Friday, September 30, 2011


Katie with her niece, Kaylee (I'm already a grandma, but that is another story)

The word shift has so many meanings in life.  You can shift your opinion about something, shift your lifestyle, shift your attitude and shift from one stage of life into another.  I recently experienced a “shift” of my own when I threw the car keys over to my 20-year-old daughter.  As I threw her the keys, I realized that my little girl had suddenly grown up.  Our roles as mother and daughter had made a profound and lasting shift.  It was as if the baton was passed in the race of life.

As the keys flew through the air, I felt as though I was thrown into some weird time-warp where my child transformed from little girl to teenager to young woman.  The twenty years of life we’ve spent together seemed to flash before me in the sunlight reflecting on the silver.

I can’t help but wonder when this happened?  When did my little girl who toddled around the house grow into this beautiful young woman getting behind the wheel?  Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was rocking her and singing “Puff the Magic Dragon”?  Was it that long ago that I pushed her on a swing and caught her at the bottom of a slide?  I’m certain that only a few years have passed since she reached for my hand as she crossed the street.  Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can still vividly see her in her diapered behind sitting on top of the kitchen table brushing her curly strawberry blonde hair.  I remember as if it were yesterday, her curls bobbing up and down as she rode her rocking horse to some imagined destination.  It wasn’t long after that she was riding a real horse with me leading her through the pasture.  Then, one day, she took the reins all by herself.

My brain was screaming: It is too soon!  She cannot grow up yet!  I don’t know if I’ve taught her everything she needs to know.  She’s still just a baby, isn’t she?  No.  No, today is the day that everything shifts.  Today, we are making our maiden stick shift voyage on the road (after many weeks of lurching through our pasture).  It is another cruel reminder that my little Katie is a grown woman.  Goodness knows, she could have children of her own soon, and I could be a grandma!  Grandma!  I’m too young for that!

I was quickly brought back to reality when I heard the grinding of first gear, and I barely escaped whiplash as we jerked down the road.  “Katie,” I said calmly, “ease you foot off the clutch.”

“I am, Mom!”  Came her exasperated reply.

I could see the tears begin to well in her eyes.  “I’ve got it, Mom!”

“Okay, honey,” I said through clenched teeth, “let’s just get to Walmart and back.”

Walmart was about two miles down the road.  We hit three stop lights along the way.  There are many things that I am thankful for in my life, but on this day, I was thankful that we have very flat roads!  We only stalled about four times and my life only flashed before my eyes one time when we were turning into Walmart, and the oncoming traffic was fast approaching our stalled car.

Katie Parking the car presented its set of challenges.  We found a spot fairly far away with only one car to the right of the parking space.  Katie slowly began to ease her foot off the clutch in first gear, and we lurched and stalled, lurched and stalled until, finally, the car was far enough in the parking space that I deemed it parked.  We got out of the car; Katie went first, and I followed behind her (getting out on her side because I couldn’t open my door).

We inspected the parking job, and I told her how proud I was of her even if the car was a bit crooked.  She gave me an exasperated look reserved for me.  It’s the modified eye roll that says, “Mom I know you’re lying just to make me feel better.”

Isn’t that what moms are supposed to do?  Isn’t my job to build up her confidence so that one day she’ll get into the stick shift car and venture out on her own while I sit home waiting anxiously by the phone for her call telling me she's arrived safely?

As we browsed through Walmart, I worried about our return trip: Would she be able to back out of the parking space?  Would she stall in the middle of the intersection leaving the busy store?

Worry, worry, worry!

It reminded me of her sixteenth birthday when I naively took her and a “few” of her friends to the beach and rented a room for the night.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into!  The six friends grew to about sixteen friends (including boys), and I was entrusted with keeping all the girls safe.  Needless to say, it was not the smartest thing I have ever done. Katie still reminds me of my “overbearing” presence.  The icing on the cake was when she called me from the hospital after I let her stay with her older sister to go out on a jet ski.  She had fallen off the back of the jet ski and hit her chin on the way down and was in the process of getting her chin stitched up.

Sometimes, when I look back over the years, I wonder how I survived motherhood and all its challenges.  I wonder about all the times I flew by the seat of my pants second guessing my decisions - did I give them all enough guidance?  Did I give them too much guidance?  Did I allow them the freedom to make mistakes?  Did I prepare them for all the shifts they will face in their lives?

We made our way back to the car.  Katie looked at me as we settled in and said, “I got this, Mom.”

“I know you do, Kate.”  I said as my eyes misted.  “I know you will do just fine.”

I glanced over at her and, just for a moment, I thought I saw that curly top toddler.  I blinked, and I saw the little girl on top of her pony.  One more blink and I saw her running down the soccer field.  “Where did the time go?” I wondered.  Then, I was brought back to reality as the car lurched backward out of the parking space.

“Ease that foot off the clutch” I reminded her.

“Okay, mom” she smiled, “Thanks for doing this.”

Shift: it’s something we all have to learn.  I just hope that I have taught her to shift well.  I think I have.  I know the kind of person she has become.  She is smart and confident.  She is tenacious and strong despite her slight appearance.  She is beautiful inside and out.  I love my Katie more than she’ll ever know.  I love her kindness and gentle spirit, and I know that her ability to shift will grow stronger as she drives down the road of life.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the rusty blue tractor.  I remember how we’d hear its roaring engine well before we’d see it.  Bobby rarely rode the tractor over to our place because all he had to do was jump the fence and he was in our backyard.  Most of the time, when he was on his tractor, he’d be coming over to tell us something about our chickens or our goats that was of great importance; like the time he came on his tractor to deliver the news that he saw a raccoon run off with our prized chicken (who was like a pet to us).
Bobby was the kind of person that you could always trust.  If Bobby said something, you knew it was true.  He often came over to our place to talk about the right way to raise chickens.  His dream was to one day own a chicken farm himself.  I never saw Bobby wearing anything but his overalls and a white tee shirt which stood in stark contrast to his coal black skin.  The top of Bobby’s shoe was cut off because he had lost two toes (I never found out how) and he swore that he was able to walk better with the shoe cut off where his toes should have been.  I don’t know how old Bobby was - nobody did.  He was one of those people who just seemed to be ageless.   He could have been 60 or 90; it was impossible to tell.  His skin was the texture of leather and his brown eyes shone with age-old wisdom.  
I can picture him right now sitting on our front porch, leaning back in the rocking chair while he rolled a cigarette between leather fingers.  You always knew that Bobby was getting ready to tell a story when he started rolling one of his cigarettes.  
“I’s gonna have me a chicken farm one day down in Mississippi, yessiree.  It’s gonna be real big; at least a hundred acres with chickens as far as you can see and them big ol’ roosters just a crowing...” 
I knew that, as his eyes misted, he was on his beloved farm tending his chickens.  His faraway look told me that he had left our farm and I’d have to wait a bit for him to return.
“Yessiree,” he’d say as he drifted back to his rocking chair, “it won’t be long now ‘fore I’s tending them chickens.”  
I still hear his words in my head from time to time when I’m feeding my chickens.  Sometimes, I feel as if Bobby is standing right next to me...”Them chickens are looking mighty fine miss Betty.  Nice and fat - just the way you’s want them.  Nows don’t you forget they’s need laying mash!  You got enough laying mash? I’s bring you some tomorrow.”  
Bobby always looked as though he was ready to collapse from some intolerable weight.  His shoulders were in a permanent slump giving the appearance that his overalls had become unbearable and one could imagine that a strong wind would topple him. I knew this wasn’t true, though, as I had witnessed Bobby’s amazing strength when he came over to help with the tractor and, in less than a minute, loosened a bolt that I had been trying to free for an hour.  
One day Bobby came over and I noticed that he looked thinner; which is a dreadful thing.  His lackluster eyes told me something was terribly wrong.  
“You feeling okay, Bobby?”  I asked as I got us two beers out of the fridge.
“I’s got the cancer.”  He said as he hung his head.  “Doctor says I’s gotta get some kind of treatment and I’s got to go away to some place to get it.”  
His words hit me like a brick.  Bobby was a fixture in our lives.  I never thought the day would come when he wasn’t right there beside me telling me how to raise my chickens or birth my goats.  This couldn’t be happening.
“Where do you have to go, Bobby?  What kind of cancer?”  
“I’s gotta go away.  I don’t know where.  Debby’s taken’ me.”  He said as he pointed to the farm next door where Bobby had been the caretaker for at least twenty years.
Debby was one of the owners of the farm.  She managed the horse barns and depended on Bobby to keep the pasture mowed and the arenas raked.  I often watched Bobby on his rusty blue tractor as he circled the arena in a cloud of dust.  He worked from sunup to sundown.  In the nine years that we lived on our farm, I don’t think a day went by that I didn’t see him on his tractor.  
“This can’t be,” my mind was screaming as I looked at Bobby with his head hanging low twisting his ball cap in his hands.  
“Do you know what kind of cancer?” I asked again.
“Nosiree,” he said through his tears, “I’s just gotta go away from here and I don’t want to, Miss Betty.  They’s making me leave!”  
I knew then that it wasn’t the cancer that was going to kill Bobby; it was the fact that he’d have to leave his beloved tractor, his flourishing garden, our front porch and, of course, our chickens and goats.  
I felt his pain as if it was my own.  My heart was breaking for my friend.  I didn’t know what to say to him, so I said nothing.  I just opened the beers, handed one to Bobby and we sat in silence; each of us lost in our private thoughts.   
“When?” I finally asked.
“Tomorrow,” he moaned, “I’s leaving tomorrow.”  
I never saw Bobby after that day.  He left to get “treatments” and he died within a month.  I often wonder how long he would have lived had he just stayed on the farm where he belonged.    
Today, as I heard the rusty blue tractor coming down the road, my heart skipped a beat.  I was wishing with all my might that I’d see Bobby in the driver’s seat.  I waited by my driveway to see who was driving Bobby’s steel steed.   A young black man in blue overalls sat behind the wheel and, for a moment, I imagined that he was a young Bobby.  
He stopped by my driveway and I asked him if this was Bobby’s tractor (even though I knew it was).  
“Yes, mam,” he said, “I’m looking for the entrance to the grove.”  
The entrance to the orange grove behind our house had become overgrown since Bobby died.  I pointed it out to the young man and he continued down the road on the tractor.  As I watched him go, I swear he transformed into Bobby.  Then I heard Bobby’s words as clear as a bell:
“I’s gonna have me a chicken farm’s gonna be real big...chickens as far as you can see...and them roosters just a crowing...It won’t be long now ‘fore I’s tending them chickens.”  
As the tractor faded into the distance, I realized that the baton had been passed and l smiled into the heavens.  Bobby had finally made it to his hundred acre farm and, I knew in my heart, he was happily tending his chickens.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Diamond in the Rough

My first day of work was uneventful for the most part.  The morning was passing along quickly with so much to learn and do - computer work, laundry, vacuuming, taking out the trash, more computer work, filing and many other tasks that consumed my time.  When I finally took my break at lunch, I went for a walk on the beautiful grounds and picked some flowers for my office.
In the afternoon, I spent my time learning about the computer system.  It was while I was talking to my boss, Sr. Carol, about revamping the website that I started twisting my engagement ring (a habit I have when I am deep in thought).  As I twisted the ring, it felt different.  On further inspection, I noticed that the diamond was missing.  This wasn’t just any diamond; it was and heirloom diamond that had been passed down through my husband’s family.  The intent for my diamond was that it would one day be passed down to one of my grandchildren.  Needless to say, I was devastated.
I work at a retreat center where people come to pray and reflect on their lives.  It is a very peaceful, sacred place where I myself had come years ago on retreat.  When I discovered my diamond was missing, I wasn’t feeling the peacefulness of the place because my heart was full of panic.  Sister Carol and I searched high and low for the diamond - all to no avail.  I retraced my steps a dozen times but I had been so many places that day, I had no idea where it could have ended up.  I went home with a heavy heart as I broke the news to my husband.
As the days passed at the Mother of God House of Prayer, I spent every lunch hour in search of my diamond.   The first day, I went back to the plants where I had picked my flowers.  I scoured the ground hoping the find a glimmer of light bouncing off my diamond.  Instead, I found beautiful white petals surrounding the magnolia bush.  The rich smell emanating from the bush was delightful.  I paused for a moment and relished in the simple beauty of this lovely bush.  
The next day, I went into the house where I had folded the laundry - no diamond was waiting for me by the dryer.  Sister Carol had shown me around the house, so I retraced my footsteps into each room.  When I entered the chapel, I looked down at the floor hoping to see the diamond but, instead, I saw a rainbow of colors cast across the carpet.  The colors were coming from the beautiful stained glass window in the chapel.  The sun was hitting the window in such a way as to fill the room with all the hues of the rainbow.  I paused and felt the sacredness of the place fill me with peace.  The magnificent colors filling the room at that moment made me smile and I forgot about my diamond for a while.   
Each day that followed, I went on my diamond quest; looking in nooks and crannies and even vacuum cleaner bags.  Strangely, I discovered that I was not overtaken by sadness in the elusiveness of my treasured diamond; rather I was filled with joy in finding God’s diamonds.  They were everywhere!
I soon forgot to search for my diamond and started searching for diamonds in the rough.  During my hunt, I found the sunny gates of heaven shining down on three crosses.  On the labyrinth path, I found forgiveness.   The garden path showed me the way to peace.  The glistening jewels at the water’s edge gave me gratitude.  I found my soul in the canoe and my heart in the shadow of an oak tree.  I found strength and weakness and tears but, mostly, I found myself.  
I’m not worried about my diamond any more.  Either it will turn up or it won’t.  Its absence doesn’t diminish the love between my husband and I that it represented.  I miss its beauty, but I am so fortunate to be surrounded by the beauty of my family, my home, my friends and all the diamonds in the rough that are waiting to be discovered in this beautiful place where I have the privilege to work. 
Just recently, as I was continuing my quest through the sacred grounds of the Mother of God House of Prayer, the thought occurred to me that maybe I am God’s diamond in the rough.  Maybe God is shaping me and polishing me by giving me the challenge of losing a precious stone to see what I will do with it.  Will I languish in self-pity and become angry or will I use this misfortune as an opportunity to learn and grow?  When I think back over my life, I realize that it has been full of “lost diamonds,” some losses were so much more painful than this one.  We all have our lost diamonds in our lives.  The question is what will we do with them?