Not going back…

“Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.”

“Hind sight is 20/20 after all.”

“Your bag is lighter when you don’t carry the past with you.”

“Don’t look back; you’re not goin’ that way.”

On the longest day of the year last weekend, Summer Solstice (which ironically fell on Father’s Day), every single phrase surfaced.  While I’m uncertain of the official origin for each, these simple, yet profound phrases continued to fall effortlessly from his wise mouth…

On really good days, we have deep and meaningful conversation in snippets, with daddy easily verbalizing his thought processes.  Stories, family lore, past vacations, dog show adventures, friendships, and more tumble into vibrant snippets of delightful conversation.  He can easily speak with friends or family on the phone, follow a pattern of conversation, and so forth.  I do my best on these days to soak up all I can with him, especially when his sense of humor and teasing take over.

On the harder days, we help him dig deep inside his mental well to encourage him onward…take that shower, use his cane or walker, tell a joke, take a short walk with us, sketch, or “read” in his newest book.  Often times, especially during our ongoing home quarantine, he simply chooses to quietly sit on our screened porch watching the birds at the feeder as he listens to nature hard at work all around him. As Daddy likes to remind on occasion:  “I haven’t forgotten, Bethy; I just can’t remember most of the time.” 

Sometimes, without warning, he looks deep into my eyes, straight inside my soul, and says, “When I forget, thank you for remembering for me.”  Those moments of clarity are a divine gift of JOY!  Gratefully, he is still at a point where he usually understands how we see his needs as we continue to find ways to help him fill them.  While never easy, walking this path with him as the keeper of his memories in his greatest time of need is a gift to both of us.

Alzheimer’s may be taking away the vibrancy of Daddy’s mind, but for now, he has us and we have him; we continue to forge ahead on this unique journey together.  We are reminded how some things in life cannot be fixed, but are shouldered with love, help, and strength of others.  Make no mistake; his heart and soul continue to hold what his mind simply cannot, so we choose to follow his lead and “take what you’re given with grace and dignity and move on because we’re not goin’ back…”  🙂

Personal note:  June is National Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month.  Thanks to the thousands who hosted and supported fundraising activities on the Summer Solstice (the longest day of the year) to continue shining the light of hope for a future without ALZ.  Go to for more information on how you can support this effort.

My momma always said, “the best sermon is a great example;” thus she and daddy (for better, or worse sometimes) taught us daily by their living example.  My sister and I know we “chose our parents wisely,” because in the midst of everyday life, there were daily lessons through their poignant example.

As I watch moms today in the grocery store, on a hiking trail in the park, and everywhere else in the community, it stuns me how moms must be as wise as Solomon, as smart as Socrates, as unconditionally loving as Mother Teresa, and as disciplined as an Olympic Athlete.  Momma was the same over half a century ago…she wasn’t our friend (until much later in life); she was our parent. “You didn’t come with instructions, so rule #1:  I’m never wrong, and rule #2, if I am wrong, then refer back to rule #1.”  🙂  Funny how those rules changed drastically when she became a grandmother. 🙂

Yes, my mom demonstrated daily who she was and lived by the legacy she created with witty southern sass, grit, humor, and backbone.  Even though she was a young mother who literally grew up with us, she firmly shaped our character with integrity while encouraging us to dream big for the future.  And because we also grew up in a progressive household where we were expected to “take care of ourselves in the real world,” finding our passion to help us independently support ourselves was non-negotiable.  “Get a grip and buck up” were heard daily in our household.  “You’re not lost and don’t need to go find yourself; I know right where you are.”  We also learned to control our attitude and effort because “those two things are in our constant control.”  And just like her classroom and school settings as a teacher and principal, mom set the bar extremely high, but she also provided a loving cushion when we stumbled along the way.  Our mom was our first and most important teacher, advocate, and disciplinarian; she set the rules and we followed them, well, mostly (except for riding the laundry basket down the stairs, dropping each other into the laundry hamper, that whole chandelier disaster…).

While mom’s physical voice is now silent, the echos of her lessons and expectations ring clearly inside my soul.  I’m humbly grateful and thankful for the example of my mom.  I was so busy growing up and then raising two little women of my own, I often forgot she was growing older.  Even in her final hours with us, Mom was showing us how  to hold on and then to bravely let go on her journey.  If she were with us during this most extraordinary life in the time of COVID-19, I have no doubt she would have much to contribute to the conversation.

Thanks, Momma, for demonstrating the courage, hope, JOY, and unconditional love so I could one day be a mom to the two extraordinary miracles who shower my world and Momma-soul in JOY!  I miss you so…

Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms!


Yesterday, I cried over limes.  Limes.

After putting on my mask, my special pair of “outside-shoes-during-quarantine,” my gloves, and what’s left of my sanity, I ventured beyond our house.  Since pushing Day #60 of at-home quarantine around our house, heading into the community for necessary provisions was a considerable leap of faith.  I spoke sternly to myself on my way to the grocery store to retrieve our online order.  After last week’s verbal altercation inside the store with the creepy stalker guy who followed me with no mask, no gloves, and less than six-feet of distance from my personal space, ordering groceries online for pickup seemed the best choice this week.  Securing a time slot was an added bonus since home delivery is evidently not option where we live.  Choosing items online while giving up purchasing decisions was another step in tempering my control-freak-benevolent-overlord issue, but yes, I can and will be flexible too.  So, over the lake and through the woods to the grocery drive-up lane I went.

While loading everything into the back of my car, the very kind assistant shared the list of items missing from the order.  Mind you, I’m all about substitutions; after all, we must be bendable but not breakable in these challenging times (and will gladly accept ANY roll of toilet paper available).  As she rapidly ran through the substitution list, one item caught my attention…“No limes or lime juice available, but you do have extra lemons in the bag.”  No big deal.  Oh…wait.  No limes?  At all?  Lemons, again?  Who’s hoarding all the limes and do they have all the toilet paper as well?

There was one particular activity left on my agenda this week specifically involving limes.  You see, we were scheduled to leave with friends on a special vacation today, May 1, to explore Key West…the first non-working trip for St. M in a long time.  In the planning stages for the last three years, this trip was finally happening.  All our schedules coincided, reservations and tickets were purchased in advance, and everything came together beautifully…and then, a pandemic.  In a snap, the entire adventure evaporated.  My whole mantra of “plan your work, work your plan, and autograph your work with excellence” was out the window.  No vacation.  Stay home.  Be safe and well.  Adjust.  “No limes, but you do have extra lemons in the bag.”

All the way home I pondered.  Once home, I removed my shoes, washed my hands, and M helped unload the bags to the designated drop area while I wiped down and put everything away.  The tears started quietly flowing when the first lemon emerged, then quickly turned into my ugly, snot-sobbing meltdown (if you know me at all, this is rare, but when it occurs, brace yourself).  While limes are not a necessary staple of life, especially in a pandemic, this one time, when I had a specific purpose planned as a surprise treat, “no limes, but you do have extra lemons in the bag.”

Limes weren’t the real reason for my outburst.  I was crying about the overwhelming weight of this entire reality for ALL of us.  I was mourning our complete lack of control over this unbelievable situation.  I was snot-sobbing because I can’t physically be with my little women, my sister, my family, and my friends.  I was grieving for the crushing number of individual lives lost in this pandemic, the families losing these loved ones, the heroes serving daily on the relentless front lines, the essential workers who are exhausted and scared, the scientists and researchers desperate for answers and a plan, the insane loss of millions of jobs and financial stability, the school children missing their teachers and friends, the parents doing their personal best to educate their children while maintaining daily life and keeping food on the table, the high school and college students missing milestone activities and graduation ceremonies, the individuals living in complete isolation with no assistance, people experiencing food and housing insecurities, the persons who are dying completely alone, the stress, hurt, worry, and despair we are ALL experiencing at varying and alarming degrees…and so much more.  I was naming and working to process the powerful thoughts and feelings within this uncharted territory.  But limes?  Limes simply became the tipping point.

When calm prevailed, the words of Washington Irving once shared again resonated new meaning:  “There is a sacredness in tears…they are messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love…”

So today, I’m grateful and relieved St. M had a soft flannel shirt and loving arms securing me as I released all on my highest speed.  I’m grateful for a working washing machine and detergent to wash his beloved shirt.  I’m grateful for fresh hope to move forward in the most graceful way possible, finding small ways everyday to make some type of difference.  I’m grateful to acknowledge and express my anxiety, fears, uncertainty, and longing.  I’m grateful for our kind neighbor who left three limes and more of her home-grown lettuce on our front porch table.  I’m grateful there are little lime pies now waiting on the front porch of our travel friends to remind them we will head south some day to the land of endless beaches, six-toed cats, spectacular sunsets, and authentic key lime pie.  And specifically today, I’m grateful we’ll make some fresh lemonade to sip on our porch (with all these extra lemons) as we continue to stay put, stay safe, and create new ways to be gentle and kind to ourselves and others.  🙂

The Egg Tree

On a meandering walk for some fresh spring air this past week, I came across a most surprising sight to behold…an egg tree.  These beauties were hanging in various shapes, colors, sizes, and levels as a welcome sign in these most unusual of times.  I instantly recalled the sweet story my Granny B often told about The Egg Tree.  Written and illustrated in 1950 by Katherine Milhous, this Caldecott Medal winning book revealed a story based on the author’s family with a beloved Pennsylvania Dutch Easter tradition.  I vividly remember the ONE Easter time Granny and I carefully blew out a dozen eggs (what a chore!) and then dyed them in various colors to then paint scenes, just like the two children in the book.  It was a two-day process and one where her patience with my tedious perfectionism at various levels of artistic struggle was most likely stretched beyond standard limitation.  Did I mention it was the only time we did it?  🙂

This tradition in my classroom and in our home with similar versions of an egg tree in the springtime usually involved wooden or plastic decorated eggs.  Cascarones took it up another notch as brightly-colored, confetti-filled egg treats, although patience of Job comes-to-mind when creating these beauties.   Each version visually symbolized the simple, charming reminders of rebirth, renewal, hope, and growth.

What’s a Springtime tradition you fondly recall?  

In these uncertain times of living in, as my daddy says, “that hotel where you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave” (thank you, Don Henley and Glenn Fry), may we all find subtle ways to engage in creating, cultivating, and inviting beauty into our day…just like this blossoming little egg tree.  Stay safe, stay well, and stay strong, y’all!  🙂

Fill every day with thanks and giving…

This little poem by Karl Fuchs fell out of his book today:

The table is almost brimming with good eats;
We’re surrounded by family and friends; what a treat!
The feelings that fill us simply can’t be beat;
It’s Thanksgiving Day, and it all feels complete.

But other days, sometimes, things don’t seem so fine;
Those days are not polished and don’t seem to shine.
It’s then in our minds, we forget all the good,
And think of the things we would get, if we could.

On days when our thinking causes us dread,
If we could remember, it’s all in our head,
And not let our minds take our gratitude away,
Then we’d make every day like Thanksgiving Day.

Nope; it’s not November; it’s not even officially spring at this point.  It IS an unprecedented time in our world history filled to the brim with ever-changing news, updates, instructions, guidelines, hand-washing, anxiety, cabin-fever, toilet-paper hoarding (why?), information overload, and so much more.  In a word…overwhelming.  But as dad and I sat together at the table this morning drinking coffee and talking about the book he’s “reading,” he quietly reminded me how his generation, and especially the one before him, “went off to war, fighting for the ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ we likely take for granted each day.  Why can’t everyone just keep things in perspective now?  This too, shall pass, Beth.”  It was truly a beautiful moment of pure clarity…

Dad doesn’t understand COVID-19, or why he needs to incessantly wash his hands (when he “took a shower today, didn’t I?”), or what it means to medically self-isolate and be socially-distant in our home due to his high-risk status.  He  can’t remember why he’s even high risk.  He doesn’t care about stocking up on pantry items so we have a meal each day, whether we have gas in the car, or why everyone is working remotely from home.  Instead, dad focuses on the present because it’s all he knows in that moment.  Sometimes he looks at me and clearly states, “I don’t know what I don’t know, but I’m good just not knowing.  I don’t forget things; I just can’t remember them.”  🙂

Dad has structure each day mixed with relaxed freedom.  He’s not afraid to be alone, even though he never is.  He’s teaching me yet again how it’s okay to not be rushed, to stop and just be still a while.  And without knowing it, he’s reminding me how everyday is a present, a gift of new beginnings in boundless hope and endless possibilities.  It’s important not to allow my own mind to take away my gratitude.   So in these uncertain times when anxiety and irrational thoughts begin to take hold, may we all remember to take those deep cleansing breaths, set our minds, and keep moving forward in kindness, grace, hope, and love, while finding ways to fill each day with thanks and giving…even if it’s just the middle of March.  🙂

A Living Legacy…

We often attempt to live our lives backwards…wanting more things, more education, more money, more order in an attempt to do more of what makes us hapLaRue Miller017 01py in this life.  The way it actually works is the reverse.

“You must first be who you really are and then do what you need to do in order to have what you need and want in life…smiles and trials will come and go; your true self should always shine.”  ~ LaRue Miller

For as long as I’ve known her (all my life, so, several decades now 🙂 ), LaRue Miller chooses to embrace and actively live this pearl of wisdom with grace and unconditional love.  And while she shares and remains as sharp as my Wusthof knives, she chooses to do so more comfortably from her favorite chair at home most days.  I gratefully had the opportunity to sit and visit with her in person this past week; what a treasured time indeed.

It is interesting to note how Mrs. Miller’s personal philosophy lives on in the generations of lives she has touched throughout her teaching and volunteer work in the very town where she grew up and stayed to give back.  To hear her talk is to participate in a master class of communication and collaboration from deep within her soul.   Her obvious passion for learning and teaching, her quiet strength, her pearls of wisdom discreetly dropped into conversation, and her determined ability to see and bring out the personal best in each soul…these are all touchpoints in the powerful legacy she continues to create.  And while she would never admit it, she remains a critical part of something profoundly extraordinary because she is a catalyst.

Mrs. Miller will tell you she is humbled and honored to have her legacy carried forth in the classrooms of the school bearing her name.  When you visit or volunteer on her campus, you will still find telltale signs of her subtle influence:  a picture or book here, a quote there…all small reminders of her majestic influence and continuing inspiration.  She deeply loves her community, her namesake school, her church, and her family and friends.  As the first principal of her namesake school for the last eight years of my educational career, I remain forever grateful for her wisdom, enthusiasm, stories (especially when she taught with my mom), collaborations, and hugs; she is so generous with those hugs!  🙂  She knows her story, she communicates her story so incredibly well, and she continues to lead with her story every single day!

There is a beautiful book in every classroom on her campus called The LaRue Miller Legacy, written by students and staff about her incredible story.  It is heartwarming to know her legacy project continues today to assist young leaders in practicing speaking skills as they develop language and communication skills through shared conversations while documenting for future generations the life and legacy of the school’s namesake.   Thank you, Mrs. Miller, for honoring us with your legacy and this important generational project.  Thank you for being a personable living legend with so much grace and unconditional love.  As you always remind me, “the goal is simple…to help you achieve yours!”  🙂

Seeds of Promise…

“If we had no winter the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome…”  ~ Anne Bradstreet

Every year at this time (and especially because Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring this year), my hands begin to itch to dig in the dirt, sowing seeds for flowers, herbs, and veggies (and new ideas) to blossom and flourish.  While the cold and snow of winter lingers, there’s always hope of a spring that waits to be.  Even in the midst of long and dark cold days filled with uncertainty, changes, and daily transitions on a personal level, there are small seeds of promise emerging as the mind processes all that is.

As a little girl, I marveled how seeds and bulbs would surrender themselves in the ground to be used for a greater purpose.  Even today, as I find myself uncertain of the next steps in this overwhelming journey with dad, I stubbornly plant myself in order to be used for a greater purpose.  After all, Momma herself observed, “when you plant yourself to make a difference, you grow as a person whose harvest will benefit others and, in your unique way, blossom into your own greatness.”  (I still marvel when finding her pearls of wisdom jotted down in unusual places, like this little jewel written inside a book cover hidden on dad’s shelf.)

In this daily journey with dad, I’ve come to see firsthand how many days pass in semi-unawareness, a busy oblivion if you will.  Ironically, we both find value the mundane and the magical moments, especially when dad is truly present.  We both appreciate we are here together and the most important thing we can do in the situation is just show up.  Nothing about Alzheimer’s or his journey in it is a straight line…everything curves, dives, turns, and twists.  It is filled to the brim with mystery, obstacles, defeats, victories, dead ends, delays, detours, and too many questions.  The one thing I’ve come to personally realize is my immediate purpose may not be the ultimate purpose, but it serves as a catalyst to live and share in this time with him.  And just like the process all seeds and bulbs go through in order to become all they are destined to become, we each continue to go through a unique process to become and do what we are meant to do at this time and in this place.

With all that’s swirling in 2020 so far, having little seeds of promise helps to refocus my energy and hope in the days ahead.  This particular season of winter has not been so pleasant, yet the coming spring is planted in seeds of promise.  It’s time to get busy and continue sowing… 🙂

A Star is chosen…

“We ARE the Magi, searching, resplendent in this world’s accouterments of knowledge and wealth and achievement…but we search and seek something more.”  ~Ann Weems~

Epiphany. Three Kings. The gifts of the Magi. Star Sunday.  I had the privilege to worship this morning from an colonial pew in my sister’s church, a blessing since she continues to recuperate from a recent major surgery.  Today is Epiphany, and affectionately known in this church as Star Sunday, where everyone is given the opportunity to choose a “star gift” to guide them through the coming year.  Each “star gift” is a cut-out star with one word printed on it.  Words like creativity, caring, imagine, healing, grace, patience, acceptance (and so many others) are prepared in anticipation of this annual opportunity.  As you leave the worship service, you prayerfully close your eyes and select a star (without seeing the word printed on it).  Like the Magi who chose to follow a Star without truly understanding where it would lead, we take a leap of faith to use the “star gift” in guiding our journey through the year ahead.

For the past three years, my “star gift” has profoundly complemented my personal “one word” for the year.  While my annual “one word” comes to me gingerly over a period of reflection in preparation and anticipation for the new year, the “star gift” word chooses me at random.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Each new year presents new challenges, new hopes, new opportunities; suddenly it’s time to actually embrace all this new.  With the gift of new beginnings (and new words) in a new year, we need opportunities to ponder them in our hearts and to take action as well.  Exactly how my “one word” and now my “star gift” interact and help guide my journey in 2020 remain to be seen, but I accept the clarity and purpose of each.

So may we all carry the faith to gratefully accept the star we are given this year and the courage to follow where it leads…and may grace and peace be yours in 2020.  🙂

20/20 in 2020

In just a couple of hours, we set our sights on new beginnings for a new year and new decade…the 20s!  WOW; truly remarkable!  While the “auld lang syne” literally offers “old long since” for “old time’s sake,” this new year and decade offer sacred opportunities.  The changes, growth, triumphs, missteps, JOYs, and sorrows of prior experiences bring a fresh and clearer perspective to forgive, to do better, to do more, to give more, and to love more.  As we observe, our traditions are the stories we narrate and write together as family and friends; gratefully, we all begin another year of building on those traditions while continuing our stories.  After all, it is said no gift is too small or simple to receive when wrapped in thoughtfulness and tied in love.  So…I offer this hopeful challenge to us all in 2020 to:  BE in the moment, breathe deep and fortifying breaths, forgive with grace, share softer answers, encourage one another, keep promises, forgo grudges, apologize, work to understanding, walk more, seek adventure, smile at strangers, examine personal demands (this is me preaching to me), think first of others, be gentle and kind, laugh more, learn a new skill, observe the beauty and wonder of the world, ask questions, explore nature, express thanks, welcome others, and speak your love over and over and over and over again and again and again and again!  The spiritual gift of actively living this challenge with grace and gratitude fills my soul with hope as time marches onward, and hope, my friends, constantly prevails in all our daily humanness.

May this new year and new decade bring to you and yours bountiful blessings filled to overflowing with hope, peace, JOY, and love.  Happy New Year 2020!

The blessing of music…

The chords are so grand they send shivers down the spine.  The sound of familiar melodies fill the air with emotion so sweet the heart and soul feel warmly wrapped in the glorious blessing of music…

We’ve all known this feeling when the JOY of a Christmas carol or holiday song swells deep within our souls and rises through our senses.  It brings a lump to the throat and a tear to the eyes.  Each year we bring out these musical favorites to dust off and tune up, and like a fine antique, they become more priceless with the passing of time.

Many of my most powerful Christmas memories and blessings are firmly stored within the refrains of beloved carols.  Such was the conversation with Pop recently as we listened to various Christmas carol renditions while decorating and packing up holiday treats for him to share at his art class party.  While not a musician (he was the BEST audience member ever), his long-term memories surrounding music focus strongly on momma and her solo work in our church for over 50 years.  He reminded me how she sang the inaugural service dedicating the beautiful Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ on Christmas Eve 1966.  I remember sitting between both grandmothers sucking on Lifesavers with my eyes closed while listening to momma sing a beautiful story about the birth of a King.  The organ in all its new majesty and her powerful soprano voice in all its glory…whew!  What I wouldn’t give for a recording of this event to savor once more.

As the mystery of the season rings and sings all around:  What does the blessing of MUSIC mean to you?

“I think music in itself is healing.  It’s an explosive expression of humanity.  It’s something we are all touched by and no matter what culture, everyone loves music.”  ~ Billy Joel ~

May the blessing of music bring hope, peace, comfort, healing, and JOY to your world, my friends.  🙂