Saturday, August 29, 2020

Sparkling Goodness


Lately, four year old Charlotte has been putting the word, good, in front of words.

"I want that yummy good egg to eat, Mommy."

"Can you give me that good toy over there?"

"Hershey is a good puppy."

"I had a good sleep!"

"Dusty is eating the good doggie food."

"Look at this!  I painted using the yellow, the good green, and fuschia!  Do you like it?"


As we listen to her commentary of her day or hear her explanations of what the toys are doing in mid-play, her speech is sprinkled with the word, good, in sometimes appropriate places but more often seemingly random places.  The most prominent example of this occurred a few weeks ago when driving her to her morning summer program at the local activity center.  "Mommy, I have a good heart!" she proudly exclaimed from the back seat.  My mother, who was in the front passenger seat next to me, and I glanced at each other in surprise and said, "Why, yes, yes, you do!"  Charlotte then went on to say, "If it's a good heart, is it sparkly?  Mommy, do I have a good sparkly heart?"  I have no idea what prompted that line of thought in her but it was so sweet and heartwarming!  Mom and I assured Charlotte her heart was so good, beautiful, and sparkly as she happily hopped into the activity center.  I've been thinking on the idea of something tucked away out of sight, like our hearts, in the darkest interior parts of our bodies...yet radiating light and sparkling goodness as Charlotte imagined and spoke of from the back seat.  You know how a prism is made up of hard edges, jagged even, and yet the light gets in there and you see a tiny rainbow if the light hits it right?  The light bends and refracts as it sneaks into broken pieces and sharp turns.  The white light coming into the prism, is in a sense, breaking up into the colors that make up the white light and burst forward shining the light outward - at least that is what I think I remember from elementary science classes. 

These are the thoughts that have been running through my mind as I think about what Charlotte said about having a good sparkly heart a few weeks ago.  God is the white light pouring into each of us.  He has loved us into being and has a purpose for each of us.  Dirt may get thrown onto us or we may feel like were mired in mud.  Yet, with God's grace, the brightness shines through and fights its way through the cracks and broken pieces that meld us together.  Would God not want us to use the gifts He has given us to the best of our ability?  Cracks and all?  Then when we offer them back to Him, He can see through the blood, sweat, and tears, our hard efforts and view them as good and sparkly even if others may only see the dust and grime on the surface.


I thought Charlotte had forgotten that statement about the good sparkly heart but she said it this morning!  This time, I said it after we had recorded a video for some of my students.  I said, "Nice work, Charlotte!" after we stopped recording?  She asked, "Was it good and sparkling?"

What beautiful imagery to think of doing our work in a way that is good and sparkling!!  The other night, Adam and I were talking.  I said something to the effect of, "Well, you know it's the two of them and all six of the children."  Charlotte chimed in and said, "We have just one children here!", with a huge smile on her face.  I looked over at Adam then back and Charlotte and said, "Why, yes, you're right!".  She said, "Well, actually there are five of us.  Hershey, Dusty, Daddy, you, and me!"  The joy radiating from her face just sparkled.  You should have seen it.  

I heard the below song earlier this week when making a coffee run.  What an amazing example of taking something that could be viewed as sad or bad to good and sparkling through this beautiful creative art taken from a small girl and her conversation with her Mama who wrote a song about it.    



Well, I can't let go of watercolor memories you made me - - and wonder how you could love something else more - -  last of my kind, you'll always be my only child!  <3  "That's a beautiful song you have there, Mama!" according to four year old Charlotte.  Have a listen for yourself.




Wednesday, August 5, 2020

I wanted to be that Mom.

I wanted to be that mom.

This thought went through my head as I walked by a mom busily navigating her five littles into the play room where she was dropping off her little princes and princesses. The theme today is fairy tales at the summer program where my four year old "Princess Butterfly Ladybug Charlotte" had just skipped and twirled her way into during morning drop offs.

I wanted to be that mom.

I watched as another mom juggled a baby on her hip, wrangled a toddler into his carseat, waved goodbye to her five year old who was standing at the window of the building, then rubbed her pregnant belly as she walked to the driver's side of her van.

I wanted to be that mom.

The thought kept running through my mind on auto-loop as I watched another mom tenderly kiss her newborn on the forehead as she secured his seatbelt. She got smaller in my rearview mirror as I drove away in peace.


Yes, I wanted to be that mom.


However, I'm not. I'm a mom to one precious four year old who is the greatest gift I have ever received. I'm a mom to a sweet and sassy girl who couldn't wait to show Miss Ariel, Mrs. Lily, & Mrs. Eliana her butterfly wings and princess dress. I'm a mom to a girl who sings, "If you're happy and you know it, go to the activity center!" in the car and makes up other equally fun and whimsical song lyrics as we drive places. I'm mom to a girl who dunked graham crackers into green applesauce today saying she was eating the beach because the graham cracker crumbs "look and feel like sand, Mama!" This chance to parent a precocious and curious and inquisitive and genuinely happy and all other big feelings girl who loves to play in the dirt and have rainbow toes and adores her Daddy is such a gift. I'm HER mom.

I also reflected on the fact that because I'm that mom, I'm able to spiritually mother so many as I prepare for the upcoming school year that holds many unknowns right now. As of this morning, I'm the teacher of students in five classes making me the spiritual mother of 87 students for the fall semester. Students who are entrusting their learning to me and whom I owe it to provide meaningful and relevant teachable moments as they prepare to be teachers themselves! I'm able to spend the next couple of hours, while my daughter is happily engaged with the activities of her fairy tale-themed summer day program, trying to work up some magic in planning out the semester for my other "kids". ; )

I'm thankful for the opportunity to mother in so many ways - ways I had not previously considered as much when I was focused on my vision of my family and long held dreams. I wanted to be that mom. However, I am that mom - just in a different way that uses my gifts and skillset in a unique way. Thank you, Lord.


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Balance

I had a dream with Dad in it last night.  Since it's been several days since I have seen a cardinal no matter how hard I look at the trees, the sky, or the birds who swoop down and fly across my path, the dream in the early morning hours today was so welcomed.  This time, Dad was healthy, happy, and upbeat.  With a twinkle in his eye, and a jovial grin plastered on his face, he pulled off a surprise of Aunt Maureen and Laura visiting us in Mom and Dad's RV.  This was quite funny to me as I recalled the dream since I had not gone on any camping trips with Mom and Dad or Aunt Maureen and Laura for that matter.

Just like in life, the feelings in the dream sharply dropped from one extreme to the other.  In one moment of the dream, we were all laughing and happy at the surprise visit from my godmother/aunt being successful and in the next, Dad had vanished from his spot at the table where we were all sitting.  In my dream, I dissolved into a puddle of tears that came with such ferocity that I couldn't breathe to suddenly awake under the covers in the semi-dark room as the dawn light snuck through the windows.  As I slipped from the dream world to the real world, I realized that my face was covered in tears and I was full out ugly crying.  For a minute, I thought I was still in the RV staring at the empty chair rather than staring at the blank white wall of my bedroom in my Mom's house but either way, the reality was there that Dad is not here.

I wonder what he would think of us all now.  Stumbling our way through each day.  Missing him more than we thought we ever could.  Emotions overtaking each of us in different ways at any point in time.  Hearing as others wonder aloud what is next for each of us.  Our wondering what the next family gathering will feel like.  How the holidays are going to feel.  Hoping and wishing our children will remember their beloved Grandpa/Papa/Pappy as they grow older themselves.  Imagining what our reunion might be like when it's our turn to depart from this world.  What would he think?  What would he want for each of us?  Is he at peace?  Is he happy?  Does he miss us?

I'm accustomed to these feelings of being torn in different directions in my professional life when thinking about my personal life but it's a different arena now to think about being happy Dad is no longer suffering physically but wondering how he is spiritually.  Does he see how sad we are without his physical presence or is he basking in the glory of heaven and God that he doesn't need to be concerned with earthly matters?  What a strange sensation to be happy for him but said for me all at the same time.

How does this translate to life in the here and now?  Since becoming Charlotte's mom, it's been interesting the ways I have sought to achieve work-life balance.  There are days I feel like a super mom and others I feel like a rock star teacher.  There are days I feel I'm dropping the ball on both vocations.  Other days find me barely keeping my head above the water as I try to remember when the pediatrician appointment is, if we have Charlotte's favorite snack on stock, make copies for the handouts the students need for their performance-based assessments, reply to a student email in the wee hours of the night, and is the alarm set for the right time that we have to be out the door depending if there is school, if office hours are scheduled, or if we're taking a trip that day?  Yesterday was a particularly busy day of revising syllabi for the fall, having a couple virtual meetings, working on a grant proposal, being there for my mother, and keeping Charlotte happy amidst everything.  Today I was reassured though.  When thinking over the last 24 hours, I could focus on how much of the day schoolwork took up vs. how much time was spent playing with Charlotte.  However, Charlotte was positively beaming and radiant as she told her Uncle Mark at breakfast about her rainbow toes - the ten toes that Mama painted yesterday.  "Mommy made these. She's a great Mommy!" she said.  I love being a mother with every fiber of my being.  I also know I was born to teach.  Do they have to contradict?  Do the feelings of joy and grief have to be opposite?  Can we have it all?  Can we feel all the feelings?

Thinking back to Summer 2016, the work-life balance did not feel as difficult when I was on maternity leave and had the lightened load.  Can work-life balance only be achieved with part-time work vs. full-time work?  Is grief more manageable when life is half full rather than overflowing from an already filled to the brim cup?  I don't have the answers to the questions.

What I do know, is that when I have struggled with something, doing a project or a study or action research to try to find the answer has helped.  When I saw so many students accept and embrace learned helplessness on account of their disability, I engaged in my thesis research to see what we could do about it.  Through cognitive therapy and putting into practice Martin P. Seligman's ABCDE model, we were able to examine areas in which we could improve and lower learned helplessness thereby increase self advocacy.  When I questioned identity with regards to the presence of a disability, my dissertation study sought to find ways to put into words what individuals with disabilities, and their caregivers/parents felt.  Now, as a mother and a professor, I'm examining the experiences of MotherScholars.  This research I'm in the midst of despite the pandemic, despite not knowing what state I'll be taking up residence in from week to week, despite having Charlotte at my side 24/7 (and I don't think I would want to change that - I know these days of my four year old wanting to be here and sharing in my space will be over before I know it), despite so many questions about the upcoming fall, despite the all encompassing grief of missing my Dad, is bringing so much joy and helping me to see this lived experience of MotherScholaring from so many different angles.  The below quote really resonated with me.

Even with the confidence of a tenured chair, I feel anxious about the work that isn’t getting done, just as I feel guilty about the hours I spend away from my daughter.  In truth, I feel guiltier about my work, perhaps because I’ve been in academia longer than I’ve been a mom, and it still feels like cheating to prioritize my personal life.  I think back to a similar conflict I felt when I took time off to care for my dying father, and I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that I was getting behind in my research.  I knew this was irrational, but when I mentioned this anxiety to a family friend-a professor-he responded, "Can't you read articles while you sit in the hospital?"  Years later, I relish the memory of the hours I spent next to my father's hospital bed, the hours I did nothing but watch him breathe.  And I know that I will not begrudge the afternoons walking behind my daughter as she pumps her bike around the block, or the hours spent rolling with her down the sloping grass of our neighborhood park (Haynie, 2009).

Reading the above passage in particular hit home on so many levels.  It made me think back to when I shared with my twin my exciting news about being selected as a High Impact Scholar.  I had started the phone conversation by saying, "I don't know if you remember, but on that last night with Dad, do you recall that I was working on a submission at Dad's bedside?"  His response - "You're always on the computer" felt dismissive and seemed to indicate that I wasn't as present to Dad in his last moments.  Yet, when I think of that last night, I remember feeling confident that I was applying for something with my biggest supporter at my side.  It's funny how different perspectives bring out different aspects of lived experiences...which is all the more reason to hear from a variety of subjects in a study when examining a lived phenomenon or experience.  

Last night, as I read some research before bed, I was captivated by a statement that said to work well helps us to be better mothers.  It was on that thought that I had fallen asleep and then had the vivid dream of Dad only to be woken up by a tear-stained face sobbing into my pillow.  One extreme to another...feeling like I'm coping with Dad's being gone to missing him terribly to wishing I could go back in time for another conversation to relief he is not suffering...cranking out another manuscript submission, playing in the pool with Charlotte, attending virtual meetings, snuggling with my girl in the rocking chair, to not getting all the items checked off the to-do list.  They are two different things:  Grieving a lost parent and trying to manage home and work lives.  Yet they both involve effort, vulnerability, and realizing you're going to fall short.  I mean, our faith teaches that, too.  We are human as are our efforts.  Yet we should be striving for the best we can do and be, pray for the graces and wisdom to handle what is thrown our way, and rise above the challenges as the capable humans we are.  With all these things swirling around in my head, I wrote the below section this morning.  I am so excited to wrap up and analyze the data from one of my current studies --- I don't think I've been this excited about my own research since my dissertation research!


          With the arrival of COVID-19, all those working in higher education were forced out of their comfort zones and faced uncertainty and still are facing this to some degree now as we look toward the future.  However, to be our authentic selves, as MotherScholars, no matter the circumstances, we would do well to embrace wholehearted living as defined by Brown (2010) by engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.  This means MotherScholars should seek to cultivate courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and recognize no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, she is enough.  This is particularly true during trying times such as during the world pandemic.  We also need to give ourselves permission to truly love the time we spend in our work as working well does not make us bad mothers (Sutherland, 2009).  Our children will see us engaging in something that brings us joy and see us use our gifts in this world if we are truly living our vocations and demonstrating for our families, as mothers, what it means to be a good worker.




Something else that I have seen in going over the research for the MotherScholar study, is the beauty in how what I do for a living has been directly impacted by my personal life.  Prior to Charlotte, my work was impacted by my experiences as a teacher of school-aged children that I brought with me to the higher education classroom.  This was one of the biggest reasons I wanted to be a professor.  I wanted to have real world experiences to draw from and share with the pre-service educators as I recalled learning so much from my own professors as an undergraduate student who shared the "real world" examples with my peers in my college classes.  However, I never dreamt or imagined of the ways my teaching would be improved by having my own child.  With the arrival of Charlotte, my service activities shifted slightly to be more family-focused (such as advising a ministry that pairs college students with families) and it's been beautiful to see the college students interact with my girl over the last four years whether she came to my classes, they completed preference assessments with her, or they needed to provide childcare through completion of diverse field hours.  

Even beyond these experiences, spending a semester abroad together, caused some beautiful relationships to blossom that won't soon end even when the students graduate from the university.  I won't know until years from now what this sort of lived experience of growing up at home and on a college campus for Charlotte with a MotherScholar for a mommy will mean for her but I hope when she looks back, she remembers all her "college friends", the work meetings/colleagues who have accepted her with open arms from day one, is able to put her experiences with a variety of personalities to use in a positive way, and that she has a love for learning and service to others.  

Just like with grieving, is there truly a right way to balance?  I think the answer is different for everyone and we need to be respectful of that.  Work-life balance is not a struggle just for those who work out of the home.  Grieving is not just for those who are mourning the loss of someone who passed three months ago.  This is a life-long and at times, delicate, journey we all must take.  None of us escape the opportunity to grieve.  None of us escape the chance to engage in balancing (you fill in the blank).  What we choose to do with the opportunities we have is up to us though.


Monday, July 6, 2020

New title!

Mother.


Wife.


Professor/Teacher/Instructor/Teacher's Assistant/Graduate Assistant/Doctor.


Daughter/Daughter-in-Law


Aunt.


Godmother.


Coach.


Volunteer.



Tutor.



Tutee.



Babysitter.


Housecleaner.


Sandwich Artist.


Student.


Newspaper Carrier.


Sister.


Niece.


Dreamer.


Granddaughter.


Cheerleader.


Writer.


Researcher.


(Behind the scenes) Actor in high school play.


Cousin.



Stranger.


Catholic.


Honor Society Secretary.


Friend.



I've been known by many different titles or roles (and others I'm probably forgetting at the moment) over the years.  This week, a new title was added to the list!  I'll share what it is with you in a moment but let me set the scene for you first.

Days before the world stopped because of COVID-19, a sought after job at work I had been super excited about was taken off the table and the dreams I had for that role came to a screeching halt.  I learned the disappointing news that I hadn't been selected for something I had applied for, Spring Break happened, the unexpected news broke that we were moving all of our classes to the online format, then I had to rush home for an indefinite amount of time due to Dad's declining health as I learned how serious things really were from my big brother, Brian's, phone call after my Dad was rushed to the hospital for the last time.  All this occurred as the pandemic swirled all around us.  In the midst of all these things happening, I should have missed an email that was sent out from the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities but somehow and thankfully that email did not slip through the cracks. The newsletter that gets automatically sent to me as a worker at a religious institution contained information about an inaugural research seminar for faculty at Christian universities that would be unfolding come Fall 2020.  I read over the details and was immensely intrigued.  I shared the information with Adam who had the same reaction as when I had shared details about the job I had not obtained with him in December:  "This sounds like a perfect fit for you!"

So, after praying and considering it, I went for it.  Happening fresh on the rejection of the other job, I figured well, what do I have to lose? I drafted what I wanted to say in the essay when not busy emergency converting my four classes to online classes, teaching in a whole new and unexpected way, caring for my parents (and Charlotte when she was with me), and wrapping up the student groups/ministries I oversee from a distance for the year.  I'm thankful Adam was supportive and understanding when my head (and heart) seemed to be in a million other places than home most of the time.

All this led to my hitting "Submit" at 1:25am on April 17th.







The same day that everything stopped for my family and me in the middle of a world that was already faltering and stumbling.





Even now, 80 days since my big, strong, hero of a father breathed his last shallow breath one early Friday morning as the sun slowly grew in brightness....I can hardly believe this darkness that has settled so thickly over us when Dad officially slipped from this world. 





Yet, there have been pinpricks of light peeking and blinking through - like the lightning bugs we see as dusk settles at the end of each of these long summer days.  Small tiny flickers of hope keep us at bay or at least putting one foot in front of the other as we feel our way through the dark.

 




During some of my Dad's and my last conversations we spoke about work, sharing of talents and gifts, prudence, obstacles, being wanted and appreciated, persistence, "doing it anyway", definitions of what exactly is spectacular in the context of a life (well) lived, and disappointments we all face at one point or another in our lives.  We also spoke of satisfaction, gratitude, happiness, personal fulfillment, a day's hard work, resilience, fortitude, and service as I told him about this opportunity.



In the wee hours of April 17th, I submitted the application after working on it while sitting at Dad's bedside then turned to Mark who was taking the next shift.  I asked if he would mind if I laid down for a few hours.  By 2am I was in bed only to be awoken by Patrick at 5:45am. Dad passed shortly after 6am later in the morning.  All went dark and numb someplace deep inside of me at that moment.  Yet, the room continued to get brighter and brighter as the sun rose.  The shadows return each night but the sun comes each day (Psalm 30:5 & 30:11).


In the hustle and bustle of everything that happens after the unthinkable does, I moved away from the disappointment and hurt of not getting the job as I focused on suddenly more important and pressing things such as end of life issues, what's happening next, and trying to wrap up the semester while prepping for a busy summer semester.  In hindsight, I'm thankful things were so busy to give me a sense of direction in spite of the dark.

I dove head first into teaching two summer (online) classes and fell into the rhythm of living out of my duffel bag as Charlotte and I shuffled from Pennsylvania to Ohio to Delaware to Pennsylvania to Ohio to Pennsylvania to Ohio and well, you get the idea.

In a sense I did what I did ten years ago when I received the rejection email to an application I had submitted in applying to be a fellow for a university to study research special education/deafness.  However, because of that rejection, I was instead granted an assistantship at the university I had applied to and still wound up moving south and starting over in pursuing a dream I didn't think I would work on so early in life.  Living in North Carolina for four years, and after creating a CatholicMatch profile, I met and fell in love with my now husband at the end of that journey - - not to mention I also encountered beautiful faith-filled friendships and grew from amazing spiritual direction from a beloved priest.

So, in pondering the news I received last week, I now realize I had to go through yet another rejection before something else (maybe better) was presented to me!  Admittedly another faith-filled friend and my mother both said as much to me in early March. The no at work led to a yes in being a scholar in faith-based research....incredible!  I have to admit the positive news I received last week felt a bit like redemptive restoration of the no I had received ten years ago.  I can just imagine the smile on my Dad's face and the quiet look of pride if I were to tell him about this set of recent events.  Are you curious yet about this new title!??  =)


Okay, let's get on with it and fast forward to last week...as I was waiting for a virtual work meeting to start, an email popped up in my inbox letting me know I received some news.  The news was that I am now a High-Impact Scholar!  :)  What in the world does this mean you ask??

Well, this honor of being a High-Impact Scholar is through the Best Practices in Christian Higher Education:  A Cohort-Based Research Seminar Series that is taking place through Abilene Christian University and the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (ACU & CCCU)!

This two-year, cohort-based research seminar examines critical features of student success with a special emphasis on developing, implementing, and assessing high-impact practices with regards to their professional development opportunities as pre-service educators. 

The work produced through the seminars, plus submissions from a broader call, will be presented at a biennial conference hosted at ACU. Additionally, ACU Press will work to produce an edited volume featuring the most relevant papers from the cohort.
I was selected as a High-Impact Scholar for the inaugural Cultivating Engaged Learners Through First-Year Experiences: Seminar 1 and will participate in a cohort of 12 scholars.
My research will examine the First-Year Experience of Education Majors in our program.  While I am involved in many different service opportunities through my various roles at the university, my focus will be on the work I do through a professional development workshop series I created for the education majors several years ago called Teachable Moments
Additionally, I created an online group through Blackboard (the university's learning management system) to foster a sense of community among the education majors. I am most interested in researching the impact of these items on first year students and possibly investigating the creation of a mentorship program to connect first year students with juniors or seniors within the Education Program. I was advisor to a senior education major's honors project that enacted a mentoring program for a semester a number of years ago and definitely think it could be advantageous to bring it back for our students.  
I will investigate these ideas to see what impact professional development, online resources, and service opportunities, both in Ohio and abroad, has on the first year students. 
Are they more likely to return to the university? 
Do they take on more active roles as students and become leaders through participating in these initiatives? 
I am so very excited to research this further to try to find the answers to these questions to better tailor programming to maximize effectiveness and retention of first year students.  
Part of this research will require auditing a newly designed course as I gauge the first year experiences of incoming freshmen and/or transfer education majors to Franciscan so I'm grateful for the learning opportunities that will come with auditing that course in addition to the research.  
The ACU & CCCU are in agreement that focusing on Teachable Moments Professional Development Workshop Series as an area of research or topic would allow me to further refine this series for the students. I plan to connect with other institutions and tap into the resources they offer their students through being a member of this inaugural cohort. Some ideas that have been discussed are to possibly link up our pre-service teachers as virtual pen pals to talk about their experiences as first year education majors at their respective institutions! There is also the possibility of sharing online professional development resources, such as, giving presentations and sharing information with one another, if virtual workshops are created as a result of this research.
Teachable Moments embraces my university’s mission by encouraging education majors to seek out professional development, to contribute to the dialogue, and to engage in ways they can transform themselves as pre-service teachers to scholar-practitioners so they can better meet the needs of their future or current students. The group I created for the Education Program on Blackboard creates a community for education majors and faculty and shares online resources and tools. In a sense, this group is helping to rebuild and shape the first year experiences of the students by providing them with more resources along the way that they can utilize during the first year and refer back to time and time again which is very similar to the new vision and format of the revised course.
My cohort will meet for two intensive workshops to focus on one specific practice (e.g., first-year experience, service learning, study abroad, etc.) and examine the impact and implementation in Christian higher education. After the three-day workshops, it is expected that I will engage in the research I described above at my university during year # 2.
The first workshop will take place in early October in Abilene, Texas. The second will be in late May at the university’s Dallas campus.  I will present my research alongside other presenters at a national conference hosted in Texas in Fall 2022. It is during this conference that I will be able to share my findings and institutional practices will be showcased.  Additionally, I will have the opportunity to submit my work to be considered for inclusion in an edited volume published by ACU Press.

As a High-Impact Scholar, I will have the unique opportunity to learn from ACU’s national leadership in high-impact practices and collaborate with faculty and staff from various institutions across the nation to produce work that will be a significant contribution to scholarship of Christian higher education.  The purpose of this research seminar series is to investigate creative and innovative evidence-based practices, which will enhance the learning experiences of students across the nation. The creators of this research seminar series have shared they are looking forward to hearing ideas from High-Impact Scholars and collaborating on this exciting opportunity to spur one another on in raising up future Christian servants and leaders for the sake of the kingdom of God.  It is such a huge honor to be selected and I can’t wait to serve as a High-Impact Scholar over the next two years!  As I had mentioned to a dear friend the other day, I had been prepared to spend the next four years working out of professional development through the job I had applied for so being a part of this cohort instead will allow me to focus on that same topic for the next two years but for a different audience:  our pre-service teachers - - which is just as rewarding and exciting to me!  Just like not getting the fellowship in 2010 paved the way for the assistantship I was offered instead, it feels as if the preparation for what I thought was going to be my path for the next four years was really getting me ready for this next phase of my research over the next two years!  Well, played, God, well played!  (Proverbs 3: 5-6).  ; )

Immediately after receiving the news by email last week, my work meeting started.  Charlotte was still sleeping so I quickly went as far away in the house as I could to keep from waking her during the meeting.  It wasn't until after the work meeting had ended, when I realized that I was where this particular journey had had its beginning.  I was on my parents' bed, on the side where Dad had so often laid and back in the same room where I had submitted the essay so late at night.  It was then that my eyes were opened to the date I had actually applied..up until that moment I had been thinking I had applied at some point over Spring Break or early on during COVID-19 as many things from that part of the semester are blurring together for me......but as I stared at the April 17th date of the essay submission on the paper in front of me, it suddenly registered that this was one of the things I had done at Dad's bedside the very last night of his life.  


The numbers blurred quickly on the paper in my lap as the tears immediately sprang up and freely flowed no matter how hard I tried to stop crying..the acute and ever present grief and deep profound missing of my Dad, the best man I knew, was more apparent than ever in that moment.  It was at that precise moment that I fully absorbed that this is the first HUGE piece of news I have received in my life that I can't tell Dad about....but he already knows - - -  I have to believe that.  



I suppose I forgot a title at the start of this writing.







Believer.   

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Favorite Fourth of July Memory

Growing up, Aunt Ollie's house was the place to be for the 4th of July. We would go to Dad's sister's house to watch the fireworks from her front porch. I remember so many summer nights of relaxing on her porch, talking, and enjoying the company down in Port Carbon. This is the first year in so long that Dad is reunited with her foot the holiday. These last few days I have been thinking of how he must feel laying eyes on so many of his loved ones again. During the last week of his life, I remember his saying to Mom and me that he "would miss you guys too much" when I had said, "Dad, you are going to see your family soon!" I will never forget the feeling of hearing him say that and seeing the look on his face when he admitted he wanted to see his parents and siblings but that he would miss "us". One foot here, one foot there. What a place to be. Mom and I had said something to the effect of, "Oh, we will be fine. You haven't seen them in so long! We will take care of each other and you will have all you need." I think I had even said something like you will still be with us just in a different way. Well, Dad, you were with us tonight as I watched fireworks two states away from home and imagined you and Aunt Ollie on Heaven's front porch watching the fireworks from the best view of all. We all miss you so but praying and hoping you are close to Jesus and reunited with those you loved brings comfort.

My favorite memory from a 4th of July occurred five years ago today! Just before the fireworks, after going to a BBQ at my aunt and uncle's house by the airport, Adam and I discovered that we were expecting!

Love you to the moon and back, our little firecracker!! I hope this holiday that celebrates the birth of our country that also marks the knowing "birth" of our family always brings you giggles, family time, and yummy treats like it did today!










Thursday, July 2, 2020

Awakening

Being a parent is hard. There are times when I wonder if I am doing enough or if I am doing the right thing.

Tonight, Charlotte awoke me at 2:30am saying she had an accident. Groggily rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I made my way out of the bed to go to the restroom with her. In the bright bathroom, I noticed her beautiful peaches and cream complexion was a light tan color. As I looked closer, I thought maybe she had gotten into her new paints from the day before and asked Charlotte what did she do? She buried her face in her hands.

I went back into the bedroom and noticed my makeup bag was 3/4 of the way empty. Scanning the room, I found this under the bed.





My heart sank as I realized what this spunky independent creative imaginative four year old had done. Makeup I had barely worn since the first week of March was smeared on the floor, sheets, blanket, and let's not forget - - herself!

Angrily I stormed back into the restroom scolding Charlotte for what she had done. She was remorseful asking if she had to wait before going to bed while I cleaned up the mess scrubbing off the residue and traces of foundation from her little arms and hands and the floor, rug, and Minnie Mouse.

It wasn't until we were back in bed, close to 3am, when I faced Charlotte tired blue eyes to tired blue eyes. She always says we match and are twins because we both have "the same bright blue eyes, Mommy!" but tonight she couldn't bring herself to have her beautiful baby blues look back at my questioning eyes.


"Why did you do that, Charlotte Annie?"


"Why did you get into Mommy's makeup?"

A tiny voice peeped out from under the baby blanket made by her Great Aunt Marie - -

"I wanted to be beautiful."






Oh my goodness gracious, y'all. My heart broke a little as I looked into the face of this sunshiney vibrant at once outgoing and at times shy sweetheart miracle of her Dad's and mine and what she said registered with me.

Yes, parenting can be difficult with second guessing decisions or standing firm in what is best for your family while others judge or think things should be different but it can also be so rewarding when we see her make good choices or watch as she learns a new skill or listen to one of her detailed (made up) stories full of rich detail.

We only get one life to live and in Adam's and my case, one shot at this parenting gig, so in instances like tonight, hearing my little four year old express her desire to be beautiful reminds me even more so of the importance of teaching her life lessons like to always say, "please" & "thank you", to treat others the way you want to be treated, that chocolate and peanut butter are the best combination (no, really it is), & that beauty is not what is on the outside but rather lies in the kind of person you are on the inside...as a girl mom especially, body image and living in reality amidst a photoshopped highlight reel of only the best moments being showcased on social media will most likely be topics that will come up as Charlotte grows older. I will do all I can to help her recognize the gift she is as she is, to discover her feminine genius by virtue of living authentically, and understand the beauty of being female through a Theology of the Body lens and Catholic worldview.

Tonight's awakening was a reminder of the challenge, and privilege, of helping to form and nurture a beautiful soul I have been entrusted with and that it is never too early to have conversations with my daughter about self worth and dignity. I hope she will come to see makeup as an outlet or creative means to show herself to the world (Jamberry or ColorStreet date, anyone?) rather than something to hide behind...maybe I am reading too much into it and she is *only* four but the sooner this precious girl can recognize beauty comes from within, and believe in her worth, the better. I am reminded of a saying about love here :

If you say my eyes are beautiful, it is because they are looking at you.

Sweet daughter of mine, if only you could see yourself the way I see you.




Let this be a reminder for us all! God, our Father, looks at us with just as much, if not more, love and tenderness as His children. How it must pain Him so to see us damaging or covering up the bodies He gave us or not living our authentic selves. He fashioned us limb by limb and knew our innermost thoughts and features while still in our mothers' wombs (Jeremiah 1:5). Let us accept and see our true self worth and use the gifts and beauty of our lives He gave us to do good for the Lord.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Straight Down the Middle

My niece and I have been able to stop by my Dad's gravesite the last two days.  Both times, I was struck by the expression, "Straight Down the Middle" on a nearby gravestone.  As I was pondering what this expression might mean, I realized that this was the exact type of thing, under ordinary circumstances, that I would have been able to ask my Dad what it meant.  He was the holder of all sorts of knowledge and nine times out of ten, had the answer to my questions - - no matter how random they might be.


So, with a weary yet curious heart, I looked up what that expression meant once I got back to my car.  Mason and I learned this:

"Straight down the middle" means perfectly on target, without deviation - even if there's nothing "down" involved. "The defense tried to block her, but she took the ball straight down the middle."

Reading this description had me smiling as it made me think of all the times Dad just got down to business.  He saw right through the BS if I was talking around an issue or behaving poorly.  He called me out when I needed to face the music or if I was giving myself too hard of a time.  He got to the point and didn't mince words.  In a sense, Adam is like this, too - - especially if I'm taking too long to tell a story.  "Too many words - just get to the point" was a sentiment expressed by my dad and currently by my hubby at times.

Speaking of getting to the point, last night's dream was a beautiful representation of getting to the point of bringing comfort.  It was a busy sort of dream with a lot of action and changing scenes and activity from start to end.  The beginning of the dream was glorious with seeing my Dad sitting in the front seat of his red tracker (this is going way back) with his left arm hanging out the window.  He pulled up to where I was with a beaming smile on his face and his eyes all aglow with happiness.  He slowed to a stop, leaned over slightly, looked me in the eye, and mouthed, "I love you very much".  It felt like he had already departed for wherever he was heading, but looped back around to drive over to where I was standing on the sidewalk, just to share that message.  The evening sunshine was pouring down on everything sharing its heat and brilliant light as the scene changed to a carnival atmosphere - almost like a First Friday event downtown.  Next thing I know, I'm in a group with a family friend, Sue, and some other folks.  We headed to Prime for ice cream that was part of this line up of a carnival like atmosphere when all of a sudden, I was ecstatic to see someone.  I never got a clear image of who this person was but it was a woman dressed in bright colorful colors with amazing accessories.  I ran over to the person, delighted to see her and be in her presence, then threw my arms around her for a hug.  The group I was with eventually caught up with us and joined us in a happy reunion with the mystery person.  A few minutes later, as we were all enjoying ice cream (I had a peanut butter cup sundae - - again the stuff dreams are made up of...ha!), I felt the urge to turn around....and boy was I thankful I did that as I reflected on the dream later because my beloved friend, Sha, was there!  She was leaning against a wall, totally relaxed, with her arms casually crossed over her chest.  She had a look of contentment on her face and peace just radiated from her.  I motioned for her to join me next to the mysterious woman I was so thrilled to reunite with but she shook her head and motioned she was find where she was.  

The joy I had been feeling from seeing Dad in such a familiar way in the driver's seat of his car followed by the overwhelming sense of gratitude and happiness at seeing whoever the mystery person was all became enveloped by peace and comfort when I caught sight of Sha.  Both Dad and Sha were just a few feet away from me in my dream but I did not reach out to ether to try to hang on to them yet I felt SO connected with them.  They both were just so happy and peaceful so I'm going to try to rest in that and emulate the joy and contentment that was felt so profoundly as I slept.  Yes, this kind of dream that was experienced last night was a straight down the middle kind of dream...getting to the point, allowing brief glimpses of two people so dear to my heart, and driving home the reminder to lean into the joy rather than the sorrow, to consciously turn to the light rather than the dark.

Building a Sustainable 'Highway of the Future'