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A moment and a lifetime

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Dear Reed – I woke up this morning not sure how I would tackle the day, the one I just wish was erased from the calendar forever.  There were a few things that conspired to make for a rough start.  When I flipped on the morning news, an interview was being conducted with an Olympic athlete who had won while wearing the training outfit of his younger brother who recently passed away. Really, Universe?  That has to be the exact story on television today?

There were other things that seemed to bog down the start of the day, starting with my head (a massive sinus infection) and lingering in my heart (aching from how time can feel like both a moment and lifetime in 10 years). We do not grieve alone as many have sent love tokens of comfort, but honestly, the gray, overcast skies seem as if all creation, if not most of Lyon County, grieves with us.

Yet, we have learned even in the saddest moments that God’s love shines the brightest in the dark.  As sad as we are (not just today) to not have you here, this one day does not define your story.  We know you weren’t perfect, but to all of us you were perfectly imperfect and ours to love.  While you were definitely a disorganization genius, you were also one of the kindest and most loving people we have ever met. The stories of your kindness still come to us and we are blown away each and every time.

It was this knowledge that led to our week of living and loving like Reed.  Last week on her drive back to campus, Erin did a lot of thinking about you and about our upcoming week.  Her words became our marching orders.

Hey guys! When I was driving I was thinking of all the many traits Reed had and the one that kept coming to my mind was how much of a servant’s heart he had.  He would’ve done anything for anybody – even those who treated him like crap, and think about how he changed the hearts of some of those people.  I think this week we should all try to do at least one thing to serve others.  I think that is something Reed would be proud of.

So there it was – our mission.  Instead of putting up insulating walls to protect our hearts which is usually what happens as this day approaches, we put our hearts out there to love like crazy just like you would do.

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When we gathered this morning, we shared with each other the ways that we had loved others.  Dad and I decided to live out our day of loving others on the “love day” that can be painful for some.  It started as a way to love “Auntie” and morphed into a day to love all those in our church whose sweethearts now live with Jesus.  We spent time over the weekend making candies and spent the lunch hour baking little love treats.  Then we spent our Valentine’s Day evening, visiting, sadly sometimes too briefly, with our friends whom we love dearly.  Sawyer spent an evening loving on his favorite Miracle Children by attending a basketball game with two little boys and hanging out with them before and after.  Cloie tackled a couple different projects: making treats for youth group (following in your footsteps), doing childcare at church, and my personal favorite helping a student who struggles in school feel like a champion for a day.  And then there was Sister.

She really took to heart how you would tell us to be nice to the kids who were mean to you because they didn’t know Jesus like you did.  She chose to volunteer to help love on someone who hasn’t always been nice and kind to her.  Even in her challenge, she knew that God was leading her to turn the other cheek just like you did and she blew us away with her heart to follow through.

Although grief will always be a part of our story – your story, what all of us really want is for you to be remembered for how you lived and that in the midst of our sadness, may we be known for choosing to live basking in the glow of the love that you get to experience each and every day.

And until we can see Jesus’ face radiating that love and hug you again, we will keep on remembering the way you loved others, especially us.

Loving you always,

Momma

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the freedom to share

For a numbers girl, I don’t even want to look back and count the days since I last wrote a blog post.  Oh, it would be easy to blame the dogged pursuit of the jaunty chapeau, signifying earning my doctorate or better yet the never ending demands on my time as a momma, wife, and educator.  But in my heart I know that while those items do take a toll on my day to day energy, the real reason for my absence has a much more profound rationale.

Each year, for the past few years I (and sometimes we) have chosen a one-word theme for the year.  Even though it was the word a few years back, joy will be a relentless pursuit for me for all of my days.  When a portion of your heart lives in heaven, finding joy is always a delicate balance.  Yet, the word I chose as a follow up to 2017’s contentment seems so fitting to many different avenues of my life and it is this new word chosen for 2018 that is helping me to break down the walls that have prevented me from being able to write again.

This year’s word is free which speaks volumes to areas where I have been challenged in the past.

After much internal agonizing and wrestling with the pain that stole my peace, I finally feel free (enough) to write about my blogging drought.

To do the story justice, I must explain that I have always been a numbers person.  Sometimes, I remember the phone number better than I do the name of a business.  Numbers have always fascinated me, which is why I marked a date on a calendar which would mark a passage in time that I never wanted to experience.  I have said it before and it could not be more apt here . . .

Time stops for no momma’s heart.

Making the story more profound was the trifecta of events that came together to stir up a turbulent storm of sadness which brewed in my heart.  Saturday, August 19 marked the day that we took our Sister to college.  There was joy (much joy) that she became a third generation college student at our family’s alma mater, but her journey snuck up on us and we felt woefully unprepared for her to launch into the world. (She is and was then more than ready, but as her parents we weren’t ready to see our not-so-little ladybug ready to chase her dreams.) The day before we laid to rest one of our dearest friends whom I miss every day and whose love for others continues to blow me away.  On our sweet friend’s first day of chemotherapy a month previous, Sister had her monthly hive infusion treatment at the same cancer center.  They were placed in rooms right next door to each other.  Even though our friend was fighting for her life, she cried tears of sadness that Sister would have to deal with a diagnosis that could possibly have a lifelong impact.  Losing a friend who gives from an abundant well-spring of love is not a hurt that eases quickly.

But then there was that date – August 19, 2017 – etched in the calendar of my heart.  I held it together for Sister’s sake, but at some point later that night at our aunt’s lake house, I went into the shower cried more tears than the shower poured forth because on that very day our little Sally turned exactly one day older than Reed ever lived.

When the baby that Reed couldn’t wait to hold every single day of his life turned older in earthly days, it was as if my heart experienced an electrifying and stupefying shock. Every day. Every single day that we have had with her since is a bittersweet reminder of the days we didn’t have with him.

It took me a long time to share what has really been going on, because even though I tried I simply wasn’t ready.  Just like the beginning of my writing journey, the knowledge that my words have helped others compelled me to sit down at the computer tonight.

Sitting here writing the words of my hidden sadness, the tears flow clouding my vision, but just as I suspected, God is collecting each one in his bottle and while he does I am sensing my heart’s burden lifting, comforted in his love.

Earlier today, freedom was found in a divine messenger. I heard the cardinal sing, serving as a reminder that while the tentacles of grief linger on earth, heaven’s love is only a song away.

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Wearing her biggest brother Reed’s shirt to Twins game last August.

 

 

He’d like to be a Pepper too! (2017 Version)

I sometimes wonder about my two big life aspirations to be a mom and a teacher.  Oh don’t get me wrong, both are incredible and noble callings, but if you ever really stop to think about it, to do both successfully means one is always striving to work one’s self out of a job.  After spending so many years investing in making sure my children thrived following our family’s darkest day, there are moments now that they are launched or almost launched into the world where I miss the daily repartee of life, especially when watching your children make life choices.

After facing all kinds of hardships in the last ten years, our college aged son never once let any of those setbacks and obstacles define who he truly is or much less, who he can become.  As a college professor, I know firsthand that many students come to post-secondary studies without any real direction or plans. But not, our guy, he left for college with a list and a whole bunch of dreams.  He were shocked when in one of our phone calls, he remarked that he was on track with the goals he had set for himself for the first year of college.

The funny thing is that while we were incredibly impressed by this revelation, he downplayed its significance because Mom, everyone has a plan for their lives.  He wasn’t trying to diminish the praise, but in everything he has ever done, he errs on the side of understatement about his accomplishments.

Well, not his momma! I will gladly wear the hyperbole banner . . . because I can. I’m the mom!

As he has doggedly pursued his goals and dreams, there has been some meandering.  We don’t always get to see all the insights of these pursuits as he is truly making a life for himself.  But in all seriousness, his drive to follow his dreams met some twists and one wrong turn for which I couldn’t be more thankful.

In his goal-setting, campus leader in his first year was one of his top pursuits.  After becoming one of the youngest presidents ever elected for his fraternity, much of his time and energy was focused on the philanthropy and community building aspects of that position, especially anything that involved helping kids.  While he never fumbled in his studies, leadership comes with a cost.  For him, the cost was a questioning of his commitment to his selected college major, medical biology. (Well that, and having to sacrifice some of your vacations and holidays serving others and not being home with family, specifically the momma.)

Even though I struggled at the time, I realize now how important missing some of Christmas break was when in one rare moment, the responsibilities of being a campus leader intersected with a pivotal life moment that could only be described as divine intervention.

Totally out of character for our infrequent phone calling son, I received an urgent text stating he needed to talk.  In his conversation, he shared that as part of his leadership conference, he chose to visit St. Jude’s Medical Hospital for Children in Memphis.

Apparently in that one afternoon, it was game over.  Our tearful call changed my heart and his.  I learned to let go, as my role of mom is shifting from caretaker to advisor, while God was teaching him to lean in, using his story to carve a path for his dreams.  After spending the afternoon at St. Jude’s and interacting with some of God’s best miracles, he walked out knowing that the calling on his life was to serve others, most likely children, through medicine, and giving back to others just as many had invested in his future.

My son, my version of the Boy Wonder, is once again vying for a full tuition prize through a contest with the Dr. Pepper/7Up Corporation. He was one of the top vote receivers last year, but in some respects we are glad he didn’t win the big prize because now he has new found purpose. In the competition, he has to describe how he would change the world.

His words took my breath away.

GIVING PEOPLE BACK THE TYPE OF LIFE THEY HAVE LOST.

 I believe that true happiness lies in a life devoted to helping others. I am currently a junior at USD working towards becoming a Neurosurgeon. As a child I was severely wounded in a motor collision and saw first-hand how my surgeons gave me back the ability to walk and to live life again. My personal goal is to do the same for many others. ~ Sawyer S

MELT. MY. MOMMA. HEART.

I am sure my son was limited on space, but one can never discount his proclivity to understating the story.  So let me fill in the details.

In 2008, three of our four children were riding home on the school bus when the bus was hit.  In the aftermath of the crash, four children died (including our oldest son) and fourteen others were injured.  One of the seriously wounded was our Sawyer.  The crash left him with a shattered, broken, and dislocated bones, bruised lungs, a lacerated spleen, and severe nerve damage.  That year alone he spent twelve weeks in and out of the hospital before he was well enough to attend the last five days of the school year . . . using a wheelchair because he was unable to walk for several years afterwards. He never complained but more importantly he never gave up hope. First to walk, then to play football, and later to live life to the fullest.   He has endured more than most adults and is still a beacon of positivity.

When he says that he cannot imagine a life not devoted to serving others. This isn’t just lip service.  He means every word.  He hasn’t forgotten a single kindness extended to us or to him specifically since that awful day 9 years ago.  He has used every opportunity to give back and to serve as much as possible (even after having had over 30 surgical procedures since that awful day).  I know I’m his mom, but I would be following in his understating footsteps, if I didn’t use the word inspirational in the same breath as I use to speak his name.

Through his hardships, he has been given an eye to see the hurting, the overlooked, and the friendless.  When he was only a sophomore in high school, he didn’t hesitate when his “Uncle” Sheldon asked if he would consider coaching a group of young men in Special Olympics football.  He had waited three years to play the game again, and suddenly when he was asked to coach, he was ready to serve because no one else had stepped in. The most precious part of his coaching is that one of his “players” attended the same high school that he did.  When our son realized that a varsity letter could be awarded to the young man for his involvement in the game of football that they both loved, he petitioned the school to award the young man, his player and friend, his first athletic letter. Even though, my son earned his last football letter that same evening, surprising his own player at the banquet with a well-deserved letter was more rewarding.  Loving and serving others isn’t just an item to be checked off a goals list for him, but simply a part of his DNA.

I can guarantee that as a future physician, any child in his practice will receive every ounce of his love and energy to give them back a life that was changed or altered for them just like it once was for him.

I’m his mom.  I can boast.  I know he’s not perfect, but loving others is the best he can offer of himself and that is just one of the millions of reasons I am proud of him.

Then there is the aptness of the corporation sponsoring this contest.  About a week after the funeral services for our other son, we were trapped in a fog of grief, medical treatments, and generally being overwhelmed.  Add to this the nerve damage that Sawyer endured, we had a young man who writhed in excruciating pain 24 hours a day. Exhausted was the understatement of the century.  Thankfully, we live among amazing friends and neighbors who kept a vigilant watch over how to best help us.  One such evening, a neighbor popped over to check in.  She asked numerous times if there was anything she could do – right then – to help us.  What I lack in the trivialization department, I more than make up for in “I can do it myself” pride.  Several times, I assured her that we were fine.  As she got to the door, stepping into her winter boots and parka, she implored one last time, and just as I was about to stop her, my – at the time – little guy spoke up.

I could sure use a Dr. Pepper. 

As Paul Harvey would say, now you know the rest of the story.

Of all the things, he could have asked for to bring comfort, it was a Dr. Pepper (and he did for days to come).

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I am including this picture – just in case, he has forgotten what I look like.  I am in the one in sunglasses. But in all seriousness, even on his moving back to college day, he proudly wore the shirt from the night he danced all night to raise funds for two little brothers who require extensive medical care. And, he hates dancing.

This sweet guy of mine needs your help.  Please go to the link below and vote for him and ask your friends and neighbors and Boy Wonders to vote too. Help him to shine his light and use his potential to live a life dedicated to giving life back to others through medicine. And like the commercial from my youth used to say, I am pretty sure my son would love to “be a Pepper too!”

https://www.drpeppertuition.com/profile/1333403610011053

 

 

Squeeze the Stuffins

Anyone who knows me knows business owner was never on the list of aspirations for my life.  Within the first five minutes of any of my speaking engagements, I establish that I really only dreamed to do two things in my life.  I am glad that my life grew larger than my childhood expectations, Yet, I never imagined that in addition to mom, wife, educator, writer and speaker, I would sandwich in business owner.

And I have cheetahs, a bowling alley, and some divine inspiration to thank.

Although that eclectic mix seems to be the making for another National Lampoon’s movie, the true heart of this business lies at the love that a family, no – make that a community, has for a young man who left us way too soon.  Following the passing our son, Reed, we wanted to give back to the hospital where he passed away.  They were kind and gentle to us as we had one son who died there and one son who was fighting to live.  Even though they were only briefly a part of Reed’s life, we wanted his legacy to live on there as well.

Our big idea was to help other grieving children by celebrating the way Reed lived – loving others.  We never wanted his tragic death to be his biggest headline. We decided that we would like to give comfort to other grieving children, because when we finally were able to leave that hospital nine days after the bus crash we left with two grieving parents and three amazing, but grieving children.

It took us a while, but we finally chose giving stuffed cheetahs, which we lovingly call, “Reed-A-Cheetah’s” to the surviving siblings of any child who passes away in the same hospital. Why cheetahs? Simple. They were Reed’s favorite animal.  I am not sure why one of the pokiest kids in the world loved the fastest land animal, but he did.

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The shortest distance from one place to another is a straight line, but much in my life is a winding country road with curves, hills, and valleys and maybe a gaggle of geese for whom we have to wait to cross the road.  We chose to partner with our friends at the local bowling alley because they owned a bear factory business for stuff your own stuffed animals.  That seemed like a slam dunk, until it wasn’t because it took over a year before stuff-able cheetahs made their way into the wholesale catalog.  But once they did, a legacy program was born.

The Reed Stevens Legacy Program was off and running and it continues today only because of a completely jaw-dropping, heart swelling gift from our dear, dear friends.  They watched as the success of the cheetah program continued over the years, which is a difficult thing to boast knowing that the 500 cheetahs we have given thus far represent a loss another family has endured just like ours. When times changed for the bowling alley business, it would have been easy for our friends to sell the bear factory like they did with the remainder of their business.

But they didn’t.

In an act of the amazing love, they gave the entire build a stuffie business to our family so that “Reed-A-Cheetahs” would live on forever.  Even today, I am tearing up.  There are not many friends who love like these three, and we will forever call them a part of our family, bound by love, if not by blood.

So, the cheetahs and other animals (which we regularly take to the Ronald McDonald house) live on.  We are all pretty sure that the boy who gave the biggest and best hugs this side of heaven would be proud of our efforts.  Given the crazy busy life we live here at Team Stevens headquarters, hospital cheetahs and other little stuffies for families of sick children were all we were able to muster.

We knew however we justified it, that our small efforts, while noble, were akin to hiding our light under a bush.  That is when the business idea began to take shape.  Our family decided that we would like to use the bear factory as way to give back to others, but still make it affordable to families.  Emulating the TOMS shoes model, for every stuffed animal purchased, one would be given away and secondarily as a partner for fundraising for anything related to kids  We had a plan and we were ready to go forward, but we were stuck on a business name  . . . until a moment of divine inspiration happened.

Originally, we came up with “Hugs from Heaven” because of the symbolism of Reed’s all encompassing, sneak up behind you bear hugs, but the name just didn’t have the punch we were desiring.  We were all ready to make our first launch at an adoption fundraiser this weekend and even posted using the “Hugs from Heaven” name when a little memory I hadn’t thought of in years popped into my mind.

When Reed executed those sneaky, behind the back hugs, he would always say, “I’m going to squeeze the stuffins out of you!”  A quick family text and we were all in agreement, that from here forward, Squeeze the Stuffins would be our business name.

I think I was wrong earlier in my assertion.  While the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, taking that route might mean we would have missed out on some breathtaking blessings.  Sometimes, it takes a big idea, some stuffed cheetahs, one bowling alley, faithful friends, one wrong business name, and a whole lot of love to make a journey.

No matter the winding road we took to get this business up and running, we hope and pray that love will be always be its hallmark.

Special note: We could not be more touched by the sweet words of Noah regarding how excited he is for this love to partner with his adoption fundraiser! We shed a few tears here.

 

 

 

 

Outwit, outplay, outlast

I just cannot help myself.  Even despite and sometimes during all the trials and challenges my family and I have walked through, contagious laughter just comes bubbling forth from deep within my soul and like a fourth grade baking soda and vinegar volcano it comes spewing out.  One of those moments occurred last spring when I was speaker at a local mom’s conference.  I had a busy evening as I gave three different breakout session talks, which I assure you was not the funny part.  Oh there were moments of levity in those sessions too, but the big laughter came while listening to the main speaker, Holly Hoffman.  She is an absolute delight to listen to, and her story is very compelling.  Most in the world are probably like me, a kind skeptic, when it comes to television reality shows, but after hearing her story of making it almost to the end on Survivor I now know the players really do live off the land, even if prime footage of personal interactions is all that makes its way to our television screens.

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Photo from CBS

While Holly (she is just that sweet that I feel comfortable using her first name) regaled us with the tale of her times in Nicaragua, much like shaking a sealed Coca-Cola bottle I could feel the laughter bubbles start to rise.  I held it together through her talk (Thank the Lord, because that would have been just plain awful), but the moment I got into the room where I was to be presenting I lost it, laughing so hard tears were running down my cheeks.

One of my life’s mottos is to never take myself too seriously and in that moment in a high school classroom, I was doing a fine job of living out that sentiment.  What, you might ask, had me so tickled?  Well in short, my hair!  What in the mayonnaise does my hair have to do with making it to the top three or four on Survivor?  After listening to Holly’s story, I realized fifteen minutes into it that I would never be a candidate for the game of survival, because my hair would outwit, outplay, and outlast everything else on that show.

My standard response to anyone who compliments my hair is a shocked, thank you, often followed by a “well it only took three hours this time”.  Most people have stylists (or if you are of a different age – beauticians). Nope, not me.  I have a hairgician . . . because just the normal mojo would not work to tame my hair.  At some point during the pregnancy of my third child, my hair took on a life of its own transforming from very, very slightly wavy to two kinds of mane crazy.  Unlike the famed mullet from my high school years with business up front and party in the back, my two kinds of crazy more resemble some of the finest candidates from the Westminster Dog Show.  The top layer resembles the waves behind a Golden Retriever’s ears, while the layers underneath are full on poodle . . . and that is with product.  Without the magic of the hairgician and heaven forbid left in the wiles of the humid jungle, I am guessing the best case scenario would be crazy hair day and worst case, force me to channel my inner Rosanna Rosannadanna.

rosanna rosanna danna

This is often my look in the mornings. Photo from NBC

There are plenty of people who think I am a pillar of strength and would be an ideal candidate for the Survivor cast.  These well-intentioned souls might even try to persuade me that there might still be a chance because every Survivor player is provided a Buff.  Don’t know what a Buff is?  It is the thingamajig tubular headgear Holly is donning above.  But even then, this type of thinking would be flat out wrong oh so misguided.

Long before Buff rose in fame, I tried baseball caps.  Without putting my hair in a ponytail, I easily pass as a doppelganger for Wayne Campbell from Wayne’s World.  Even though deep in my heart, I knew the chance of success was dismal, I desired to be like the funky hipsters and purchased a Buff for myself. Let’s just say after attempting that experiment, I would have great success wrestling an octopus if that scenario ever pops up in the future.

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Party on, Wayne! Excellent . . . not really when this is your hair. Photo from NBC.

So while Holly’s talk did answer the proverbial question as to whether the players are really fighting to survive, her story did me a much larger service, cementing that I would never, not now, not ever be a candidate for Survivor.  Some executives might want to capitalize on Tune in next week to see the Survivor adventure . . . with Kandy’s hair. I highly doubt that would generate any real boost in ratings, but who knows it might be empowering for women worldwide to know that perhaps their hair woes aren’t really as bad as they think.  I, however, don’t believe I’m made of the right stuff to live through the shame of t-shirts and memes describing each episode of my colossal hair failure.

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My real hair (with no product)

If you were to ask my children, they would tell you my reticence to apply is that the show’s producers would never give me enough ice for my sweet tea, but that is a story for  another day. Trust me, though, it’s really all about the hair.

Go ahead. Laugh.  I do, even at my own expense,  because laughter is good for the soul. Even though this is the hair God gave me, laughing saves me from tears because of my crazy hair adventures.

Happy Friday, y’all!  Hug your kids! And, never take yourself too seriously,

 

A jaunty chapeau, Part 2

Lessons Learned

Wow! It has been so long since I have written a blog that I have ached to bring my fingers back to the keyboard for something other than school work.  Do not get me wrong – I LOVE learning, but in the last few months I have perhaps taken on more than I should have. My passion for learning and teaching and my desire to give back in my community have kept me from another true love – writing. Recently, both my dad and a fellow professor friend implored me to tone it down a little on the schoolwork.  Those that know me well know slowing down isn’t always in my vocabulary.

Lesson Learned #1:  Sometimes too much is simply too much.

Okay, true confession time! In the last twelve months I completed 32 credits of work for my doctorate and an additional teaching license.  I am not listing that number to boast about my accomplishments, but rather to ask my friends to hold me accountable. (As in, never let me do that again.) While I like to believe that I am superhuman, one of the first lessons I have learned in my pursuit of the jaunty chapeau has been that there is a too much.  Too much learning took me away from other really great and amazing moments, and no family ever stated that they wanted a stressed out momma functioning on very little sleep.  Maybe if I just focused on one or two things rather than balancing a bazillion hats in my juggling circus, the too much would be kept at bay. But of course, this would have to come after I embraced the ability to say “no” for requests for my time.

Lesson Learned #2: Passion matters! It really does.

Learning has always been an adventure for me, but for some reason this time around it has truly become something intensely personal.  I am relishing every new morsel of knowledge and understanding, dreaming of ways I can pass it on to my students (and in some cases, former students because I still cherish their dreams too). I have been amazed time and again by the feedback I have gotten from my professors, not because I think I am all that amazing, but loving what you do shows.  I have gotten personal notes and letters from my professors thanking me for the dedication I bring to each assignment.  I don’t have much of a poker face so imagine me doing the “What you talking about Willis?” face while pondering the proverbial, Doesn’t everyone do that?  But looking closely at some of the discussions had in these courses, there are definitely people just going through the motions. I cannot imagine electing to do something I didn’t love. Ever. Period.

Lesson Learned #3: Stop pigeonholing yourself!

Anyone who has ever been at an event where I speak knows I always share that I only had two dreams in life – to be a teacher and a momma.  I never really dreamed too far out of that box, pursuing my studies ardently (see a theme here) and waiting for the (I mean THE) right boy to come along for the second one.  I loved math and science and I never ventured far from either one until I realized I had a voice and began writing.  Starting with a simple blog, my new adventure took me down a path I could never imagine – authoring one book with three more in development.  I’m not laying this at my parents’ or teachers’ feet, but I grew up in a day and age where it seems that rather than embracing children as holistic wonderful beings, we were pigeonholed into categories.  We were the smart ones, the bookish ones, the sporty ones, the creative ones, the nerdy ones, the sensitive ones, and rarely were we told that we could be anything more than our assigned categories.  Twice in the past year, I have had professors pull me aside and ask if I had political aspirations.  In both cases, I was incredulous.  If I thought becoming a writer was a stretch, becoming a politician was (and still is) unfathomable to me.  Both professors said that I should consider it (and ironically they came from polar ends of the political spectrum),  but both encouraged me to think it over, cementing their encouragement with “You’d have my vote”.  Wowza! I’m still pretty certain that is not in my future, but the truth is just like writing books, God spoke to me through the encouragement of others that I am so much more than I see myself.

I know that not everyone aspires to earn a terminal degree, but these lessons apply to all our  lives. I am taking some really long hard looks at the definition of too much in my life – too much stuff, too much clutter, too many “yes’s” that should have been “no’s”, too much sugar, too many good choices – and I am reevaluating how I want to claim my days.  But more importantly I am listening closely to God’s whisper on my heart for how he wants me to live those days, less encumbered with the things that pull me away from him and the call he has on my life.  Honestly, graduate school is not for the fainthearted and it is a labor . . . that I am loving.  But seriously if I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t be doing it, no matter how many job opportunities it could bring.  At the end of the day, I don’t for one minute believe that God called us to be miserable.  Oh we may have (actually Jesus said will have) dark times and struggles that he uses despite our efforts sometimes, but when it comes to how we are choosing to spend our time and our energy, being miserable shouldn’t even be a box that can be checked off.  Even at my age, I still see myself as the nerdy little science and math loving girl, but God sees me as so much more.  I believe he has many adventures in store for us, if we would just take a moment to see ourselves through his eyes.  If we did, I think all of our dreams would alter significantly.

For right now, I am going to keep on working hard in pursuit of that jaunty little chapeau and see what other lessons I can learn!

go yotes

Proud University of South Dakota doctoral student. Go Yotes!

Part 1 of this adventure can be found here.

 

 

Reach beyond the stars, Sister

Well, Sister – here we are! It’s your birthday and now in the eyes of the world you are an official adult.  Of course to your dad, you will always be his little girl, but slowly I have watched you shift from little girl to vivacious teenager to incredible young woman.  There have definitely been bumps in the road and moments when I thought we would never get beyond, but somehow we made it through.  Even though you are definitely Dad’s best buddy, you still carry some of my dreams as well.  Your two biggest being exactly the same as mine – to be a teacher and a momma.

Some day when that second dream comes to fruition, you will learn that you will go away for a day and when you come back you will see that your babies have shot up overnight.  When you are with them every day, you don’t always notice the incremental changes that are happening right before your eyes.

Trust me, I blinked and you were running your own schedule and doing all the things a girl ready to launch into the world should be doing. Okay, maybe except keeping your room clean, but for the rest of it, you are doing a great job.

Another thing you will wonder both when you are a teacher and later as a momma is whether the rest of the world can truly see how amazing your sweet students or babies really are. Often times the world values conformity and its false promises of popularity and comfort, and others will miss how unique and special each child’s sparkle and shine truly are.

I’ve always known that your smile could fill a room.

Birthday

Even after getting life-saving injections on your birthday, you’re still smiling!

I have watched amazed as you love with abandon on children and those the rest of the world calls different. While it is true that a momma is only happy as her saddest child, it is also true that mommas beam when they see their children’s dreams richly rewarded.  I was blown away by how your work ethic and volunteerism were acknowledged and honored.  (Really how many high school seniors walk across the stage having volunteered over one thousand hours in four years?) You earned two of the most prestigious scholarships ever awarded at the school by being uniquely you as a student, a student-athlete, and community member.

 

PEO

PEO STAR Scholarship Award Winner

I walked out of the school that night realizing that the world indeed also sees you as an incredible force for love and change.  Since one of the scholarships was for the empowerment of young women, I could almost envision other women passing the torch to you to continue to love and serve others. For this momma, it was a “pinch me” moment.  I know there were others there that night that wondered what makes Erin so special that she walked away with so much.

I know. I’ve always known.

Very few get to witness the moments that we do like the other night at the dinner table.  We shared with you one of those sweet little kiddos you love was in the hospital and was struggling.  Most your age would offer to pray or to help with working around the family’s house or even offer to do some fundraising, but you are definitely not most.  Nope. Not our girl. And for that you will always stand out.  The first thing you asked was, “Can I be tested to give her one of mine?” I had to wipe away a tear after I explained that unlike getting a donor ligament for your knee, giving away your organs (even if you were a match) would mean the end of your college basketball career. Without even hesitating, you replied, “I would still do it.”

That is the heart of a world changer and for that heart and all her goofy antics and dreams we could not be more proud.

Never, not once ever, conform to what the world thinks you are capable of doing.

Reach beyond the stars, Sister, because you are capable of outshining them all.

Happy Birthday, Super Star! Happy Birthday!

Love, Momma