My First Favorite Students

It was fitting that, immediately after my last day teaching, I loaded up and headed back to the very place I had started my career in the first place– tiny Montgomery County, Georgia, located just outside of sweet Vidalia.

I do not get to go to what I call my Georgia home much. However, I was invited to a baby shower hosted by my first favorite student, Nikki, for another of my first favorite students, AN, and his wife. AN lives in the home of the lovely Mrs. B, who was the head of the social studies department at the local high school, and who took a chance and hired me, even though I was only 23 and had no experience or degree in education. She literally changed the course of my life.

I helped Nikki with the shower and enjoyed myself immensely, for I have forgotten how beautifully traditional things are there. I sat back and listened as the sweet church ladies gossiped in their slow drawls and admired their impeccable manners and gift wrapping prowess. I miss living there a lot.

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Nikki’s parents were always so kind to me, and they treated me like family. She was 15 and a freshman when I taught her. I was later in her wedding, and I pray for her gorgeous daughters. I spent the night with Nikki and her husband, and her parents joined us for a night on the town at one of my old stomping grounds, The Tree House. We all had a blast, laughing and singing and just cutting up. We also learned a lot about the bite of a water moccasin. It’s a drink and, if you have never had one, I highly recommend it, but in moderation, because it could be “deadly.”  

That night, something incredible happened. Nikki came in and tucked me into bed. When I was a little girl, I craved for my mom to do that; but my mom was not affectionate, so it never happened that way. Before she walked away, Nikki kissed me on my forehead and told me she loved me. She can never understand just how much that show of affection meant to me. I was flooded with emotion, and time stood still, and I will literally remember that simple act as long as I live. A piece of my broken heart was put back together again.

I worry a lot about growing old and the financial sacrifices I have made to be a teacher. However, that day and those people reinforced everything I believe in. Life is about relationships and love and, if I am a pauper one day, be sure that I have lived a very rich existance.

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Vitamin Sea

What is the perfect day?

Loading up in the Jeep with the top down and driving to the coast with a loved one, especially in the middle of January. It reminds me of home, when we would leave the muddy waters of the St. Marys River and head to Amelia Island every chance we would get to play at beautiful Fernandina Beach. It is funny, K and I both grew up in Nassau County, only we did not meet until we were in our 20s living in South Georgia. But we get each other and the our mutual need for the occasional Vitamin Sea.

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Jeep Hair, Don’t Care

 

That’s exactly what K, her husband and I did over MLK weekend, and it was glorious. We packed sandwiches and traveled east to the Canaveral National Seashore, so that they could fish and I could relax. I took my Kindle and a blanket and, within minutes, was asleep. I napped for over an hour, something extremely rare for me, entranced by the waves and breeze. The weather could not have been more magnificent.

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Cape Canaveral

 

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Canaveral National Seashore was amazing, because the barrier island provides both ocean and marsh. While I adore the beach, I also appreciate the appeal of Old Florida. And I love a good gator siting! K said there is usually a huge 10-foot gator easily seen just inside the gate. On that day, we had to settle for this little beauty.

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The Seashore’s website describes its appeal this way,

Since ancient times, this barrier island has provided sanctuary to both people and wildlife. Many threatened and endangered species find refuge here, including sea turtles who nest on its shores. Like first natives and early settlers, you too can find tranquility. Stroll down a wooded trail. Reflect on a pristine undeveloped shoreline – the way things used to be.

We finished the day by driving to the marshes to fish the brackish water there. It was breath-taking. I wish I would have had a better camera, but I took this shot of an area I sat and observed for several minutes in silence. I imagine it is very much like what my Florida ancestors knew as home for hundreds of years. It felt both familiar and peaceful to me.

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My Ride or Die in Orlando

The upside of culling people from my life is that my focus has become very clear. My vision has become razor sharp. I now work to see people, not as I’d rewrite them, but as they have written themselves. I see them for who they are. And for who I am with them. Because it’s not merely about surrounding myself with people who treat me well. It’s also about surrounding myself with people whose self-worth, self-respect and values inspire me to elevate my own behavior. People who require that I stay truthful and kind and not totally crazy. Not eating every single thing in sight. Not hiding. Not saying no. I want Ride or Dies who make me want to be a better person. ~Shonda Rhimes, THE YEAR OF YES

Sometimes you just need your best friend, and she needs you. You can hear that something in her voice that lets you know that she needs you to just be near her. No explanations are necessary.

What do you do when you have traveled to DC, to Middle Georgia, celebrated the holidays and your son’s birthday and your best friend calls and asks you to come for the long MLK weekend, too? You pack your bag, put money on your Sun Pass, load up your playlist, drive through Wendy’s for “Baconator” fries and a strawberry lemonade, and you hit the road for Orlando. Because it’s The Year of Yes and, frankly, she will not take “no” for an answer. K always gets what she wants! She has a certain mojo or swagger, and I am bewitched by her.

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One of my favorite chapters in The Year of Yes was about finding your tribe– the people who are in your inner circle and are your “ride or dies.” I kind of like that there is an FSU association to be made there, but my Gator friends will not. K is one of them.

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T, who I went to visit over my birthday weekend, is in the tribe. We were in the same kindergarten class. K is another. We are from the same place in North Florida, but we did not know each other at all until we became neighbors randomly at Wilkes Townhouse Apartments in Vidalia, Georgia.  She drove by while I was at the mail box with her Florida Gator tag labeled with our home county, and the rest is history. I knew she was going to be in my life forever.  It was her cooking that really lured me in, though. She never let me starve, and, Heaven knows, I was a horrible cook whose pantry was regularly stocked with peanut butter, chips and onion dip, and fudge rounds and not much else. There was also that time that she literally ran my boyfriend down my stairs and out of my house, because she did not like his way too charming toothy grin. No one did but, of course, I thought he was so niiiice. He never came back, poor guy. lol

K is psychic and she says the same about me, although highly intuitive is probably a more safe description. She senses things and is extremely tuned in to me and my kids. I love it! I think it is very provocative and reassuring, all at the same time.

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So, Orlando it was, and it was incredible. As soon as I arrived, her husband sent us out to a local winery for dinner, followed by a memorable night at a dueling piano bar. Turns out, I do a sassy “Cupid Shuffle.” We laughed, we went live on Facebook, we caught up on our work lives and daily demands, we danced, and we reminisced about being in our early 20s, moving to rural Georgia, and going out to the local bar, Kerrigan’s Country, with all of our friends on the weekends, followed by the mandatory stop at the Waffle House for loaded hash browns and Cokes.

Then, K and I closed the piano bar down like it was 1999 again.

And it felt wonderful just letting loose and knowing that I could be one million percent Becky Jo, and she would love me for it, hold me up and hold my hand if she needed to. She is always completely in my corner, always has been, and she will not let me fail, even if it means being brutally honest and willing bad juju away. My tendency to see good in people drives her INSANE, and she is constantly praying protections around me. K does not see good in people, so we balance each other out. In the end, I know she makes me a better, much stronger person, and I am grateful for it.