Road Trippin’

S asked where I wanted to go on our next date. I told him anywhere. But then I told him I wanted him to take me to Graceland.

This was a test, of course; but he passed. I spent my break driving up to visit friends in Georgia, then up to his place in Alabama, and then we traveled to Memphis.

Graceland

Oh, how I love Elvis. Although he did not quite get my request or why I would not have rather been somewhere tropical on a beach, he humored me anyway. We spent the morning touring Graceland, then headed over to Beale Street for lunch.

BB King

It was actually rainy and cold but not crowded. I enjoyed it. We took our time, and then we went to Sun Studio that afternoon. I love Sun Studio! It is worth the trip in itself, there is such much history in those walls. The tour was fantastic, and it ends with guests getting to walk around and touch some of the actual equipment. Allegedly, this is the actual microphone Elvis would have used during his sessions.

Sun Studios

Million Dollar Quartet

That evening, we headed south across the Mississippi line to Tunica. We stayed at one of the casinos, an absolute first for me. I do not gamble, and am very tight with money, but I played around with his.  Almost immediately, I won $100 on a penny slot machine. I think that is a great omen for our future.

Our luck continued the next day. We drove back east through Tennessee to S’s hunting property. We took the back roads, and I was in heaven. I absolutely love that area of the country. It was unseasonably cold, and I was day dreaming the entire way of seeing snow. When we got to his property, which is breath-taking, I stepped out shivering and said, “I really feel like it’s gonna snow, it’s so cold. I think that would be amazing.” No sooner had he laughed off what I had said than small flurries started falling. I kid you not, I could not have scripted it better! He was just as tickled as I was, and I ran around like the crazy Floridian that I am just laughing and trying to catch the flurries with my tongue.

This is one of my favorite pictures, because we snapped it in that moment. Genuine happiness shows, and it exemplifies exactly what the year of yes journey means to me.

snow 2

 

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A Country Concert

One of my friends had extra tickets to see Luke Bryan in Jacksonville recently and offered them to me. I was hesitant, because that is an extravagance that I do not indulge in often; however, it is the year of yes, so I took her up on the opportunity. My surrogate mom, Charlotte, gladly agreed to go with me, and we made it a night to remember.

Concert

After dinner, we headed to the tailgate party outside of the arena. We had a blast, dancing and people-watching. We even ran into several people that I went to high school with, and it was so great catching up. Charlotte and I made the Jacksonville paper and the local radio station’s website. We felt like stars.

concert 2

My Fellow Georgia Southern Alum

The concert was amazing. I have seen Luke Bryan many times, and he never disappoints. It was fun sitting by my friend and her fella, too.  The four of us had a blast singing and dancing the evening away.

Jayda

Afterwards, we took a huge detour around Jacksonville trying to get back north. Charlotte is worse with directions than I am, and even my car’s navigation had us cutting through the bad sides of town. But we finally made it, and it was wonderful settling in to my bed in the cozy room that Charlotte keeps for me. It’s filled with pictures of me, the kids, and my mom and makes me feel loved.

Before heading home the next day, I met up with a former student of mine who I had not seen since 2002. We have kept in touch via email and phone, and he is now a teacher. He treated me to lunch at The Florida House Inn, one of the oldest hotels in Florida, located on beautiful Amelia Island. We caught up, strolled the historic downtown, and then I stopped at one of my favorite spots on earth– Fantastic Fudge– for my go-to flavor of ice cream, rocky road.

I could not leave without spending time with my Mom at the beach in solitude. I read a book, napped, prayed, and listened to my Mom’s song, “Drink a Beer,” by Luke Bryan, of course.

 

 

Identity Crisis {The Year of Yes}

StudentsWhen I was a little girl, I did not play with baby dolls. I played with a chalk board, and I would force my brothers and the neighborhood kids to be my students. I would give them assignments, grade papers, and line them up and march them around the yard. I tutored the kid across the street, and his dear mom, Peggy, may she rest in peace, joked that the grades I gave Brian were the best he ever received. She would hang them on her refrigerator.

When I describe myself to people, “teacher” is the first word out of my mouth, right after “mom.” It is my natural gift, and education is my passion. Unfortunately, I was always told I could and should do more, whatever that means, so a relationship in my early twenties with a high-powered attorney inspired me to leave my beloved teaching career for law school.

I do not regret my legal education one bit, nor do I regret practicing. My favorite job was working for the law school immediately after graduation, because it combined a little of both worlds. My degree and experience have opened doors for me that I never dreamed possible growing up in a one red light town. However, the classroom is where I am my most comfortable, creative and inspired.

When I had my children, it seemed natural for me to return to teaching. There is no better schedule for a family, and I was able to work at one of the best schools in the state, which allowed my babies to eventually attend the best schools themselves. I was so excited to get back to my calling, and I did it with joy and enthusiasm. However, even with clear objectives, I was given grief by those I loved most. I was told I did not have a “real job” and questioned about how I could turn my back on money and prestige by simply being a teacher. As sad as it is to type these truths, it was even more devastating to live them.

After my divorce, I hung in as long as I could, until I could no longer financially justify my position. I was highly effective, successful and involved. I absolutely considered my students my own and have built life-long friendships that I will forever cherish; but the rumors about teacher pay are real.

More than anything, though, I was emotionally drained. After visiting my closest friends over the holidays, both T and K commented to me that they had finally figured out what was keeping me from completely healing. My storehouse was dry. I was “Mama B” to 200 kids a day, then had to come home to my own, and teaching at the level I was doing it was sucking up all of my extra energy. My brain was fried. Both friends encouraged me to pray about the situation and start looking for jobs.

To say I was terrified was an understatement. I was not sold on the fact that I needed a change. I did not think I could take the leap and give up my time at home with my children. I was not sure I was even marketable. But, then there was this #YearofYes promise I had made myself, and I decided to start applying. It is not an accident that Shonda Rhimes ended her book with one of my favorite quotes:

You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt

So, there you have it. Within a month of me applying for jobs, I had an offer I could not refuse, and I had to say good-bye to some of the most incredible people I have ever met. My students were so wonderful, and they showered me with gifts and cards of encouragement. It was amazing how much love I felt as I packed up my classroom and prepared to leave a place that was mine and my kids’ home away home for eight years. But it was time for me to graduate, and I think everyone knew it but me.

I was explaining to a colleague this week about my #YearofYes challenge and how powerful the book has been to me. When I told her it had inspired me to change careers, she was shocked, but it is true! As my bestie K said, “You’ve sacrificed enough of yourself. It is time for you to thrive.”

I am still a mom and a teacher, and I absolutely think teaching is the most important profession in our society. However, my focus has changed, and I think the move will make me a better mother in the end, because I will have balance for the first time in a long time.

Letter from Studt

letter from student

My First Praise & Worship Concert {The Year of Yes}

I am a firm believer that God puts people in our lives– for good, bad, a challenge to grow– for purposes which we may not always understand. For the very few that have left bitter tastes in my mouth over which I have to pray, there are oh so many more for whom I am grateful. JZ is one of those!

We have known each other for about a decade but have become spiritually connected as we have gone through divorce and single parenting simultaneously. She is that friend who always seems to miraculously know when I need prayer, uplifting, a word of encouragement, and a batch of her mom’s divine homemade cookies. Without fail, my phone will vibrate with the most beautifully on-point messages of hope and survival from her, and they are always at precisely the right times.

Recently, she and I went to my first praise and worship concert together. We had so much fun seeing Rascal Flatts in the fall, that she invited me to see TobyMac with her. I am a traditionalist and new to the more modern spiritual genre, so I was not familiar with his songs. I do love the #speaklife messages that he circulates on social media, though, and I was thrilled with the experience.

JZ at TobyMac

My favorite performer of the night was Mandisa. When we were both going through the toughest times, JZ would send me songs to listen to during the day. “Overcomer” is our joint mantra.

It was incredible to get to hear this song live and belt it out with my sweet friend. It is funny, I recently looked at pictures of JZ and me taken a few years ago and, although we look the same on the outside, there was something missing before. Now, it is as if we glow. That shimmer is God, y’all, and He is indeed good, all the time! Our friendship is proof of that.

 

 

The Not So Long Drive Home

There is no where else on this planet that I would rather be than at home, near my extended family and friends, near the Okefenokee Swamp, the muddy St. Marys River, and Fernandina Beach. I do not live that far away–2.5 hours easily. Yet, as much as I want to be there, I often make excuses not to get in the car and drive where I know I am loved, where I know my dogs are welcome, where I know I can just relax and be myself, and where I absolutely am certain that I will know half the people in Winn-Dixie.

I deny myself this occasional refuge, because four years ago, my mom fell asleep at the wheel of her car driving from where I live home to have Christmas with family and friends. She hit a tree head-on off Interstate 10, less than a mile from a sign for the Lake City “Rest Stop.” Oh the irony of that extremely large sign, which actually gives me a brief sense peace when I pass it. She is at rest.

The trauma of stopping at that location to lay a wreath four years ago, of claiming her demolished car with my son’s Match Box toys scattered everywhere, of arriving at the funeral home with the clothes I had purchased for her that morning… As much as I miss home, the trip over is almost unbearable, because of the anxiety I experience.

But that cannot happen anymore. I have an upcoming trip planned that is out of my norm and am very excited to head to Jacksonville. In this Year of Yes, I will choose to focus on the destination, rather than the road. I will fill my car with the joyful sounds of the praise music Mama loved, and I will pray, knowing full well that my Mama’s spirit is in a far better place, and that I am free to live fully in the meantime.

It’s time to move on.

“Saying yes . . . saying yes is courage. Saying yes is the sun. Saying yes is life.”
Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person

On a much lighter note, one of my favorite songs out right now is by Ed Sheeran. “Castle on a Hill” reminds me so much of my tribe– all the close friends of mine with whom I have grown up and old with. This will be playing on repeat as I pull into town.

Castle on a Hill.jpg

Contentment in Motherhood

I have joined a Wednesday night Bible study group for women at the church that we have been attending for a year. I do not know anyone in this group well, and it is completely out of my comfort zone. We are reading Walking With God in the Season of Motherhood by Melissa B. Kruger. Thankfully, there are several other single moms in the class, so I do not feel like I am the only one on this solitary trek.

Last night, the kids were at their dad’s and not here chomping at the bits to go to the Wednesday night children’s program that they love. I was relaxed and had to make myself get off the porch swing for Bible study, but I am glad I did. God laid a special message on my heart.

My plate is full. Single parenting is hard, and the truth is I often find myself impatient, overwhelmed, and discontent.

However, I was gently reminded that what I often perceive as “Have Tos”– dentist and doctors appointments, hair cuts, errands, laundry, play time, birthday parties, extra-curricular activities, school engagements, reading, discipline, homework….the list goes on and on — should be turned into “Get Tos.” Children are a blessing. Not everyone gets to be a parent, as my friend Jack lovingly reminded me this week, and they grow up so very fast.

swinging-mason

Photo by Captured by Casey

Today, I got to volunteer in Miss Julia’s class and watch her practice ballet; this weekend I get to fold their tiny clothes and smell their hair as they snuggle next to me in bed; if I’m lucky, I may get to play catch with Mason in the yard; and, on Sunday, I get to worship Jesus with them at church. One day, I will miss cleaning up after them, and I will miss holding them in my lap. Mason’s already almost as tall as me.

So my prayer tonight is this: Lord, “Let me live that I may praise you (in this season of Motherhood), and may your laws sustain me.” Psalms 119:175

Amen.

 

A Prayer

It is funny how God puts people in your life. Mrs. M, a sweet lady that works at my kids’ school has become one of my prayer warriors. She keeps a close eye on my little ones for me, and has also started texting to check in on me occasionally. Over the holidays, she composed this prayer for me, and I have begun incorporating it into my time with Jesus.

marriage-prayer