When God Speaks

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.

Writing about Writing

Right now, I should be grading. Or writing up my lesson plans, which are due by midnight tonight. I’m reading two books as well for school.  Teachers work after hours. Today is Sunday. These are the things that keep me from doing the things I want—like writing—for pleasure—or reading a book I’ve never read.

I have 180ish students, 140 or so in AP Literature and Composition, about 40 in English IV. Since a week ago Saturday, I’ve graded approximately 92 essays. Not that I’m counting. Okay, I’m counting. And I have approximately 49 to go, give or take. I try to grade 10 a day and complete the task over the course of 2 weeks. Yesterday, I graded none. I brought 27 home for the weekend. This morning I graded 3. Sometimes I obsess over the numbers. I count and recount.

I even took those same 3 essays with me to the coffee shop yesterday for my monthly meetup with my grad school cohort. I met my friends to catch-up and write, but I was at a loss for ideas, so I thought I might grade. If you’ve been reading for a while, you might have noticed my posts shrinking in length since I returned to teaching. I even featured an essay from my grandmother in a guest post recently. I wrote the introduction. 79 words.   

My grandmother has been quite popular on the blog. Her words resonate across years, and people around the globe have embraced her. Grandma would be so incredibly humbled to know. An idea dawned. What if I used the memoirs my grandmother left behind as inspiration for poetry or fiction? I bounced the idea off my friends. They liked it. However, I didn’t have the copies with me, so that idea would wait.

I opened my laptop and the Submittable page that tracks my literary magazine submissions. Last attempt. September 25th. Declined. Eleven submissions since June. Six declined. One in progress. The rest received yet unopened. It was time to try again. On my favorites bar, I clicked the link to Poets & Writers. If I had stayed at home, I would have graded some essays, but now I was on a mission to write.

Poets & Writers has a database of over 1200 alphabetized literary magazines and journals. From June to November, I searched for suitable publication matches, working my way from A to D. Yesterday, I landed on Dead Housekeeping. They accept essays of 250 words or less, “each focused on a task or series of related tasks as executed by people we’ve lost to death but still clearly see living.” I thought of my mother and her love of gardening and the tips she left behind. I said to myself, I can write 250 words.

Happy Birthday, Dear Mama!

Photo by Skylar Kang on Pexels.com

I don’t want to feel sorry for myself. Geez, if you hang in here with me after that line, well, then, God bless you.

Today would have been my mother’s eight-first birthday, and every time I tried to write something eloquent, I failed hard. She was the best, and I miss her. During these last couple of months, I have been overwhelmed by the outreach of kindness and sympathy from friends, hers and mine. These words are among my favorite:

“I have sat beside, under her leadership and so close in prayer with your mother, on many Monday mornings—

She brought life, laughter, peace, memorized scripture passages, prayer needs and most importantly she taught me about “grace notes” and moments our Lord gives to us and our family: encouragements, joy, blessings—these are prayers of praise!

Praise prayers were prayed for you: in your teaching positions, your home sales and purchases, your honors, her grandchildren, births, graduations, and accomplishments. She thanked God for Kody, his strength and promotions, provision for you. We as a circle of friends “cheered you on” with our hearts lifted in unison for any concern, worry, or need. She prayed lovingly and with faithfulness, waiting patiently on our Lord to answer. I am still learning “patiently”. So, so thankful for her wisdom and understanding our Holy God and His promise, Psalm 31:15 “our times are in His hands.”

May you, sweet Crystal see and hear in this note, your mother’s deep spiritual love, her constant commitment to you…”

And these words go on. So, today I celebrate my mother. I see her as the picture of health with a smile that radiates sheer joy, and I hear her voice through the thoughtfulness of her friend. I hope she hears me, too. Happy Birthday, Dear Mama! Happy Birthday, to you!

My Mama’s Voice

My Mama and Me
My first memories
include my Mama’s voice.
No matter where she is,
no matter where I am,
I hear her—
  
“There was a little girl,
who had a little curl, 
right in the middle 
of her forehead.”
       Mama points in thin air,
       draws a circle.
“And when she was good,
she was very, very good,”
      she emphasizes very,
     nods up and down,
“and when she was bad,”
      she exaggerates bad,
      lifts an eyebrow,
“she was horrid.”
     Mama shudders,
     shakes her head. 
It’s a gentle warning.
Her words still ring true.
  
At the end of each day,
Mama would always say,
“Goodnight, sleep tight.
Don’t let the bed bugs bite.
And if they do…”
      This is my cue.
     I say, “Take your shoe, 
     and rub their tummies
     black and blue.”
Mama says, “I love you.”
    And I say back, “I love you, too.”
It's our routine. 
  
In times of trouble, 
Mama stands on God’s word.
How many times did I hear
her say?
  
“And we know that all things
work together for good
to those who love the Lord
to those who are called
according to His purpose.”
     Mama would say it now 
     if she could.
And then—"I love you.”
   
But I hear her voice. 
     "I love you, too, Mama."
     No matter where you are.
    No matter where I am.
Mama had three children. Somehow she always made me feel I had her undivided attention. How adorable is she? Family vacation, July 1972, Hoover Dam.

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.

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.

 

Momming Ain’t Easy

Jerusalem with My Mother.
#thankful

As long as I can remember, I’ve been a mama’s girl. I dropped out of pre-school, and my mother was my safety net. She chose her battles and her strategies, and in the end I finished out the year. She tucked me in each night with a “Good night, Sugarplum” or a “Good night, sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” She chauffeured me back and forth to school and home each day. The aroma of banana bread filled our kitchen. I would change clothes for dance lessons or gymnastics and jump back in the car with mom. Those lessons moved south by two hours to Amarillo during 5th and 6th grade and forty minutes northeast to Liberal during the 9th. Mom always drove. She never complained. How many hours did we spend together just the two of us? She was in my every audience at every recital, every swim meet, every school activity. And after my freshman year at OU when I found myself pregnant, she helped me move from my dorm into my first apartment and accompanied me to childbirth classes. Even though I lived five hours from home, she drove ten hours round trip each week and held my nineteen-year-old hand as I became a mom.

Beautiful Inside and Out

My mother taught me unconditional love, stood by me during the best and worst of times, and prayed with me and for me non-stop. Somehow my best doesn’t seem to compare.

Once upon a time, I was a soccer mom, Lauren was highly competitive, and we criss-crossed the U. S. for the love of the game. One spring evening about thirteen years ago, I remember sitting on the sidelines watching practice with Jane, another mom, who confided, “Natasha told me that Lauren pierced her belly button.”

“Oh, really?” I said.

Lauren was a freshman in high school at the time, too young to be showing anyone belly buttons or belly rings. Even though I may or may not have revealed more than my belly button at her age, I sat through soccer practice devising my mom-plan. The next day the girls would be boarding a plane for a tournament, location now forgettable. Practice gear needed laundering, and I would wait until we returned home to “discover” the piercing for myself.

I remember smiling at Lauren after practice and saying, “Nice workout!” I remember the ride home as if everything was completely normal. I remember walking into Lauren’s room once home, pointing at her Texans practice t-shirt, and saying, “Take that off. I need to start a load of laundry.”

On cue, Lauren flipped up her shirt, and I gasped with added Mama drama, “What have you done?”

“I pierced my belly button,” she may or may not have said, the memory a teenager now.

I pointed at her navel and said, “Take that out—It’s going to get infected.” Ripped out on the pitch would have been the scarier possibility, but I hadn’t thought through my words or possibilities or consequences, only my detection tactic in keeping the confidence of both Jane and Natasha.

And on cue, Lauren pulled out the piercing and handed it over. At the time, in my mind, removal of the belly ring was punishment enough.

*****

Flash forward a year, same teenager, now a tenth grader.

Lauren’s friend Savannah vacationed in Amsterdam the summer before sophomore year, and Savannah returned with a wonderful souvenir for Lauren—a sterling silver pair of marijuana leaf earrings. I have to give Lauren some credit for showing me the earrings, but I warned her, “You cannot—ever—wear them to school.” Lauren attended school where I taught, and no way ever could she be seen—ever—with cannabis leaves in her ears.

I remember riding shotgun to school one day, Lauren driving with her learner’s permit, a typical morning and a smooth ride considering the fifteen-year-old behind the wheel. At the end of the same day on the way home, Lauren drove once more. This time, I remember the glint of sterling catching my eye from Lauren’s ears. I remember sitting at a red light and commanding once more, “Take those out.” I extended my right hand, palm up. “Give them to me.”

Lauren unscrewed the backs, dislodged the earrings, and placed them in my upturned palm. I can still picture the open field on the passenger side of the street. I remember rolling down my window with her jewelry in hand. In slow motion, I still see myself tossing the silver weed as far as possible into the weeds. I’m pretty sure she hated my guts for that.

Momming ain’t easy, even though my mother made the job seem effortless, but she’s a saint. Sometimes emotions stand in the way. As far as I know, there’s no parenting manual on actions to take when your teen-aged daughter pierces her belly button or sneaks around with marijuana leaves in her ears or hates your guts. I think we all do the best we can, and after that, I’ve found prayer my best hope.

And you know what? Here she is now, age 27, my adulting daughter, BBA in Finance, earning a salary, supporting herself, buying her first car without help, and smiling from ear-to-ear.

And anytime I ask my self, 
What would my mother do?
I know, and I pray.
I love these guys so much!