What is Zen? According to the Zen Studies Society, Zen is “vast and boundless, far more than the rational mind can grasp. Just breathe in with full awareness. Taste the breath. Appreciate it fully. Now breathe out, slowly, with equal appreciation. Give it all away; hold onto nothing. Breathe in with gratitude; breathe out with love. Receiving and offering—this is what we are doing each time we inhale and exhale. To do so with conscious awareness, on a regular basis, is the transformative practice we call Zen.”
Recently I stumbled upon an Oprah Winfrey “Super Soul Sunday” episode with Thich Nhat Hanh, a legendary author, peace activist, and Zen Buddhist Monk. Between current Netflix binges, I urge you to take twenty minutes for his powerful message on listening with compassion and transforming relationships.
Insightful and deep, Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of four little conversational mantras that make a big difference:
Mantra #1: Darling, I’m here for you.
Mantra #2: Darling, I know you are there.
Mantra #3: Darling, I know you suffer. That is why I’m here for you.
Mantra #4: Darling, I suffer. I’m trying my best to practice. Please help me.
First off, I didn’t grow up in Oklahoma saying, “Y’all.” I grew up saying, “You guys!” Y’all is very Texan. Correct me if you are from another state that says, “Y’all.” However, as I’ve lived in Texas for twenty-six years, I now find myself saying “Ya’ll,” (occasionally) especially when I need more than one person’s attention or when frustrations follow.
I wanted to write about YouTube today because YouTube starts with Y. I listen to music through my headphones everyday for an hour or so while I walk in the mornings and then often in the evenings accompanied by wine and Kody. Life goes on with music and YouTube.
Then a couple of days ago as I wrote W is for Walk on the Wild Side, my laptop crashed, as in, my hard drive crashed. I felt like a complete idiot for not backing up my work—my writing for school this semester is possibly gone. Life almost did not go on. Thank God for my iPhone! But do you know who is a computer genius? Kody. Thank God for Kody! He has ordered my new hard drive and will install, Y’all!
I hate to even whine with the world-wide economic downturn, and I hate to add gloom to the current doom. I’m straddling the line of guilt and gratitude for housing and income, for food and cars, and for our needs being met. We have the means for a solution to the laptop problem. It’s possible that I have lost some of my work, but I’ve lost things before, and life moves on.
Anyway, I’m not sure what I would’ve said about YouTube except for that I find balance in the music just as I find balance in writing and walking.
Speaking of walks, I like to start at a brisk pace to get the ol’ heart rate up. Over the course of an hour, my music slows down along with my feet, and the tunes become progressively girlier. If you happen to be following, you might even hear me singing or notice the occasional melodramatic hand gesture as my feet hit the pavement. Anyone care for my playlist?
“New Breed” by James BKS featuring Q-Tip, Idris Elba, and Little Simz
“Lose Control” by Meduza, Becky Hill, and Goodboys
“Hideaway” by Kiesza
“All About that Bass” by Postmodern Julebox
“Crazy” by Angela Ricci
“Hit the Road Jack” by Becca Krueger
And the cool thing about YouTube is how it takes your requests and follows them with other songs you might like. Sometimes our evenings are hip-hoppier or more alternative or more Americana folk. Sometimes Kody chooses and then I choose, and we go back and forth like that. It’s called balance, Y’all.
This is my second to last A-Z blogging challenge post. Let’s Z what I can conjure up for tomorrow. The rest can be found here in case Y’all want more:
I was ten years old when my Dad left his firm and launched his solo law practice, where he practices forty years later. The whole family was there checking out his new office, the new space, and the new Xerox machine. My big sister Liz said, “Let’s Xerox our faces.” No matter what she would’ve suggested, I would have followed. But she protected me always!
Liz pressed her face, nose on glass against the scanner and the blinding tubular light traveled left to right. The machine discharged the copy. Hilarity ensued. When my turn came, Liz coached. “Close your eyes, really tight,” she said, and look at how well I followed my sister’s advice. I love a good lesson with specificity and demonstrated examples and words of encouragement.
And this Xerox copy reminds me of my ten-year-old self, fun-loving and sister-adoring, adventurous and creative and happy. More than anything, I want to do right by that little girl. I want her to be proud of and true to herself, confident and unapologetic, strong in body, mind, and spirit. I want her to love wholly and forgive fully. Zero grudges. Not an ounce of poison in her soul. I want her to be honest and courageous. I want her to maintain her boundaries for bullshit and remember she can do hard things. And most of all, I want her to live out her God-given purpose.
What do you want for your ten-year-old self?
As I round out this A-Z blogging challenge, I have some fairly fuzzy ideas for Y and Z and leftover ideas for P and K and C and other ideas on less grateful topics. My laptop hard drive crashed right in the middle of my W post, so that was wack. Thank God for my iPhone! And thank you for reading and pressing that little star and leaving kind comments and checking out other posts and praying for my family! Hand on heart, I’m beyond grateful for this WordPress family and for those of you who follow by e-mail and social media, and I’m completely humbled that you choose to spend your time with me. ❤️❤️❤️ More gratitude posts linked below:
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: