Thursday, July 12, 2018

Diamonds Everywhere

I read a study recently that said that greatest single indicator of a long life well-lived is deep social connections. Of course, there are several other factors too but that was at the top. It made me realize how important it is to be purposeful about creating deep friendships in my life.

When it comes to deep friendships, I’m pretty darned lucky. I realize that. I have so many amazing friends that I simply adore, and I live by my sisters who are absolutely in my circle of “reliables.” The other day, I installed an app called ‘Marco Polo’ that allows one to video-chat with friends who, too, have the app. It’s not like FaceTime where you talk simultaneously but, rather, I create a video for a person, and then they respond with their own video…and so on. It’s kind of fun.

Anyway, once I added it, I immediately had some welcoming videos from a couple of people whom I simply love so much: Lillian and Jamie. Lillian is Savana’s sister-in-law. We’ve always been good friends (though I could practically be her mother), so it was such a delight to hear from her. We’ve chatted back and forth a few times and caught up on the facts of our lives as well as the good stuff. And the good stuff? That’s the best part. You know - the things that bring meaning to our lives.

Jamie was a student from WA back in the early 2000’s. In fact, she graduated just before Jace was born - if that’s any indication of how long ago this was. But Jamie quickly wormed her way into our hearts and lives and became like one of our own. So we too have had several videos exchanged between the two of us over the past few days. 

This app was a beautiful reminder of the amazing people I have in my life that create meaning and love. So much love.

But yesterday? Well yesterday I had a visitor who spent the night at my home. And this visitor? She is one of those people whose connection runs deep. 

I met her eight years ago as I was meandering through a home that we were most likely going to move into. She saw me in there, knocked on the door, and introduced herself. And the moment we met? I felt an instant connection.

I knew.

And sure enough. 

We quickly became fast friends:
   regular lunch dates, 
   laughing together, 
   talking about hard things, 
   talking about easy things, 
   talking about all things.

And then, six years after we met, we Seals moved here to Texas. 

And you know how that goes, right? Lives that were joined together — church and friends and activities and community — are torn apart by distance. It’s an inevitable result of moving away.

But once in awhile, life brings diamonds to our lives that sparkle and shine in the midst of the mundane. And this past 24 hours?

Well, diamonds glittered.

They glittered everywhere.

Thanks for coming, Tammy. 

It was perfect.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Because I'm Free

I have a feather in my hair.

A few days ago, Roy and I were visiting his sister Gina and her husband, and she looked at me rather quizzically and then she quipped, “What is that in your hair?”

“A feather!” I replied proudly.

And she laughed. She may have thought it was a bit weird, slightly odd…I’m not sure.

And frankly? It’s all good.

I like it.

This feather? It reminds me of who I am.

It reminds me that I am free.

It hasn’t always been that way…

From my early teens, I struggled with so many issues in regards to spirituality. I was a highly sensitive kid, and I was keenly aware of my behavior, my desires that were less than honorable, my weaknesses. And there were plenty. They were all that I saw.

I remember one time in my mid-twenties standing in line to speak with the pastor, Morris Vendon, at Azure Hills Church in Loma Linda, California, after a particularly moving women’s Bible study that he led. My heart was heavy with an issue that burned savagely in my heart, and I was desperately hoping for encouraging words.

As I stood waiting my turn, I struck up a conversation with the lady standing next to me who was also waiting her turn. For some reason, I blurted out my struggle: I just can’t seem to give up Dr. Pepper. I’m so tired of myself…

Yep. That was my struggle.

And that lady I was talking to? She looked at me as if I were an alien who just plopped down beside her from Mars.

“Your problem is you can’t give up Dr. Pepper?” she said, in disdain. Shaking her head, she scoffed, “Gosh I wish that was my problem.”

But the mental turmoil? It was real. 

And it was constant: what I ate; what I drank; books I read; movies I watched…I had a litany of things to harass myself about. 

And I did. 

Boy did I ever. 

And then when I was about 45 years old, I had a breakthrough. Now don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t overnight. It took over two years. Two years of questioning and studying and thinking and wondering.

It was a time of awakening for me. I slowly climbed out of this legalistic box that I lived in inside my head and woke up to a whole new world. 

So many realizations and revelations exploded in my head over those two years. And basically it all boiled down to this nutshell:

This life is mine to live; this life is what I make of it. It’s not about a set of rules that determines how good I am in regards to whether I keep them; it’s not about a vengeful God who keeps tally of everything I do wrong; it’s not about black and white issues (and I’m not referring to race). In fact, most issues, I realized, are gray.

One day I woke up and it came to me as suddenly as if the sun was shining for the very first time:

 I am free.

I am free to live how I choose; to be who I want to be. God is not watching over me with crossed arms, impatiently tapping his feet and just waiting for me to screw up so that he can doom me to hell.

Rather, God is moving me forward, wanting only good, surrounding me with light and love and kindness.

I still screw up. Pretty much every day. But these days? Well, I’ve learned to be kind to myself – at least most of the time. I have learned that life is all about headspace and my thoughts can make my heaven a hell; my hell a heaven. It’s all in how I look at it.

But best of all? I have learned that there is so much worth celebrating in this life I live. 

And that, my friend, is why I have a feather in my hair.

Because I can.

And because I’m free. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

My Mojo

Clearly I’ve lost my mojo.

It has been months since I’ve posted; I feel as though I just don’t have much to talk about anymore. I’ve covered everything there is to cover…and I’m tired over going on and on about the wonders of my life.

My life is pretty darned amazing right now.

But it’s also life. 

You know…

I still clean toilets and some days drag on and on and I worry about my weight and get cranky with Roy when I shouldn’t and impatient with Jace when I should but really shouldn’t and wonder if I don’t give enough and …

Well, lots more ands.

My life is like most everyone’s: it’s just life.

A good life.

But life nonetheless.

But today I saw something that I remembered…oh yeah! My blog…

And I thought, I just need to start again. I need to write again.

Because, even if nobody reads this –I enjoy my blog. It centers me and reminds me that life is beautiful and worth living. That it’s the little things that create meaning.

And today? Well today a little thing happened.

And that’s what I want to tell you about.

It’s the Fourth of July today. And can I just say, I love the holidays—all of the holidays. Red, white and blue, homemade ice-cream, and firecrackers lighting up the sky are the hallmarks of this particular holiday in my mind (and probably most everyone else’s). 

We have family that lives on the north side of Fort Worth, and so we all (as in Lori, Tami and Chas, Cass, Court and Matt (Cass’s boyfriend) loaded up in a couple of vehicles with our potato salad, watermelon, veggie meatballs, and corn on the cob and headed over to Stephen and Robin’s home. My precious Aunt Muggsy was there as well as she only lives a couple of miles away from Steven (her son) and Robin.

Steven smoked a brisket and Robin cooked up far more food than I can list here; we ate and laughed and talked and explored their gorgeous home and just had the best of times.

Several hours later, we loaded to head back home and Aunt Muggs said, “I gave Lori a couple of yellow bags with some stuff from your grandma. She’s supposed to share it with you – you’ll like it.”

Now let me just say, my Grandma Nick? I miss her. I miss her every day.

She passed away in 2000 so she’s been gone quite a long time, but I still think of her often. Grandma just had a way about her – she was so easy to talk to and the best cook and … well, she was just grandma and everything that word entails.

So when Aunt Muggs said she had some of Grandma’s items to share…oh my word.

It made me smile from the inside.

After we’d been home for a bit and crashed for a couple of hours in a food stupor, Tami and I headed over to Lori’s to take a much-needed walk. And just before we loaded up to head backhome, Lori said, “Do you want to see what Aunt Muggs sent over?”

And there on Lori’s table, surrounded by wadded up newspaper and a couple of yellow bags, were some of Grandma’s most prized dishes -- the kind of dishes that were brought out on special occasions; that spelled Grandma.

Six dessert plates, a candy dish, a special bowl, and a butter dish were on display. “What do you want?” Lori asked.

My eyes immediately went to the candy dish. I well-remembered candy corn hanging out in that dish on Christmas Day. I could see my six-year-old self in my mind’s eye, carefully picking one up, my stringy blonde hair in my face, nibbling off just the bottom color of the candy corn and chewing it slowly; then biting off the next bit of color; and then popping the rest of it in my mouth, savoring it slowly.

(Because that’s how I ate when I was six…slowly.)

And so, of course, the candy dish is mine now. I placed it carefully in my china cabinet to patiently wait until the next holiday when I will bring it out and fill it up.

And who knows…

Maybe I’ll fill it with candy corn. 

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll nibble off the bottom part, savoring it slowly; and then the next little bit of color, until I’ve eaten the entire piece.

And if I do, I’ll remember Grandma Nick…

With a smile.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

It Doesn't Matter, Right?

This past week, I was browsing through Facebook when I noticed that Robin, my cousin Steven’s wife, posted a photo of their home. Steven and Robin live on the north side of Fort Worth near my Aunt Muggs, Steven’s mom. We often talk about how we need to get together, but after living here for two years? Well, it hasn’t happened yet. It’s the classic story.

Anyway, I made a comment on Robin’s photo that they had a beautiful home and she immediately responded: We should get together! How about if we come by on Easter Sunday just to visit - no food involved. 

But of course…we’re American. And it was Easter! So food was a must.

Roy recently learned how to smoke a brisket, and so between the many of us, we concocted a menu of brisket, a whole bunch of other stuff, and pies (when really all we cared about was the pies made by Robin), decided on a time, and it was a Go.

When I was a kid growing up on the western Oklahoma plains, some of my favorite memories include family gatherings with Grandma’s pies, apple salad, and laughter. It’s all just so cozy in my head. And so I eagerly anticipated Easter and everything our little get-together symbolized.


Apple salad.


It did not disappoint.

Steven and Robin, Muggs, and my other cousin Tracy and her husband Calvin and daughter Sarah all piled into Lori’s home. (Tami’s family was there too - the entire clan minus Jared). We laughed and talked and ate (of course), and then we just hung out at the table, all 11 of us, swapping stories and wishing time would just stand still for a bit longer.

At one point, Robin and Lori brought out the desserts and lined them up in the middle of the table.

Tracy looked at me and, laughing, said, “We could just grab our forks and dive in. We’re all family. It doesn’t matter, right?”

It seemed the evening was over before it had time to get started. Everyone piled back into their cars and we waved goodbye until…well, until there was nothing.

And then Lori and I cleaned up her kitchen — drying every last dish in the drain, wiping off the counters, stacking too many leftovers in bowls in the fridg — until all that was left was quiet.

When I was in junior high, Dad and I drove in the pickup every single weekend to my grandparents’ house that was a couple of hours away from where we lived. It offered a lot of talking time for Dad and me, and though I’m sure we had our share of being alone with our thoughts, we also spent quite a bit of time talking. One particular day, as the miles rolled by on our drive out west, I said, “You know, Dad, I’ve realized something. When something fun is going to happen, we dream about it and look forward to it and anticipate it…and then it’s over. And once it’s over? It’s over forever. All you have is the memory.”

Dad laughed. “That’s right,” he said. “And you just get to do it again and again and again until life is over. That’s how it goes.”

The older I get, the more I realize the importance of all of those memories, the importance of being purposeful in doing the things one enjoys or being with the people who are, well, one’s people. I’m not so sure I’m successful at being as purposeful as I believe I should be. Life as it is in America gets in the way far too often and our days blur together as one…

But in the words of Jacque, the most important things to me? Family and food.

I’m not sure I appreciate the food piece…but…well, Jacque is on point. That is where it’s at for me.

Today is Wednesday and I have a full day ahead of me. I’m in the throes of preparing for Homecoming which happens one week from today. My life is comprised of knocking off items on a multitude of lists and emails and organizing and meetings. I don’t have a minute to spare and I can feel in my chest a wee bit of stress where before there was only ease and peace.

I’m not the girl that thrives on stress. And so, I am finding myself retreating in my head throughout the day — hanging out the table, looking at Aunt Muggs, my word she looks like Grandma…, hugging my cousin Steven who is big bear of a man, laughing with Tracy who looks exactly the same as she did when we were kids (that should be illegal), and just relishing every moment. Again.

As life rolls by, the years get shorter. I was reminded this past weekend that we need to spend less time letting the days roll and more time doing and being with the those we love. More hanging out at the table, forks in hand, pies lining the center, ready to dive in…because, you know…

We’re all family. It doesn’t matter, right?

Thursday, March 29, 2018

How Lucky Am I

Spring has officially sprung in Texas. It’s simply beautiful here. Green everywhere, Wildflowers blooming. Trees bursting. And as I do with every season (with the exception of the months of July and August which are simply abysmal in Texas), I find myself stopping quite a lot and saying, Ah. I adore spring. I’m pretty sure it’s most favorite season.

This week it has rained. A lot. We spent Tuesday evening inside as thunder rolled and rain pummeled down through the wee hours of Wednesday morning. It was wonderful. Roy watched tv while I hung out with my iPad and caught up on American Idol. I’m not sure why I like that show, but…I do. I enjoy listening to young talent, and I love the stories of the individuals they explore a bit more personally. 

But while that life of doing absolutely nothing is fabulous for a bit of time, it’s a temporary wonderful. By Wednesday evening, I was ready to get out. And so, Tami and I loaded up into her van with her cutest puppy Koda (who is only about ten weeks old now) and headed to Lori’s on the other side of Keene. Ryan - a high school senior who is pretty much family - was hanging out at Lori’s house, and so Ryan, Lori, Tami and I (with Lori’s five month old puppy Bex and Koda) went on a walk around the neighborhood in the drizzling rain. 

It was oodles of fun.

And then we headed back home.

I have an app on my phone that pops up a reminder every morning and again in the evening to stop for a moment and be grateful. Each morning is…What are you thankful for?

…that I have this amazing job that lets me travel some and work with great people who make me smile from the inside out 
…that I live in Texas where winters are mild and springs are alive with life
…that my sisters live close by and provide so much friendship and support 
…that the view out my kitchen window makes me stop for a moment and breathe
…that I am alive

And then in the evening, what was amazing about your day?
that my cutest husband went with me to Sam’s Club so that he could load up 60 gallons of water for Homecoming Weekend into the back of the van so that I didn’t have to lift all of that by myself
…that Jacquelyn posts on Instagram for SWAU Alumni (a job I’m supposed to do but every time I try to post I experience brain freeze) and makes me look like a rockstar
…that Roy worked on the kitchen and it’s getting so close to getting done
…that Savana called, in her typical silly way, and made me laugh with her typical goofy stories
…that my sisters, Ryan and I walked the neighborhood, laughing at Ryan’s ridiculous antics and off the cuff comments because he is 18 and all of it.

How lucky am I.

How lucky am I.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Master

I am in the midst of attending a CASE conference in Fort Worth. This is a conference for those in Advancement - the fundraisers, marketing directors, and alumni peeps of the world. On the first day of the conference, during one of the sessions, I chose a seat on the very back row in the very last chair — the closest to the back corner of the room. This is my typical seat of choice as I deem it the most inconspicuous chair in the room.

I like it that way.

When I attend conventions or fly on airplanes, it is the way I roll. I’m not too interested in forging new friendships or swapping personal information with someone I will never see again.

I know. It’s not the friendliest way of living. But I usually have my book, some sort of journal, and my headspace. And that’s quite enough for me.

Anyway, on this particular day and at this particular session, I was quietly hanging out in my seat, an empty chair beside me, as the meeting was about to begin. The room was filled sporadically - lots of empty chairs in the front and such. However, with the exception of the chair beside me, my row was totally full. Clearly lots of people prefer the back row.

Just as the doors closed and the session began, I spied a man out of the corner of my eye heading my direction.

And I instantly knew: despite the plethora of empty seats in front of me, he was headed my way: for the seat next to me.

I was instantly annoyed.

Clearly he wasn’t interested in the abundance of seats that offered elbow room and space to breathe. 

And then, just that quickly, he was beside me, offering a smile and a nod at the coveted chair, squeezing by as I turned my legs to provide a little extra room, and then settling in beside me. And as I figured would happen, once he leaned back he was all up in my business. I grabbed the edges of my chair, and not so subtly, shifted my seat so that I could at least lean back without my elbows directly hanging out with his. And then, as he quickly engaged with the presentation happening at the front of the room, I took a moment to scope him out. He was older - possibly in his 70’s, and reminded me a bit of a mouse. He was slightly hunched over, balding…but when he glanced over at me, he tossed me a rather engaging smile.

And despite the fact he forced me to give up my personal space, I liked him immediately.

The next morning, I hustled into one of the breakout rooms deemed for alumni directors and quickly found my seat - the same one in the back corner. I pulled out my moleskin - my all-time favorite notebook that I am never without - and my black pen - the one with gel that writes smoothly - and settled back for an hour of how to engage alumni that aren’t engaged and don’t care to be

And then I saw him.

There, at the very front of the room, waiting patiently in the presenter’s chair, sat my seat partner of the day before.

I chuckled to myself.
And sure enough - as he was introduced, it was clear that my seat partner was a hair bit more accomplished than I will ever be. 

Clearly he was the rockstar of alumni directors.

I should have been offering my own seat rather than feeling chagrin that he sat next to me.

I should have been seeking pearls of wisdom from the master.


Because isn’t that the way it goes? 

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Rose Bush

When I was in seventh grade, my dad and I planted a rose bush. We watered it faithfully and watched it grow, admiring it with delight when it first began to bloom—vibrant pink popping out amidst emerald leaves.

Ever since, I have wanted a rose bush. But, for whatever reason, I have never ventured beyond the “wanted one” to the “purchased one” phase.

Until this past Friday.

On the side of the garage, we had a beautiful rose of sharon bush. However, since we’ve moved in, it has been declining. A few days ago, Roy grabbed its trunk and gently tugged upwards, pulling the entire bush up by its roots.

Deader than a doornail.

Darian flew home Thursday morning. When she’s around, I have a “partner in crime” for all of my projects, and so…the two of us headed to the Garden Center to pick up some plants for the front flower bed. It’s been sorely bare since we moved in but my goal for this spring is to bring some life to it. 

As we perused the selection of bushes, we happened upon the roses - all kinds of available colors. Together Darian and I chose a pink and white hybrid rose bush. And as I stood in line to purchase it (along with a few other flowering bushes), I couldn’t help but picture my seventh grade self, hair pulled back into a ponytail, posing in front of our beloved rose bush.

When I was in high school, I fell in love with an author named June Strong. She wrote a few books (I devoured each one) and wrote faithfully for a small magazine that was published monthly. I eagerly awaited each month’s article - though I doubt I read much more of the material in the magazine. Her writings, simple in nature, inspired me, and I longed to write like her. One time, she was the featured speaker at a series of meetings I attended and my mom set up a meeting for me with her. I well-remember the butterflies I had in my stomach as I sat in that small room, June across from me, and asked her questions about her life story and such. She encouraged me to keep writing, to make it a daily habit. Her calm, soothing presence will forever be etched in my memory.

Anyway, one of the things that June Strong often wrote about was her flower beds. She loved working in the garden, her hands buried in the moist dirt. And though I’ve never been much of a success as a gardener (tragically), I, too, love the feel of dirt on my hands, the wonder of life buried within each seed. Each spring when I plant flowers, I think of June and I am grateful for her tender, encouraging words to a teenage girl struggling to find her way. 

This past weekend, Roy and I worked together to plant the hydrangeas, the peonies, and the rose bush. We dug up the soil, laid down black plastic to keep the weeds at bay, covered the plastic with more dirt, then dug a hole for each bush. I carefully planted each one, reading the instructions with fierce determination. And then we stood back, admiring our handiwork.

The rose bush stands by itself in the corner of the driveway. And though it’s really just a rose bush, it reminds me of a time…

…when life was simple
…when I was on the cusp of teenage-hood
…when Dad and I forged a special bond

…when I discovered the wonder of life, sprouting up from clods of red dirt

Diamonds Everywhere

I read a study recently that said that greatest single indicator of a long life well-lived is deep social connections. Of course, there are...