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Breathe in, breathe out

One of my cousins who has a heart like mine for loving others, regardless of their story, participates in a ministry called “Mother to Many” which serves homeless youth in Washington state.  Over the course of the last week, I have been a safe landing spot for several women and teens in my life who have been dealing with one of life’s hardest lessons – losing someone they loved. I’ve often wanted to create a sign for my front deck (which I imagine is an actual front porch with a swing, some rockers, comfy cushions and big ol’ pitcher of iced tea) where the sign would sit.  A girl can dream, can’t she?

“Braggin’ and Bellyachin’ Allowed Here”.

We were made to fellowship. Women need a tribe, a circle, an inner sanctum, and if my wistful front deck can be that spot, the welcome mat will always be out.  If you need to celebrate, I will cheer with you.  If your heart has nothing but lament, I will hold your hand, wipe your tears, and rock next to you.

The women in my story are all like my own daughters, but I think my dear friend, Joy, who upon my announcement of first going back to chase the jaunty chapeau of doctoral studies, proclaimed that because she knows me as an extra momma to many in our community, that my official title upon graduation would not be Dr. Kandy Noles Stevens, but rather the more appropriately fitting – Dr. Momma K.  Throughout the last four years, she has always used that title in every exchange and perhaps she won’t know until now, how deeply and profoundly her belief in me encouraged me – EVERY. STEP. of the way.

So, life has brought me back to the place I love now that the textbook readings and exams are over to having the time to be a “Momma to Many” and wiping tears, while listening to the tales of sadness after sadness has been a noble calling.  The unfortunate thing is the loss hasn’t been from an actual death, but rather the ending of a friendship.  From the teenagers in my world to the mommas, discontent and leaving others out or behind seems to be running rampant, and from what I have seen, the women and girls of the world are hurting.

Much like not knowing you lost the plug to your Yeti cooler while driving across country with red snapper caught fresh in the Gulf of Mexico, I wish I didn’t know the stench of losing a friend.  Sadly, both malodorous experiences are ones that clings to your soul.  The fishy smell in my vehicle eventually went away, but the heartache of betrayal and loss never really do. I have learned some truths through my experiences and to be honest, writing about it is about the very last thing I want to do today.  For those who’ve followed my writing over the years, they know that I often wrestle with God about the things I don’t want to share like having someone formerly very dear me tell me that I am doing a horrible job of remembering my son. I just don’t want to share this story, because frankly, the pain cuts too deep.  But just like the horrible truths a momma learns after losing a child, there are corollary truths following the loss of a friendship and for some reason unbeknownst to me, God really wants me to share because I keep waking up in the night thinking about this blog.

In the same way that I can only imagine a prize fighter picking themselves up and assuming a pugilistic stance, protecting themselves from life’s body blows, these sweet women have picked up the shattered pieces of their hearts and came to me with the shards in their hands.  Together we wiped away the splinters and bandaged the wounds as I shared three lessons I have learned when a friendship runs its course.

  1. Despite how we believed a friendship was supposed to last, some people are only meant to come into our lives for a brief moment, teaching lessons we needed at that time, and others will be there for a lifetime. It is easy to confuse the two, but the life long friends show up with your favorite drink and a hug when they know you are going to face a terrible day and you didn’t even utter a word. They sit on your deck and hold your hands as you cry because there was another bus crash. They call simply to breathe God’s words into your ear and pray so fiercely that you find yourself not knowing whether to cry or to celebrate, ending up doing some sort of awkward dance of both.  Finding these women may take well into adulthood, and for some, that girl has been with you since childhood.  Whomever they are, love the momentary friends lightly and let them go, they were never meant to stay.
  2. Some of my sweet women are grieving friendships that started off wonderful, but slowly over time ignored signs that much like the frog in the boiling pot of water indicated clues that the situation was becoming toxic. The ghosting.  The negative things said behind the back, but never to the face. The little things that grow into big things, until an explosion happens.  I have learned the hard way, my dear ones, that in the long run these momentary friends really are doing you a favor.  No matter how deeply it hurts, they really are. For those of us raised with the values of forgiveness and turning the other cheek, leaving behind those friendships which have really soured can be incredibly difficult.  I once heard Christian author and speaker, Julie Barnhill, address this very concept. In any toxic relationship, God isn’t mincing words, forgiveness still needs to happen, but we were never called to hangout with basement dwellers.  Did you read that correctly?  If not, read it again.  God still calls us to love, but we were never asked to be someone else’s punching bag or toxic waste dump.  In the sacred rhythms of life, breathing prayers in, breathing prayers out, and moving on may be the greatest gift of those friends. 
  3. Finally, the granddaddy lesson of them all, Jesus truly gets it. I think in the midst of deep pain we (well, at least, I know I do) forget that while fully God, Jesus was also fully human.  He wept outside his friend, Lazarus’s grave. Much more like me, he got mad and flipped tables.  And he also knows the pain of betrayal and loss of friendship.  Remember he started with twelve friends, whom I would call the inner sanctum, but his time on Earth ended with eleven.  When I first heard a speaker share that truth, I wept, because it was closely following the words that to this day still make me cry, you are doing a horrible job of remembering Reed.  I cried knowing that Jesus knew who would betray him and knew the consequences of that betrayal. While I could say something so trite, almost trivial to another hurting, I understand.  I’ve been there before. Little comfort would be found in those words, but pouring your heart out to Jesus, sage wisdom and endless comfort can be found with him.

Loss of any kind hurts.  Losing a gal pal has its own kind of sting. Beautiful girls – take time to grieve your loss. Mourning is necessary, but allow God to collect those tears in his bottle, knowing that he designed you for fellowship with other women and knowing God has other doors to open while you praise him through tears, sometimes loving from afar, while standing in the hallway.  Hold lightly to those momentary friends, saving space for the tribe of women he planned to hold you close to their hearts all of your days.  For they will be the ones who will walk with you to the finish line, holding your hand and maybe your iced tea, and praying with and for you, every single time.

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Some of your lifeline friends will also forgive you when the ocean and salt air makes for interesting hair.  For the record, I only see love and support in this photo.

On heaven’s time, Jesus not only understands the depth of your pain, he once lived it.  And here on Earth, I don’t have all the answers, but what I can promise is there will always be rockers, iced tea, a hug, and a listening ear at my house.

Breathe in, breathe out – you are loved and cherished, even if it at this moment, it doesn’t feel that way.

 

No momma dreamed this . . .

The whole world seems to be turning upside down and inside out. I really wanted my return to blogging to be similar to the reveal of a debutante at a ball to announce that the author and tagline of this blog have changed.  I wanted my “I’m Back” message to be celebratory, announcing the chase for the jaunty chapeau came to a conclusion.  Oh it did.  I am officially a Doctor of Education now, but the entire ending was rather anticlimactic. Dissertation defense on Zoom, no commencement, and the factory which makes said chapeau was shut down due to COVID-19 restrictions.  For every other person experiencing a milestone let down, I get it.

Two things, however, remain steadfast: my love of learning and my passion for sharing that love, especially in all things related to STEM education.  From the moment I announced my intention and set off on one terrific ride and, at times, incredibly arduous journey, one of my dearest friends has honored my dream by calling me Dr. Momma K.  To know that I earned that title is rewarding, but knowing that, the way I look at the world has changed.  Not because my education makes me better than anyone else, but rather I now hold sacred how much I truly do not know and have a fervent desire to learn more.  While some might see earning a terminal degree as an ending, I see it as a beginning; hence, the tagline change for this blog from Faith, Family, Football to learning life’s lessons.

Coming back to writing has been a challenge in that I, like everyone else in America, have lived with the uncertainty of our times with the pandemic. Now with the racial, political, and ideological divides in our country stronger than ever, I am disheartened over the stress we feel.  Even more than that, every fiber of my being aches for the meanness spewed about on social media of the general malaise of society and the resistance to pick up burdens for our neighbors.  Rather than being beacons of hope and unity in troubled times, what I am seeing reminds me of those gathered with the stones at the ready much like those in the gospel of John in chapter 8 – the story where everyone was ready to stone to death the woman caught in adultery.

After 23 years of formal education, I have learned there exists so much more that I do not know that I do not know.

There is no typo in the previous statement.

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I laid in bed the other night after reading all the vile things that friends and family were saying to each other in the name of Jesus and I broke.  I’ve been generally sad since my educational journey ended, but this was an absolute breaking of my spirit and I wept.  My prayers were translated by divine intervention because all I had to utter were moans.

Desirous of change, yet I felt so small and powerless.

In high school, I remember reading Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. That short story so profoundly touched me that even all these years later, I remember it and trust me, I’ve read much since those Florida high school days.  If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so, but the ritual portrayed continued because of ancestral roots.

Slinging stones.

I didn’t sleep for days in high school after reading that story, ruminating over the concept of there has to be a better way.

In my tear-filled talk with God, I started thinking about my friends and really examining my eclectic mix and wondering why it is that I have absolute no desire to sling stones.

I have friends  . . .

Who are White, Black, Asian, Latinx, Hispanic, and Indigenous/Native peoples.

Who come from every faith community and those who are atheists or agnostics.

Who are Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, and those who do not vote.

Who are in every age group.

Who love the arts and those who think the arts are a waste of time.

Who believe in science and those who think scientists are lying.

Who love sports and those who could care less.

Who are educated and those who are not book smart but know an awful lot about life.

Who are straight and those who belong to the LGBTQIA family.

Who are moms who breastfed and those who bottle fed.

Who love dogs and hate cats and those who love cats and hate dogs.

Who live in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

Who work white collared jobs and those who work blue collared jobs.

Who exist on SNAP programs and other assistance and those who make millions annually.

Whose families emigrated here generations ago, those who just arrived, those who are here undocumented, and those for whom their lands were taken away.

Who vaccinate their children and those who do not.

Whose children are drug-addicted and those whose children have never seen a drug outside the pharmacy.

Who are married, divorced, separated, living together, widowed, and single.

Who care about the environment and those who think climate change is a hoax.

Who homeschool, who send their children to public school, and who love their private school.

Who love meat and those who are vegan.

Who believe in value of news media and who believe that media outlets are prone to lying.

Who value the ability to accumulate material things and those who are minimalists.

Who fought for the flag and those who kneel before it.

Who know trauma and who have never experienced the depth of that pain.

And finally

Who have experienced racism, sexism, agism, homophobia, disability discrimination and those who have never experienced injustice in a minority status ever.

And here is the crazy thing . . . they are, as a lot, beautiful human beings. I choose to believe that we are all just doing the best we can and that we don’t know all the details of someone’s story.

But even I have my breaking point. Spewing hate.  It just has to stop.

Why are we slinging metaphoric stones?

While I do not agree with my friends on every single aspect of life or to be honest in some cases on many aspects (I mean really. To choose a less hot-button example, I am a chemist and science educator. Why someone I love would not trust science makes absolutely zero sense to me.) Even though I am left shaking my head in disagreement, I have never once wanted to sling a stone because I have learned that if I listen closely to their story, I may find that I have more in common than might be noticed on the surface.

Through the sharing of stories, I have learned that some atheist vegans love mercy, seek justice, and walk humbly more like Jesus in their community than some other devout pew sitters and for me that was profound discovery.

There is so much more that I don’t know that I don’t know.

I know the sting of being told I couldn’t achieve in my beloved science because I am girl.  I know uncomfortable glances and grabs. I know the lunacy of trying to make a major purchase and some man erroneously thinking I didn’t understand how to calculate interest. I know the struggle that families who have children with disabilities experience, even if my time in that valley had an expiration date. I know being shunned because I chose to pursue education and my choice doesn’t fit someone else’s ideals of womanhood and motherhood. I have felt the sting of the Mommy Wars.  I know grief intimately and I know the pain of having your child’s death become a politicized sound bite.

But what I do not know is someone clutching their purse because I got on the elevator.  While shopping with some of my black friends, I witnessed the pain of not being waited on in a store even in the community I love, but it isn’t an everyday experience for me personally. No one casts a side glance when I enter a store.  Even though I come from a law enforcement family, I have never once had a conversation with my sons about how to act if pulled over.  There are things I simply do not know and a million others that I don’t know that I don’t know.

Maybe that girl horrified by The Lottery was onto something. Maybe we are the generation who lays down the stones and finds out the stories that lie behind the clenched fists holding tightly to the baggage of mistrust, falsehoods, discrimination, and devaluing others those stones represent.  Better we stub our toes than continue to diminish dreams and break bones and hearts.

My dream is that through the sharing of stories we will learn why someone believes, acts, or values the way they do. We must listen. Simply listen, without expectation of countering. Maybe we ask God to show us the way he sees those different from ourselves, lest we forget he is the one who created them, and in that seeing, we seek forgiveness for all the ways we have failed to recognize the beauty and the brutal parts of their narrative in the fabric of the world’s tapestry. Around those dropped stones, perhaps we spread pesticide on the pestilence and roots of hatred and fear of difference.

In doing so may we realize that no momma’s pain should ever be someone else’s agenda.

If we listen closely, I am betting we will find that behind every single thing that divides us is a painful story that belongs to some momma who never dreamed this America for her child.

 

Dear Students

I miss you!  Today was the day, I was planning to have cookies, cocoa, and tea to welcome you back to campus and to hear of all the great things you learned while completing your spring break.  Whether you were practice teaching for pre-student teaching, traveling with families or athletic teams, or just simply taking a respite, I couldn’t wait to hear your stories and see you smile while sharing them. Even though I have told you this before second only to my children and “grandchildren” you are my world and I felt it was important for me to share this with you today. I am disappointed my welcome back party is not how we are going to spend our day today.

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I am so sorry we are facing uncertain times full of unknowns, but there are two things that will remain steadfast – my love for you and my commitment to help you reach your dreams.  This crazy world we live in needs your talents, your big ideas, your hopes for a better future.  While I don’t know all the steps forward or backward we will take in the next few days or weeks, what I do know is there will be a plan.

The hard part is as future educators, social workers, justice officials, entrepreneurs, and business management professionals we tend to be planners.  But how do we plan when it seems the rules keep changing?  The tough true is we wait.  As hard as it is, we have to also have trust and faith that the decision-makers are working in all of our best interest. Just know that is my daily prayer for all those tasked with making the tough decisions on what to do next.

In our personal waiting time, we can be proactive with our thoughts and our time.

Reconnect with someone through a letter or card in the mail, an email, a phone chat or text, or even an online platform.  I ask that you intentionally love each other in these classes, by checking in on a different classmate each day. Be purposeful in connecting.

While lots of events have been cancelled and businesses ordered closed, this virus hasn’t cancelled nature. I am doubling down on my commitment to getting you outside and right now some fresh air might add some much-needed perspective and time for self-reflection.  There are loads of other things not cancelled like music, books, journaling, doodling, playing games, kindness, hope, and dreaming.  Enjoy things that you might have forgotten how much you once loved in our busy lives, but that are still hallmarks of living well.

Be wise with your interactions and be thoughtful of those at higher risk. Due to having asthma, I am one of those people who needs to make some tough decisions about physical isolation and limited interactions. You all know how much I love a classroom full of people; so this is going to be a tough wait for me.

While I may have to be physically remote, what this virus cannot do and what it will not do is erode how deeply I care about each of you.  While I would much rather be in the classroom with all of you, this virus will not change my work ethic to deliver to you the best I have to offer in terms of your education and life. Thankfully, I have the ability and the skills to move my classes to an online format which is what we will do going forward for now.

I know there about a bazillion and one “What if” questions.  Believe me, I have some too.  As more direction regarding specific cases comes to light, I will be certain to share them with you all.  I know it is tough to wait and to not know, but hopefully we all know more very soon.  So what do we do in the meantime?

Even though we are on extended spring break, look ahead and keep working on any long-range assignments in my classes.   When we do resume instruction, I will still utilize our course’s checklist and use our content area for sharing resources about our topics.  For my education students, we won’t be able to gather together to complete science investigations, but I will strive to find similar ones that can be conducted from home using items you most likely have on hand.  I will make videos to share instruction, and if there is enough availability, I will attempt to host my office hours online via Zoom and at the very least using instant messenger in our course. I’ve heard there might be some limitations on how many can be on Zoom at a time; so, we will be conscientious of that and work around it.  For my AOS Scholars, we will determine a plan to support your academic success in science as soon as we know the steps others are taking.

So what won’t we be doing in this waiting time?

We aren’t going to panic.  We aren’t going to lose hope.  And we aren’t going to forget who we are! We are the SMSU Mustang family and we always take care of each other.  It’s who we are.  It’s what we do.  It is as ingrained in us as is our genetic code. The family atmosphere at our university is what defines us and it is what makes earning a degree from here so incredibly special.

If (or should I say, when) there are rough moments.  Get outside for some fresh air. Reconnect with someone and tell them how much they mean to you.  Remember that in addition to the traditional methods of contacting professors, you all have my personal cell phone number.  You can reach out for the big stuff, the little stuff, and all the ordinary stuff in between.

But most importantly: I’m thinking of you. I and every other educator (at all levels) that I know are planning for how to help you and all the students around the country succeed.

Even though we don’t have all the answers today, we’ve got this!

We have a world to change!

I miss you.  I LOVE you all!

Professor K (also known as Miss Kandy)

 

Hey Reed . . .

Hey Reed –

I can hardly believe that it has been a year since I last wrote to you.  Seeing the last date posted somewhat shocked me. I realized that while 365 days have passed without writing, there hasn’t been a single day that I haven’t thought of you.  There just has been so much that has occurred in the last year.

Some wonderful.  Other parts incredibly painful, but most of it exceptionally busy. Through it all, our people have loved us fiercely and I would be lost without them.

In the last year, there has been so many things to report. We finally put a swimming pool in the backyard and we love it. When I look back there, I think of all the adventures we had with the tree house and I can only imagine the tales we would have had with a pool. You would be amazed at the stories created by Erin and her work with kiddos teaching them confidence and comfort levels with water.  Remember when Cloie was born and Erin marched with “confidence” to slide down the Y slide even though she wasn’t old enough to do it on her own. Turns out she never lost her confidence with water.  You would be proud.

Cloie graduated from making imaginary gnocchi in her play kitchen for you to actually owning a bakery with a friend.  I can only imagine that if you could see her in action in the kitchen, at the Farmers Market, or at events, that your voice would be boasting the loudest, “That’s my baby sister! Isn’t she something!” Remember when you wrote the Youth as Resources grant to create an art show for kids, she did a similar thing by being one of the founders of Marshall’s Kindlmarkt. There are so many times that she has an insatiable drive and passion for something that I have to pause because my heart knows that whatever she says it would have been something that you would have said.

The milestones that we missed with you have come in rapid succession for Sawyer. We are so happy for him, while also grieving the moments lost.  Your best buddy grew into an amazing man with a heart that is both courageous and kind. In the last year, Sawyer became a dog owner, graduated from college, got accepted to medical school, and got married.  It was a beautiful celebration for Sawyer and Sydney surrounded by our dearest people.  Imagine our surprise that the photo we received from the honeymoon was the cardinal that wouldn’t leave the porch of their cabin.

Dad keeps busy with work and church.  He still loves hunting and fishing, and Cloie is always on the hunt for a hunting dog for him.  We all just humor him, because he, of course, continues to report that he doesn’t like kids or dogs. The rest of us have yet to meet a dog or child that doesn’t end up being his best buddy.  Speaking of that, give Huck a hug from all of us, we miss like crazy too.

And speaking of buddies, our extra kiddos have graced our lives with a whole brood of adopted grandchildren.  And this year, our hearts found a few more to love. L, C, B, K Reed (named after you), P, D, and two more on the way make us Grammy and Grampy, the best names we could ever have. You would love all of them.  We and their parents make sure they all know who you are, and this year, the oldest, L, had lots of questions about you.  She wanted to know how big you were when I remembered we still have your Lands End jacket from kindergarten, the same grade she was entering.  In that beautiful way where heaven touches Earth, it fit her perfectly.  Rather than just telling her a story, we could say, Reed was exactly the same size as you are when he was going to kindergarten.  It was such a precious and tender moment.  Beautiful in its simplicity, leaving an indelible mark on my heart.

The lack of time spent keeping this blog running has been spent teaching while being a doctoral student and about a bazillion other things.  The light is at the end of the tunnel on my schooling, and in almost a cosmic recognition of how sacred I hold February 18 as my last fully whole day, I received a notice yesterday, that while my dissertation still needs to be defended, I am a candidate for graduation.  The irony is not lost on me that the timing of the news was on that day and not today. The challenges and struggles have been many and the journey arduous, but achieving my dreams when for so long they have been deferred is incredibly gratifying. There were times when I wasn’t sure I would finish within the timeframe I gave myself considering everything else going in our life.  Truth be told, in those moments, I, often think of how you bravely faced your diagnosis of a debilitating eye condition, and I realize we are not ordinary people.  Clinging tightly to your bravery, I persevered.

When I look back over the last year, I can vividly see all the beautiful colors of the amazing moments, outlined by the black threads of grief in the despairing moments.  The most colorful ones are the instances where we were surrounded by those we love and those who fiercely love us back, doing extraordinary and especially ordinary things, in life.  The most perfect moment was the flash of red color I saw out the window after experiencing the shock of the surprise party for my 50th birthday. I was surrounded by love. In every corner I looked, another person I love was there. There were some who couldn’t make it, but the one my heart wanted more than all made sure that I knew he was there.

Everyone was shocked when I pointed out the window, but a momma knows.  She always knows.  No matter how far away heaven seems most of the time, my momma hearts knows that the distance can never exceed the depth of my love for you.

Loving you now and loving you forever, until I can hug you again.   Until that moment, holding my memories of you tightly in my heart.

Love,

Momma

 

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Dear Reed . . . it’s February

Dear Reed –

I almost feel I should start this letter with and then there was February.  I don’t how to explain it.  Life will go by so swimmingly well, and then it’s like some cosmic explosion of sadness comes sprinkling down from the universe.  Stardust of grief covers every surface and I realize, Oh it’s February.

I can hardly believe that eleven years have gone by without hearing your laugh, seeing your beautiful red hair and mischievous smile, watching your little old man imitations, or being wrapped in one of your sneak up behind a person hugs.  Those years have, at times, felt like a blink of an eye and at other times, like a lifetime.  I still find joy to be elusive on occasion, but I am dogged in my pursuit because I know confidently you would never want us to live our lives void of happiness. Being a thinker is definitely is a wonderful skill as a lifelong learner and as an educator who daily reminds her students to stay curious, but it can also be a curse when I wonder what life would have been or would be like if you were still with us.  My imagination gets the better of me, so much so that I almost grab the phone to call you to tell some random thing or another.

Aspects of February remind me of when I was little and we would go to the beach.  I was so tiny that standing a few feet from the shore was never a safe bet.  The waves coming in were so strong they would simply knock me down and current going back out into the Gulf was strong enough to pull me under.  No matter the direction – coming or going – I could not shake the strength of the sea and days, although fewer than in the early years of losing you, feel exactly like when I was little and I would try to keep standing upright.

I don’t really believe that time heals all wounds, but I do believe that over time, our ability to live with our grief – the new normal so to say – improves.  There are some things however that I avoid altogether, because they always bring incredible pain such as the school’s Hall of the Forgotten, only that isn’t what they call it.  I have never understood how a Hall of Fame would be in that location. A thousand times I have implored for change, leaving a trail of broken promises.  No matter how hard I try I cannot find joy there. It is the very definition of February for me.

Thankfully, even though February moments happen, there are more moments of joy. This last year has been one filled with amazing experiences with lots of travel adventures and buoyed by incredibly hard work of going to school to realize my dreams.  We have had celebrations and we have others anticipated in the near future – Sawyer’s graduation from college, Erin’s graduation the following year and watching her simply flourish as a teacher, Cloie’s moving on to high school and most recent math accomplishments, and finally Sawyer’s and Sydney’s wedding.  I will admit that they are all tinged with some February because you won’t be there, but we are joy-filled for where life will take them.

Despite moments of February, there are so many incredible blessings that we experience on a daily basis.  Experiencing a loss as deep as ours gives you eyes for how others are hurting in this world.  We never had the visual acuity that you had for seeing what others live through, but now we have the clarity and the focus to be able to help.  In this way, we keep your legacy of loving others alive.  Losing you also provided our circle.  Don’t get me wrong, we are surrounded near and far by incredible, loving people.  But the circle.  They cheer the loudest and love the largest.  Spending time without them is akin to a fish out of water, and many of them chuckle when I say I just love breathing the same air as you.

There are some blessings so amazing that we could have never imagined or hoped for them.  Some are little, like tattoos in memory of you and Jesse, Hunter, and Emilee.  Others are so precious that I thank God daily for them in my life.  In only the way heaven creates family, Lydia, Claire, Brinkley, Ethan, Taylin, DeShawn, and Keaghen Reed are just about the best blessings that we could have ever asked for, especially the timing of the last grandchild on the list.  His birthday exactly two days before your homegoing date.  In only the way that God could, his birthday lessens the blow of our darkest day.

While enduring February may always be a struggle for me, loving you never was and never will be a burden for me.  There are moments where I pause and think of how we will make sure to remember you, especially with all our littles and others bigger in the circle and beyond, because in our blessings each of them are also being raised to know about you.

To answer the question, What about Reed? It’s really simple, we are all going to continue to live out your legacy of loving others like it is oxygen for our souls.  Simply because that is the best way to diminish the waves of February.

Waiting until the day I can hold you again.  Hug all our peeps and especially that red-furred wonder, Huck, who I still miss incredibly too. Watching with hopeful anticipation for the next cardinal and . . .

loving you always, now and forever because ours is  love stronger than February.

Love – Momma

reedhuck

Dear Scheels . . .

Dear Scheels,

One of my first memories of moving to the Midwest from the Deep South was shopping at the Scheels in Fargo.  Arriving on the plains, one of the first stores that became my family’s favorite place to shop was your store which at the time was housed in the West Acres mall.  Your stores, and especially the bargain athletic shoes, have been a perennial favorite of my family.  Living in small town America, a trip to Fargo or Grand Forks or St. Cloud or Mankato or Bismarck or Eden Prairie or even Sioux Falls has always ended up with a stop at one of your stores.  Usually the trips start with a declaration that this will just be a “quick stop”, but we all know that we will emerge hours later after getting our sporting goods, clothing, shoe, or housewares fix.  Our love of your store has been intergenerationally shared from my parents to my children. Through all of our visits to your stores, we have found the people to be knowledgeable but more so, friendly and personable, and the products to be quality. There are few other stores upon which we can lavish such praise.

We’ve always had great experiences at your store. Well, there was that one time that my brother somehow ended up with a size 9 and a size 11 shoe in the same box after a Crazy Days adventure, but other than that our patronage has always made us feel like we were contributing to an incredible family store.  Your family became a part of our family.

A recent experience left me wondering if we should not pay any attention to the man behind the curtain. Ironically the date of the tarnish of our relationship occurred on January 5, a date that will have more significance as I share our experience.

Our youngest daughter has developed a real passion for the game of golf.  As her parents, we want to fuel her dreams and worked with the local coaches to find a pro to invest in her newfound love.  The only requirement was that she would require golf clothes for training at the elite facility.  Unfortunately, there are no stores in our town that offer what she required (and in her size). After a trip to visit family, we knew exactly the place to stop . . . or so we thought.

After perusing a few of our favorite spots inside the store, we located the golf section.  Immediately we noticed something amiss.  There were countless items of clothing in a variety of colors, styles and sizes for men and boys.  There was not a single item for women or girls in the entire golf section.  The entire section! Even though we were dismayed, we decided to not completely give up and searched the women’s athletic wear.  Eventually we found one endcap that had exactly two shirt options (one white and one black), one pant option (black) and two shorts options, exactly like the shirts. Back upstairs in golf land, every color of the rainbow was represented. My heart broke in a million pieces and my mind was transported back to my youth to a similar moment.

The first day of my high school physics class the teacher started class with “Gentlemen, we’re going to have a great year in physics. Ladies, not one of you will make it in this class.”  His words became truth. Well at least it did for the two other girls in the class, and honestly, I do not know if it was great for the guys either.  But for me, it was the first time in my life that someone explicitly communicated that I couldn’t possibly be good at something simply because of my gender.  Much like Harry Potter’s famed scar, that wound is one that throbs when I sense injustice.

While I am sure you are wondering what physics and golf have to do with each other.  I assure you that the young woman in that classroom grew up to be a chemistry and physics teacher and she can tell you all kinds of scientific connections that tie the two topics together. Yet, on a more personal level, the two will now be connected in a more bewildering fashion for one mother and her daughter. Despite the marketing campaign telling women You’ve come a long way, baby, it certainly didn’t feel that way standing in your store that day.

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I had to explain to my beautiful and talented daughter who didn’t understand why upstairs in golf mecca there wasn’t a stitch of clothing for women and girls, and more importantly, that she could still achieve great things in the game of golf.  While perhaps not intentional, the furtive message communicated was girls don’t belong in the game of golf.  Placing the ladies golf clothes in a section far from the golf area isn’t like positioning milk at the back of the grocery store, hoping that we will pick up a few more items along the way.  At best it is uninspired and worst, insulting.

It is always difficult when our giants fall.  Sadly, a true hero did indeed pass away on the very day I was trying to explain to my daughter that we would not allow a store determine her abilities or potentialities, Dr. Bernice Sandler, the “Godmother of Title IX” passed away. Instead of teaching my sweet girl about the pink tax or inequitable store practices, I chose to teach her about Bunny Sandler’s legacy. This letter isn’t meant to persuade consumers not to shop at your stores, but rather to encourage you to reconsider the message that you are sending to our young female athletes.

We would welcome being a part of a conversation to stop the unintentional messages being communicated to young women, because let me assure you,  girls can and do play golf and in case you were wondering they can and do learn physics too.

 

Christmas Newsletter 2018

I am so sorry for the lapse in blog posts.  It has been an incredibly wonderful, but busy Fall Semester.  Just know that I have been chasing a lifelong dream of getting a doctorate which is a very reward, yet challenging and altogether time-consuming experience.

This year we have traveled far and wide, and decided to have a little fun with our annual Christmas newsletter.

Christmas Newsletter 2018

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No matter how far or near you roam this holiday season, may you always find the love and peace of Christmas.  May your wander be filled with the wonder of the greatest present not being wrapped by paper, but rather swaddling cloths lying in a manger.

Much love!

Kandy

Oh. So, you know our group.

This semester I am juggling more than I have in quite a while.  When I accepted my new teaching positions, I knew that something would have to go. I am incredibly passionate about all the things in which I participate; thus, deciding which thing to let go was an agonizing decision for me.  After spending time in prayer, I knew that my season on the church board was coming to an end and most likely so too was much of my time ministering to others. I cannot fathom a life not lived in service, and the decision to step away from the primary place of ministry for me was heartbreaking.

At the same time, I wholeheartedly believe that it doesn’t matter where I am. God will open opportunities for me to love and serve others.  When I announced I was stepping down, I had no idea how God would show me that lesson in the oddest of places.

Currently I am balancing the demands of teaching on two campuses, finishing my doctoral studies, and completing obligatory travel for my newest position all while still being a mom, wife, and author/speaker.  Just typing that sentence I am exhausted.  With all the teaching and learning demands, I have decided to also make a serious commitment to my health and fitness.  Among other changes, I chose to start up my triathlon training again.

Before anyone gets any wrong idea, I am not stellar athlete. I am not a runner.  My friends tease me about a line in my book where I proclaim I don’t run . . . even if it is a really good sale.  Turns out there is truth to the old adage it’s like riding a bike.  The biking portion is my only saving grace.  I can ride bike.  Maybe not fast, but at least I possess that talent.  Only the swimming portion remains, and while I can swim great distances, I have never perfected the ability to swim without a snorkel.  My snorkel and I pound out the laps, which is allowed in the rules of “Mom’s Triathlon”.

What does this all this have to do with learning a lesson about serving others?  I’m getting there.  I promise.

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Last week, I was swimming merrily along kind of like a mermaid, if a mermaid needed some breathing assistance.  At one point, I noticed a blue floral swimsuit awfully close to my lane.  Knowing the water aerobics class was taking place, I didn’t think much of it.  But on the next three laps, I noticed legs and flash of blue diving out of my way on every pass.  Eventually, I realize someone is in the lane.  Since the policy at my Y is all swimmers must share one lane during the aerobics class, I didn’t think much of it until I realized the legs and floral suit were always in the same spot.

I must have scared the poor lady to death as I popped up out of the water and tried to communicate with a snorkel and mask that I only had 5 laps left to finish my half mile swim.  Looking like Scuba Steve was bad enough, the fact that English is her second language only complicated matters further.  On the next pass by, she was gone.  I finished out the half-mile swim feeling like I was dragging the albatross and wearing the cone of shame because in front of the entirely crowded pool I was the jerk who kicked someone out of the swimming lane.

After I finished up, I found her in the crowd and profusely apologized.  In her broken English and my contrite heart, I learned that my new friend was just learning to swim so that is why she didn’t stray far from the side of the pool.  She asked about my snorkel.  I happened to have an extra one in my swim bag; so, I let her try it out and our conversation carried into the locker room.  Really God?  I am brokenhearted over giving up devoted time to service, and you use the lap lane to teach me a lesson about blooming where I am planted . . . or floating.

A few days later I was holed up in a hotel between visits of high schools for the dual enrollment courses I am mentoring.  I was homesick and missing my family.  I had been on the road twelve out of the last fourteen days and ready to be finishing up.  The school I need to visit that day was about 25 miles away, but class started at 2:25 and check-out at the hotel was noon.  There really wasn’t much to do in between besides homework.

I drug my feet until the last second on checkout, popping my leftovers in microwave to take and eat in the breakfast area.  I was expecting to be eating alone, and was shocked when I walked into a packed room with cleaning staff, many of whom were individuals with intellectual disabilities.  As soon as I sat down, one was flipping the channels between FIFA and boxing, several where having a lively chat, and one decided to chat away with me.

One of the supervisors quickly apologized and said, “Oh please don’t let our group bother you.” I hastily explained that they were no bother and that I was a teacher traveling through.  Immediately the chief supervisor retorted with an understanding nod, “Oh. So, you know our group.” The lunch was delightful and after eating, I packed up to go, wishing everyone a great day.

Many in the group were waiting for the bus as I loaded into the van, and one sweet guy stopped me.

“Make sure you drive safe.  Have a great day,” he said, before returning to scrolling through his phone.

His kindness caught me off-guard.  I smiled and nodded, because I couldn’t get the words of gratitude out.  As soon as I sat down in the driver’s seat, the tears started to flow.  They weren’t salty drops of sadness, but heartfelt tears of gratitude recognizing the lesson God had wanted to teach me.

Through my tears, I poured out my heart.  Thank you, God, for the best lunch ever!  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to dine with some of your most amazing creations!  Thank you for showing me that sometimes service just means being present in the moment to love others.  Thank you for using a sweet guy at a hotel to minister to me, the least of these.  Thank you for his example of service and the power of a few kind words.

Wherever you are today, may you both be blessed and be a blessing.  You never know who or what God will put in your path, breakfast nook or lane.

Dear Middle School Teacher

Dear Middle School Teachers

It’s Back-to-School time, and I can about imagine you are running on caffeine, little sleep, exhaustion, and bundles of nerves of hopeful anticipation of all the amazing dreams you have for the students entrusted to your care.  I get it, because I used to be you.

Few of us choose middle school as our ultimate teaching assignment, but middle schoolers need teachers too. For some of us, we were sentenced to a term in middle school because there were no other openings available.  Even though I have moved on to a different level of education, at the end of the day I still consider myself a middle school specialist.  Even though middle school wasn’t my first choice, there is no other group of students who hold a more precious place in my heart.  I miss the days of working with learners who were young enough to still be genuinely excited about learning and not old enough to be completely jaded about just about everything in life.

Many people would shudder at even the thought of working with this group of students because I think the painful memories of their own experiences with early adolescence cloud their judgment.  But I am thankful for you – the amazing middle school teachers who show up each day ready to change the world by showing these early teens how incredibly awesome they really are!

You make more of a difference than you will ever know. In my areas of study, you brave educators in the middle school trenches are often listed as the reason many girls who chose STEM majors and careers found an interest in the areas that girls believe they aren’t supposed to be good at.  You open the doors to new dreams, to the possibilities of new ideas, and to eye-opening experiences of new adventures.

You teach so much more than the content assigned by your contracts.  You reconfigure neural networks, but you also shape and mold hearts and develop the traits of persistence, resilience, integrity, and compassion.  And sometimes, you teach children the appropriate ways to be rebels because yes, my dear ones, the world will always need those souls who are willing to stand up for injustice and be creative enough to think outside of the box to bring solutions to society’s big problems.

But I know what you do isn’t easy.  There are long hours that go beyond the school day, carrying over into weekends, evenings, holidays, and yes, despite the moronic myth of summers off, even there too. There is never a time that you aren’t thinking about how you can use some new encounter in your classroom.

Being an educator is much like being a parent in that it can be singularly the most exhausting experience while simultaneously being the most rewarding too.  For some of us that time spent in middle school ended up being the BEST. DARN. DECISION. of our careers.

I know those times of frustration will arise, but hang on, my friends, because you will see an act of kindness from a kiddo that you didn’t know was possible or you will see a child who has been struggling suddenly have the light bulb come on.  It is in those precious moments that you are etching your place in the that learner’s future.  Savor those moments and bottle them up as the antidote to any frustrations you experience because what you do day-in and day-out matters.

It matters A LOT.

MMS

A conversation recently reminded me how much what you do matters. Talking on the phone with my best friend, she asked how my youngest was feeling about school starting.  I relayed that she was excited but was also torn because it was her last year at the middle school.  Her time at Marshall Middle School has been the absolute best experience of all of her years of schooling and she was feeling the bittersweet tug of knowing that every moment of her time this year would be the last.

My bestie’s prophetic words stopped me in my tracks.  How incredibly awesome for her that she will be able to look back on her middle school years and remember them as a sacred time.

She was right.

Not many adults can say that and much of what my sweet girl has considered amazing comes as a direct result of your efforts.

No matter where you teach, my dear middle school teaching friends, I couldn’t be more thankful for all the hard work each of you does!

So, just in case you didn’t know it – YOU. ARE. AMAZING!

Wishing you and all your students the best year ever!

Go get your TEACH on!

Be intentional . . .

As an educator, Back-to-School is always a time of chaos and bundles of nerves and anticipation of all the hopes and dreams I have for each and every one of the scholars entrusted to my care.  Last week was no exception, but Tuesday morning felt like my whole world was spinning out of control.  Fairly early in the day, a student alerted me to the national news sweeping the nation – the body of the sweet Iowa student missing for more than month had been found.  Later in the day as more details unfolded, my whole body went numb for the Tibbetts family because I know first-hand, beyond the shock of traumatic grief, the political firestorm that was about to fall into their laps.

One sweet friend somehow knew my anguish because this was her text message early that afternoon.

Thought of you after the Iowa news today.  I know this hits home for you.

How did she know that every fiber of my being wanted to pile into the old trusty minivan and drive to Iowa to simply hug Mollie’s family and to tell them that they will get through all of this – this crazy new world of grief and being stuck in the middle of people’s agendas? I knew they would have to communicate in the cacophony of noise that she was a beloved daughter, sister, and friend who meant the world to them.

I know because we live through it.

The bus crash ten years ago, caused by a woman in this country illegally, that took the life of our son, Reed, and three other precious friends, while injuring 14 others has lingering effects. As much as some people want me to say, lived, as in you lived through it, our children still face in the very real and in the present tense damage to their bodies and will do so for the rest of their lives.  Even though the intensity of grief lessens with time, its tentacles still sneak up in some cosmic wrestling match that never ends and chokes us every now and again.  You close on houses and business deals, but never on your children. We have chosen to not allow grief to be our identity, but even in that powerful choice, the aftermath of grief is long reaching. 

We chose to live lives honoring our son’s and brother’s memory. Yet, when your child dies and that death is directly linked to a hot button, highly politicized issue the octopod limbs of grief sneak in with stranglehold strength when news feeds and social media posts, arguing both sides of the political aisles, flood every corner of our world.

I get it. People are passionate about their point of view, but you want to know how much help your vehement spewing commentary of your beliefs helps the grieving family.

NONE. Not one bit. Not at all.  Zero percent.

In the intensive care unit where we were helping our other son fight to live, it took 3 days before we knew any details of the bus crash or information about the woman who killed and injured our children.  Her immigration status did not change one iota of the reality of the nightmare we were living, then or now, but learning that social media was sporting lovely posts calling us racists after her arrest only added salt to our very deep and personal wounds. I have chosen to forgive our offender, but I will be honest and say that I bristle (and sometimes with alarming shock) when I see people I love posting about illegal immigration as if it is a black and white issue.

It is not.

Yet in that spectrum of gray, the one thing it is definitely not is a rallying cry following the death of a beloved son or daughter.

Our children were so much more than the circumstances of their deaths, and using their deaths to push forward a political agenda diminishes the shining lights they were in the world.  Stop using their deaths as exclamation points in your commentaries.

It is wrong.  It is hurtful. Most importantly, it does nothing to help grieving families.

I understand being passionate.  I understand that a death of a child always leaves a family and the surrounding community mourning the loss of today, but also of the possibilities of all the tomorrows.  I also profoundly understand the compelling need to want to do something – anything – that will let the world know we acknowledge the pain of that loss.

I have never witnessed a changed heart due to a heated conversation on social media. All I have ever seen is the creation of brokenness within relationships and a general malaise with the spreading of mistrust.  Instead of using our pain and our shock to share our beliefs furthering division, let’s remember that the Reed Stevens and Mollie Tibbetts of the world were real people with real families who will miss them always.

If your soul is whispering or even YELLING – you have do or say something, I have a suggestion that might be much more powerful than non-productive argument.  All of the children I know in these highly publicized stories were once students.  If you are compelled to action, then why not considering honoring their lives by changing the lives of others.

Right now, millions of children have gone back to school and others will be heading back next week.  Why not consider adopting a classroom or teacher and finding out what you could do to help those children succeed?  Instead of spreading discord, be the person who shows up to love.  If you can’t give financially, then give of your time.  Volunteer to read to a child or classroom.  Use the skills you have to contribute to another student’s future. Show up at lunch and simply sit with children and listen to their precious conversations.  Listen to their stories.  Listen to their dreams. I imagine none of them will say I want to grow up and spread negativity in the world and I want my ideas to hurt others, especially those who are grieving.

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Be present. Be intentional. Show these students there are diverse ways to love even through our differences.

That’s the world, my son, Reed, believed in and contributed to EVERY DAY of his brief 12 years of life.

And, isn’t that the world we should all strive to create?