A Goodbye Letter to 2020

Dearest 2020,

I knew you were trouble from the start.

While I am grateful for myriad things – extra one-on-one time with my father, a slower pace at home, my own health and the health of my husband and sons – I am mostly still very mad at you. I will work through it eventually, and you won’t be around to see it. Today is your last day.

Many people started the year with a hefty amount of optimism, but I didn’t. It was in the tank by December, so my biggest task, or so I thought, was to muscle through a deeply personal trauma and hopefully have my father around for another calendar year.

Not only did I lose Dad in September and Grandpa Thomas in November, but you made life even more problematic with a pandemic. Talk about curveballs! Every day brought another dose of uncertainty. You want to mess with a perfectionist with control issues? GIVE HER DAILY DOSES OF UNCERTAINTY.

I won’t deny the positives that were born out of that time. Chuck was home more often than not. (All those porch days were a gift, I admit.) We had a few good boat days and early morning fishing trips. We celebrated birthdays and saw our friends. The weather this year has been one of the highlights – we’ve had all four seasons! I’m grateful for that.

But I have to tell you, 2020 – I’d give it all back to you if it meant I could have Dad back. I’d make the trade. I know that’s not how it works, but that’s how I feel.

Two nights ago you gave us your last full moon. It was gorgeous. Big and bright, like a flood light in the sky.

Today, however, I woke up to a rainy drizzle, and I don’t think we’ll see the sun all day. It feels like one more stab. I don’t know if I can stay up late enough to see you go. You robbed me this year. You robbed a lot of people. The sooner I go to sleep, the sooner you’ll be gone.

I know 2021 won’t be everything I want it to be, at least not at first. We are still in the woods, still wandering around looking for the path to lead us out of this COVID mess. I hear you, though, telling me to learn the lessons from this year and let the hardships make me better, but I’m telling you NOT YET. I need a little more time. One day, when I’m not so bitter, I will likely view you as a transformative year, not a destructive one. I’ll declare that 2020 was the year I learned [insert lesson here] and it will fuel my personal and spiritual growth. I’ll be sure to report back and give you proper credit.

For now, I’m done with you. I’m worn out. You won. You broke something in me, and since I haven’t found the exact location of the crack, I can’t patch it yet. I’m the kind of tired a nap won’t fix.

Do me a favor and tell your successor to take it easy on my family and me. My friends, too, for good measure. Tell 2021 to come in slowly, tenderly, like a new mother checking on her sleeping baby. Take a peek, then close the door gently. LEAVE US BE.

And if 2021 is going to be worse, then forget everything I said. Those porch days with my husband were really wonderful. I’ll always cherish the long drives with Dad after radiation. I’m glad Mom finally got her hip replaced. I’m grateful my kids are healthy and happy. I still have my pets, my best friends, and a lovely home from which to view sunsets.

Interestingly, the last time I photographed the moon was December 12, 2019, the day I put Mom on a plane to California to be with Dad in the hospital. Little did we know then, and little may we know now.

My Safer-At-Home Begins and Thoughts on The Great Pause

First of all, Happy Birthday, Dad! It’s a milestone, and I’m so grateful for it 🙂

While most of the country started social distancing in March, I was still spending afternoons with Dad at the cancer institute. We had hours together each day amid other patients and their caregivers. By the end of his treatment, a nurse was assigned to the front door to take temperatures and hand out masks to everyone who came inside.

But now he’s finished! Mom and Dad rang the bell on April 7, and Dad went home from the rehab center that afternoon. We’ve entered another new normal, and when I think about the place from where we’ve come, I nearly get whiplash. First, they were stuck in California, then the rehab center, then the lockdown… It’s a testimony to how capable we really are when we put our heads down and keep moving forward, even when it feels impossible.

Now, he’s home! Medical equipment is set up in the house and my parents are adjusting as best they can. We’re in a holding pattern until the end of April and beginning of May when Dad will undergo scans and tests to determine if the treatment even worked. We have no idea what to expect, so we’re all just trying not to think about it.

Since the number of doctors’ appointments have dropped dramatically, that means I’m just now starting to stay home. I’ve gone to the grocery store, and I went for a run once at the Greenway (there were fewer people there than I expected), but for the most part, we’re staying home. I’m immensely grateful.

We finally got the garden started, so yes – I guess we had to go out and buy plants for it since I didn’t make the time or have the thought to start with seedlings. However, I was happy to see that the local co-op was limiting the number of people entering the store and corralling shoppers through specific doors.

Every time we’ve gone out in public, we’ve taken precautions. And every time we’ve interacted with others in the community, people were respectful and careful. Maybe these are the perks of small-town life. I know COVID-19 is here (to date, we’ve had three recorded deaths in our county), but I don’t think many people are being overtly careless. There will always be outliers, but I think most of us are doing our best.

Fortunately, we live out in the county where I can run on backroads and never interact with other people. With our gym temporarily closed, I’m back to running four and five days a week. I even signed up for a virtual race because – well, why not?

Just as I’m settling into my Safer-At-Home orders from the governor, Jeremy is struggling to manage the loss of a promising soccer season and the necessary friend time he craves as an extrovert. I’m not even poking fun! I know he’s miserable, and I wish I could fix it. The only high point of the last five weeks is the driving time we’ve afforded him.

Here he is driving me to pick up Mexican for dinner one night (to-go):

Chuck, Jackson, and I are homebodies and tend to prefer a quieter life, but Jeremy is dying a slow death from boredom and disconnection. We’ve involved the kids in all sorts of household projects and chores, but that doesn’t feed Jeremy’s need to be social, nor does it even remotely fix the problem of no soccer. Productivity funnels his energy, but it doesn’t fix the psychological need to feel connected to the world. I hate to think what the summer will be like for him if things don’t change for a while.

I don’t know who to credit for calling this time The Great Pause, but I think it’s spot-on. I know not everyone’s COVID crisis is the same. Mercifully, Chuck’s job is secure even though my freelance work will likely shift or potentially dry up. We are already homeschoolers, so our education plan for the boys is not hugely impacted. (It’s impacted, but not in a way that’s life-altering. Read more about that here.) I’m a decent cook and gardener, and Chuck is a hunter, so even food-wise, we have the means to figure out meals without a ton of outside help. In a nutshell, our COVID experience looks quite different from someone who lives in Midtown Manhattan or even downtown Knoxville. It looks different from households with two parents who work outside the home, or a single parent who works full time, or any other possible scenario in any American home. If boredom is our greatest pain, then we have nothing to complain about.

But I’m still using this time to think carefully about our lives, about how we spend our time, about what we spend our money on. I’ve even walked through each room in the house and considered the things we have – do we need this stuff? Could we downsize our belongings a little more? When this is all over, how do we want our lives to look? Crisis tends to make life come into focus for me, so I’m spending The Great Pause in deep thought.

We have four weeks of school left, but my ambition is thin. I’m already preparing final tests and getting my thoughts together on next year. However, whenever I see articles on the coronavirus, I keep reading words like “if we go back in August” and I cannot wrap my brain around The Great Pause going beyond the summer.

Truly, 2020, you’ve outdone yourself. You can stop now.

That time I was questioned by the police

A couple of days ago I was on a six-mile run while listening to West Cork, an Audible True Crime series, which is set up like a podcast. (If you enjoyed Serial and S-Town, I recommend you give it a try.) The particular episode I was listening to centered around the Irish Garda’s (police) questioning of a murder suspect, and suddenly I was struck by the memory that I, too, had been questioned by the police.

Not for murder, mind you. For fraud, forgery, and theft.

This was me in college. I was an A/B student – only one C, thank you very much, and it was in Geology,  a mind-numbing class about rocks.

This photo was taken in 1998 in my office when I served as editor of the university newspaper. Behind my head on the wall is a poster of Jon Bon Jovi. To my right, on the shelf, is a framed photo of Chuck and me. I was the student who got up early to exercise, rode my bike to campus, hung out in the newsroom when I had free time, and studied hard for every exam. In addition to the newspaper, I also worked part-time at the front desk of a local hotel, an ideal job for a college student because I could study when not helping guests. I had nary a blemish on my record.

Imagine my disbelief, then, when I was called in to the Murfreesboro Police Department for questioning. I had no clue why I’d been contacted, so I started recounting my steps for weeks and months on end. Had I gone somewhere? Had I seen something? Had I done something? Why do police officers look so scary in interview rooms? 

I sat down at the table and the two male officers looked back at me. I remember clearly a distinct silence before a file was opened and one of the officers took a breath to speak.

“Do you know why we wanted to talk to you?”

I either shook my head or said no.

The officer read my address to me and asked if I lived in that particular apartment. I said I did. (As a reward for earning the editor position, I moved off campus into my own one-bedroom apartment. The rent was $390 per month and my cat, Precious, was able to live with me.) He asked how long I’d lived in that apartment, and at the time, it had been less than a year.

Then he placed in front of me a series of checks written out to various stores in the local mall. They weren’t checks from my bank account, and my name wasn’t on any of them. He asked if I recognized the checks, and I said no.

He asked, “Are you sure?”

I examined them more closely. They belonged to a woman, evident by the printed name in the top left-hand corner, and they’d been filled out by a woman, evident by the big, loopy cursive handwriting. Still, they weren’t mine, nor were they filled out by me. I either shook my head or said no.

The officer explained that a box of checks had been delivered to my apartment – or rather, the metal mailbox associated with my apartment located at the front of the complex.

“I don’t use that mailbox,” I said. Relief washed over me. “The lock doesn’t work so the door just hangs open. I only use my campus mailbox.”

Another bout of silence.

“Only junk mail gets delivered to the apartment. I don’t use that mailbox. I don’t even check it.”

My relief faded. I realized that whether or not I used the mailbox for my own mail didn’t matter. If a box of blank checks had been delivered there, in theory, I still could’ve taken them and used them.

“I didn’t take the checks. I didn’t do this.”

The checks were collected and set aside, and a blank notepad and pen were placed in front of me. I was to sign my name several times, then sign the name of the person whose name had been forged.

A handwriting sample.

This was the real deal. I was a suspect in a crime. (Cue Law & Order gavel.)

I panicked as I started to sign my own name because I was certain they’d doubt me. As a 20-year-old creative person, my signature was known to change shape. It depended on my mood, my effort, the time I had to sign something. Sometimes it was coiled and messy, other times it was neat and professional.

I endeavored to sign my name authentically. Then, I moved on to the stranger’s name. I signed it over and over again, each on a new line, then I pushed the notepad back across the table so the police officer could inspect it.

Then he said something I will never forget.

“I have to say – this looks very similar.”

He brought the checks back to the center of the table and placed the notepad next to them. Yes, they looked similar, in that twirling, spiraling way every girl’s handwriting looks similar at 20 years old. My heart pounded.

“I didn’t take those checks. It wasn’t me.

While I have no idea what I looked like sitting at that table, I’m confident I looked a mess. I’ve never been able to hide my emotions. What you see is what you get. Surely, they could’ve interpreted my fear as guilt. The truth was that I wanted to cry and call my parents. 

Then, I looked at the dates on the checks and thought of my work schedule at the hotel. Suddenly, it occurred to me that my time could be accounted for. 

“You can look at my time cards,” I offered, “at the hotel. I’m sure I was working on those days.”

I went on to recount my work schedule, knowing my time cards would validate that I was seated at the front desk on the clock when the real thief was clothes shopping with someone else’s money. I gave them my boss’ name and number and told them to verify that what I was saying was true.

They let me go with the warning that if my time couldn’t be accounted for I would be contacted again. 

Thankfully, my boss provided the life-saving time cards that coincided with the dates written on the stolen checks. I was both grateful my name had been cleared and mortified that it had been associated with a crime in the first place.

I never heard from the police again.

The last thing I did was call the leasing office at the apartment complex to tell them what hell I’d just been through and to get the dang lock fixed on my mailbox.

A year and a half later, when I moved out of the apartment, the lock was still broken and the mailbox continued to be stuffed with junk mail address to “Current Resident.”

Answering your [very personal] questions about homeschooling

When we made the decision to homeschool during the summer of 2011, it came at the tail end of a difficult time. We’d just moved back to Tennessee after a tumultuous three years in Texas. Chuck’s mother passed away, and so did our family dog, and no one seemed able to adjust to the new normal, including Jeremy, who’d been uprooted in the second half of first grade and still wasn’t able to read and write on grade level. By June, Chuck’s aunt passed away and left in our care her 50-year-old son who is physically and mentally disabled. Again, as if on cue, our lives looked very different from what we expected.

By July 2011, we were all exhausted.

We all needed the sort of rest that couldn’t be recouped on a long weekend. Public school registration was right around the corner and, by all accounts, I should’ve been preparing to send my boys to second grade and Kindergarten. Until that summer, I never considered homeschooling. In fact, when our boys were babies we lived down the street from a large homeschooling family and as much as I loved and admired them, I didn’t think homeschooling was for us. We went to church with several homeschooling families, but they didn’t influence me. It didn’t capture my appeal. Homeschooling wasn’t on the radar.

But then, in 2011, with a hearing-impaired second grader who couldn’t read and a Kindergartener on the Autism Spectrum who just started speaking full sentences, I couldn’t imagine sending them to traditional school. After talking to a local homeschooling family and doing mounds of research, we decided the 2011-2012 school year was going to happen at home. We needed the world to stop spinning and I had the power to stop it.

So, we hopped off the traditional school train and, frankly, we never hopped back on.

Here we are, entering our seventh year of homeschooling, and I remain grateful for the privilege we have to educate our boys both at home and in the world. Our co-op adds to our experience tenfold, and the freedom we have to GO and DO is something I never want to surrender.

And yet, with all of these GOOD THINGS, I am still gobsmacked at the questions and comments I get both from strangers and people who know and love us. Sometimes the remarks are bold and insensitive, and sometimes they are veiled with genuine concern.

Still, it surprises me, so this post is designed to address your concerns and hopefully settle your mind about what I’m doing with my kids.

The following questions are real questions I’ve gotten from family members, friends, church members, and total strangers we encounter in the world. My answers are the real answers I gave in the moment:

“Do they get to see other kids?”

Yes, and often. Our co-op, which is made up of hundreds of families, meets weekly. They have friends in the neighborhood and friends across town, plus sports seasons each spring and fall and weekly volunteer work. I swear they are social.

Actually, they are tired of hearing this sort of question. When our family physician asked if I’d considered sending them back to school for socialization, before I could answer him Jeremy flung his hands in the air and said, “WHY DO PEOPLE THINK WE DON’T HAVE FRIENDS?” I laughed and shook my head.

“How will they learn to get up for work if they don’t get up for school each day?”

They do get up for school each day, but it’s at 8:30 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. Also, Jeremy just started a part-time job, and what do you know? He wakes up for it!

Furthermore, the rat race of the morning commute is something people adjust to all the time, not because they got up for school for 12 or 16 years, but because that’s what adults do. They adjust to dozens of requirements throughout their lives at any given point. Homeschooling has allowed our boys to get good rest and still adhere to general standard of daily living – get up, get dressed, and tend to your responsibilities. For what it’s worth, I think kids, in general, would benefit from a shorter school day and more time to play and rest.

“How will they learn about competition if they aren’t on a sports team?”

They’ve both played on sports teams since they were very young, though it’s been through local parks and recreation instead of the school system. Also, they’ll have the opportunity to play on local high school teams if they choose, but even still – competition isn’t solely reserved for sports. There’s competition of ideas and other achievements that are just as worthwhile. Competition happens in the co-op classroom and within their personal goal-setting. There are loads of kids in traditional school who don’t play sports, but I’m sure they experience competition in other ways.

“You’ll have to cut the apron strings sometime.”

I agree, but homeschooling doesn’t mean our apron strings are any tighter than those who send their kids to traditional school. More times than not, high schoolers who are homeschooled have more opportunity to work while in school because their hours are flexible. Additionally, homeschooling during the high school years is, in large part, self-led, so they don’t rely on Mom and Dad as much as you’d think. I’ve seen plenty of traditional high school graduates go off to college and fail miserably because they weren’t prepared on a basic level to be on their own. I won’t speak for other homeschooling families, but in our house we’ve been open and honest from the very beginning – we love you, but you can’t live here forever.

“I don’t know how you do it.”

I don’t know how I do it either, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

“I couldn’t be around my kids all day.”

I’m sorry to hear that. The boys get on my nerves too sometimes, but in homeschooling attitude is everything. As long as our attitudes are good, homeschooling is a breeze. Plus, I’ve noticed that all the moms who say this to me are the same moms who say they’re kids are growing up too fast. That’s not a feeling I’ve experienced, and I think it’s because I’ve been alongside them at every stage.

“Do you ever test them?”

Yes and no. Yes, they take weekly math and vocabulary tests. No, they don’t take standardized testing. Yes, they have quizzes and tests in some of their co-op classes. No, we don’t make up grades based on our love for our kids. Yes, they’ll take SAT and ACT prep courses just like every other high schooler, but no, we aren’t worrying about those things right now. I’m required to turn in grades to our umbrella school so they have official transcripts, and testing helps procure those grades.

“Are you going really going to homeschool them in high school?”

Yes, I really am. At least, that’s the plan. Anything can happen to alter the plan, but barring no major life changes, yes, we’ll continue homeschooling throughout high school. I can’t imagine sending them to traditional school at this point, particularly since many of the hard classes that I don’t want to teach are available at the co-op. For example, last year Jeremy took Life Science with Dissection. I was so pleased that he was able to dissect sharks and snakes and whatnot at the co-op and not in my kitchen. Also at co-op is Calculus, Biology, and dual enrollment courses with one of our local community college. So yeah, we’re good to go.

I appreciate your concern. Really, I do. But think about it – what if I asked you, “Are you really going to send your kids to public school?”  How would you respond?

Wait, never mind. I’d never ask you a question like that.

When Donald Trump says he doesn’t know those women, I believe him.

Upon hearing or seeing something outrageous from a presidential candidate, I do what everyone else does: I vent to like-minded people so my outrage is effectively validated.

The second thing I do is look at the comment/action/gesture through the lens of a woman raising two boys. Then I translate that comment/action/gesture into a teaching point – what can I do as a mother to ensure my boys do not end up like that.

Which is why I paid close attention to the sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump. I heard the sound bites, I watched the cringing video from Access Hollywood, and I digested an obscene amount of commentary from both sides.

I also unearthed myriad articles about Bill Clinton’s sexual assault history – because let’s be fair here, all accusers deserve a voice – and reviewed lists of politicians who’ve been accused of sexual misconduct while in office (and those lists are lengthy). When it comes to unwarranted groping, flirting, touching without consent, and using offensive language, sexual assault and misconduct knows no political party affiliation.

When Donald Trump says he doesn’t even know these women – his accusers – I believe him. I believe he has no memory of groping a woman on a flight in the 80s. I believe he has no memory of trying to kiss a receptionist in Trump Tower. I believe he has no memory of walking into a dressing room full of disrobed pageant queens.

Why do I believe him? Because when you don’t respect women, when “bro culture” allows this behavior with no real consequence, when women remain too afraid to speak up and defend themselves, sexual assault and misconduct become as commonplace as ordering from a menu, as normal as a handshake, as unforgettable as turning right on red.

He has no memory of these women because they were nothing to him.

Are there outliers? Sure. Some women might be eager for the spotlight. Some might be embellishing, and some might be outright lying. However, we’ve seen enough video and heard enough soundbites to apply context clues. We know enough about Trump’s megalomania to discern that he doesn’t have a record of respecting women.

That being said, let me tell you something: I remember the name of the boy who snapped my bra strap in sixth grade. You remember that time, don’t you? That awkward age when the relationship between boys and girls shifted into some weird, gray area because girls became physically interesting and boys started testing boundaries. We, as young women, hungry for attention and uncertain of the source of our worth, let a slew of things happen… hands on knees, the intentional elbow brush against breasts in the school hallway, the slip of a hand from between the shoulder blades to the low back to the behind… It meant a boy liked you, or perhaps sensed your low self-esteem and capitalized on it, even when the actions and comments were uncomfortable. We lacked the courage to speak up, to push them away, or to tell them, in the most colorful words, to bug off.

I guarantee you that the boy who snapped my bra strap doesn’t remember doing so. None of the boys who tried to look up my skirt remember doing so. I’m almost certain that the boy who I had to push away from me and lock the door and continually say through the peephole, “Go away,” because he wouldn’t take no for an answer doesn’t even remember my name.

But I remember his. His name was Tony.

It was Billy who ran up to me on the playground in sixth grade and snapped my bra strap, and he was also the one who made fun of the girls who weren’t developed enough to wear one.

There are three more names I’d like to mention, but now isn’t the time, and this isn’t the place.

I have sat through hour-long interviews where the man I’m interviewing looks back and forth, back and forth between my eyes and my chest, and I’ve said nothing. More recently I’ve felt uncomfortable in casual conversation with a certain man – who knows I’m married – whose compliments go too far, and I’ve said nothing. (Don’t worry. Chuck knows who he is.)

As recent as on the flight to Key West, a man gripped my hips and shifted past me in the narrow aisle on the way to the bathroom, so intrusive that the front of his pants rubbed against the back of my pants while I was bending over to pick up my carry-on bag. A simple tap on the shoulder and “excuse me” would’ve sufficed. But I said nothing.

Lest you think I see women as victims, I can assure you – we have responsibilities too. We can discuss the innate power girls and women know they have in their sexuality. We can acknowledge when girls and women have used their sexuality to persuade and sway the decision or action of a man. We can recognize when a girl or woman has positioned herself in harm’s way. Men and women alike play The Game.

But that is different and separate from the ongoing and underlying behavior acceptable in boys that lay a foundation for a lifetime of sexual misconduct and disrespect.

To be exact, as long as snapping bra straps and trying to look up skirts and stealing kisses and catcalling and unsolicited flirting is accepted as “boys will be boys,” [some] men will continue to see women as a perpetual playground. It starts early. It starts when they’re very young. It’s in this arena, the one I’m in with my ten and thirteen-year-old, where I must be different, be bold. It is now that I tighten my view and look directly at my boys and consider, “What else can I teach them? What else must they know?

Case in point: On the way home from our homeschool co-op yesterday Jeremy told me that one of the boys in his circle of friends accepts dares each week. When I asked what the dare of the day was, he said, “To go put his arm around a girl.”

“That is not okay,” I told him. “Do not ever put your hands on a girl without her permission.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean it’s fine to give a friend a hug or a high five or whatever, but don’t ever throw your arm around a girl, or touch her in any way, as part of a dare or means to show off. She is not a toy.”

“Okay,” he said. “But I wasn’t the one –”

“I know you weren’t the one, but I need to you to understand girls aren’t to be treated like that. That girl wouldn’t have known she was part of a dare. She would’ve walked away with an entirely different interpretation, and she wouldn’t have known there was a bunch of boys laughing at her expense.”

Am I overreacting? Maybe. Maybe this is just how boys and girls figure things out. But since I’ve been on the receiving end of dares, teasing, harassing, catcalling, and other behaviors that chiseled away at my self-worth, I believe it’s important to tell my boys what’s okay and what’s not. I correct inappropriate comments and interject a woman’s perspective so the boys understand that words can have just as much power as actions. Motherhood is my ultimate calling and charge, so I take each step of it seriously.

So yeah. I believe Donald Trump doesn’t know those women. I believe there are plenty of men who don’t realize they’re offending women and acting inappropriately. And I wonder if it’s because we aren’t diligent enough in the earliest years when we have the most power to shape our boys into honorable men.

Weekend Recovery

T’was an amazing weekend in Atlanta with my BFF for her Bachelorette Party. Many thanks to the W Hotel who over-booked our standard corner room and had no choice but to upgrade us to the Presidential Suite. The amount of shock we experienced was fully captured on video, which I intend to share with you later this week.

In the meantime, I have squandered the day away with photo editing and eating cookies. After I press “publish” on this post, I must, must, must write a paper that’s due tonight.

Our view from the room: ATL

Cheers to a fabulous night:Cheers

Love this girl! (This photo is a re-creation from high school graduation night in 1996. The original is probably in a storage bin in the basement. If I can find it, I’ll show you.)Bathtub Re-creationMore photos and such to come. For now, I must harness some level of responsibility. I should also probably get changed out of my pajamas.


The Church and [Gay] Marriage

Y’all, I rarely, rarely talk about heavy stuff here, and don’t worry – it won’t become a trend. This site is always going to be about creating memories and stories and posting pictures of my pets.

But right now, I think I’m going to create a little trouble.

First, I don’t even like the term “Gay Marriage.” It feels so silly. Marriage is a legal contract between two people. Some denominations regard it as a sacrament, but others don’t. The Reformed Church, in my understanding, does not.

gay marriage funnyLast week at General Assembly, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved a change to the church constitution to honor same-sex marriages by allowing clergy to perform ceremonies in states where the marriage is legal. They also voted to change the wording in the Book of Order from describing marriage as a civil contract between “a man and woman” to “two people.”

Friends, it’s important to note what the PC(USA) did not say that all Presbyterian clergy must perform same-sex marriages and all Presbyterian Church members must be okay with it.

Instead, it says that clergy are now allowed to use pastoral discretion – to act on their conscience – when asked to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony. It allows (but does not mandate) churches to openly embrace potential members in love and unity, with confidence that everyone’s family unit is equally valid. It says to the world, “We’re all worthy of enjoying the blessings and benefits of a committed, legal relationship and using the same word to describe it.”

Some Presbyterian clergy will perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, while others won’t. Some congregations will welcome such ceremonies in their sanctuaries, while others won’t. The beauty in this is the freedom to choose.

When I learned that the PC(USA) made this resolution, I got weepy. It made my heart swell. This issue is just one on a list of conflicts that prompted me to leave my former denomination. To be honest, what really prompted me to leave was the fact that the floor wasn’t even open for discussion. Possibly the thing I love the most about the PC(USA) is that I can ask difficult questions and not be called “Trouble” by my Sunday School teacher.

Because that really happened.

That being said, I know there are plenty of conservative Presbyterians who are uncomfortable with this vote. Some have written letters expressing grief, saying that this decision was made in haste and does not coincide with the Word of God. They are upset. They have theological whiplash. They are scratching their heads wondering where the church went wrong.

To those folks, I say this: I hear you. I know you’re struggling with the knowledge that your denomination entered the arena of gay marriage and decided to call a compassionate truce. Blessing the union of a same-sex couple by your pastor might go against what you’ve always believed to be right or true or Christian, and if that’s the case it might be a long hard road for you to reconcile what’s in your heart and what might be preached from the pulpit. You are not alone. However, let me challenge you with a few suggestions:

– If we believe that we are all made in God’s image, that we are all formed in His hand, that we are all loved and adored by Him, then let’s not continue to segregate ourselves from one another on account of matters we don’t fully understand. I encourage you to read Torn by Justin Lee. You may not agree with his theology in its entirety, but you can grow in understanding about how our Christian LGBT brothers and sisters may struggle with their place in church and within the body of Christ.

– The PC(USA) embraces intellectual and theological discourse. They don’t mind hard questions. In fact, they totally love that stuff. In every pew are members with a wide range of beliefs. Chances are, you’ll find people within your own church body who are either struggling like you or have settled their minds either way. Talk about it. Consult your clergy and elders. Pull together a study group and wrestle together. But, friends, above all things, do it with an open mind and heart. 

– Finally, consider your sources. As you study the Bible, you’ll likely consult outside resources to help you discern scriptural interpretation. Keep in mind that a general internet search may not warrant the best results. As always, when reading scripture, consider the author, the audience, and political and social climate of the time in which a passage was written. This goes for all of scripture, but it’s particularly necessary when grappling with social justice issues like gay marriage. People are quick to quote Leviticus when arguing against gay marriage, but that is neither helpful nor relevant. 

In the end, your mind may not be changed. You may feel even more confident than ever that marriage is indeed between a man and a woman and your church was wrong in its decision. Can you agree to disagree and still worship God with your church family? Or is this resolution a deal breaker and you need to find another church that better suits you? I trust you will make those hard decisions with deep sincerity.

Alternately, through your research, you may develop a new understanding of the church’s role in matters such as these. You may feel relieved and happy and proud that your church family has taken the next big step. If that’s the case, then let’s take that step together and throw open the sanctuary doors towards inclusion.

Regardless of where you stand, it’s worth noting that we are all working out parts of our faith, and for some, this one has been a doozy. Be respectful always towards those who are rejoicing and those who are mourning. There is room for everyone in the discussion as long as we mind our manners and speak in love.

speak the truth

Lastly, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking any of this is final. We are all “in progress,” aren’t we? As Presbyterians, we are reformed and always reforming. Just as soon as we’ve made a resolution, new questions are asked, new opinions are made, and new dilemmas arise. So let’s not lose heart in defeat or be overly boastful in triumph. Instead, let’s just keep moving forward and see what awaits us around the bend.

Red Letter Christians: An intelligent, respectful place to hear both sides of many denominational differences and conflicts.

PC(USA): Learn more about the Presbyterian Church and read transcripts/commentary from the General Assembly.

The weekend is in sight

How’s your Thursday going so far? I have high hopes for today because my Wednesday started like this:

In addition to waking up grouchy, I had a ton of unfinished work due for my screenwriting class. I intended to finish it before noon, but that plan was a wash after we spent three hours in the doctor’s office to make sure Jackson didn’t have a broken foot. According to the boys, they were “strength training” in the basement Tuesday night when Jack threw a kick that missed the punching bag (and his brother) and hit a pole instead. The poor guy limped around all morning, so we decided to get it checked out. It turns out that his foot is not broken but is actually quite bruised.

The day went on to unravel when we got home and no one wanted to do his or her school work.  We ate chocolate cake to make ourselves feel better.

That was Wednesday morning.

Then Wednesday afternoon arrived and things turned around. Happy Hour with church friends,  a surprise dinner with Amy, and an A on my first short story made it all better.  Plus, the forecasted snow never arrived and the sun is shining. It’s still cold, but I swear to goodness Spring is about have its way with Old Man Winter and I have ringside seats.

Are you gearing up for Mad Men like I am?

Wherein I was ridiculed at Bath and Body Works

My sister gave me a Bath & Body Works gift card in December, a sweet gesture that read Thank You For Hosting Christmas and Buy Yourself Some Decent Hand Soap. I buy cheapo 99¢ soap at Kroger because I can’t afford Sweet Apple Pie with Cinnamon and Vanilla for $10 an ounce when my boys refuse to pump fewer than 20 times per hand wash.

Still, I was thankful for the card and finally wandered into the store yesterday to buy myself something.

Even though the overall look of Bath & Body Works is just as I remembered it from the late 90s, all the scents were unfamiliar. No Country Apple, no Sun-Ripen Raspberry.  I stopped shopping there when I decided I didn’t want to smell like fruit anymore. When I got married I upgraded to perfume, and now I’m so fancy that I wear parfum.

I outed myself – and my age – in the first five seconds.

“Hi there! Welcome to Bath and Body!” A cheerful 17-year-old employee bounced in front of me. “Can I help you find something?”

“I dunno,” I said. “I haven’t been in here since I was in college.”

“HA!” she roared. “Yeah, it’s been a long time then and we’ve got lots of new stuff.”

“Yeah, it’s been a while.”  I gave her a half-grin.

“What scent did you used to wear?” she smiled with her perfect teeth and size zero waist.

“I don’t remember. Limeade, I think.”

“Yeah, that must have been a long time ago ’cause I’ve never heard of that.”

Then I snatched her up by her long, blonde ponytail and put her in a headlock.

(Not really, but almost.)

“Well look around and if you need help, let me know.”  She turned on her heel and bounced off to another customer.

She might as well have said I’ll go around with you, Me-maw, and read all the labels to you real slow like.

I took gentle whiffs of everything and quickly became overwhelmed. B&BW doesn’t smell exclusively like fruit anymore, but I am so far out of the body lotion circle that choosing one thing was going to be hard. I finally wandered to the corner of the store, and it was there by the stress relief products that the girl revisited me.

“OMG, that stuff is sooooo good. We have soooooo many women who swear by our stress relief line,” she smiled and tilted her head to a 45-degree angle.

“Yeah, we get stressed as we get older.”

“Haha! You’re soooo funny!” she laughed. “You’ll totally like this then. I swear to God it’s soooooo good. I always get it for my mom.

Then I drop-kicked her right there in front of the Eucalyptus Spearmint Body Lotion.

(Not really, but almost.)


“No problem!” She flung her ponytail around and bounced away.

I ended up buying a bottle of Lavender Vanilla Aromatherapy Lotion because suddenly I was feeling very stressed. At the register, she made small talk, which I ignored, and handed me the receipt with my bag.

“I’ve included a coupon for your next trip in,” she smiled, “but you’ll have to come back sooner than 20 years.

Then I punched her in the teeth and gave her the finger.

(Not really, but almost.)

So here it is, the first Bath & Body Works product I’ve purchased since Y2K.

Lavender Vanilla

I am looking forward to calm feelings and better sleep. God knows at my age I need it.

Waiting on the snow

The Weather Channel is indecisive. I think it’s nervous about being wrong. Instead of starting last night, and then early this morning, now it says the snow should arrive this afternoon. I bought provisions yesterday, so it matters little to me when it actually starts. Yet, while I sit in the house another full day drinking pots of flavored coffee and bags of peanut M&Ms, I’ll hold my fist to the sky and blame Old Man Winter for adding another layer to my winter fat.


Seriously, we are all ready for spring. We are ready to romp and play and be warm. I’m ready for green grass and gardening and keeping our windows open all day. I’m ready to toss children outside for hours and take the dog for long runs.

Even though this photo was taken in the fall, it captures the happiness our family feels when we’re outside:

Romp in the woodsIn other news, I posted my first short story yesterday. Once I get all the feedback and do a few edits, I’ll post it. Thanks for participating in the poll, Internet.

Riding the high of a snow day

Finally, we’ve had a good snow. You’d think snow was a regular winter thing at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains, but no. It’s rare, and when it happens, it’s like a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Yesterday, we got a big ‘ole heap of it. Since we homeschool and our usual Tuesday activities were cancelled, we didn’t have to leave the house. The same goes for today. I’m almost out of milk, but we have electricity, which means we have the Internet and a working coffee maker. The necessary provisions are stocked.

It’s not lost on me how fortunate we are. So many families were separated last night because roads and highways were clogged with wrecks or simply impassable. The stories out of Atlanta and Chattanooga are tragic. Kids were stranded at school, people had to sleep in their cars. Many abandoned their cars and walked home. Commutes that usually took 15 minutes were stretched to eight hours or longer. No, it’s not lost on me how fortunate we are.

We finished school as fast as we could yesterday and went outside to play. It was beauty-full.

LightpostMagnoliaWe don’t have a sled, but it didn’t matter. Heavy duty garbage bags work just fine.Snow dayDown the hillWipe outJack goes down the hillJeremy goes down the hillHappinessEven the beast liked the snow. Blue tickCute? Yes. Major loves the snowBut so naughty! (He steals gloves.) Cute but naughty

A Prayer for the Second Semester

Dear Lord,

I’m grouchy today, and so are the kids. We’ve been spoiled by two weeks of indulgence and now we have to get back to our school work. Silent letters, telling time, triple-digit division, novel writing…  The children are already on my nerves and I’ve only had one cup of coffee. Why don’t they love school like I do? They are whiny, and so am I. Have mercy on us. I even had to muzzle the dog.

Lord, I pray that I don’t lose my cool and run from the house screaming. I pray the children do their best instead of throwing toddler fits on the floor over one more assignment. And when they throw their toddler fits, Lord, help me not to snatch them up by their ears and throw them over my knee, because we’re better than that, even when they act like fools.

Give me a kind voice and a patient spirit when they complain, for even I must refrain from toddler fits and thrashing around on the floor.

And when we reach spring break and lose all composure, grant us a second wind to carry on through May.

From the heart of a homeschooling mom in graduate school –



Novel progress and a baby, unrelated

The novel is sailing along at more than 32,000 words. No doubt I’ll hit the 50,000-word limit by the end of November to meet the terms of NaNoWriMo and my creative writing class, but this book will be well over 50K when it’s finished. I’ve employed my dearest friend, Corey, to read it and advise me, and by “employ” I mean that I’ve cashed in 20-plus years of friendship in exchange for her expertise as a creative person. She has no idea what she’s agreed to. HA! Sucker!

Yesterday was a labor of love, but not with writing. I agreed to babysit our littlest cousin for the day, so in addition to the boys (and their school work), the dog (and his nonsense), graduate school (Lit Theory sucks), and really, really cold weather (hello, winter!), we had a tiny blue-eyed visitor. Seriously, why would you say no to babysitting this guy?

Connor at 11 months old

The boys thought babysitting Connor meant a day off from school, but nope! HA! Suckers!

School with Connor

Connor was a complete angel, and I’m not just saying that because his parents and grandparents will probably read this blog entry. He really is a calm, cheerful baby. He did not cry or whimper or thrash around or vomit or explode in his diaper, all of which I was geared up to handle. The boys can vouch for my babysitting report. They were even trying to convince me to adopt another baby, and I was all, “NO WAY.” We are just fine here, thank you. Have you met Major? The dog who ate your Mandarin action figure last week? Who steals your peanut butter and jelly sandwich of the plate? Yeah, we’re good here.

Speaking of the dog, he was oddly very sweet with the baby. After sniffing every inch of Connor’s tiny little body (he’d never seen a human that size before), Major followed him around everywhere he crawled. When Connor sat still, Major laid down next to him and waited. It was a nice display of canine loyalty and protectiveness that made me think, “Okay, we’ll keep you another week.”

Major and Connor

Oh right! I have a blog.

We are in the muck, people. It’s only been a week and I’m super-duper thankful I didn’t try to squeeze in one more activity for the semester. I already reviewed the boys’ curriculum for you, but I don’t think you have a full appreciation for the work I’ve put upon myself.

On top of Literary Theory (which involves reading and analyzing Plato, Horace, Wordsworth, Dante, Dryden and a dozen more), I’m also taking a novel writing class this semester. In agreement with the class parameters, I have committed to participate in NaNoWriMo this November.

What’s that crazy word you just used?

I’m glad you asked. It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it’s a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

Let me translate this concept to you more clearly.

In November, I will not brush my hair or take any special effort towards self-grooming. I will not socialize, have any fun away from my computer, or speak in coherent sentences. I will not remember anything you say to me beyond the first few words. I will not take on extra projects, like laundry, dish washing, or grocery shopping. I will not participate in late-night phone calls, unless I need to call someone in tears because my plot has reached a roadblock. (You better answer your phone, Corey.) I probably won’t update this blog or do anything beyond the bare minimum for the boys’ school. (I will feed them, though.)

That being said, if you don’t mind, send me a word of encouragement every now and then throughout November. Tell me to KEEP GOING or PUT AWAY THE CHOCOLATE. Be funny, stern, and helpful. Tell me I’ll never forgive myself if I don’t finish. Give me permission to be imperfect for 30 days so I can crank out 50,000 words and honor my commitment. This novel will most definitely be a rough draft, which is the point. Editing comes later. November is for quantity. December is for quality.

Normally, I wouldn’t make something like this public, but Chris Baty (NaNoWriMo’s creator) suggests it. Pulling friends and family into the loop of insanity brings about fear and terror. Through fear and terror, I am more likely to finish.

For now, I must construct an outline for Literary Theory (Zzzz…) and get the boys started on math. Before I go, look what the hubs brought home on Saturday: Orange RosesHe’s so dang sweet.


My Money Maker

We’ve reached a pivotal point with the dog. He has to start earning his keep. No longer do I view his shenanigans as a path to my slow, painful demise. Instead, these events are becoming content for a children’s book series. I came to this realization after he snuck in my bathroom, where I was mopping, and stole the bottle of Softsoap.

I can’t fight this force of nature any longer, so I might as well make him work for his vet bills. I mean, if he’s going to lick the Clorox bleach off the kitchen floor after I mop it, why not work that to my benefit?

You want to drink the Softsoap? Help yourself!

You want to swallow a dirty sweat sock and vomit it up four days later? HAVE FUN WITH THAT.

You want to steal a paring knife off the kitchen counter for a chew toy? GO RIGHT AHEAD. Start with the pointy end and see what happens.

Yes, really:

Eat a knifeThe children’s book idea is not my own. A Facebook friend left an ingenious comment in May on one of Major’s pictures:

Major StorytellingIs this possible? Would anyone care? Could this be the solution to my lack of having a beach house? I answer that with a strong maybe.

I know letting him in the backyard without a leash is a huge risk. It means he’s probably going to dig aggressively for the speck of whatever smells wonderful five feet underground. It means he might finally rip the cucumber vines off the garden fence. It means he might chew the cover off the grill and swallow it whole. It means he might eat the citronella candle, wick and all. I sort of don’t care enough at this moment because if I didn’t put him outside right away then I was going to kill him for chewing on my laptop cord when there was a rawhide bone RIGHT BESIDE HIM.

This is after he snatched the sugary crust off my freshly-baked zucchini bread as it was cooling in the pan.

So this means I need an illustrator, an agent, and someone to constantly tell me to do this. Now taking applications for all three.

Until you find Major in a bookstore, you can follow him on Twitter @MajorHound.



He’s the boss of Major.

This mischief happened earlier in the week. I considered it a challenge of authority:Major on the tableBut then this happened shortly after, and then I was reminded of who’s really in charge:Who's the bossIn other news, I saw something on Pinterest that I had to try. Actually, there are dozens of things on Pinterest that I’d like to try, but this seemed doable. Instead of tossing my romaine lettuce cores in the garbage, I stuck them in water and placed the glasses on the window sill. I was surprised to discover that the lettuce leaves actually grew back.

Growing lettuceThey aren’t spectacularly long lettuce leaves, and it’s taken a while for them to grow, but nonetheless it worked.

And finally, I got word today that the insurance claim to cover Jeremy’s hearing aid was denied. This is a very expensive denial, so I will be putting on my boxing gloves and going into the ring to fight it.

Jackson’s response to my door post:

Due to a particularly rough Thursday morning last week, I posted a note to my door. Jackson made his own note for his door. Despite his cheekiness, I found this completely hilarious. Jack's postTranslated: If my door is closed then do not enter or you can enter if you are bleeding or on fire or if Iron Man sends me a package. 

♥ Best six year old in the world ♥

The day Major was good.

This was not the day Major was good. Mr. Persistant

StuckBut on Mother’s Day, he was exceptional. It’s as if he knew he needed to keep Mama happy. We took him to the river and he was wonderfully behaved, even when we met another blue tick hound and all hell could’ve broken loose. Though he has more brown markings than Major, this eight-month-old was pretty much his twin. (Major is on the right side of the photo.)


Major even allowed Chuck to lead him into the water, which is what we were hoping for. HandsomeThe dog was calm and obedient and walked on his leash like a pro. Unfortunately, all that goodness was left at the river because he’s been a pain in my arse all morning running around like a nutcase. Every time I tackle him to the ground, I whisper into his floppy ears, “You’re getting snipped tomorrow, big boy, so enjoy this while you can.”

Photoshop Relieves Tension

things that nearly killed meOf course, this is all just whining. After reading reports about the explosions at the Boston Marathon, I feel very small regarding the things about which I’ve complained. It’s just life. In fact, it’s a good life. And tough times only make the good parts even better.

Reality, checked.