A Star in the Dark

This past May was a time of celebrating, remembering, and just a few tears–happy tears. My oldest graduated from my alma mater and now hers, Wesleyan College.  The graduating seniors voted for two parents to speak at the Baccalaureate service.  It was a great honor to be one of the two chosen.  As I told the seniors that night, the only thing better than being a Wesleyanne has been being a Wesleyanne’s mama.  

Tomorrow my oldest starts her newest journey–the first day of classes in law school.  My sisters at Wesleyan also begin the new school year, so I thought I’d share my dreams for them that I first shared on May 12th.  I wish them all the best–my daughter, my sisters, and all those beautiful young people starting a new year of learning.  I hope they all will remember the beauty of their light, freely share it, and often remind others of their beautiful light.  

We need each other y’all.  Now more than ever.  Love to all.  

 

Hello to all of our friends and family here tonight, and an especially warm welcome to my sisters in the Class of 2017. Thank you for the honor of being here to share with you this evening.
I’m going to start with a line from a song you’ve maybe heard a few times during your time at Wesleyan—
“…..a star in the dark is thy glorious past…..”

You. All of you. Did you know? From the moment you took your first breath, your light has been shining. This world is better and brighter because you are here. Each and every one of you.

I recently saw something on Facebook that one of your sisters shared. It had a picture of two pink sparkly eggs just like these, and it said,
“me vs. you bc we both cuties who don’t tear other women down.”
Yes. That. Each and every one of you is a pink sparkly egg, and your light is important.

Don’t let anyone let you feel like it isn’t either—whether you are graduating with a 4.0 or 2.7. Whether you’ve garnered many awards during your time at Wesleyan or none, whether you know exactly where you will be on Monday or in August or if you have no idea what is ahead for you—your light is still beautiful. As is yours and yours and yours. And it is so very needed. The most precious thing about light is that it doesn’t diminish when shared with others. And when we stand together, it shines even brighter. That’s what it means to be a Wesleyanne. That’s what the sisterhood is about. And it doesn’t end either, y’all. My sisters from the classes of 1987-1993 have continued to be a strong presence in my life, even more so in the past few years. We had a saying back when I was here, “Sisters in spirit stay sisters forever.” And after all these years, I’m adding another line, “Sisters in spirit stay stronger together.”

As you go forth from tonight and tomorrow, I want you to take three things with you.

Your light. Share it. Use it to shine in the darkest places, and become a safe place for others. And if you find yourself needing a safe place, look to your sisters. Even those you may not have met yet. Find me. Love on each other and lift each other up like the pink sparkly eggs you all are.

I want you to take with you gratitude. My first birthday after my Daddy died in 2011 was the last one I’d have with my Mama. And she gave me this gratitude journal. I didn’t get it. I was still very much grieving and I knew she wasn’t in the best of health. A gratitude journal? Really? It was while she was sick in the hospital that I found myself getting it—grasping a bit of this gratitude thing. I began to notice little things—a cup of coffee at just the right time, the gentle nature of a caring nurse, my phone that I could use to research things—things and people to be grateful for. And it was because of the light of those around me that I could see it. My friend Ashley, the Baddest Mother Ever, and a sister of yours as well, often uses the hashtag #saythankyouhere.  So number two, my sisters, is gratitude. Practice it often. Say thank you as much as you can. Let folks know when you appreciate them.

This past week I found myself out with my Auburn, my daughter who is my sister, just the two of us, and we were laughing our way through the Walmart. At one point, when we were giving each other a hard time, like we do, I said to her, “I don’t know why you do me like that, I’ve always been good to you.” She laughed and said, “Well, there was that one time…..”

Y’all, there will always be that one time. Or two or three. This is not a world of absolutes. Success is not a run of no failures or mistakes. There will always be that one time. Or two or ten. (I did pretty good in college but there was that one time…..we do not talk about Calculus II…..ahem) But neither is anything or anyone all bad. Someone might be grating on your last nerve, but as time passes, I’m betting you will wind up saying, “Well, except for that one time…..” Look for those times, okay? Look for every opportunity to find that one time when their light shines, even just a little.

I wish you all the best. I know most of you are probably ready to go. I was not. I had no clue what I was going to be doing, and life is turning out okay. (Well, there was that one time…..) As you finish packing up and saying goodbyes and heading out on your next adventure, remember to take your light and refuel it with laughter, good friends, and all the things that tan your soul. Offer grace every chance you can and offer the comfort and compassion to others that you learned here from each other. And finally, remind folks all around you that they too are pink sparkly eggs. And y’all—look in the mirror and tell her too. She might really need to hear that.

You are standing on the shoulders of giants. On the shoulders of the ones who stood at that same marker you just gathered around and the ones before who attended school there. You saw many of them Alumnae Weekend—all of us crazy old ladies. You are standing on the shoulders of your professors and the staff who supported, challenged, and encouraged you the past few years. Look around you—you are standing on the shoulders of the ones here—friends and family who love and cherish you—your biggest cheerleaders. And you are standing on the shoulders of the ones who aren’t here—the Caps and Maemaes and Papas and Ollies and Denises and Rev. Hurdles and grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, mothers, and fathers. Their light shines on through you.

My sisters, a star in the dark is your glorious past. But now you are all blazing comets, leaving a brilliant, beautiful trail behind you. Soar on and leave love and laughter and pink sparkles in your wake. Best wishes and happy everyday!

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Searching for the Cinnamon Rolls

So this morning, the day after my girl’s 20th birthday, I bestowed upon her the privilege of having the leftover cinnamon rolls from yesterday morning’s special breakfast.  There were only a few, not enough for all three children, and since we celebrate a birthday all week–sometimes all month–they were deemed hers.

Much to the displeasure of her carb-loving brother Cooter.  He was quite devastated.

As Aub went to the refrigerator to get the sweet rolls, she asked me what they were in.

“I wrapped them in tin foil,” I answered. Which was hardly the truth.  It’s aluminum  foil now, everyone knows it, but some habits die hard.

She stuck her head in the frigidaire and began rooting around.  She pulled out a tin foil bundle.  “Oh please, oh please let this be the cinnamon rolls and NOT broccoli.  Please not broccoli.  I might lose my mind if it is.”  She knows me well.  When I roast a bunch of broccoli, I sometimes tuck the leftovers in foil for a snack later on.

Kinda hard to tell, isn't it?

She pulled back a corner and grimaced instantly.  “Oooooohhhh, it IS broccoli.  I hate it when things aren’t what they look like on the outside.”

Yeah, baby girl, me too.

Like when you meet someone and your first impression is that they are pretty okay and then you find out they park in handicapped spaces for the sport of it or they make fun of people who are different or that sort of thing.  Or when you think you’re about to take a sip of water and it’s Sprite or some such nonsense.   Or worse, it’s unsweet tea when you were expecting sweet.  That’s just not okay.

It is hard when people and things aren’t what they first seemed to be.

And yet, sometimes, every once in a blue moon or so, the opposite happens. You think–oh well, here’s a plain ol’ ball of tin foil.  Probably some broccoli or something like that in here.  And then, when you open it up, tucked inside extra special is a small bundle of cinnamon deliciousness.  Or when you stay up late talking to someone you’ve just met and you know instantly that they will always be in your life.  Or when someone you’ve known in the background for a while steps to the forefront and you find a kindred spirit.

Those cinnamon rolls.  They make the digging through all those tin foil packs so very worthwhile.

May life surprise you with cinnamon rolls and all the good things today.  And may you find yourself not discouraged when something isn’t what it first seemed.  Keep looking. Those cinnamon rolls are out there.

Love to all.

My Heart in Pictures

This morning before I got out of bed our sweet Princess walked in with my Daddy’s tray that she dug out of who knows where.

“Mama I’ve been paying attention to what you eat, and so I made you breakfast.”

Y’all.  On an episode of a comedy show I was watching recently, the son used the “breakfast in bed” ploy to try to get his way with his Mama.  Time after time.  Once he brought in a bunch of bananas and a box of pop tarts.  Another time the tray he carried in had a carton of eggs and a package of bacon on it.

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Not my girl.  She’s been watching.  My crackers with No Nut Butter and pumpkin seeds.  She even found one of the extra smoothies I had put in the freezer.  And a spoon on a leftover fancy napkin from her sister’s birthday party last fall.

To be known.  And loved.  And thought to be worth the effort.  A gift to be sure.

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This sweet face in the sunshine.  Both gifts.  She follows me around and never seems to tire of finding me wherever I go.  That’s love.  And this is her sleepy face.

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Aub and her Pirate sister playing and singing music on the back porch.  Hearing that sweet voice and guitar filled my heart and soul, full to bustin’.  I love these two girls.  What they can do when they put their hearts and talents together is beautiful.

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This smile.  It usually means mischief is going on.  And yet it still tickles me to see it.  And when he laughs…..you just can’t help but laugh along, I don’t care who you are.

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The grace of new beginnings and ever blooming friendships and the beauty of this time of year all overwhelmed me today.  And made my heart glad.

My Mama started many a day off reminding me, “This is the day that the Lord hath made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Yes ma’am.  Today was such a day of rejoicing.

Love and rejoicing to all.

The Packing Up and the White Shoes

Twenty-five years ago today I graduated from college.  I don’t remember a lot of the particulars but there are a couple of things that stand out for me about that day.

The night before, Sister had come up to spend the night with me.  Though she is three years my junior there have been times in my life when she has taken over and helped me through a hard time.  This was one of those times.  We visited while we packed my things–something I had been putting off.  About midnight we ran over to Denny’s for some sustenance in the form of fried mozzarella sticks and nachos.  (Two of the basic food groups for us back then.) When we got back to the dorm, Sister told me to go on to bed, rest well for my big day, and she would keep packing.

Which she did.  I should probably call and tell her thank you for that again.

The next morning I woke up and hurriedly put on the special one piece dress/culottes outfit that I had splurged on from Karats and Keepsakes–the only way to describe it is to say it was completely and totally ’90’s.

And I loved it.

I threw on my white shoes, because they matched it best, and because well-it WAS after Easter.  As I ran out of my dorm heading towards Porter Auditorium, one of my classmates pointed out my white shoes (“yes, thank you, they are pretty awesome, aren’t they?”) and kindly “reminded” me that all graduates were supposed to wear black shoes.

Oops.  Did I miss that memo?

Nowadays all information at my alma mater seems to be disseminated by e-mail.  Back then I am sure this was announced in a meeting. I can pretty much guess which one it probably was.  Only my mind was in a million different places about that time…..my future plans, moving back home, saying goodbye to sisterfriends I would miss dearly, and how to leave this place I had begun to call home.

Two thoughts for the young women I know who are about to graduate soon–actually no, this is a message for all of us.

Pay attention.  Listen up.  Don’t get so bogged down in worrying about your future that you miss out on what’s going on in your present. You might miss out on something important.  And it might be more than a fashion faux pas.

And here’s the other, even more important thing:

Have each other’s backs.

No matter what.

See, my sisterfriend who called out to me about the shoes–she was in a hurry too.  She had her mind on the BIG THING about to happen.  But she took the time to notice and to help me out by pointing out my mistake.  Kindly, I might add.

It’s so easy in this world where pushing ahead and success are so valued to just focus on ourselves, isn’t it?  But I challenge each one of us to take the time to notice.  To make the time.  And to help.  Offer a kind word.  Let someone know something they might have missed before.  It doesn’t take anything at all away from me to take a minute and say, “Hey, those are cute, but today we’re all supposed to be wearing black shoes.”

And it sure gives a lot to the one who hears those words.  (Seriously, what was I thinking? While the white shoes matched the outfit UNDERNEATH my graduation gown, they stuck out like a sore thumb with my black cap and gown.)

Two days ago I helped my rising junior finish packing up her things so we could move her back home.  Home from the same dorm where my journey at Wesleyan began.  As I moved around her room, consolidating and packing, I remembered Sister and gave thanks.  Paying it forward seems only right, you know?

Tonight I’m thankful for Sister and my sisterfriend, both of whom were interruptible.  Both of whom set aside what they had going on–for a minute, for a night–to help me.

That’s humbling right there.

May we all be so fortunate to have such a gift in our lives.

May we all strive to be that gift to someone else.

Love to all.

When a Stick is So Much More Than a Stick

A few months back I wrote about Cooter wanting real estate.  “Real estate’s where it’s at, Mama.”

One of my dear friends, Renea Winchester, decided to send him just that.  She boxed up some special dirt and other treasures and sent them down the road to us.

Bless her.

He was so excited to have a package WITH HIS NAME ON IT and then to open it and find “land”–he was beside himself.

I’ve always said, if you want to win me over, love on my children.  If I didn’t already love Renea, that surely would have sealed the deal.  As it was, I teared up and gave thanks for such a special friend that modern technology and social media has allowed me to have.  We have only met face to face once, but I adore that sweet woman.

Cooter, happy to have his land, left me to go through the rest of the box.  And in it, I found a stick.  A stick with a really long root and a wet paper wrapped around it.  When I unwrapped the stick, there was even a little worm that had hitchhiked along.

I. Love. It.

As recommended I prepared to plant him (yeah, anthropomorphism strikes again–it’s a boy).  I found an old pot that had belonged to Mama.  I added some soil, gingerly placed my stick in the “ground” and then finished covering with more soil.  I watered, and I watched.  My friend wrote that she had been praying over that stick.  So I knew he was special.  Just standing there over him, having given him a new home, I had a sense that this stick was precious.

But I had no idea how much.

I started calling it my Hope Plant.  Every morning Cooter and I went out to my roost on the back porch and checked, hoping to see some sign of growth on the little guy.  I thought I saw tiny green buds coming up, but then it could have been my imagination.  Until one morning when this welcomed us.

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IMG_7528Have you ever seen such a lovely shade of green?

My friend assured me that my hope plant loves the sun.  So I made sure that either he was sitting in the sun in my roost or out on the deck bannister, enjoying all the sunshine.  Each day we became more excited about his growth.  I shared these pictures on Facebook and Instagram, and folks were guessing what kind of plant it was.  Renea commented and said it would soon make its identity apparent.

And still he grew.  He is the happiest of fellows to be around really.  That green.  From a stick.  A miracle.

Then last night, my friend Renea surprised me by writing the story of the Stick–“Sprouting Mr. Coleman’s Stick.”

Oh y’all.  It’s the story of my Stick and his people.  So to speak.

I went out and sat with my stick, which isn’t a stick so much anymore and I wept over the beauty of friendship and loving old people and old things and coffee can planters and older gentlemen who carry their writings everywhere they go.  And I gave thanks for all of those things and for a friend who paid attention and knew that a stick would be a most treasured gift.

To know and be known.

My heart is full.

Here is my stick, my precious gift from Renea, a hand-me-down from Mr. Coleman, resting and relaxing and doing all the hard work of growing out in the beautiful, much-loved sun today.

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Both the “stick” in the foreground and all in the background speak to community and friendships and tradition and love. Both were gifts to me, and both bring me immeasurable joy.

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Glowing in the sunlight in my Mama’s old pot sitting on a new bannister. My heart is full.

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Perfectly beautiful green leaves where once there was only a stick…..such a miracle and such handiwork by our Creator.

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The place where the first bud we saw grew. Amazing!

I love this Hope Plant so very much.  Because of who gave him, because of his story, and because I love baby plants and green was my Mama's favorite color.  She loved all the little things too.

I love this Hope Plant so very much. Because of who gave him, because of his story, and because I love baby plants and green was my Mama’s favorite color. She loved all the little things too.

Tonight I’m thankful for my friend Karen Spears Zacharias who “introduced” Renea and me one day on Facebook.  I’m thankful for Renea and her stories and her heart that is bigger than the whole outdoors–a place she loves to spend her time the most.  Please go read her story about the stick and where he came from here.  She is my kindred spirit, loving the old ways and the old things.  You can find more of her wonderful writing and stories of how it used to be here or ask for one of her books at your local independent bookstore.

Because I love Renea and I think everyone should read her books and in honor of Earth Day, I will be giving away a copy of her latest book, Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches here on the blog.  All you have to do is comment here with your favorite plant, and if you feel like it, share why it makes you smile.   Also be sure to like her Facebook page here.  She shares all kinds of stories and wisdom and pictures of baby goats.  I KNOW, RIGHT?  BABY GOATS, ’nuff said.  I will most likely have Cooter or our Princess randomly choose a winner Wednesday morning, since we’ll have a little time then.  So we’ll close the entries at 11:59 p.m. EST on Tuesday, April 28.

May you all find someone to share the gift of friendship with today and tomorrow and all the days after that.

Love you Renea, and love to all.

Me and my sisterfriend Renea at her book launch last fall. She's the adorable one with the heart of gold and the green thumb.

Me and my sisterfriend Renea at her book launch last fall. She’s the adorable one with the heart of gold and the green thumb.

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This weekend my sisterfriend has a story to share, as do so many of the beautiful, strong women I know.  For all of you who are taking the brave step of sharing your stories out loud for others to hear, have courage.  You are stronger than you know.  You lived it, now go and share it.  You may never know the lives you will change, but just know–you will. Go shine like the light you are.   Love to all.  

as you stand in the wings
watching the one sharing before you
all of your focus on the effort to breathe,
remember
why you are there

you have a story to tell
one from your heart
one that you wrote on the tear-stained paper
word by word
thought by thought
painting the picture
that was etched in your mind

there in the darkness
smile
you are about to reveal your soul
share your story
toss a cord out into the audience
know that it will be caught
as your words stir the hearts
of those listening
and you will draw them closer to you
with each pause, each spoken word
and in the end
you will step back into the wings
with a fuller heart
and a room full of friends
whose hearts will forever be changed
because of you

Truth and Stories and the Dear Friends Who Tell Them

Last weekend at my college reunion I had the privilege of sitting next to not one, but two of the women who not only knew me when but who also lived with me, bless ’em.  As we sat and remembered and laughed and longed for more time to talk, a couple of moments stood out that reminded me why they are my friends.

Because they are–no matter how much time or distance is between us–these women will always be my treasured sisterfriends.

Friday evening my Deer friend came into the concert after the lights had been lowered.  I hadn’t seen her in over 20 years I guess, but in that moment it was like no time had passed.  I went over to her and led her to where I was sitting, giving her no choice but to follow, bless her heart.

In a break in the performances, I leaned over and whispered, asking her a question about how something had come about, and she nodded and started to say something.  Then she shook her head, shrugged, and said, “No.  I mean, I could make something up to tell you, but no, I really don’t know.”

I am still laughing over that one.  I don’t think she has it in her to tell anything but the truth.  I love that about her.

The next morning she and I were standing outside with our Rosie friend waiting for the processional into the beautiful and touching Candlelight service which would induct the seniors at our alma mater into the Alumnae Association.  We were catching up and all when she said, “Oooh!  I think a bug just flew in my eye.”

Y’all.  Spring in Georgia sure was lovely.  All fifteen minutes of it before the gnats came back–bringing reinforcements.

Sure enough, a gnat had flown into her eye.  She blinked and rubbed for a minute or two.  “Just my luck,” she laughed.

Our Rosie friend nodded and said authoritatively, “Yes.  Actually, that’s right.  A bug flying into your eye IS lucky.  Kind of like a bird when a bird poops on you.  Only not as messy.”

Chuckling, our Deer friend agreed that she’d rather have the bug than the poop.  At the luncheon after the meeting this same sweet girl (she hasn’t aged a bit in 25 years, I’d hate her if I didn’t love her so much) had an extra sweet tea in front of her place setting.

“See?” said our Rosie friend knowingly.  “I told you.  It’s your lucky day.  You are ON.”

I just love her.  She has all the grace and beauty of her mother, and all of the wit and laughter that I love and miss so much.

Tonight I give thanks for all of my beautiful and sassy and smart and funny sisterfriends.  Most of all I am thankful for a friend who tells the truth and whose sweet spirit makes me smile, and I give thanks for a friend who can make up something that helps make all right in the world for that moment.

Kind of contradictory, right?  Gratitude for the truth and for a story. All in the same breath.

And yet.  It all makes sense.  Surround yourself with folks who love you–folks who will tell you the truth when you need to hear it and will tell a story that will bring you comfort when you don’t.

Find friends like that and they will be yours for life.

Wishing you all will be so fortunate–

Love to all.