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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His words took my breath away.


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could sure use a Dr. Pepper. 

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

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


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

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



Squeeze the Stuffins

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

But they didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Outwit, outplay, outlast

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

holly hoffman

Photo from CBS

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

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

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

rosanna rosanna danna

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

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

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

wayne campbell

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

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


hair 1

My real hair (with no product)

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

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

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


A jaunty chapeau, Part 2

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson Learned #3: Stop pigeonholing yourself!

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

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

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

go yotes

Proud University of South Dakota doctoral student. Go Yotes!

Part 1 of this adventure can be found here.



Reach beyond the stars, Sister

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



PEO STAR Scholarship Award Winner

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

I know. I’ve always known.

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Super Star! Happy Birthday!

Love, Momma

Looking Up Changes Everything

FullSizeRender (5)Dear Reed –

I can hardly believe that on this day 22 years ago I was sitting in a white-walled hospital room holding the tiniest baby I had ever seen, basking in the glow of realizing that this tiny human was a part of me.  Your itsy-bitsy red curls totally melted my heart. Even though Reed was a family name, it wasn’t until, like most new parents, we poured through baby books that I learned that Reed meant red-haired. Examining every inch of you from your long fingers to your miniscule red curls, I was in awe of the miracle of you.

Even after all these days, I am still awed by you and how your story touches others which is why there are some days that I just offer God tears. I know He collects every salinated drop in His bottle and I know he understands because He too lost a Son.  He knows all the moments I am doing okay, and He celebrates on the days when I find true joy. But He also knows the inner recesses of my heart when I am struggling even when I tried to convince my heart I wouldn’t be.

Four years ago when your class graduated from high school, I struggled for the obvious reasons, but even more so after we had been told you and Jesse might not be remembered at graduation because it might make others feel uncomfortable.  Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt that day.  Once that ceremony was over, I tried to convince myself that the remaining big moments wouldn’t sting as bad because there were no guarantees that you would have done other milestone events like graduate college, get married, and have a family.  Graduate high school was a slam dunk but the others aren’t necessarily things that everyone does.

The lies I told my heart were compelling for a long time. Four years in fact.  Four years that snuck up on me before I even realized it.  Then I saw one picture after another of your friends in graduation gowns, and my fractured heart splintered into a million pieces.

For a while I just endured days trying to keep busy.

The sadness didn’t completely lift, but a few things along the way lifted the fog of grief.  Faithfully, one of your best buddies comes every Mother’s Day with flowers and superhero card just to love on me.  He does it for you and for me, and even now I tear up thinking about his love. Then on scholarship night for Sister, there was that same buddy’s mom wearing a Reed’s Run t-shirt. A phone call from another grieving mom inquiring about Sister’s graduation, but sharing her sincere prayers for the milestones we would endure during this season reminded me that we weren’t alone.

Grief ebbs and flows and time stands still for no mom.  Knowing others are thinking of us eases the pain. There are still those moments that the floodgates open and the tears of all the dreams dashed come pouring out.

Today was one of those days . . . until a divinely appointed phone call.

The voice on the other line was another grieving mom who just felt God nudging her to call me.  Prior to her call I was eyes glued to my computer screen working on homework (which I was woefully behind).  We haven’t talked in months, but today, she called to ask for my help.  When I shared I couldn’t pull myself away, my to-do list was too long, she understood.  Then, I explained my heart wasn’t up to company because today was your birthday.  She truly jumped into action asking what she could do to help. I simply requested prayers.

The entire time my heart and my eyes were downcast.

Just listening to her desire to love me in the storm of sadness, my spirits lifted. And so did my eyes.

I am so incredibly thankful they did.  I care a lot about being a good student, and rushing headlong into homework seemed an appropriate way to busy my thoughts and to numb my heart from the truth of today – another birthday without you.  If my friend hadn’t called me, I never would have looked away from the computer screen.

See, my sweet boy, often we let the worries and the cares of the world hold us down.  Rather than clinging to the author of hope, we shrink under all that we are not capable of doing. We forget to look up.  That simple act of defiance in the face of the storms of life, brings our eyes heavenward.  I know you know all about this, but here on earth we are still capable of doubt, sadness, and forgetting to tell the storms to whom we belong.

In a fleeting moment, heaven touched earth. Just as I looked up, right in my line of vision the most beautiful cardinal alit on the deck right outside my window. He lingered for a bit as if to say all was going to be okay.  My heart and soul were comforted and soothed.

I will always miss you in the big stuff like birthdays, but more so in the little stuff that define the extraordinarily ordinary days where life happens.  Nothing will ever beat your sneaky behind the back hugs, but someday I will hug you again.

Today, I am so thankful that God reminded me that when life has me down, I just simply need to look up. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday celebration mixing a bit of heaven into it. Wishing you the happiest of birthdays. You will always be my sunshine!



red balloon

We closed our evening looking up to heaven thinking of you!

Well done, old boy. Well done.

huck snowDear Huck-y:

There has been a long hiatus on my blog site, and most people would think this is due to my being a doctoral student or being busy with book talks and signings or being wrapped up with hosting a graduation party for Sister.  While all of those things were definitely contributing factors, my heart knows the truth.  I typically write my blogs in the order of the story of my life.  No matter how many times I sat down to put this one together, I simply couldn’t finish it.

My heartache was just too deep and my tears too plentiful to pen the story of our goodbye.

I think most people would be shocked to learn that I didn’t like you much in the beginning.  I can almost picture the shock on their faces when I would have to honestly tell them that I wanted to consider rehoming the most loving, loyal, gentle, and affable dog and best friend a boy (and later a family) could ever have.  Hopefully their appalled countenances would soften when I explained there was some reasoning on my part.  I’m sure you have forgotten this, but at only six months old you were a dynamo. So much so that you knocked me out at the end of the driveway once, and I just laid there at the end of the road every part of me hurting after slamming to the pavement with tears streaming down when I came to. Now I’ve cried a million tears since you went home to be with your boy.   

Back then, my heart softened as I watched Reed (and Dad) work with you and saw just how obedient you truly were.  Well, when obedience was asked of you and when it didn’t involve anything that had to do with food.  You were a true champion in 4H dog shows, but in the real world of dog showing you would have been disqualified for being too big for the breed confirmations.  I used to joke that Reed loved you to gargantuan size like the other famed big red dog of children’s book lore.  The fact that your head without much effort could rest on the dining room table meant that sandwiches feared you. When Sally Gal arrived in our lives, your favorite spot at the table was right next to her.  It is a wonder that she grew at all with the stealth of your moves.  One of the things that left me less than enamored early on was when you devoured the faux fur collar from my grandfather’s police coat, and we still shudder thinking about the aftermath of the “What happened to the 3 pounds of butter, bag of apples, and pound of brown sugar?” incident when we stepped away for mere minutes to the neighbor’s garage sale. Your appetite was legendary and when you wouldn’t eat, we knew we couldn’t selfishly try to keep you here any longer.

If there was ever a definition of poetry in motion, watching you run down the dock and jump into the lake would be about as close to perfection as any. You were truly a water retriever and secondly only to loving all of us and food, any body of water was your happy place as you would swim chasing one thrown stick after another.  I always worried that we were overdoing it, and just like the way you would wedge your head under hands for one or a thousand more pats on the head or rubs behind the ears, you would gently nudge us to throw the stick one more time.  You taught us how to embrace life, pursuing the things you loved relentlessly and keeping those you loved close.

cloie & huck

Although you took a few years to grow into your amazing self and you never could resist the lure of a “free” lunch, there was never one moment of your life that you didn’t give every ounce of your energy into loving us and truth be told, loving anyone you ever met.  You always desired to be proximally close to those you loved – sitting at our feet, laying in the bed, standing at attention behind me in the kitchen, or my personal favorite as some sort of newfangled iron on newly folded laundry.  To you, loving meant being close, really close, to those you loved. Of course in your older years that loving did not extend to anyone who sat in your spot on what you believed to be your couch.  Who were we to argue with the one who showed us daily how to love intensely?

On more than one occasion I thanked God for you in my prayers.  Your love carried us through our greatest sadness which was the loss of your one true love.  You were simply regal laying at the base of his casket as we had to say so long for now to your boy.  One of the other pallbearers later confessed he wanted to break down and sob at the services and would have if it weren’t for you.  Faithful to the final moments, you held your head high honoring the boy who was your best friend.  Even though you didn’t quite understand all that was happening (because you looked for your boy for months afterward), on that day, you showed the world the meaning of loyal companion. Even though we know you were grieving too, you tenderly cared for each one of us.  Lying in bed with me when I had no prayers other than tears to offer God, never leaving the kids sides after surgeries, and just being with Dad when he needed to retreat to his quiet corner to mourn.  Just like those days when we joked about you being the Sheriff and your faithful sidekick, the stuffed cow, was the Deputy as the two of you patrolled the perimeter of our yard, you faithfully and fiercely monitored each of us as we tried to live with the same heartache you felt.  A truer friend we will never find.

Even though we had a rocky start, by the time we came to the territorial couch years, I couldn’t have cared two hoots about what anybody thought about that arrangement.  That was your spot and anyone else needed to move.  Since you went home to heaven, I have cried about a million tears. For days I turned around to give you a little piece of whatever I was cooking, only to break down and sob because you weren’t there.  And I know that there will be some who won’t understand that bond, but those that do, will know that you were the last living piece of Reed.  Yes, we carry him in our hearts, but you were a living breathing extension of his love. We knew the day would come. Everyone who loves a dog knows it. There would be times we thought it was the time, but then you would have a miraculous recovery, holding on a bit longer because your work on earth wasn’t quite done. We know that you held on waiting until you knew we were ready to navigate this world without you.

You and your timing were right.  In the end, we had to tell you it was okay to go on home. A few years earlier and we would have selfishly asked you to stay, but on that day we knew you had loved and protected us with every last ounce of your energy. Through our tears, we can only imagine that Reed was standing right there with his arms wide open waiting to say, “Well done, good and faithful friend. Well done.”


Stay by his side, Huck-y.  Stay really close until we can find you both in heaven.