My son Drew is a cellist. These days he doesn’t play often. His cello stands in its case next to the media console in our living room. The voices Drew hears stand in the way of his gift.
But—I have a vision. I believe in better days and a brighter future. I decided long ago that I can choose hope or not, and I choose hope. I wouldn’t know how to do that without God, and I lean on the words of the good book:
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalms 147:3).
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matthew 9:35).
“Then [Elijah] stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the LORD, “LORD, my God, let this boy’s life return to him! The LORD heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived” (1 Kings 17:21-22).
I believe in a God who will return Drew’s life, a better life with a cello to play and the light in his eyes. And today, I have a gift for you, actually Drew does. Four years ago, Drew managed the symptoms of his schizophrenia better than he does today. He found an app on his phone that allowed him to record a four-part cello piece, and he makes it sing. It’s the gift—I hope you have a minute to listen:
It looks as though I will make it to the end of my April A-Z blogging challenge. I had some doubts along the way, but I kept doing what I do—being grateful each day. All of this goes to show the importance of our beliefs. Life is not perfect. And now for those times when my world shakes so hard that the sky falls off my life, I have a little collection of reminders to help me carry on:
When people ask my opinion on must-reads, Glennon Doyle’s memoir, Love Warrior makes my list. It’s the inspiring story of a woman who has overcome bulimia and alcoholism and then faces her husband’s infidelity. It’s about the healing process and finding trust in self. Love Warrior is one of those books that I marked up, and as promised, it changed my life.
Since 2016, I waited patiently for Glennon’s next memoir Untamed. I follow her on Instagram, so I knew the premise to come. My friend of forty-years Pamela follows her, too, and mailed me a copy. When the book arrived, I pulled a yellow highlighter from the kitchen-miscellaneous drawer and started reading and highlighting.
Between memoirs, Glennon fell in love with a woman—Abby Wambach, soccer icon, speaker, New York Times bestselling author, and activist for equality and inclusion. Untamed tells their story and launches into more activism—racial justice, refugee rights, and women’s ability to live and work without the threat of sexual harassment and violence. At times, it feels preachy. I like Glennon most when she sticks to her story. Regardless, she is insightful and funny, her relationship with Abby loving and faithful, and her truths universal:
“In the past eighteen years, I have learned two things about pain.
First: I can feel everything and survive. What I thought would kill me, didn’t. Every time I said to myself: I can’t take this anymore—I was wrong…
Second: I can use pain to become. I am here to keep becoming truer, more beautiful versions of myself again and again forever” (51).
“There is a life meant for you that is truer than the one you’re living. But in order to have it, you will have to forge it yourself. You will have to create on the outside what you are imagining on the inside. Only you can bring it forth” (64).
“A few years ago, Alicia Keys announced to the world that she was done wearing makeup. She said, ‘I don’t want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles…Nothing.’
A while later I read an interview with Adam Levine. He said that while they were filming a show together, he poked his head into Alicia Keys’s dressing room. She had her back to him, and she was leaning into the mirror, putting on lipstick.
He smiled and said, ‘Oh, I thought Alicia doesn’t wear makeup.’
She turned around, looked at him, lipstick in her hand. She said, ‘I do what the fuck I want’” (101).
“I have spent the last decade of my life listening to women talk about what they most desire. This is what women tell me they want:
I want a minute to take a deep breath.
I want rest, peace, passion.
I want good food and true, wild, intimate sex.
I want relationships with no lies.
I want to be comfortable in my own skin.
I want to be seen, to be loved.
I want joy and safety for my children and for everyone else’s children.
I want justice for all.
I want help, community, connection.
I want to be forgiven, and I want to finally forgive.
I want enough money and power to stop feeling afraid.
I want to find my purpose down here and live it out fully.
I want to look at the news and see less pain, more love.
I want to look at the people in my life and really see them and love them.
I want to look in the mirror and really see myself and love myself.
I want to feel alive (121).
“I will never promise to be this way or that way, I will only promise to show up, as I am, wherever I am. That’s it, and that’s all. People will like me or not, but being liked is not my One Thing; integrity is. So I must live and tell my truth. Folks will come around or quit coming around. Either way: lovely. Anything or anyone I could lose by telling the truth was never mine anyway” (200).
“I think of the words of Dr. Maya Angelou: ‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better’” (219).
“After a decade of listening to women, I’m convinced that our deepest fears are:
Living without ever finding our purpose
Dying without ever finding our true belonging” (267).
“I’m a clinically depressed inspirational speaker. I am a diagnosed anxious person whose main job is to convince people that everything’s okay. Please note that if I can be these things, anyone can be anything” (275).
“I’ll tell you this: The braver I am, the luckier I get” (296).
“Glennon shows us the clearest meaning of ‘To thine own self be true.’ It’s as if she reached into her heart, captured the raw emotions there and translated them into words that anyone who’s ever known pain or shame—in other words, every human on the planet—can relate to” (Oprah Winfrey, Untamed book cover).
Today I’m thankful for the Untamed perspective, the ability to make up my own mind, and a platform to pass along my thoughts. Next book—Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient.
Thank U for visiting my A-Z blogging challenge. If U stumbled onto my post by chance today, I’ve been sticking to a theme of gratitude this month and working my way through the alphabet. Past posts are linked below 😊:
Kody and I have been together since 1986. I was sixteen. He was seventeen. His little brother Thomas and little sister Gianna were three and four. Kody was so good with them. It was one of the things I liked about him. Thanks to Kody, Thomas and Gianna both can still sing the Beastie Boys to this day:
“Now here’s a little story I’ve got to tell
About three bad brothers you know so well…”
Kody’s mom Dana treated me like family before I ever was. I remember going to their beautiful home my junior year before Kody and I ever went on a date. As a cheerleader, I went into a few of the senior football players’ homes and decorated their rooms with signs before the game with Coweta. I coordinated with Dana to surprise Kody. No one was home that evening, but Dana just left the front door open for me. I made Kody a poster in Guymon Tiger black-and-orange that said, “Eat a pita, Coweta!” I think he liked me for that. (By the way, the game with Coweta was tied, and Kody kicked the winning field goal. The Tigers went to state that year).
When I was a senior in high school, I taught a beginning tumbling class for kids. Gianna was four and took my class. One day, she face planted while attempting a dive roll. Tears streamed down her precious face, and I promised to take her for a Mr. Burger Coke. And I did. She’s been my little buddy ever since, and we still laugh about that time when she smashed her face. Gianna has the best laugh.
And then there’s Kody’s dad Tommy Tomlinson, Grandpa to our kids. Kind and funny, an amazing golfer and a gifted joke-teller. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Tommy tell the same joke twice, and Kody, Thomas, and Gianna all learned the skill. My jokes are all pretty bad, but here’s one just for Tommy:
Times New Roman and Helvetica walk into a bar.
“Get out of here!” shouts the bartender. “We don’t serve your type.”
Bah-dum-dum. I’ll be here six more days.
How many times have I found myself singing the alphabet during my A-Z blogging challenge? Q R S T U. Looks like tomorrow I will be expressing gratitude for U, or is it gratitude for you? Either way, I’m so happy you dropped by, I hope you’re well, and I would love to see you here tomorrow. Past posts are linked below 😊:
I’m the baby of three. Liz is the first child. Scott is middle. Sometimes they call me the baby princess. That title was in a birth-order book my sister once read, and it stuck.
Liz left home for college after my fifth grade year, but she always made me feel missed and special with little gifts. She had a gift for monogramming things, like acrylic storage containers and plastic cups. She would say, “It’s just a little sussy.” Like, it’s just a little something. Not much. When I married Kody, Liz cross-stitched 2 Corinthians 5:7 for me and framed it, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” How many times have I walked by faith?
In her forties, Liz started a blog, and I thought, “How cool!” Liz went to law school at age fifty, and I said to myself, “I want to go back to school like Liz!” One of my favorite things about my sister these days is how she interacts with my Mom. Every time I see them together, I think, “Maybe one day, I’ll be like Liz!” Did you know that firstborns tend to be more achievement oriented and responsible?
I’ll never forget the first blog post I ever read: “When Ripples Collide” by Baron Batch, March 29, 2011. Baron Batch was a football player at Texas Tech, and the Midland Reporter-Telegram published him as well. If you have some extra time, click the link.
I love his post so much that I’m going to borrow his introduction and riff from there:
“Have you ever watched rain fall on a lake? Each raindrop creates its own ripple.
When you combine the millions of raindrops and the millions of ripples that each singularly creates, you have a countless number of overlapping ripples that all have an effect on one another. The cool thing about this is that each raindrop ripple has an effect on the other ripples in the lake, even if it’s just in a small way. This is how people operate on a daily basis. We are individual raindrops in a huge lake.
“Of course each of us has our own ripple, but our lives are primarily made up of other people’s ripples crashing into our own. Many people like to think that our ripples crash randomly into each other without purpose or reason. Maybe that’s true, but then again maybe it’s not true at all. Perhaps I can help you decide. Maybe this story is the result of many ripples just coincidentally crashing into each other. Or maybe each ripple was ordered, measured, weighed, named, and timed perfectly to synchronize with the others to save a life.
“The story I am about to tell shows what happens when ripples collide perfectly.”
(To read the rest of Baron’s story click here. It might be fun to compare his story to mine.)
More and more often I hear from a person who tells me something along the lines of, “I love reading your posts when I need a little pick me up. Keep writing.” I’m always humbled because it’s just me publishing myself, and I never know who might be reading. Like Baron, somehow my writing became “a huge part of who I am.”
“Maybe,” like Baron says, “it’s all a coincidence. Maybe everything is just random…Maybe someone, somewhere, at some time, needed to read something that I would at some point write.”
In July of 2016, Kody’s employer transferred us from Dallas to Houston. While Kody continued to do his same job in a new location. I lost a job that was pretty damn perfect. I worked with true friends, and the kids were amazing. I taught advanced English classes and Creative Writing, and I made time to write. In short, I was fulfilled and content, and I had an amazing circle of support from friends made over the course of twenty-two years.
In August of 2017, I started a brand-new job in the suburbs of Houston, and not long after that, Hurricane Harvey flooded our home. Post evacuation, my family and I walked to a pet-friendly La Quinta where my blog was born and where we would live for the next ten months as we rebuilt our home. I found a formula for peace and hope through a combination of faith and gratitude, and I stuck to that theme in my writing. Did this move and a hurricane provide me an opportunity to encourage others?
My job that year was a struggle, I was short on patience, especially amid the upheaval at home, and this job required patience. I resigned believing I had another job in the bag, but I was wrong. I later realized that Rejection Is God’s Protection.
In August of 2018, I started my second brand-new job in two years. I taught AP Literature and AP Language. My kids were great, and we had some moments of hilarity in the classroom. Outside of the classroom, I worked my ass off.
At the end of the spring semester, I said to my students, “See you next fall.” Do you ever have a story that you start to tell and then you change your mind? I hate when people do that. Let’s suffice it to say, I met a personal challenge last summer that led to my second resignation in two years.
At the same time, I wanted to go back to school, and I had applied to Houston Baptist University for a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. The way I had been working would not have been conducive to school, so maybe the resignation was the right move all along. A ripple “ordered, measured, weighed, named, and timed perfectly to synchronize with others” who would change my life.
In January of 2020, I started my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Houston Baptist University. Classes began with a week-long retreat at a Galveston beach house with guest professor Bret Lott. Bret read my writing and mentored me one-on-one. He cooked dinner for me and my classmates. He is the nicest guy. Oh, and he’s the author of many novels, New York Times best-sellers, and the Oprah pick Jewel. Did that first ripple of my move to Houston lead me to meeting Bret Lott?
I’ve read quite a bit this semester, and we study author’s style. Short stories by Flannery O’Connor and Isak Dinesen, Mavis Gant and Denis Johnson and Raymond Carver, Chekhov and Hemingway. Memoirs and novels, most of it assigned, some of it not:
How Fiction Works by James Wood
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Beauty in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Love, Faith, and Resilience by Alison Pataki
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Even the Stars Look Lonesome by Maya Angelou
Jewel by Bret Lott
All the Pretty Horses (The Border Trilogy, #1) by Cormac McCarthy
Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger
I’m finishing Glennon Doyle’s Untamed now, and by my Maymester I will need to finish Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient and The Collected Works of Billy the Kid.
The texts chosen by my professors serve as mentors and models of how to write. Practice and discussions help, too. I see my style and revision efforts evolving. Each of those books set in motion by authors sending out their ripples and transforming me in some small way.
My class this semester is all online. I submit all written assignments to an on-line forum, where my classmates and I respond to each other’s assignments in writing. We write in response to our assigned readings and each of us is working on own personal writing projects.
I’m writing a memoir of a mom advocating for her mentally ill son on the continued quest for help. Ironically, my son had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and had just been released from his second hospitalization when I read Baron Batch’s blog in March of 2011. Here is where my ripples collide.
I have seven classmates in my program, and they’re honest. Add in my professor, and I receive excellent constructive criticism. They show me where my stories have holes and question me in places where I can develop scenes and clarify ideas. On top of that, they support and inspire and encourage me with responses like these:
“You have a real talent for making everyday life compelling…There’s something about the raw realism of this story that makes it hard to stop reading.”
“I’ve gone through a range of emotions in one reading: laughter, crying, frustration, anger, disbelief. I’m all over the place, and I know I’ll be thinking of this for days.”
“Every time I read your stories, I always envision you sitting in a chair on a patio telling this story to me like an old friend. You make the reader feel so welcome in your world.”
“You write about your life with humility and honesty, and you never shy away from telling us how you feel about something.”
“Best and thank you for sharing your story—not just because it is difficult, although I admire you sharing for that reason—but because it is written so well, and I cannot wait to see what you do with it and its final incarnation.”
“Holy cats! This is compelling. I was disappointed to stop reading. That is about as good of a compliment that I know to give.”
And what if we had never moved? Would I even be a student again? Would I ever have met these awesome people who are literally cheering me to the finish line of completing the book I feel compelled to write? A memoir of a mom advocating for her mentally ill son on the continued quest for help.
“Maybe it’s all luck and chance…maybe nothing we do matters at all…but…what if everything does?” (Baron Batch).
My chihuahua-terrier Rain reigns over my house. Princess from the day I brought her home, prancing as if on parade with delicate feet and ballerina legs. These days she has ascended to the throne, and by throne, I mean, wherever she damn well pleases. Our king-sized bed. The top of our couch cushions. Kody and I, loyal subjects, cater to her whims. We adore her.
And to think what might have happened if I had not been in the right place at the right time. Thankfully fate intervened.
As I stepped off the plane in Mobile, Alabama, with my friend Martha, dark clouds covered the blue sky, and raindrops fell. It was summer 2007. Our friend Mona stood next to the baggage carousel waving and waiting while Martha and I descended the escalator and grabbed our suitcases. The three of us dashed from the airport to the car, the rain drenching us, yet our spirits remained un-dampened. And the rain continued full-force throughout our five-day trip. The three of us, Martha, Mona, and I, went out to eat in the rain, we shopped in the rain, and we drove by the beach in the rain, hoping it would stop. The sky would clear, temporarily, and then rain some more.
After a shopping expedition one day in picturesque downtown Fairhope, Mona said, “I want to take ya’ll to this great little country store. The two girls who opened it are about your age and too cute! You have to see their store.”
We pulled up to the store located in a two-story, Southern-styled, clap-board house with a wrap-around porch. It was nestled among oak trees and backed up to Mobile Bay. As we browsed, one of the young owners said, “We were thinkin’ about havin’ a wine-tastin’. Would ya’ll like a glass of wine?” In no hurry, we accepted the wine and moved outside to sit on the front porch and watch the rain. About that time, a gentleman walked up with a precious, tiny black dog on a leash. She pranced like a princess and wagged her sweet, little, flipped-up tail.
The store owners knew the man, who had been fostering the dog until he found her a permanent home. One of the ladies took a Polaroid picture for the bulletin board inside, and the man with the tiny black dog struck up a conversation with my friends and me. I picked up the dog named Rain. She had been found wandering in the rain, and she licked my face.
Martha said, “Crystal, I think you need that dog.” I held the dog close and stroked her ears. Martha continued, “I think you need to fly that dog back to Dallas.” Rain felt very comfortable in my arms. “I’ll dog-sit whenever you need me,” Martha said.
I had been thinking about adopting a dog, and this one did need a home, and no doubt, she was precious and sweet. So I took the man’s phone number, thinking, If I wake up tomorrow, thinking about that dog, I’m going to take her home.
Well, not only did I wake up the next morning thinking about the dog, I couldn’t sleep at all that night. That’s when I knew—that little dog belonged to me. And I brought her home to Texas, just like Martha said, on the plane from Alabama.
Thirteen years later, Rain’s once-black face and throat have become a sophisticated white, she takes advantage of her beauty rest, and she still loves unconditionally. And Martha? Well, I owe her for the arm-twisting, she has been a dog-sitter for me, and we’re overdue for another girls’ trip.
Ummm, so I realize that I could’ve categorized this post under R for Rain during this A-Z blogging challenge, but I needed a Q. Ummm, now I need an R post. 😊 And this is why it’s called a challenge and why I’m happy for another day. If you liked reading about Rain, perhaps you would enjoy my other posts. It’s all about gratitude this April, and I’m thankful for Rain and Martha and Mona and much:
How many times have I put myself together to mask my falling apart? I have a classic move. When circumstances call, I dress to impress, say a prayer, and wear my grandmother’s pearls.
Grandma passed on December 11, 1991, almost nine years after Grandpa. She had been living in a nursing home after having a stroke a few years earlier, but that’s not how I remember her. I never heard a single ugly word pass through her lips. I remember the classiest of ladies who dressed to impress and loved the Lord. I remember her picture perfect two-bedroom home with the masters on the walls. All of it on a shoestring budget. She shopped at consignment stores, possessed an eye for elegance, and lived within her means. I inherited her pearls and her Van Gogh and hopefully her attitude.
And for those times that I need to conjure strength and normalcy and class, I stand up straight and choose my clothes with care. I say a prayer and wear my grandmother’s pearls.
Do you find yourself being extra reflective during this time? These days (and the A-Z blogging challenge) have given me pause to give thanks for so many people and things in my life. I hope you have your own little collection:
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.
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.
On April 1, I stumbled across a blog post that centered on the A-Z blogging challenge. I had just spent the previous two weeks at home vegging on the couch and mindlessly scrolling past all of the corona virus jokes and advice and fearmongering on facebook, and I realized that I needed something productive to occupy my time lest I go cuckoo.
I published my first ever blog post on September 12, 2017 and tapped out 13 posts total in 2017, 30 in 2018, and 35 in 2019. 78 total posts heading into 2020, and this post makes 25 so far for the year. In the beginning I posted at least twice a month and last year more like three times a month. How many times have I tapped that cranberry-colored Publish button (does it change colors? I swear I thought it was blue), and said to myself, I’ll never be able to write anything again. That’s where the challenge came in. I wondered. Could I really write something remotely interesting every day? How much would the blog grow?
Shortly after I committed to the writing challenge, I walked back to my bedroom and stepped on the scale. Yikes! That number scared me worse than Covid-19. I wondered. If I walked at least thirty minutes a day for the next month, how many pounds could I lose? How much would my ass shrink?
So the writing and walking became part of my recent routine. After thirteen posts this month, it should come as no surprise that my viewer numbers on Word Press are at an all-time personal high. If only I could say my weight was at an all-time healthy-adult low. But Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was my body. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the numbers, but more than anything, the progress is good.
Truth be told, I’ve always wanted to run away. I was five when I loaded my Radio Flyer red wagon with a few necessities and made it as far as my next door neighbors’ house before my mom showed up to check on my plan. When I was thirteen, I thought my life couldn’t be any worse, and I wrote my Granny and Gramps in Oklahoma City and asked if I could move in with them. My parents put an end to that fantasy. I suppose it only makes sense that I’ve run away from my adult life a few times. It takes so many years to learn how to adult properly. I’m still not sure I know.
In 2007, Misti moved to Sitka, Alaska for the sake of adventure. She had visited a friend who lived there, and a teaching job manifested itself. We always stayed in touch.
In 2008, my marriage teetered on the brink of demise, and I felt that urge to run. At Misti’s invitation, I booked a flight to Sitka through Seattle. Misti is one of those people (it must be the teacher in her) who makes everything seem easy and leaves a person feeling empowered. During my stay, we hiked mountain trails and chased waterfalls. We boated all around and cast our lines. I caught a fifteen-pound salmon and (mostly) reeled it in. We spotted eagles soaring and whales breaching. We hot-tubbed and karaoke-ed. Every time I hear Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” I smile and shake my head at the memory of Misti with the microphone.
As a teacher and a mom of two teenagers, I hadn’t had the opportunity to book flights and travel solo much, but Misti talked me through everything including a layover in Seattle on my return. At Seattle-Tacoma International, I stowed my carry-ons in a locker and hopped a bus downtown to Pike Place Fish Market. I entertained myself for hours, and I found my way back via taxi unscathed and on time for my flight.
In 2009, Misti moved back to Texas and drove her car home, the first leg via ferry. I flew to Sacramento and met her there. The last half of Misti’s move was a road trip adventure across the American West for both of us. First stop Napa. Then San Francisco.
In 2012, thanks to our friend Michelle, Misti and I both landed jobs in the same new school in another school district just north of Dallas where suburbs meet country and kids greet teachers in the hallways. We had waited three years for open positions, and we took them together. And so our friendship continued with lunch daily and outings to Shakespeare in the Park and dinners and concerts and art museums.
In 2016, my friends from school threw me a farewell happy hour. Kody’s job had been transferred to Houston, and so had we. The occasion called for a martini—dirty. Bourbon on the rocks for my friend. I like Houston regardless of some bad luck here, but I miss my friends made over the course of seventeen years—like my friend Misti. But you know what? If I ever need to run away, she has a room to spare.
I jumped on to this A-Z blogging challenge at the last moment and without a plan, and it looks like gratitude has brought me to the half way mark. Thanks so much for reading! All posts are clickable below: