2014 Highlights

I had some fun times in 2014. First was New York in January with Valerie. We visited the 9/11 Memorial, the Statue of Liberty, Top of the Rock, and experienced the No Pants Subway Ride. (Not to worry, we were both fully clothed, but our eyes were assaulted.) We walked the Brooklyn Bridge and attended a taping of the David Letterman show. I checked two experiences off the bucket list – biking in Central Park and ice skating. My favorite was the ice skating. I could not stop smiling and only fell down three times. It was worth the soreness and bruises it caused. Goodness, I love New York. I’ve got the fever. That is one fun city and I’m feeling the need for another visit.

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In February, we went to see my nephew, Jacob, play basketball. I had never really enjoyed watching basketball until this game of ten year old competitors. It was so fun and intense that we ended the month going to a Louisiana Tech Bulldogs basketball game on my birthday. The Bulldogs won. (Jacob’s team did not.)

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In April, Mama and I went to Dallas to help with my sister’s co-op and learn how they run theirs. We had so much fun and loved it so much that we started our own co-op a few months later.

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Also, Joe and I went to Jackson, Mississippi with Melissa and Stacy for the two of them to run the Warrior Dash. It was a long, hot day and got kind of boring for Joe and me, but after the race was over we went to eat at Babalu and went shopping (where my sister won $100 on her Victoria’s Secret card!). It ended up being a really fun day. Now if only I would get myself into shape and run the Warrior Dash. It seems so fun.

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My sweet boy turned six. We celebrated with his little plastic pool and a new rubber ducky.

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In July, I learned from a friend in Oklahoma of all places that there was a blueberry farm about five minutes from my house in West Monroe. Melissa, Stacy, and I went one Saturday morning and picked berries – a huge gallon bucket for $10. We went our separate ways to different blueberry bushes and it was the most relaxing morning – just me and my iTunes. The blueberries were delicious and I still have several bags in the freezer. I’m ready to do it again next summer.

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Our co-op started! Melissa and I shopped first and this photo shows what came in a $10 stash for our first co-op shop! The first round of our co-op had eleven shares. Round two has seventeen. Round three will be starting shortly, so it’ll be interesting to see if the co-op grows again. I’m loving it.

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The Tech ABS had a reunion at the end of July. Only a few of my friends showed up from my years at Tech, but it was good to see them. I was the only one without a new baby, but it’s okay – they still accept me.

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Then came the annual beach trip! Amber came from Oklahoma to go with us. Joe and Stacy came, too, as well as Melissa, Mama, Mrs. Barnes, and me. It was a great week. The weather was perfect. Amber was coming straight off a positive health report. Everyone felt good. It was relaxing. The only thing that could have made the trip more perfect is if our condo’s pool hadn’t been as warm as a bathtub.

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Melissa and I took Mama to Jackson for her birthday and treated her to Babalu. We ate the most amazing burgers and Mama got her very own birthday sparkler.

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Melissa graduated with her Master’s degree! She worked hard the last several years and graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA. My sister, Ashley, and her family came in from Texas for the day and one of Melissa’s oldest friends, Lynnette, came over from Shreveport. I spent the entire day with a laughter induced headache until about an hour after Lynnette (the source of the laughs) went home. It was a fun day.

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Daddy, Melissa, Stacy, Joe, and I went to the final Louisiana Tech home football game of the season and watched Tech win by a score of 76-31 and wrap up the Conference USA West Division Championship. It was unreal watching the score run up that high.

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In December, my parents treated Melissa and me to a play at the Dixie Theater in Ruston. Our childhood friend, Johnathan, and two of his children were in a play – The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. That was one of my favorite Christmas movies growing up, but I hadn’t seen it in probably twenty years. Johnathan was great in the play, we all got some good laughs watching it, and then I ended up ordering myself a copy of the DVD as soon as I got home that night. We’ve watched the DVD twice since it came in.

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Then came Christmas. My sweet Sayid had a big time. Also, it’s one of just two or three times a year all of the sisters are together. (Yes, we all look a little goofy in this photo, but that’s pretty standard for us.) It was a good day.

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2014 was a good year. Bring on 2015. Let’s do this.

Seeking Out The Worst

All black men are thugs. All white people are racist. All women are gold diggers. All police officers are power-tripping pigs. All NFL stars are wife beaters. All Christians are judgmental hypocrites. All Muslims are terrorists. All sorority girls are snobs. All frat boys are drunk horn dogs. All Republicans are greedy and anti-women. All Democrats are tree-hugging baby killers who don’t understand budgets. All politicians are liars. All state workers are lazy. All children are ungrateful brats. All unmarried fathers are deadbeats. All lawyers are dishonest.

The list goes on and on. We’ve all heard or said at least one of these at some point in our lives. The fact of the matter is none of this is true.

Unfortunately, bad experiences tend to stick around in our memories much longer than good ones. One negative encounter can cause someone to draw a conclusion about an entire group that is not representative of the majority.

Yesterday two NYPD officers were gunned down in their car in Brooklyn. A police officer in Florida was also killed overnight. I haven’t read any of the details of that yet; I just saw the headline. Because of the events lately and the violence that has been incited, it looks like it is now open season on law enforcement. That’s scary. It is scary for these men and women who have chosen a dangerous profession and scary for their families.

There is a particular police offer in West Monroe (who shall remain nameless) who has acted arrogantly toward both my sister and a good friend of mine. These two encounters were years apart, but when my sister told me the name of the officer who had given her a hard time, it was the same one who had been such a jerk to Johnathan. We always say his name with disdain. It has kind of become an ongoing joke among us. Any time we see this man’s last name, whether it has anything to do with him or not, we say it with a certain tone of voice. So that’s one jerk.

In my Sunday School class, there are three law enforcement officers. I’ve been around the three of them enough to know they are not jerks. They’re good men. They’re gentlemen. I can’t imagine any of them acting like power-tripping pigs. So that’s three good men.

One jerk. Three good men. All cops are not power-tripping pigs. Most of them aren’t.

I, myself, have been guilty in the past of having the attitude of “I don’t like cops” because of the one jerk. I’ve since realized how ridiculous that is. I’ve gotten one speeding ticket in my life. (Yes, Mamaw Lindsay sometimes drives too fast.) The cop who pulled me over wasn’t a jerk to me. And guess what? I was speeding. I was irritated to have gotten a speeding ticket, but he was nothing but professional and I was, indeed, speeding.

When we had a crazy man in our office several months ago, barricading himself in the lobby bathroom and then climbing up through the ceiling tiles and scurrying around the attic, I was thankful for the law enforcement officers who showed up to pull him out of the ceiling, arrest him, and make our building secure again. My coworkers and I stood out in the farthest section of the parking lot while several law enforcement officers were inside the building tracking this guy down, and other law enforcement officers were stationed outside at every corner of the building in case he somehow got out and exited through a door or window. They had us covered. This man could have had a weapon on him (he didn’t) or could have been strong and physically violent (he wasn’t; he looked to be about 100 pounds soaking wet). They could have been walking into an extremely dangerous situation and they willingly did that. It’s what they do every day.

When I go to court in smaller outlying parishes without metal detectors at the doors, I’m thankful to have armed law enforcement officers in the court room. So far, thankfully, nothing crazy has gone down, but I sure am grateful they are there in case anything does.

When I’ve walked through Times Square on my visits to New York City, I’ve been thankful to see uniformed NYPD officers on the streets. Times Square is an awfully busy place, but standing on the street corners you always see NYPD. I don’t find it to be a scary, threatening environment, but I think the presence of law enforcement is what makes it feel safe. Also, I might add, I’ve never seen any of them harass anyone.

People hate to be judged. Nobody wants the negative experiences with one person to shape the views toward their entire demographic. I hope I’m not seen as a racist, judgmental, hypocritical, greedy, anti-women, lazy gold digger. If someone attributes any of these characteristics to any group I would be associated with, then yes – this is how people would see me. But this isn’t me.

All black men are not thugs. All law enforcement officers are not power-tripping pigs.

I’ve heard it said that young black men, in particular, are taught that police officers look upon them with suspicion and that they should be afraid of cops for this very reason. I do understand where a lot of black men would feel this way, but I think it’s important to teach everyone self respect and respect for others. This would solve a lot of problems. If stopped by a law enforcement officer, show self respect and respect for the officer. Becoming combative, either verbally or physically, never helps a situation. Everyone under every demographic – every race, either gender, rich, poor, etc. – should show respect for self and respect for others.

Nobody wants to be judged based on whatever demographic they fall under. Black men don’t want to be looked upon with suspicion simply because of their skin color. Police officers don’t want to be looked upon with suspicion simply because of their uniform. It goes both ways. It’s the same judgmental attitude, just toward a different demographic. Respect for self and respect for others would calm a lot of the tension in America today.

Are some cops jerks? Yep. But the vast majority of them are honorable men and women who genuinely seek to protect and serve. Are some state workers lazy? Sure. But most of my coworkers are hardworking people. Are some Christians judgmental hypocrites? Yes. But we all are hopeless without grace and we all screw up every day. If it weren’t for God’s grace and forgiveness, we’d all be in trouble, so far be it from us to pretend we’ve got it all together.

You don’t have to agree with someone or be exactly like them to respect them as a person. I hope we all – myself included – will not gather an entire demographic of people under one umbrella based on one negative experience, but will see everyone as an individual with a clean slate. And I pray we will show respect and gratitude toward those who make it their life’s calling to protect and serve.

Possibilities

A little over two years ago, I was sent to south Louisiana to work disaster food stamps in Houma for nine days following Hurricane Isaac. Two of my coworkers were sent with me along with about fifteen others from our region within the department. One child welfare worker, Rhonda, was sent on this trip and she was a relatively new employee – only about four or five months under her belt – in a smaller, outlying parish and she didn’t know a soul in the group.

Our roommate assignments got messed up in a major way. I had intended to be roommates with my new friend, Renva, whom I had met about a week earlier when we worked a local shelter due to the same hurricane. Well, Renva got paired with Rhonda and I got paired with Mrs. Amelia Johns. I vividly remember standing at the hotel front desk with Renva when we found out we were the last two to be assigned and saying, “Who the heck are Rhonda McGraw and Amelia Johns?” It was a bit awkward sharing a hotel room with an absolute stranger. Mrs. Amelia Johns and I bonded over the train wreck that is Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and the fact that our Boxers came from the same Boxer dad. Mrs. Amelia Johns has Sayid’s half-brother, Champ! Rhonda really had no choice but to share a room with a complete stranger since we were all strangers to her. Suffice it to say, it all worked out wonderfully. After a few days, a group we called “The Dream Team” hightailed it to New Orleans with hopes of more hours and we all got our own rooms in Houma. We also got some new friendships. Our new friends found out that The Dream Team took off with the van they’d been riding in so we made room in ours. I remember having some good laughs with our new friends, Rhonda, Mrs. Amelia Johns, and Mrs. Chris. Our van became crowded with the extra passengers, but boy, did we have fun. There were a few laughing-so-hard-it-hurts type of moments.

We returned home and were sent two days later to Baton Rouge for another week of disaster food stamps. The vast majority of our department was sent to Baton Rouge, so my longtime friend, Valerie, also went. Rhonda, Valerie, and I were each at sparsely populated hotels without any of our friends and Valerie was one of the employees who drove her personal vehicle. A lot of people chose to work double shifts, but the three of us only worked one shift – around 5:00 AM until 1:00 PM, if I’m remembering correctly. I require more than four hours of sleep per night. Once we were driven back to our respective hotels after our shifts, we usually took naps and then Valerie would pick each of us up and the three of us would go eat together. We all got along so well that we planned to take a trip to New York City together the following fall. Rhonda ended up getting a different job and moving to Arkansas so it didn’t work out for her to come to New York with Valerie and me, but we had planned for over a year to go visit Rhonda one Saturday in Arkansas.

It finally happened. This past Saturday, Valerie and I drove to Monticello to visit Rhonda. She works at the Arkansas Baptist Children’s Home as a case manager, but on this day, she was filling in as relief for the house parents over the middle school girl’s house. We spent all day with eight middle school girls. Then Rhonda’s daughter joined up in early afternoon and we had nine.

Have I mentioned that I love that age group? I’ve always loved middle schoolers. They’re in that awkward phase where they’re still happy-go-lucky, but also in transition. I think they’re very impressionable at that age and I think it really means something for someone to give them the time of day. I thoroughly enjoyed spending the day around these girls at the children’s home. They were really good kids. They were polite and well-mannered. They got along remarkably well. They were sweet and energetic and funny. They were generous towards each other.

After they did their chores and cooked lunch (frozen burritos, taquitos, and tater tots), we all loaded up in the big fifteen passenger van and Rhonda drove us to a few places to shop. They sang along to the radio, sang songs that were not on the radio, and made typical silly teenager comments to each other. They tried to squeeze extra shopping time out of Rhonda. They wrapped up their outing with frozen yogurt. On the way back to their house, I was personally invited by the most outgoing of the girls to come be their relief sometimes. I told her I didn’t live there & she simply suggested I move there. Then she moved on and made the same suggestion to Valerie – “How about you? Come on. You know you like kids.” Valerie’s matter-of-fact response was, “No.” She also suggested we come back another weekend, spend the night, and go to church with them on Sunday.

Before we left to head home, about half a dozen girls ran down the hall to give us hugs. Valerie and I walked out to my car talking about how much fun we’d had. We didn’t really want to leave. Valerie admitted she was a little unsure about spending the day with a bunch of kids, but it turned out being a great day. If it had been elementary aged kids, I would have felt the same, I’m sure. But middle school? I love middle schoolers. Goodness, it was fun.

That day got me thinking. For one thing, I’m so glad these girls have Rhonda in their lives. Rhonda is a very fun, very laid back person, but they absolutely respect her. It was obvious they love her. She’s the perfect person to be working at a children’s home.

For another thing, it made me think of when I used to help with the youth group at church. I enjoyed it. I liked the middle schoolers when they drove some others nuts. During that time of helping with the youth, I found the little brother I never had – Matt. He is now a successful college graduate who is about to start his career in New York City. Matt stands out because he’s so special to me, but there were several kids who I think and hope I was an encourager to during those years. It seems a lot of people are drawn to the younger kids and tolerate the preteens. It’s different for me. The younger ones make me a bit nervous. The middle schoolers are my crowd. (No comments are needed regarding my maturity level, thankyouverymuch.)

I thought about how if I lived in the Monticello area, I’d be all about being a relief worker for those girls. But, alas, I’m not looking to move. But surely there’s something I can do, right? So I’m now thinking about Big Brothers Big Sisters. Maybe that’s something I could do. I have one friend who is involved in this in his area and he’s told me a little about it. If anyone else does this, please tell me your story. I’m interested.

I thought about how I’ve got these Compassion kids in other countries whom I’ve formed friendships with. I love these kids. I make it a point to encourage them and they encourage me right back. Can’t I also be an encourager to a kid right here at home? Surely there are some who need it.

I think there are always things we can do to help others and it’s so easy to get wrapped up in whatever is going on in life and ignore the possibilities. Last Saturday my eyes were opened a bit and I feel incredibly thankful that I got to spend the day with Rhonda, Valerie, and a bunch of middle school girls. The wheels are turning.