Friday, November 18, 2011

Photo by Dan Smith
 "A child fills a place in your heart that you never knew was empty."  ~ Unknown
We were blessed with a new nephew this week.  I haven't met him yet ... but I ache to.  As much as I know that I'm finished having children (and am completely at peace with that decision), there's just something about holding a newborn that is so precious, so beautiful.  It makes my heart swell.
"Then I did the simplest thing in the world...I leaned in...and kissed him and my world cracked open."  ~ Unknown
When I fell in love and married, at the ripe old age of 18, I couldn't imagine loving anyone more.  That just couldn't be possible. 
A little over six years later, we were blessed with our firstborn daughter.  And though different, the love I felt couldn't have been greater.  When I learned I was expecting our second child, I worried and feared that I wouldn't be able to love him like his older sister.  I was so wrong.  My heart grew in love the moment he was born.  As our final baby arrived, our second daughter, the lesson was learned all over again
"To have a child, is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."  ~ Unknown
So when my nephew was born on Tuesday, the first baby to his parents, I wondered if they felt the same.  I suspect maybe so.  Maybe we all do at times.  And then I wondered why.  Why do we think there isn't enough love to go around?

There are lots of reasons, one would suppose, that we worry about love ... about loving and being loved.  Too many sad reasons to explore.
"The best and most beautiful things can not be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart."  ~ Helen Keller
But my biggest revelation (as I'm over-analyzing all of this while praying this baby through his arrival) was realizing that maybe all the love we all need in this big ol' world is already here, has always been here.  Just waiting, waiting for us to open our tiny hearts so it can become part of us, dwell within us.  Waiting for us to take it in and then give it away.  Waiting for us to share it, with anyone, with everyone.  Waiting for us to come to the realization that when we share it, Love grows even more.
"If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded."  ~ Unknown
So, today I will open my heart.  Today I will let myself be loved.  Today I will love another ... and another ... and another ... and another.  And tomorrow, I pray, I will do it all again.

Will you?

"Beloved, let us love one another ..."  ~ 1 John 4:7a

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Tooth Fairy

My 10 year old son lost a tooth on Wednesday.  The Tooth Fairy simply forgot to come. Thursday brought a family emergency.  The Tooth Fairy was too worried and forgot to come.  On Friday and Saturday, we were out of town.  The Tooth Fairy, again, just forgot to come.  On Sunday, my son reminded me gently, in his precious, precious way.  The Tooth Fairy ... she still had her head in the muck of her life and forgot to come.

The Tooth Fairy finally remembered my boy on Monday night.  She came before he was asleep, however, and offered him double what she usually gives.  And when she asked, he handed over the tooth with a big, strong hug ... and a sly little grin.

My little man.  So loving.  So forgiving.

I pray that the Tooth Fairy can overcome this season of forgetfulness, because she really hates letting her children down.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I was recently told that the "wake" I create touches more people that I could imagine.  I'm certain he meant that in a positive light.

But, tonight my waves could have drowned someone.  Unfortunately, my family were the ones getting drenched.  My stress, my frustrations, my fears, my failures ... usually all well-kept, nice and neat, inside ... just burst forth like a tsunami and rocked those innocently in my path.  They never saw it coming - probably still have no clue what hit them.

My self-diagnosed "OCD" for control and organization and peace compiled with their lack of the same is wreaking havoc in my life ... and in theirs.  Sometimes it seems that life would be easier for all if I would just be swept out to sea.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bricks & Roses

Oh, what a challenge I received today.

In a counseling session originally meant for my husband, our pastor turned to me and said that I need to allow God to take my walls away ... brick by brick ... even if it feels like they are being chiseled out of my chest.


OK, I freely admit I have walls.  BIG ones.  I have built them myself - maybe with some help - and I've grown accustomed to them.  I rather like them, actually.  They make me feel safe and secure - hidden from harm - up high in my tower away from the dragons ... dragons of pain and disappointment and lonliness and distrust.

Then, in the very same conversation, he also told me that he pictures me as a tightly closed rosebud that God wants to see blossom ... to fully open and transform into a beautiful, living person.

Hmmmm.  This is much harder to grasp.

I like roses, too, actually more so when they are closed.  No, maybe just when they are beginning to open.  Full of potential.    I have many flowers in my gardens.  I even have two very small rose bushes.  Neither one of them flourishes.  It takes a special gardener to tend the roses.  In this, I am not skilled.

Bricks ... and roses.

Apparently my walls aren't protecting me anymore.  If they were, wouldn't I be pain-free?  Wouldn't I be content and happy and fearless and trusting?  Wouldn't I be open to receive love ... and to give it? 

And apparently, even though I see my self completley the opposite, God sees me as full of life and beauty.

So, God, maybe it's time.  Maybe it's time that I let you use that chisel of yours ... gently, please? ... and take these bricks.  (Have you already removed some in the last several days?  It didn't hurt too much, I suppose.)  And maybe, when the bricks come down, somewhere behind that wall I'll see the rose ... the one that was promised to be blossomed and beautiful and full of life.

"I will tear down the wall you have covered with whitewash and will level it to the ground so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls, you will be destroyed in it; and you will know that I am the LORD."  ~Ezekiel 13:14

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Welcome to Rock Bottom

Normal people don't pray for a crisis.  Or wish for one on a shooting star.  Or ask for one from that genie in a bottle.  Most days, people do everything in their human power to avoid it.

But things haven't been normal lately ... not for a long time.  I needed change.  Something big.  So I began to pray.  It was all I had left.  (It should have been what I started with.)  I prayed for change - in belief, in habit, in taste, in heart.  I literally prayed for ROCK BOTTOM.

Because when you hit rock bottom, and survive it, the only place to go is UP.

Finally met those rocks face-to-face last weekend.  They appeared in places and circumstances and timing that I never would have imagined and especially would not have chosen.  But none-the-less, rocks are what we received.

And I wasn't standing on the rocks.  Hadn't even fallen on them.  I was being crushed.  Like someone had piled those rocks right on top of my chest.  I was terrified.  Sick.  Screaming with heartache.

Thankfully God has placed people in our path to help us over the rocks ... right from the first moment.  Compassion.  Kindness.  Empathy.  Resources.  And multitudes of prayers.  The love and support has been overwhelming.  It's not surprising.  But it is so very comforting.

Miracles continue to take place.  Hearts are warming.  Bad habits are crumbling ... in record time, mind you.  And a family is beginning to be restored.

The road is long.  It will be expensive and embarassing and inconvenient.  But this is so much better than the alternatives. 

This is our rock bottom.  And for now, I am strangely at peace here and slowly making my way to the top.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Alma Mater

"There’s a land of rushing water
where once a forest grew
And the dark trees trailed their branches
in the river’s dusky hue.
There the BEAVERS built their houses
in confidence serene.
And the sunset was the orange
and the forest was the green."

That's my high school's alma mater - Beaver River Central School.  The home of the Beavers.  When I was a kid, I was never impressed with our school colors or our mascot - not very impressive in some eyes.  But something changes when one graduates.  If my blood wasn't orange then, it certainly is now.

I attended BRCS from Kindergarten straight up through my senior year.  I never knew another school, another building, other teachers, other programs.  Beaver River was my life.  It still is.

You see, in addition to my siblings and me, my husband graduated from there ... as did his siblings, and my parents, and two of my grandparents.  A third grandparent even received an honorary diploma there several years ago since he wasn't able to finish high school due to his service in WWII.  One grandfather and my father each served on the Board of Education in past years.  Today, my three children attend the school and my husband and sister-in-law are two of their excellent teachers.

So you see, I really do bleed orange.

I realize all schools are facing challenges right now.  Budget cuts are everywhere.  But it always hurts more when it hits home.  Yesterday, home was hit.

Notifications were made to 19 faculty and staff that their positions will likely be cut.  Nine others were told that their positions would be cut to half-time.  That's 25 adults losing their job or significantly taking a cut in their salary.  25 may not sound like a lot to you.  For us, a school with less than 1000 students, that's HUGE!  Roughly a third.

You see, we live in a very rural community.  Our school houses K-12 in one building.  And because of our rural locale, this school is an integral part of our daily lives in this community.  This school is not just a school.  This school is our home, the students and staff our family. 

And what happens when your family is attacked?  You fight.  You fight to protect and to save.  You give all you got.

I don't "got" much.  (That's the way a lot of us talk around here.)  "We don't got much."  But today I have my words.  My thoughts.  My prayers.  So that's what I'll give.

Today I wrote my first letter to the editor, my first letters to my government officials and agencies.  This is not me.  And it's not something I should be proud of (the fact that I've never done it before).  But my family is hurt and I need to fight.  I don't know if my words will be read.  I don't know if they will be "heard" or understood or considered.  But I need to do something, right?

To Whom it May Concern:

That’s such a cliché … to whom it may concern. Especially when it seems the concern isn’t there. Which is the reason for this letter.

I am writing to you regarding the impending crises of the Beaver River Central School community. I realize that school districts everywhere are facing some of the same situations. But I am asking you to use your position and your voice to help us; those of us here in a small community in northern New York that most of your colleagues have never even heard of.

I am proud to be a Beaver River graduate, as are my husband, my siblings, my parents, and my grandparents. Our three children now attend Beaver River and my husband and sister-in-law are two of their excellent teachers.

Because of the size of the size of our community, Beaver River in an integral part of our daily lives. Much of our social life revolves around the school. Concerts, sporting events, benefits, and various other activities.

One such event that will forever remain in my heart concerns my immediate family in particular. Last fall, I was planning a benefit to raise money for medical expenses for my sister who was going through chemotherapy in Virginia. Less that one week before the benefit was to be held, my sister had a cardiac arrest and my brother and I immediately left with our father to be by her side. (My mother was already there.) My husband and sister-in-law graciously stepped in to finish organizing the benefit in my absence. But more importantly, countless teachers and other Beaver River staff members stepped in right along side of them. So many helped plan and organize and set-up and serve the meal and count the money and contact winners of the silent auction. They did not have to do this. It was not their family in need. But in a way it was, because we ARE family in this district. And that’s what family does: they support each other in times of need.

There are less than 1000 students K-12, but that doesn’t mean we have less heart or less need. Our students, faculty, and staff are just as important as any other.

As it stands now, approximately 25 faculty and staff have been notified that their position will be cut either entirely or to half-time. 25 – that’s roughly the equivalent of our entire elementary teaching staff. We are losing administrators, teachers, assistants, and support staff; from elementary, middle school, and high school; in all program areas, including the core courses.

Our school is losing excellent educators. Our community is losing friends, family, and tax-payers. The economic ripple effect of this will be never-ending and far-reaching.

More importantly, though, our students are losing favorite teachers and mentors and programs that they love. Music, art, ag, and tech classes, sports – they may be the “extras” that can be most easily cut, but for some of our children, they are the incentive for going to school in the first place, the one thing that they feel they are good at or find enjoyable.

I remember over 20 years ago, being involved in a student “sit-in” in the pool lobby of Beaver River. The budget must have been in a similar state and our entire sports program was threatened. I was too young at the time to really understand, but now as I look back, someone noticed us. Someone took another look, a harder look. Someone took the time and energy to find another way. Someone helped us to keep the sports program that we so dearly loved.

We need someone again. We need to be re-assessed. We need to be taken off the “wealthy” list, because anyone knowing this area even a little bit knows that is not the case. I realize this takes more money that the state does not seem to have. But the effects would be so worthwhile. Stop spending money in useless places and put the money where it matters. (For instance, no one in the north country needed a grant study to learn that if more maple trees were tapped, maple producers could earn more money. A five-minute conversation with any local maple producer would have given the same results.) Someone somewhere can make the decision to use our money more wisely. Someone needs to step up and do the right thing and stop worrying about political agendas.

There are so many other places that cuts can be made. Please don’t make them in our education system. Our children need us to support their future … they ARE our future.

Please be that person or organization or government official. Please help save our teachers and our staff and our programs. Please help our community. Save our school.


Erika L. Smith
Beaver River Family Member

Our students are also stepping up.  The support I've seen come from them in the last 24 hours has been amazing!  Signs, banners, posters, streamers.  Their motto has become SOS ... Save Our School.  So many wore white T-shirts today decorated with those letters - my kids included.  The most amazing ones also mentioned on the back that "our God is greater" than all of this.  And He is.  We need to remember that.  We need to count on that.

There was one shirt, though, that made me sad as I saw streams of them in the hallways this morning.  One high school boy had the SOS on his shirt just like the others, only his first "S" stood for "sink".  My own heart sank reading it.  Given all the emotion he must have seen yesterday, I can't imagine what kind of heart he must have to make and wear that. 

I wanted to ask him what his dream was to be when he grew up.  Then I wanted to tell him that the teachers he sits with every day had a dream, too.  Their dream was to become a teacher, his teacher, and to touch the hearts of kids just like him.  To touch their hearts and train their minds.  To teach and guide and mentor and encourage them to become everything they want to be.  To reach for their dream! 

I hope someone will be bolder than I was this morning.  I hope someone will gently encourage him to reconsider his statement.  And I hope that he does.

Because these teachers, these administrators, these assistants and other support staff ... their all feeling like their dream has been ripped out of their hearts.

Save Our School.  And if you don't live here in our district, do something to save yours.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Joyful Parenting

I have truly enjoyed following Ann Voskamp at her website  There I have found two wonderful lists that are now printed out and posted at my desk ... with some photo embellishing of my own three angels to make it that much more personal for me. 

I hope you will find some of her words to hold onto and hide in your heart ... words, advice, encouragement that will make your journey in parenting that much more joyful.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yes, God, I'm Listening

Below is an excerpt from the CaringBridge journal I keep for my sister, Amanda.  Amanda suffered a cardiac arrest on September 20, 2010 after an infection and other complications from her chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  She was in various stages of a coma for a long time and currently continues to recover from the brain damage suffered due to the lack of oxygen.  This was posted on the first day of my second trip to see her after the cardiac arrest.

Journal Entry for Thursday, November 11, 2010

My feet hit the Virginia soil (well, technically, I suppose it was tarmac, not soil) just before 9 am this morning. While I was on the plane, I asked God for a miracle. Something in my life or, better yet, something for Amanda.

Chris picked me up at the airport and before we had driven out to the street he was telling me that Amanda was trying to speak again. She was asking for "more ice"!

OK, God, I hear you.

Amanda wasn't in her room when I arrived but I could hear Mom talking from somewhere else and found them around the corner. It took a few seconds for it to register, but when Amanda figured out who was standing there, her arms went up and out and she leaned forward a bit in her chair like she wanted to jump up and hug me.

Yes, God, I'm listening.

We chatted with a volunteer for a bit (and gave her a piece of Croghan chocolate!) and then took a hot lap aorund the unit before heading back to the room. Amanda was pretty emotional for a bit and was trying to talk again. It took a while for me to decipher but now we know "I want to go home!"

Alrighty then!

Dr. Alecia stoppped to chat for a bit and then Bill from PT came by shortly after with Jenna. They sat her on the edge of her chair and started working with her. She's beginning to balance herself. She can lift and extend her legs out one at a time and lift each up. She can hold her left arm up over her head once she is helped to get it there, but the right arm is weaker. They lifted her to a standing position and said that they could tell she was bearing some of her own weight. She even tried to give me a high five.

OK ... I hear you.

Shortly after they left, Mom & I were getting her comfortable again in the chair and she kept trying to say something else. I thought I understood one of the words, but I wasn't sure. She repeated it. And then I was almost sure. I gave it a shot: "underwear"??? Yes. Underwear. Apparently she's a bit concerned that she is underdressed! And you can be sure that when she's well enough to read this, she's going to rip me into pieces for posting that!

Uh-huh ...

So then she's looking at the collage of photos on her wall. I can pick out the word "kids" and then "Travis". And then we determined that she wanted to talk to Travis. So she did. We gave him a call and she said "Hi Travis" and later on said "Carson" and "Greta" and "bye".

Granted, these words are all very slurred and it takes time and immense concentration to figure it out, but they are words none-the-less. I'm sure they will come quicker and easier in time.

And to end it for now, I'll tell you what I just told her that made her laugh a lot ... my mother just left for the cafeteria in her slippers! I'm willing to bet that she won't even think about it unless I say something to her ... which I won't ... until she reads this. She's pretty much on Cloud 9 because of all that Amanda has done today.

And so am I. Thank you, God.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

When I Grow Up

I'm 38 years old.  And I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.

While in high school I dabbled in babysitting, working in a fabric store and a flower shop, and lifeguarding at the local swimming hole.  I knew I'd never do any of that for the rest of my life, though being a lifeguard on Baywatch did seem to have it's perks.

The first career that I remember wishing for, when I was a little girl, was to be a teacher.  I think that's common for little girls when they enter school.  I had discovered some great teachers and often tried to emulate them while playing school with my best friend in her basement or my attic.

I remember, too, wanting to be come a marine biologist.  I think what I really dreamed of was to swim with the dolphins and pick up seashells on the shore and snorkle over a coral reef.  Nevermind all that research.  I just wanted to be near those graceful creatures and touch them and steal some of their magic and smile as they smiled, neverending, at me.

At one time, I even wanted to be a nurse.  Specifically, an ER nurse.  I would watch various "medical" shows on TV, like Trapper John MD and Quincy, and thought that would be a glamorous life.  All the excitement and yet helping those in their most needful hours.

I didn't do any of that.  I didn't even go to college.  Well, that's not entirely true.  My agenda when I was in my senior year of high school was to marry the boy I loved and be his wife and mother to his children.  That part came true.  And I still hold those titles today; and as battered as they are, they still bring me joy.

My parent's, on the other hand, wanted me to get some more education.  They never, ever pushed college onto me.  I don't even remember them suggesting it.  They did, however, request (demand) that I take a scholorship test for a year's tuition at a technical school.  I surrendered and did as they asked, so unwillingly.  And I won the scholarship.

I married 2 months after my high school graduation, moved 3 hours away, supported my husband as he finished his college career, and finished a 9 month program at the technical school.  I now held a medical Receptionist certificate and had no idea what to do with it.

My first "real" job was as a parts secretary in a corporation that produced big machines - machines that made other things.  It paid the bills, but I did not want to do that the rest of my life.  I left the job when we moved home 9 months later.

Next, I was an administrative assistant (aka secretary and receptionist) for our local Cooperative Extension office.  It was enjoyable, for the most part, but again, nothing I was over-the-top about.  Seven years and 2 children later, that came to an end and I became a stay-at-home mom.

After baby number three, the illness (and eventual death) of my grandmother, and a failed home business, I went back to work part-time.  I became the office manager of a funeral home and medical transportation office.

The medical transportation part was OK.  But the funeral home ... strange as it sounds ... that was were I could envision myself for the rest of my working days.  I was helping people.  Helping them make decisions and guiding them through one of the hardest times in their lives.  Some days were really, really hard - I'll never forget the day I helped a young mother choose a casket for her child.  But I felt like I made a difference, like what I was doing actually mattered to someone.

I eventually left that position for personal reasons.  I chose my family over the job I loved.  And in the end, it was the right decision.  Family will come first ... always.

Today I work in a physician's office.  I am a receptionist.  I'm finally holding the title that matches my certificate that I received nearly 20 years ago.  I enjoy the people I work with and the people I've come to know as our patients.  But I'm still restless.  I can't envision myself here until retirement, but I won't leave anytime soon.  Not without some intervention from God.

Which brings me here.  What do I really want to be when I grow up?  I still don't know.  Maybe I never will. 

I toy with the idea of working in a funeral home again.  I have no desire to go back to school to become a funeral director - that just would never happen with 3 children and a home to take care of.  But an assistant, even if it's just in the office?  I can do that.  I know that.  Truthfully, though, I can't picture ever touching this career again. 

I know have a desire to help people, sometimes I think young people, teenagers.  But I have no clear path, no plan.

But I think I'm finally beginning to understand who I want to be.  And this is probably so much more important that the "whats" in life.  No, it IS.

I've recently been following Ann Voskamp's blog, A Holy Experience, and God is touching me through her words, her photos, her joy.  I want to be that joyful wife and mother, the one that finds a blessing in every minute of her crazy day.  I want to count my gifts (One Thousand Gifts and more!) and let the gratitude flow and never cease.  I want to be comfort, a safe place, showing wisdom and mercy and grace.

I want to be "Ann" when I grow up.  No, that's not it at all.  I want to be like Him.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spring Has Sprung

There's a spring in my step today.  It's been so long.  I feel like the sunshine and warmth and promises of new growth has lightened my "winter load".  I have finally entered the long-awaited season of spring in my heart.

Spring ...
melting snow
cleared sidewalks
dripping sap
washing very dirty windows
laundry on the line
gentle breeze
jets overhead, too low, too loud
windowsill full of seeds sown, waiting to be born
birds singing
children playing in the yard
plants peeking from the ground
people walking by, coming out of their winter as well, perhaps?
anticipation of something new, something fresh,something exciting

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Beautiful Feet

"I can only imagine where these tiny feet will go in their lifetime. My only hope is that they never forget the way home."  ~ Candice G. (Kendallsmommie)

"Our feet tell a story of where we have been and hold the hopes and dreams of where we will go."     ~ L. Grace Lauer

"It’s a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand."  ~ Madeleine L’Engle

"Dear God, each morning when my child's feet touch the floor, may they take my child in your footsteps and lead them where you want them to go."  ~ Unknown

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Place for Everything?

This is what I like my life to look like. Neat, tidy, organized. A place for everything ... everything in its place.

I've had people come into my home and mention how clean it is. They aren't really seeing. There is dust everywhere ... cobwebs on the ceiling, in the corners ... hair in the tub (gross!) ... gunk in the dishwasher. No, clean it is not.

I try. I really do. The vaccuming is done and the bathrooms are cleaned weekly if not more often. I wash handprints off the front doors frequently, selfishly, all the better to see you through. Outside windows, well, 3 maybe 4 times a year, tops ... inside maybe a tiny bit more due to above mentioned prints. Dusting ... let's not even go there.

(My grandmother once told me, by the way, that one day I'll miss those fingerprints. Someone once told her that when her babies were small, and I daresay she found that statement to be true as she grew old. So that's enough reason for me not to worry about the windows!)
But neat, tidy, organized ... that is really what I strive for. That, and only that, allows me some attempt at sanity.

No one else that lives here can see things lying on the floor - whether it be a cracker crumb or a bookbag or a pair of boots. To me they each look like mountains that I continually have to conquer. It's daunting ... it's frustrating ... can I even go so far as annoying?

Maybe it's about the control. I'm sure that's how my husband and children feel. "Clean your room! Put your dishes in the sink! Throw your laundry down the chute! Hang up your coat!"
Maybe they're right. Maybe it's the only thing I feel in control of. The only thing I can see the immediate result of.

Maybe I'm trying to be the good wife ... keeping the home tidy. Or the good mom ... teaching life skills and responsibility. Maybe I'm delusional.

Maybe it's about serenity. Less stuff ... less to worry about ... more peace. Less clutter very often equals less stress for me. And less stress should mean good things for everyone, too ... right? Right?

Maybe I don't know what it really is about. So I'll just continue to strive for organization, to enjoy my tidy life, even if it is only on the outside, and hope that my family doesn't resent me for my obsession with it. Maybe one day ... one day far, far away ... they will even thank me for it.