Skip to content

A deeply rooted love . . .

Dear Reed –

I love you so much, a love so deeply rooted that every cell in my body knows this day is approaching.  February 19 being the worst day of my life probably comes as no surprise to anyone. But what would perhaps shock most people is the agony of losing you is also marked by enduring February 18 which I consider to be the last fully happy day.  You know from heaven’s vantage point I have had happy days since your heaven date fifteen years ago, but none, not a single one, of those happy times exists without a quiet tug at my heart, realizing that you weren’t there to share in the moment or that I couldn’t tell you about it later. 

So it was yesterday, we endured that last happy day – the quiet before the storm of the brutalness of revisiting the day you died.  Like any beautiful love story, the last couple days have had moments completely immersed in love and dark brush strokes of sadness which only illuminate how love still wins.

After breakfast with Sawyer and Sydney yesterday, the day started by celebrating KR’s birthday by treating him to a dinosaur traveling exhibit.  When we peered around a corner, he blurted out, “That’s a Spinosaurus” with the same conviction that you used to use when rattling off dinosaur names.  I stopped in my tracks because the beauty of the moment was so perfectly reminiscent of when we took you and Sawyer to a similar exhibit at the Hjemkomst center. 

We later spent the afternoon and evening attending the wedding of extended family and enjoyed, however briefly, visiting with Erin and Grant.  We returned home early after a deeply brutiful moment when I was overjoyed for our friends, but absolutely heartbroken watching a dance that I will never get to experience with you, thinking of all the times we twirled together in kitchens, hotel dance parties, and deep belly chuckles at your little old man from Six Flags dance interpretations. The trip home was a sea of tears, happy ones for the revelers, sad ones for all that we miss.  My thoughts turned over and over in my head, my heart, and wearing out my soul.

I am fairly certain a mother’s love co-mingled with exhaustion and sadness wiped me out for the evening. Unlike other years, sleep was not elusive.  Before first light, my heart knew that I would have to walk through this day.  Yet, I was comforted knowing I wouldn’t be traveling alone. Besties and adopted kiddos made plans to surround us with love. From “I just happened to be in the neighborhood” bear hugs to requests to take us out to lunch where our loves didn’t bat an eyelash, when we asked if instead, we could do an indoor picnic and then a walk in Reed’s Woods.  Their hearts understood the resonant chords of our need to do the things you loved, and in every way, the time spent together was perfect.

Even before today, the love and support extended have spoken to my soul.  Some have whispered their love softly through text messages, even at the beginning of February just letting me know they see me, they remember you, and they want me to know they are thinking of me, of us.  Others have loved fiercely, ensuring we know you are not forgotten, ordering that we were being kind and gentle to ourselves, and filling a part of the day listening to old stories, but most importantly saying your name.  The thing my heart longs for always. All the while, my heart remembering –

You were brilliant. You were laughter.  You were imagination. You were light. You were love.

I always look for a sign from you on this day, and perhaps the best was the hug I got shortly after our morning hot tub soak.  I was cooling down on the bed, when Navy, the grand-pup, jumped up on the bed, something she hadn’t done before. Her furry little face looked deeply in my eyes, and then in the most perfect moment, she laid down on my chest and neck, and hugged me.  I looked at her, wide-eyed, and asked, “Did Reed tell you to do that?”  Her response was to hug me again. 

My heart could almost hear you whisper, “Just do it, girl.  My mom will know. My mom will know.”

I knew, Reed, I knew.  And I love you, too.

Loving you always until I can hug you again.

Love, Mom

The Greatest Show on Earth

A while back, my husband, daughter, bonus mom, and I did something that was probably a first for our alma mater, collectively we nominated my dad’s basketball team for the university’s Hall of Fame. Three generations of fans worked together to highlight the accomplishments of one team. We are excited to announce that he and the entire team received word that they were selected for induction for the Class of 2022 Awardees. We had such a whirlwind summer that I am finally able to start sharing some of the amazing goodness. But we will start with sharing a long overdue accolade. We believe that we were not the only nominators, but there will definitely be some that say that nepotism played a role in our nomination. I understand the sentiment, but I also know as a science and math specialist that numbers don’t lie, such as a perfect 10-0 conference season. Of course, I am one of my dad’s biggest fans, but I also know that this team deserves this award.

What follows is our letter to the Hall of Fame reviewers.

The Greatest Show on Earth

1989-90 Comet Men’s Basketball Team

In the world of incredible sports achievement, it is easy to overlook the individuals and teams which triumph even in the face of adversity. Some sports legends are made from “Cinderella seasons” like the one which describes the 1989-1990 Comet Men’s Basketball team. Starting the season with five straight losses and not much size in the basketball world, the team of only nine players rallied to have one of the greatest comeback stories in Mayville State history, ending the year with a perfect 10-0 conference season.

Many amazing stories and athletic feats were accomplished by this team throughout the season, but one game encapsulates the success of the 1989-90 Comets. With a lackluster season start, a proverbial fire was lit on the bus ride to the University of Mary when against his personal coaching philosophy, Coach Noles transparently shared with the team that he had never beat Mary on their home court . . . ever. Like a match thrown into a tinderbox, from the initial tip to the final buzzer, the Comets were on fire. The whistle blew and the tip went to Cedric Weatherspoon. The first three drives up the court by the men’s team were all connected three-pointers and all three were unmatched by the opponents. Down 9-0, the astonished Mary coach called a timeout and all in attendance in the gym, including the Comet bench, heard the plan. Shut down those 3-pointers! Play proceeded with small in stature but BIG in court presence, Kevin Kemp bringing the ball up the court. A few passes and the ball was eventually pitched out to Todd Olson, who was standing six to seven feet behind the three-point line. Like poetry in motion, a signature head nod fake, a quick look, a shot, and nothing but net. The Comet bench went wild, knowing this was their time. They rose to the challenge and never looked back. At half-time the Comets led by 40 points. The team went into the half-time locker room with a changed energy and renewed confidence. The second half of the game ended much like the first, but with one of the best comments of the season. Eventually, the subs were sent in and finished the game as strong as the starters. While watching the Comets trounce the Mary team, Neil Steffes made several attempts to get Coach Noles’ attention, eventually capturing it. Coach! Coach! We’re not only beating them at home, we are kicking their butts. The Comets returned home to Mayville with a renewed vigor and determination and surprisingly awoke to a newspaper article showcasing their talent and appeal. Following the decisive defeat of Mary, the Bismarck Tribune’s sports headline stated “The Greatest Show on Earth” was not the Ringling Bros Circus, but rather the title and honor should be bestowed to the 1989-90 Mayville State men’s basketball team. 

Other and subsequent games showcased the talent and heart of a team that many discredited at the beginning of the season as not being able to accomplish much of anything. In fact the limited team numbers required that Assistant Coach, Mic Laroque, a non-traditional student, play on the practice squad in order to have a full count of ten men on the court. This team consistently proved the adage that it isn’t always the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog that matters. The Comet’s season delighted hardwood fans across the state with solid performances by all team members and ended with a record 10-0 conference season and an overall record of 15-10. Three Comets – Jim Hedstrom, Todd Olson, and Cedric Weatherspoon, earned All-NDCAC team honors with Olson being named to the All District 12 team. 

Currently three members of this team have been recognized as Mayville State Hall of Famers. The Comet accomplishments on the court, in the classroom, and in the community at large for Neil Steffes, Todd Olson, and Cedric Weatherspoon were achieved only with the support of other great hoops showmen. This fact was one that was noted in a class act at the conclusion of the season. For the end of the season team banquet, the starters, Jim Hedstrom, Mark Olson, Todd Olson, Cedric Weatherspoon and Neil Steffes went to Coach Noles and asked for all the substitute players to be named the year’s MVP’s. Stating that they themselves didn’t deserve the honor, the season’s named MVP’s were awarded to Kemp Kemp, Ryan Flanagan, Kurt Olson, and Ken Kantack. 

For the reasons outlined above, most importantly for the recognition by the starters for the importance each team member played, and as three generations of Comet fans, we believe the entire team deserves Hall of Fame recognition. We are proud to nominate the team and coaching staff of the 1989-90 Comet Men’s basketball team for consideration for the Mayville State Hall of Fame class of 2020 

Respectfully submitted by three generations of Comet fans, 

Lorraine Nowatzki Stevens (Class of 1963)

Dr. Kandy Noles Stevens (Class 1991) 

Daniel Stevens (Class of 1994) 

Erin Stevens (attender 2017 & 2018) 

1989-1990 Mayville State University Men’s Basketball Team

I am excited for this team, especially my dad. Currently, he is working on a memoir of his years as a coach, which we hope to release through our publishing company later this year. Being his co-author and learning more about how basketball changed his life, and by extension mine, has been both an illuminating and humbling journey. So here’s to all the coaches and how the teams they coach have always been a big part of their story.

Congrats to the entire 1989-1990 Comet Men’s Basketball team. We are incredibly proud of you all.

Happy Birthday, Sunshine!

Dear Reed –

Here we are again celebrating your life and the day God gave us you. Today, my Facebook memories popped up with pictures of you only a few days old.  I looked at the photos and my heart stopped. Momentarily I was transported back to when we brought you home.  I was so proud to be your mom, but I was also worried I wouldn’t know what to do. Scared I wouldn’t get this motherhood thing right. Delighted my dream came true, but equally terrified that I wouldn’t be enough. As I stared into the pictures, you were so tiny, and I marveled at every part of you.  Just looking at the pictures took my breath away. As I looked at the picture of you and me, I wanted to tell the younger version of myself to never let you go because the time we will share together would never be enough. 

Reed and I just a few days old.
He was so tiny . . . only 7 pounds.

Even though I cannot call you up and hear your voice, I still think about your perspective on life and how you might view things.  This past year has been exceptionally challenging for me, and there were so many times where I was disappointed in how mean and cruel people can be. I just simply will never understand when people spew meanness because someone has a different opinion than theirs.  In every moment of despair, I remembered a conversation that you and I shared just a week before you returned to heaven.  In our chat, you told me, “Mom, it’s not going to be long now.”  Thinking you were talking about getting home, I thought you were correct because we were only a few blocks from home.  But when I inquired what you meant, I marveled at how someone who came into the world looking like a little old man could also have in twelve years acquired the sage wisdom of an old soul.  “Mom, I mean it’s not going to be long before Jesus comes back.” 

My heart broke then because your assessment was based on the sadness and trials you perceived in the world.  If you saw the dividedness and incivility now, I can only imagine the weight of sadness you would carry for the world.  But what faith that you believed with all your heart that hope exists!  You always believed in a better world and through your actions, you strove to make the world a better place. I genuinely wish more people could live like you – just loving people for who they are, even when they weren’t always kind to you in return. 

Tonight, I wanted to celebrate doing something you loved; so, we chose to go to the Canaries game because you LOVED baseball.  What blew me away was right there at the ball park; someone extended a kindness that was exactly like something you would do.  I explained the significance of our outing and asked for a picture of our group with Cagey, the mascot. Upon hearing the story, I received the biggest hug which was amazingly similar to one of your sneaky squeezes.  So even in a world where I don’t hear your name as much as my soul needs, a baseball mascot gave me a squeeze and recognized that if nothing else, my momma heart needed a hug.  You were always my sunshine, and tonight that sunshine came wrapped up in yellow canary feathers because he was right.  A hug was exactly what I needed. 

Even if my arms cannot hold you, my heart always will, and I will always be your Momma.

I will always love you.

Happy Birthday, Reed!

Love, Mom

Hey Reed . . . a letter for heaven

Hey Reed –

I both love and hate writing this letter every year.  Please know that loving you is never a burden but missing you exacts an enormous weight.  I can hardly believe that another year has gone by that we don’t have the joy of holding you, hearing your silly stories, seeing that beautiful smile, and being swallowed in one of your sneaky come from behind bear hugs.  What I would not give to hear you whisper one more time, I’m going to squeeze the stuffins out of you.

Although we all miss you, we continue to live on, carrying your legacy of loving others because we so desperately want your memory to be about how you lived . . . not how you died.  The indelible marks of that day will never leave us, but some of those marks have changed us in profound ways.  The people, who awoke that morning fourteen years ago today, aren’t the same people who are still here. In so many ways, I miss those people. I miss the carefree days when life was just life, and not life now and life BC (before the crash). We have learned to continue to keep moving forward, holding you tightly in our hearts and in our memories, but there are days where my soul aches to have the ability to go back to the life we had before you were taken from us and Sawyer and Erin were hurt.  But through it all, we continue to choose to love. 

This past year has been filled with some incredible joys.  Sawyer and Sydney got a great new place, and we had a blast (and walked about a bazillion steps) helping them move.  The best part is you would have loved seeing him drive his Peggy (Carter) MG across town (even though the tough traffic resulted in a sunburn).  We got a lake place and Damien is there too.  I can only imagine the shenanigans you two would find.  Let’s just say, I am not bringing the ping pong table there just in case your namesake and his papa want to relive the glory days.  Erin and Grant got engaged.  I am pretty sure you would have a few words about his alma mater, as we know how much you loved Lakeview. Seeing you, Emilee, Hunter, and Jesse inducted into the Hall of Fame was a truly beautiful, yet brutal, experience.  Having so many in attendance with us was such an incredible reminder of the legacy you leave. And, then there is Clo. I am sure you would have rolled in laughter at our Christmas card.  I assure you she is doing way more than existing (and I am already bracing my heart for when she heads to college). Today you would have been so proud. She made it to the finals in speech at the Marshall Spectacular.  I know you would have bragged up her tenacity to try something new while basking that she was the only sibling who followed your footsteps.

Just knowing today would arrive is always soul-crushing.  While we have had many, many reasons to find joy and to celebrate, living through a pandemic and watching how exceptionally cruel and mean-spirited people can be to each other just to say they are right has been so exhausting.  The entire world is grieving some aspect of life, and grief itself is draining.  I think back to the conversation we shared exactly a week before you went home to heaven.  It’s not going to be long now, Mom. Thinking you were meaning getting home for the Mardi Gras celebration, only to wonder how I was lucky enough to have such a deeper thinker as a son, you told me that you thought that the world was struggling so much, that Jesus had to be coming soon. 

For you, it was a prophetic utterance.  For us, it left a longing, but even in the midst of that yearning, we still feel your presence.  Much to my heart’s dismay, we haven’t had a steady cardinal presence in quite a while. I’ve chalked it up to maybe it’s because we have a new hunting bird dog, but deep in my soul I have questioned why.  That flicker of red feathers, the cheery song, they have brought us such peace.  Why no cardinals now?

But this morning. The day when my heart’s scars are bare for the world to see. This morning, as I let the dogs out, I heard an unmistakable song.  Despite the freezing temperatures, I left open the screen door to hear the most beautiful concert of a cardinal singing with all his might, knowing exactly what my soul needed.  Tears streaming down, I could almost hear him whisper, “I am going to sing to all your stuffins, because I love you, Mom.”

I love you too, Reed, and I always will.

Love, Momma

Leaving a Hall of Fame Legacy

Grief can be an exhausting tangled web of emotions. In one moment, laughter erupts from a shared memory from a loved one gone too soon, and the next inconsolable tears fall from the realization of all that will never be shared again.  The rollercoaster of emotions that we experienced this past weekend is a perfect example of a brutiful experience.  An absolutely amazing and wonderful honor was bestowed upon Reed (and many others, including those who went to heaven with him) and yet emotionally exhausting for those of us who carry on his legacy.  Simultaneously, both beautiful and brutal.

While we were given some recognition for a conversation that led to the creation of the new Lakeview Hall of Fame, I feel the honor of that achievement goes to our good friend for planting the seed and for the current school principal who along with the committee members really made the Hall become a reality.  They are the true reasons to celebrate this achievement.

Like many pandemic experiences, this one, too, had to wait until it was safe to gather.  But the organizers picked the most awesome time to reschedule, Homecoming 2021.  The weekend started with the homecoming football game where the families or honorees were to be announced at half-time.  The inaugural class consisted of eight individuals and two teams.  Because we feel that Reed’s greatest legacy is the way he loved others and created chosen family, we invited both biologic and chosen family to stand with us for the weekend.  To be entirely, honest, I am not sure I could have done it without our children and extended family surrounding us with love. 

As we walked out on to the football field, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of comforted joy because I realized that those who love us the most were either present at the game or watching the live stream.  The love which binds us together is one of Reed’s greatest legacies.  We watched and cheered for all of the other inductees, and we were completely in awe of the 1980s girls’ basketball team who wore their letterman jackets to the field.  What a cool touch of the legacy of champions they created.

Photo by Jacki Kyllonen
photo by Jacki Kyllonen
Photo by Jacki Kyllonen
Photo by Jacki Kyllonen. I am hugging the boys junior football coach, Coach Grandpa!

Friday night’s festivities were followed by a Saturday morning induction ceremony and brunch. Before we entered the school, we gathered as a family and prayed around the flagpole that once stood as a marker of one of Reed’s greatest achievements as a Laker, bringing back the See You at the Pole event. Holding hands together and saying a prayer thanking God for our ability to join as a family and to be the keepers of Reed’s legacy warmed my heart and steeled my courage.

As a former teacher of the school, I was excited to learn the stories of the other inductees.  While I didn’t know any but the most current honorees, hearing the stories of achievement of individuals from years gone by was truly awe-inspiring.  A few tiny towns in southwestern Minnesota truly have much for which to be proud from these individuals. 

Each inductee/team had the opportunity to share about their season or life, and I shared about Reed’s.  You can watch the full ceremony from the school’s YouTube channel.  Reed’s story begins around the 55-minute mark.  Creating the plaque that now hangs in the newly created Hall of Fame was agonizing for me, because how do you condense such a big (even if brief) life to a few words.  Thanks to Sawyer for reframing that anguish by reminding me that we who love Reed are his greatest legacy, and that the plaque serves as a tiny touchpoint for sharing that legacy with others just like we do in every other thing that bears his name.  My overall message for the day was Reed – loved God, loved his friends and family, and he LOVED being a Laker.

Reed Stevens, Inaugural Class 2021, Lakeview Hall of Fame
One of our granddaughters viewing the entire Hall of Fame Class of 2021

All the experience was truly emotionally draining, and all of us had to revisit the grief of losing Reed much too soon.  Remembering the cool things he accomplished in just twelve years was a beautiful journey down memory lane. But we realized that while his picture and some of us achievements hang on the wall, his greatest legacy are the ones who love him and who keep his memory alive.  Whether in person or in spirit, they were all there remembering Reed – one of the newest members of the inaugural class of Lakeview School’s Hall of Fame! For both of those achievements, we could not be more proud!   

Video credit to Phil Lalim (on behalf of Lakeview Schools)

When your gut doesn’t know how not to be Southern

Growing up Southern is an integral part of my identity.  Early in my adult life, I didn’t realize just how deeply engrained the customs, mannerisms, traditions, and the foods (definitely the foods) were in my life.  Perhaps, I have taken my Southern-ness for granted having lived so many years closer to Canada than the Gulf of Mexico, but I think I just grew comfortable in my own skin and habits over the years. 

As I have grown more seasoned (which I much prefer to growing older), I have had to make some adjustments to my Southern habits. Believe me, not because I wanted to, but I once realized that my daily habit of drinking sweet tea sun-up to sun-down was having a huge impact on my asthma.  That realization was not without pain. 

Would I have to give up my Southern card if switched to unsweet tea? (If you didn’t read that sentence emphasizing unsweet tea with your most sinister voice, you probably didn’t read it correctly.)  Oh, I am definitely aware of the memes which highlight that only unsweet tea is left in the coolers during hurricane preparation shopping. 

We may be scared but we are not
"drink unsweet tea" scared yet
Image Credit White_Goodman on Original Tweet: Dustin Miles

But in an effort to help to get my asthma under control, I had to limit the sugar I was taking in to control rampant inflammation in my body, specifically my lungs.  As much as I thought it might kill me, I did not perish switching to drinking the unsweetened version of perhaps the South’s most beloved and perfect beverage. 

That experience is probably what has given me the courage to deal with my current health issue which I truly debated about sharing in such a public way.  In the end, I decided that much like my grief journey, my wellness journey could possibly help someone else, and thus, I erred on the side of being transparent. 

In the last few years, I have been experiencing some really uncomfortable gut symptoms which have led to feeling yucky and tired overall.  Part of me chalked this up to becoming more seasoned.  Another part of me thought perhaps the four years in which I chased the jaunty chapeau (aka earning my doctorate) while working full-time and raising a family that maybe I just plain wore myself out.  But some recent tests revealed that I have SIBO – Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth.  There’s a lot more to that diagnosis, but the short version is that we all have bacteria in our digestive system and somehow the bad ones have exploded in mine. 

Based on the information I received before the testing, I wasn’t really shocked by the diagnosis.  Nor was I shocked by the treatment plan which will require some lifestyle changes, some supplements, and some dietary changes. What shocked me was the pages and pages of items that I could and could not eat.  The doctor was giving the play-by-play, when I insisted on seeing the beverages.  He assured me that I would be taking the lists home, but I needed some immediate reassurance that I would be able to still drink – yes – you guessed it – iced tea! Once confirmed that I was cleared to drink tea, I could focus in, concentrating on the new dietary restrictions.  Even though the information was overwhelming, I eventually noticed a pattern.

Teasingly, I said – So essentially, you are asking me to not be Southern for a while.  My doctor, who has been my friend for a quarter of a century, looked perplexed.  I highlighted the list of no’s: no potatoes, no corn, no sweet potatoes, no okra, no butterbeans, no turnips.  You get the picture. He giggled and retorted to not even think about fried chicken.  I didn’t ask about biscuits because frankly, that would be blasphemy (even though I know they are off limits too for a while). 

So much like my mantra to get through doctoral school, I will face every day with a “I can survive anything for 16 weeks” attitude. I am confident that my body can and will repair these “out of proportion” issues, and I will cheer Southern self on with a few good y’all’s, yes ma’ams, SEC football games, and definitely some iced tea!

The joy and pain of the 1st Day of School

Today was a BIG day.

For many students across the country, today they embarked on new learning adventures with the advent of a new school year. Mommas beamed and maybe shed a few tears.  Some maybe even celebrated. Photos were taken on the front steps or in front of the school to record this annual rite of passage.  Our family participated in this ritual along with everyone else.  Although some of us started earlier with post-secondary studies, we have four members of Team Stevens currently attending or teaching school, and today, we celebrated the mess of out of our high schooler and our first-year teacher!  As a veteran educator, today can often feel like Christmas morning waiting to unwrap the possibilities of all the learning and teaching that will happen. 

Front porch picture of author's high school daughter surrounded by a deer sculpture, wicker rocker and flower pots.
First day of school
Image of text that says '222 1ST GRADE CLASSROOM Ms. Stevens'
Classroom sign for our first-year teacher

But different than what I am seeing in social media lately, the emotions associated with today’s first day of school were not completely one-sided.  So much of what I have seen in recent days, weeks, and months is so slanted that the message almost reads, If you don’t live, think, worship, believe, speak, or vote the way I do, then you are wrong. Plain wrong. Definitely wrong.

Earlier this summer, I spoke at a women’s event were I sharing about two things that I believe are slowly destroying women in this country.  One of those things was the fear of the other.  Whether we subscribe to the sentiments or not, we are bombarded with messages that those who are different from us are to be feared.  Moreover, those messages often suggest that there are no areas of gray when it comes to daily living especially when it appears everything can only exist as polarized opposites.  

To anyone who has received those messages, just don’t believe them. I stand as the antithesis to that faulty logic.  I celebrated my daughters today, my own teaching and continued learning, and my son in medical school.  I praise God for the opportunities we have to learn and all the ways we will use our learning to help others, including ourselves.  But at the same time – literally, physically, emotionally, spiritually – my heart ached for what I didn’t have today.

But I have learned that not everything in life is as simple as black or white, because I deeply understand joy and sadness can co-mingle.  One of the babies we lost, whom our son Sawyer lovingly named, Tim, would be a senior in high school this day.  Even through my cheers and happy well wishes for all that was, my heart ached for what wasn’t.

And, that is okay. I, like every other human, is allowed to live a diversely complex and complicated existence.  I wouldn’t say I am comforted knowing that this day full of hope and anticipation is also met with sadness by other grieving families for whom this day is emotionally challenging. But being equipped with that knowledge reminds me to reach out to those in my care whom I can just simply say – Your baby mattered too.

My heart will make it through, but today I needed to say his name.  My soul needed to be reminded that while I never held Tim in my arms, my body once cradled his tiny form, and my heart loved him from two tiny pink lines.  That same heart has loved him every day since and always will.

Happy birthday Reed!

Hey Reed –

Happy birthday!  I can only imagine that birthdays in heaven truly are something special.  I messaged my friend today who shares your birthday to tell her how thankful I am to celebrate her on this day because knowing I can makes not celebrating you a little bit easier.  I am so thankful God made her my friend for a myriad of reasons, but this is definitely one of them.  Her sweet response explained that she was having a good day, but she was certain that your heavenly celebration was even better.  On this side of heaven, I am thankful for all the little signs of you today, like the temperature reading on my computer being your football number much of the day and the cardinal singing without stopping while I was working outside.

We continue to miss you, but we feel blessed and at peace that we are the keepers of your legacy.  Just tonight on a quick run to pick up Sister’s birthday present we stopped by another store, and I saw some really awesome dog toys.  Unlike Hucky (please give him a giant squeeze from me because I miss him all the time too), our current pups seem to go through their toys really quickly.  I was looking for something fun and different than what they have had recently.  Among the toys was the perfect stuffie with long legs for dragging around and substantial weight for ruggedness, the only draw back was it was a cheetah.  Nope. Not going to happen. I simply cannot.  The Reed Stevens Legacy Program where we give away Reed-A-Cheetahs to the surviving siblings of any child who dies at Avera McKennan is going strong. Even writing that gives me waves of bittersweet emotions. Pride because your love for others lingers in every family that is touched by your generosity, but sadness because we are awaiting the arrival of another batch of cheetahs any day now.  This has been a long and complicated year with the pandemic, and knowing the rapidity with which we went through cheetahs this year breaks my heart.  Yet, knowing how much those cheetahs mean to our family, I simply could not allow a cheetah of any fashion to become relegated to the dog toy graveyard, much like Sid’s backyard in the original Toy Story. 

I just could not.

While the year has been hard, the realignment of priorities was much needed.  Being forced to be still and be isolated at times helped us to realize that our life goals of loving Jesus and loving others will forever be the most important things in our lives.  Although we wish we could somehow move Minnesota next to Florida while we drag North and South Dakota with us, like the opening of the Scrambled States of America game we all loved to play, we realize how large the ache we have for missing you carries over into time we missed with others we love this past year.  We decided to finally make a big dream come true and we bought a lake place.  I think you would love it there. 

Over the weekend, we had a bunch of people you loved over to visit and others have lake places right close to ours.  We spent the time loving them all and spending time with the m.  Uncle Davy had the grand idea last night to walk to the Dairy Queen, and all of us decided to get Blizzards in honor of you, even if a day early.  We are nothing if not creatures of habit, since not all of us were present, we enjoyed Blizzards again tonight.  I am 100% certain you would approve, but I also know you would question if I was actually your mother having ice cream two nights in a row.

I am still that woman who on this day I realized her dream of becoming a mom.  But I am also the mom for whom the aches of every day life ebb and flow because grief is such a terrible companion.  I was reminded of that pain in such a profound way on our drive home from Alabama that I don’t think I will ever be able to remove the etching of that raw grief from my soul. 

On our trip home, we stopped at a rest area in Kentucky and we were taking a long walk to stretch our legs on the paved sidewalks throughout the location.  As we rounded a corner of the building, there was a tiny little bird hopping around and squawking the most pitiful sound.  I watched the little bird very closely to see if she was injured, because clearly, she was in distress.  She seemed to be physically fine and as you know, even if I did catch her, what could I have done for her while still driving back to Minnesota. Not to mention potentially breaking environmental laws while I was at it.  I said a quick prayer for her in my heart, and we continued to walk as we neared the next corner of the building where I realized the cause of her distress.  A tiny barely hatched baby bird had been knocked from its nest due to the high winds and was clearly gone.  My heart broke into a million pieces and my eyes welled with tears, because that precious little momma bird was telling the world, one Kentucky rest-stop patron at a time that her heart was shattered because she had lost her baby bird. 

I will never forget her anguish or the depth of her pain because I know what it is like to lose my baby bird. I have learned that even though we are doing well doesn’t mean we are always okay. In that moment watching the gut-wrenching scene, I recognized all the ways the momma I was before losing you isn’t exactly the same momma who writes to you every year.  This momma carries the gigantic hole in her heart, but uses that emptiness to love others every chance she gets. Just like her baby bird once did.  She will always love you and all her kids (biological or otherwise), and she will never tire of sharing your light with the rest of the world. 

You will always and forever be my sunshine.  Hug all my people, Hucky, and maybe that baby bird for good measure if nothing more than for your momma’s heart.

Loving you fiercely until I can hug you again. 

Love, Mom

Choosing my superpowers

Happy Monday Y’all! 

I am mustering every ounce of positivity that I can on this blustery snow storm Monday, especially since during the last week I was going on walks in t-shirts.  Yes, in Minnesota. Mother Nature definitely packed a punch with her rather exclamatory – Spring Break is over folks. Now, let’s get back to business.

We have a snow day today on campus, which seems ironically at odds with that last sentence. Although I didn’t travel for Spring Break, I did travel metaphorically speaking.  This journey is one that took a long time to unpack, but once I did, I really feel that I emerged on the other side feeling much more comfortable in my own skin.  More importantly, even if I didn’t physically travel to find respite, I have uncovered a newfound peace, and isn’t that what breaks are for?

It has taken me a very long time to come to terms with the fact that my very existence is offensive to some people.  Wow!  Read that bold statement again, just to let it sink in.  I promise I will explain, but the reality is that being an educated female, Christian scientist/educator/professor ticks many of the boxes of people who love to dismiss others.  Although I have felt (and in some cases been explicitly told) these sentiments, pursuing my doctorate really brought to light the messages – both subtle and overt – that I experience on a regular basis. 

Here is a smattering of some things that have been said – yes out loud – to me.

Why are you taking time away from your family to get a doctorate?  You don’t really need that.

How can you say you’re a Christian and also be a scientist?

So, were you not successful as a scientist and that is why you became a teacher?

You know, colleges are just places of indoctrination for the liberal way of thinking.   

I’ve heard these and countless others, and every time I am shocked. There have been many, many times that I am 100% positive that I was noticed more for my bra size than the capacity of my brain, and as such, have been dismissed for my questions, suggestions, and responses.  While I don’t feel I need to justify my existence or answer any of those questions, I will acknowledge that within this country, we still have a long way to go, baby.  There exists a strong anti-science and anti-intellectualism movement within the United States, and well, as much as things move forward, we are simply not there yet when it comes to girls and women being valued for their intelligence.  Hence, the bold proclamation that my very existence is counterintuitive to those ideologies.

But, here’s where the story gets really good.  I can be defeated by this, or I can choose to rise above it.  The choice is ultimately mine to make. I not only choose to be comfortable in my own being, but I will also claim my education, interests, and talents (given by God and polished through dedicated hard work and study) as my superpowers.  I choose to use those superpowers to live a life of loving others and to bring positive change to the world.

And so, it was, one day last year prior to the pandemic really reaching the Midwest.  The first publicized case in Minnesota wouldn’t be for another month.  I volunteered to be a driver for a friend who needed to have a surgical procedure in the cities.  While she was in surgery, I caught up on grading (not one of my superpowers for the record) and watched as families came and went as other procedures began.  One family had a little girl who was waiting so patiently in the beginning to have her arm reset after breaking it.  It was clear that as time wore on, she used up her goodness and mercy and was becoming really antsy.  Her parents were trying everything to keep her occupied, not with much success.  As any superhero educator would do, I had my Mary Poppins-esque teacher bag along.  I pulled out some printed pages I no longer needed and a few colored pens.  I explained to her parents that I am a teacher, indicating I was a safe person, and wondered if the little girl could still draw with one hand.  Just as I gave the sweet little girl the make-do entertainment, I was called back to the recovery room to get the instructions to care for my friend, and I thought I would never see her again. 

I didn’t, but as we were loading up to leave the hospital, one of the nurses came running back with my pens and this beautiful drawing. 

This picture made my day, because I got to be her superhero when she needed one.

Because I have had to deal with parameters and beliefs others have about me and my life, I could easily absorb them and make them my limitations.  I just simply choose not to, even if they hurt and shock me every time. 

I choose to ignore the non-sense and to make the change I want to see in the world, even if it is one waiting room and one little “student” at a time, I will show up to use the superpower of being an educator every . . . single . . . time.

Shine on, my friends.  Use your superpowers today even if the rest of the world tells you can’t fly.  Take it from me and Buzz Lightyear – you KAN FLY! And, oh the difference we will make!

Love lingers

Hey Reed –

Every year on this day, I cannot believe how much time has passed and yet, in the moments where my heart forgets I can’t just tell you some really great news, it seems like a blink of an eye since you went home to Jesus.  There are so many, many things that have happened around the world this year that have made me feel that if you were here your heart would just simply break.  But within our family, other good things have happened and those would make you smile. 

As we’ve learned about grief and trauma, there is an ebb and flow of good days and those where the aching for heaven consumes us. And February still happens. We knew it was inevitable. The sadness of the month arrived. 

But there were and forever, I guess, will be the moments of divine love that surround us all.

Last night, the trauma of today seemed to be remembered by every cell in my body.  I tossed and turned, almost like my body was fighting because it didn’t want to face this day reliving life without you and with the sadness your siblings will carry forever.   

As we got up and faced the day, a heavy fog hung close to the ground as we drove out of town for a bit.  The symbolism was uncanny.  The sadness our hearts carried enveloped us as we drove around, but just like the miracle of Easter, the sun came out and we were able to walk in your woods and remember all your shenanigans.  Watching an unreal experience of crows chasing an owl made me pause in awe because it seemed as if heaven was reminding us that the intense pain of February only lasts so long. 

Throughout the day, message after message of love and support came flowing in, chasing away the sadness.  Family, friends, besties, and former and current students offered beautiful heartfelt remembrances, and we felt wrapped up in that love.  Through them all I was reminded that February’s pain is not stronger than the love of heaven.

I think when one experiences profound loss, you also have the chance to realize the preciousness of life.  Tragedy also has a way of helping you count your blessings. Nothing will ever replace you, but the love shown to us today and every day remind me of deeply God loves us. Just the other day, I had a beautiful conversation with Mama Joy and in it, I shared that even though I will always miss you, God knew how to fill the ache.  We lost one son, but somehow gained nine others.  From those others, we have been blessed with the most amazing grandchildren who even though DNA doesn’t connect us, the love of heaven certainly does. Hearing their giggles, watching them grow, and knowing that we can share your light with each of them is a gift immeasurable.  I can only imagine that you had a hand in telling Jesus exactly what our hearts needed, and I hope you smile when Lydia, who favors you a lot, asks all kinds of questions about you.  I know my heart soars when I tell her all your stories.

Faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love. Clearly, my sweet boy, you are missed and loved by many. We’ve learned that while we are separated by the veil between heaven and earth, the love we all share lingers. 

Loving you forever until we can hug you again. 

Love, Momma