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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

 

reedhuck

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

Christmas Newsletter 2018 (1)

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? 

 

 

 

 

 

What doesn’t kill you . . .

First impressions aren’t always what they seem, but I am certain a recent email exchange left one new colleague shaking her head. Lady, what in the mayonnaise? You spelled your name wrong on an important document.  In my defense the document was sent to me very late and was a fillable PDF form in which the font was very tiny. A finger slip must have happened in my haste, causing me to go from Stevens to Stevems.

Rather than recognizing this a teachable moment (for myself) to slow down and proofread before I hastily zip off documents, it became more a trip down the nostalgic lane of no one (apparently including myself momentarily) spells my name correctly.  Even aunts and uncles spell my name wrong and they’ve known me my entire life.  Having a unique spelling has plagued me to a life of all kinds of interesting encounters.

I attended school when the attendance roster was handwritten into a gradebook by teachers who had dedicated themselves to legible penmanship, lest we wayward students not be able to unravel the mysteries of the learning universe due to their poor handwriting.  But trying to squeeze that intricate cursive writing into the tiny red and blue lines on slightly yellow-green paper of red or blue gradebooks left uppercase “K” often resembling uppercase “R”.  Similar to the Key and Peele substitute teacher scene with A-Aron, I never once had a fill-in teacher call for Kandy in the role call.  Is Randy here? If I wasn’t paying attention, I didn’t even notice where in the alphabetical lineup the sub was calling out names.  Randy? Randy Noles? Randy are you here? Um, do you mean Kandy? Yes, I am here.  

Every. Single. Time.

Most of my growing up years, I tried to correct people, but after the prom ticket mix-up, I decided to acquiesce and just accept that my name would never be spelled correctly. The nice young man that I was dating at the time went to buy the prom tickets and being from the South, the sellers used the beautiful coachmen envelope system (one white envelope inside another so as not to sully the precious cargo contained within).  They wrote in a beautiful attempt at calligraphy his name and then attempted to write mine.  Below is what my name looked like on that outer envelope along with a running commentary on what he said to them.

Candy Knowles  No, Kandy with “K”, but not on Noles.

Kandie Nowles No, Kandy with “Y”

Kandey Nowles No, Kandy with just a “K” and “Y”. Noles without a “W”

Kandy Nolls  No, Noles with an “e-s”

Kandy Nolles  [Insert exasperation] NO! Noles with an “l-e-s”. Like Florida State. N-O-L-E-S

Kandy Noles

I felt so bad for him when he showed me the envelope, because that is exactly how it looked with all the various iterations of my name written and crossed off until the correct spellings were intact. But for the life of me, I never did figure out how they got his last name “Heintzelman” correct on the very first try. Really? Seriously? Are you kidding me?

After throwing in the towel, I never really thought about the spelling of my name or potential names until I was briefly engaged to a young man who had a last name which started with “K”.  I was horrified when I realized that if I married him I would never be able to get anything professionally monogrammed since Kim is my middle name.  There numerous reasons for calling off our engagement, but offensive monogram could have been added to the list.

After my trip down unique spellings memory lane, I sent an apology email which ended with this brief explanation.

Well to be honest, I am so used to my name(s) being spelled wrong that I just gloss it over.  I’ve never been able to find an engraved pencil my whole life.

Her reply only made the whole misspelling disaster worth it.  She told me that she was sorry, but my response made her laugh only from the “I get what you are saying” because her husband has a unique name and he could never find a personalized pencil or bicycle license plate.

Bicycle license plate! Bahaha!  That’s good stuff!

Yep.  She gets me.  So somewhere between being called Randy or Kandace (which my name is not an abbreviation of) and never finding anything engraved with my name at the tourist shops, I have learned to navigate life with a never-going-to-be-spelled-correctly-name. Ever.

It’s okay.  Don’t think I harbor any ill will to my parents for this unique moniker doomed to mistaken spelling, because I perpetuated the same sin with one of my children who gets everything from Chloe to Cole for Cloie.  Only add to her misery the advent of today’s technology which leaves her text messages with an autocorrect of “Hey! It’s me Cloud!”.

no. 2

Like the Kelly Clarkson song says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” – or at least equips you with a good sense of humor while wielding our plain ol’ No. 2 pencils.

Hope in the oddest of places

Sometimes in life with looming deadlines and ever-growing to-do lists, it is easy to miss the forest for the trees.  In essence we become human doings instead of human beings.  My friends say my chaotic, frenetic schedule exhausts them, and honestly, I am working diligently to practice the art of saying “No, but thanks for thinking of me” when it comes to requests for my time.  Although I know that God wired me to be a do-er, I am also equally cognizant of the fact that I am not superhuman and need my rest, which is why I am prolific proponent of naps.

The last few weeks with wrapping up classes, helping at our godson’s wedding, and tri-state travel left all of us feeling a bit tired.  It is often in these moments where the worst of me appears as I am short with others, filled with self-doubt, and weary of  . . . well, just about everything. Lots of “can’t evens” and “what if’s” swirl in my head during those moments where I have depleted my energy stores to next to nothing.

Often times a good rest is a restorative cure, but sometimes those negative feedback loops need more than few minutes of shut eye to restore my soul, re-righting the ship on my life’s journey.  Sometimes, God provides the perfect antidote in nature that just brings joy to my heart, a spring to my step, and a smile to my countenance.  Other times, I feel it is his prompting that puts someone in my path or causes a loved one to reach out in an unexpected way, but yet at the same time with perfect timing.  No matter which one, my soul receives the provision with as much gratitude as I envision those who awaited Balto’s serum run in Alaska.  Oh how I needed that and even in my doubt and fear and worry, I knew, I simply knew that you would provide!

So it was last week when I wanted desperately to celebrate one of my favorite made holidays. I know not everyone celebrates the Zucchini Faerie, but other than a brief nod from Garrison Keillor’s old sentiment about the only time Minnesotans lock their cars is during zucchini season, few know my love of August 8. Yet the chaos of the week before left me playing catch up all day and into the night, leaving no time to wear the cloak of darkness to assume the role of my alter ego.

The celebration was marked in my heart, but not in tangible gifting of garden produce that day.

Imagine our surprise when we awoke the next morning to a bag full of goodies left on our front steps.  I wept tears of joy, realizing someone got me.  A precious gift! The mystery benefactors truly understood me and my weirdo traditions.  It didn’t take us long to figure out which one in our tribe of friends continued the sharing from their heart and the bounty of their garden (and perhaps a bit out of their community supported agriculture box).  The message received was we love you in all your weirdness. 

I will celebrate that any day of the week!

zucchini

People often express to me how they wish they had my strength, my energy or my courage.  Baffled, I am searching for where those things are housed, because I don’t think I embody any of them.  And I overdo it – often and A LOT.  But, what I have learned is that even in the darkest, most exhausted moments is to always leave room for hope.  Hope that tomorrow (perhaps with a little rest, a glass of iced tea, a mess of veggies and whole lot of Jesus) will be better.

Whether it is nature with a bountiful harvest or the relentless love of God’s best creations, amazing friends, hope abounds if we (especially I) look for it.  If you are able, today and everyday look for a way to be someone else’s hope . . . even if that hope is a bag of zucchini on the front step.

Live blessed, my dear ones.  Live blessed.

What love! part 3

I honestly don’t know how it all started, but somehow, I just fell into being a party planner and wedding coordinator.  I’ve always been someone who loves (and in this case when I say loves, I mean L-O-V-E-S, LOVES!) to throw parties.  I enjoy dreaming up invitations, planning the menu, choosing the perfect decorations, and thinking of all the special touches to give my guests the feeling of being incredibly cherished. I want them to leave saying, “Wow! I feel loved!”.

The same sentiment is what I want couples to experience when I help with wedding planning and decorating.  Over the years, I have seen some pretty awesome details incorporated into wedding ceremonies and receptions.  Call me old-fashioned, but I love traditions.  I swoon over something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and I tear up at every father with bride dance and mother with groom dance.

Those moments of precious tenderness of brides being seen simultaneously as little pig-tailed girls and grown up beauties melt my heart every time.  The intimate giggles, the heads nestled close, and the smiles of knowing that this moment is one that they will treasure forever leave me searching in my purse for the Kleenex.  The tears keep flowing as I watch mothers who once held their tiny boys in their arms, rocking them to sleep, being twirled around the dance floor strongly in the arms of grown up young men, who will forever remain little in their hearts.  Like all the other onlookers, I sit and I watch.  These are the moments in life that I wish we could capture in our bottles of remembrance.

A few weeks ago, I was caught up that in wistful interplay of memories of childhood being replaced by next steps in God’s plan for two young people I adore.  My eyes moist from releasing all the overflowing love and joy, continued the free fall of saline drops. I watched as first the bride and her dad stole all our hearts, and then the tears fell even more for the boy, now man, I call my own, share his special moment with his mother.

All was absolutely perfect in the world.

But happened next was not something I could have ever dreamed would happen.  About two thirds into the song, Damien’s amazing mom walked her son over to me and handed me his hand.  I protested.  I deferred. But she insisted, telling me to get up and to dance with my son.  Even now, I tear up thinking of that moment and how deeply it touched a longing in my soul. 

mother son dance

Not until the day that I meet the ultimate bridegroom will I ever have the chance to dance again with Reed at a wedding. What love! This was her moment. Yet, she etched on my soul the feeling I strive to give to others. I shouldn’t have been speechless because her momma’s heart has always beat in synchrony with mine and she knew. She simply knew, and in her selflessness, gave me one of the greatest gifts I have ever received – a dance with “our” son.

And in my heart, I knew that whispered softly, somewhere in heaven, was and the greatest of these is love.