of my beliefs. It’s a reflection of my language, and it’s a reflection of my choices.”
This idea isn’t new to me. My dad always said, “Crystal, you can choose your attitude.” And sometime along the way I discovered Dr. Wayne Dyer’s teaching.
For years, I’ve said, “You can choose hope or choose despair, and who would choose despair?” Then that time after a hurricane flooded my home, I settled on a formula for life:
Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope.
But for the last year or so, after watching several of my loved ones suffer, I’ve felt justified in my anger toward God. Yes, things have gone my way, but I had chosen to wallow in worry and fear and anger and sadness. At the end of the workshop, I realized the need to uproot my toxic thoughts and plant some healthy ones—like a renewed faith and gratitude and peace and hope.
A week passed and so did my father-in-law. He was the best dad and grandpa, kind and generous, an amazing golfer and a gifted joke-teller. Tommy fought the good fight and finished the race. Cancer sucks, and of course, I’m sad, especially for my family. Still, I’m thankful he no longer suffers. That feeling in my heart, the one that catches in my throat, means I loved him. And love is life, life is love, if we’re lucky.
Anyway, God, I’m sorry about being so angry for so long. Please forgive me and help me with that. And thanks for welcoming Tommy home. ❤️ P. S. Thanks also for your words in Jeremiah 29:11. “‘I have plans to prosper you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” I’m open to receiving miracles beyond my wildest imagination.
A week ago last Thursday, I awoke not to the sound of an alarm, though I am quite alarmed. I awoke to the sound of a person with intestinal issues in the bathroom down the hall, not a new sound, instead a very familiar sound that has persisted months too long unchecked. How does one insist that another adult sees a doctor when that adult is averse to seeing doctors? I suppose one could wait for another health issue to arise, like blindness.
And so that is how I finally insisted that my thirty-two-year-old son see a doctor, or at least let the doctor see him. After having chicken pox last summer and refusing medical attention then, my son has experienced hearing loss, chronic bowel issues, a fungal infection, and eyesight loss. Last Monday, I accompanied him to an appointment with a general practitioner, who referred us to five more doctors, including a psychiatrist. I was able to schedule appointments with the ophthalmologist and the dermatologist within the month of June, the gastroenterologist for July, the ENT for August, but for a psychiatrist, we are currently on a twelve-month waiting list. I literally laughed out loud on the phone when the scheduling assistant disclosed the timeline. This is just one of many problems in the US for seeking mental health help.
So, on the first day of my summer vacation, I headed to the island for fish tacos and fresh air, the sun and the sand and the sea. The waves rolled in and retreated, rolled in and retreated. And that is life. Situations come and go. We inhale and exhale. We live and die. Everything is a cycle. In four hours, I drove there and home, and I promised myself another trip tomorrow, four hours, there and home.