It’s as Awful as You Think: Cancer the Third Time

1911814_10202755864990450_1028741040_nI am just mad. Any blog about this cancer is going to have to start out with a lot of anger and wrath and ranting. As an English teacher, I would like to give some explication, set the background up, tell you little things about the past battles Greg has had with cancer, and kind of give you a general lay of the land. But I can’t, because I am MAD.

My husband should not have to have skin from his arms sewn in his mouth. He should not have to have his neck dissected and stapled like Frankenstein. He should not have to miss work without pay. Surviving a bone marrow transplant should not entail horror after horror. In a fair world, once you sat on that lonely bicycle seat behind that four foot steel door and let your body be “killed” by total body irradiation so that you could be brought back to life by a bone marrow transplant–well, in a fair world, after that, you shouldn’t have to have any body parts sawed off or cut out.

You should get to keep all your body parts.

My younger daughter, who worked so hard for so long, winning state and national academic recognition, should not have the last thirteen weeks of her senior year be consumed by her parents’ sorrow. I can see her at a cocktail party in the future, “My senior year? Oh, that’s when my mother was crying on the floor while  my dad was holding the cat and playing video games to try to distract himself from the fact that he was about to have a neck dissection.”

And I shouldn’t have to sit in a hospital room for a week watching my husband suffer. The 31 consecutive days in 2001 should have been the lifetime limit. We weren’t raw then–we were too ignorant to be angry. We didn’t know that financial destruction was coming, that we would spend thousands of dollars–enough to buy a car–on eyedrops (just eyedrops!)–after his tear ducts were destroyed. We didn’t know that, exhausted, he would go to the bedroom around 7:30 almost every night for the rest of his life–no late night movies or card games for him. No walks on the beach or screaming “Happy New Year’s.” We knew nothing of deductibles and co-pays and a life that is ruled by them.

We knew nothing.

And now we do. Now we know so much.

I didn’t even go with him to Jacksonville on the day he got this third diagnosis. I didn’t have many sick days, and he didn’t want me to. He texted me during my last class: “It’s the same kind of cancer as last time” and my world didn’t even crumble–after so many consecutive tragedies, it’s nowhere near rebuilt.

I stepped out on the back porch, talked to him briefly, hearing the same earnest tones I so love. This is what it is, this is what we will do. I heard the sorrow in his voice.

I summoned another teacher to my classroom, directing him to make me laugh–and make my students laugh–in the final minutes until the bell rang. He did, and then he stood there after the bell, waiting for my daughter, who had to be told.

She came in with her best friend, and they started raiding the mini-fridge. She called a cheerful hello to my co-worker. I said mildly from the hall, “You are interpreting him being here wrong.” And her face fell.

But she didn’t cry.

I went and told my boss, who was about to start a faculty meeting, “Greg says tell the staff. Go ahead and announce it.”

I left, and he did.

My happiest friend said later, “When he announced that, it was like I couldn’t hear any more.

We are some resilient folk. We bounce back, push on, forge ahead. But there’s no real forging this time. We don’t want to walk. None of us. Not this path.

We abandoned the rules we’d used to cope with Stephanie Grace’s death: be nice and give each other space. They were now moot: no one could be nice when everything was angry–and the anger made it initially impossible for any of us to be in the same room.

We set two new ground rules: no talking about cancer among ourselves–and no company. The plan; get the drawbridge up, lick our wounds, eat comfort food, pet our cats.

And cry.

That Sunday night, as we readied ourselves for a week at work, I listed our co-workers with cancer, all of whom have markedly better attitudes.

I was hanging up shirts when I asked Greg, “Why can’t we be like that? Chipper and driven? Why are we like this?”

Greg looked away from the television, met my eyes, and replied slowly, as if explaining a basic concept to a small child, “We don’t wear the same clothes as they do. We don’t watch the same TV shows. We don’t like the same foods. So we don’t have to have the same attitude about cancer. I don’t have to be all whoo-hoo . . . I can be this is going to stink for a while.

On Tuesday, a swagger-filled fifteen-year-old boy stopped by my classroom with a friend, a fellow I didn’t know. They stood with their hands in their back pockets. “I am praying for Mr. Grimes,” my student said. “He is in my prayers,” added the other boy, reverently.

They turned and headed out the door.

I breathed the air.

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My Helpless Estate: The Place of the Pieces

24879384_10213495612797433_1134531612_oThere is a place where it is Too Much. It is not Too Much at work–you can do that. You can go there, do the things, say the words, and no one is really the wiser. You can go out with friends, see movies and eat nachos; you can go to a family reunion and cluck over your distant cousin’s toddler twins; you can answer the questions of the old ladies in grocery stores; you can help people, minister, pray. You can do so many things, fill so many roles–all while carrying your Too Much around with you.

(I am not a theologian, and I may get some things wrong here. I know that we are supposed to cast all our burdens on Christ because he cares for us. I also know that Paul struggled with a thorn in the flesh that he begged God to take from Him. I know that His strength is made perfect in my weakness, which (to me) means He sees that I still have weakness, even though I am alive in Christ, covered in His blood, and I will be with Him one day. I also know that this is all, right now, Too Much.)

To those Christians who are fully confident, and who may be looking down on me right now as I explore brokenness once more, and who would prescribe me a “three-step to full revelation” ritual, I would say this: I, too, am fully confident.

Isn’t that the ultimate irony? That I can be a weeping, broken-hearted mess, and you can sit beside me, a “name it and claim it” smile-til-your-mouth-breaks Christian, and we can BOTH be fully confident?  And yet we are confident in different ways–

I think in the church we get one idea of what Christian confidence looks like–and we get it from the peppy Christians who dress well, smile a lot, raise their hands, and enthusiastically worship. Because they look together and real, we think they ARE together and real–and far better than us.

But there is also a kind of confidence that is in the place of shattering, in the place of the pieces. It is not an attractive confidence–there is no polish nor gleam. There is nothing appealing about brokenness or deep sorrow–no one wants the doll missing a leg or the bargain Kroger bouquet. Truly, no one wants to visit the broken–the widows, the orphans, the prisoners–in their places of sorrow. But Christ tells us to.

Behind locked doors, in the dark, amid the tears–that’s where we are to go. We are to go into places of distress and shine light. But too often, we are afraid to walk into a sad teenager’s room; to chat with our bitter, long-widowed neighbor; to try to speak to the newly-grieving mother.

For one thing the truly broken learn quickly, soon after they are shattered, is this simple, dark truth: nothing can be done.

The loss is complete.

When there is barrenness and emptiness and destruction such that no preacher’s word can touch your heart, and your own words for prayers refuse to come–when there is no reprieve, no immediate escape, nothing to do but sit in sorrow–there, in that pit–in that pit is where the confidence comes.

24879012_10213495571196393_1462430243_oBecause God is there. And, eventually, you can feel His presence beside you in the mire and muck and mess–in the very place where you can do nothing. He has not abandoned you.

In fact, without Him, you will not escape: there is no way out–no door, no path, no Sandy-Patti-inspired-window.

You wail.

You rage.

You are embarrassed when your tears splash the floor because what adult cries so hard that her tears actually splash??? Are Christians allowed even allowed to be that sad??? But God just sits there, putting your tears into His bottle.

Eventually, when you can breathe again, He asks you to try to stand. He catches you when you collapse. And He does this day after day after day, until one day you realize you are stronger, finally. You can stand.

But He doesn’t make you walk; He doesn’t demand results. He rests with you. Day after day. Try. Fail. Try. Fail. It is wearisome, this total dependence on Him.

But you get better at it–the resting and waiting and the Grace for the Day that you always thought was so much mumbo-jumbo. You see sorrow and waste and pain and the things you are missing out on–things that you will always miss out on. And you yell @#*%! because it is wrong and unfair–but God stays right there beside you in your pit, even though you just cussed. He doesn’t leave. You yell at trees and He doesn’t leave. You holler at your kids and your friends and your spouse and they are far away, but He is right there, and His face hasn’t changed. You are weak, and He is making you strong. Making you confident.


I would have never thought this: there is confidence in the dead child. Confidence in financial ruin. Confidence in cancer.

There is confidence in horror and waste and destruction because God is there. His omnipresence becomes real. Felt. Seen. Experienced.

And in realizing that things can always get worse, you paradoxically realize, things cannot get worse. Because, like the widow and the orphan, you have seen the deepest sorrows, experienced the soul-crushing losses, and you know you were not alone.

And, like them, you are not crushed, not in despair, not abandoned, not destroyed.

Granted, it may all be Too Much right now–it was, too, then–but He lifted you out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set your feet on a rock and gave you a firm place to stand.

So, just stand.

But know, when you are ready, He will again walk with you.








Steady Hands and Broken Rooftops: When Your Christian Friends Need Help (Again)

23336596_10213276089909498_1617252288_oThere is a lot of weeping going on in my house tonight. Sometimes there are sorrows and exhaustion that Netflix can’t soothe; the frayed nerves and sleep deprivation and financial issues and all the gaping loss–there is so much loss.

So much is lost.

And by lost, I mean gone. Never to be found again. Gone in ways that chanting Christian songs and feel-good “I’ll pray for you” handshakes do not cover, but are instead like pinky Bandaids on bazooka wounds.

Good Lord, you’re thinking, here she goes again. Talking about that dead baby. It wasn’t even her baby.

But the losses stack. You deal with a troubled, chaotic childhood by dreaming of your peaceful adulthood–only to find there is no such thing. Adulthood is a stack of sorrows: the child on drugs, the senile mother, the husband who cheats again and again and again, the alcoholic wife, the car accident, the cancer, the sick child, the financial woes.

And it gets to be So Much and So Big that there are things you just no longer talk about because there is no point, and who would believe you anyway because no one’s life is that weird.

I can still recall exactly where I was–sitting shotgun in the brown-paneled station wagon at a red light at Satilla Square–when my mother, who was then in the throes of alcoholism and bipolar disorder, told me something along the lines of, “You know, I’m not the only one who has the types of problems. Dr. ______’s son/daughter/wife was admitted to the mental hospital last month.” I was probably ten at the time, but I can still recall the relief that I felt that night–along with the amazement that the family was hiding it so well.

I can’t hide anything. (A favorite boss once said, “Sweetie, most people hide their buttons. You put yours in the middle of your forehead.”) It takes too much energy to hide things–to stuff and repress and pretend.  I have lost close friends to illnesses they chose not to disclose, and while I respect their choices, I myself couldn’t poker-facedly grocery shop for more than a week or two before I’d have to say, “Pray for me, please pray for me.” I can walk while my world is disintegrating. I can plan and strategize and email the world’s best doctors and ask them intelligent questions–but I can’t lie to my friends at the cosmetics counter at Belk, telling them my world is fine when it’s crumbling.

Because it is crumbling. And they are my friends.

I have been thinking about friendship a lot lately because another avalanche has fallen, and while I’ve managed to patch myself up a little, I’m still broken and hurting, walking down this new, dim road. I can’t really see through much yet through my fog and confusion–although I can certainly feel (and am grateful for) grace for the day.

But it’s tacky, isn’t it, for me to be off the main path once again? To be off on this side road where music, pets, and trees are my main comforts? I’m 47–I’ve been in church my whole life; I know enough Bible verses to live in an isolation cell and encourage those in the cells nearby–or to exhort others on my liferaft if I was lost at sea. I have seen miracles–my family is one: a group of people who should not exist. I know the power of God’s hands. I have been rescued just in time.

Despite these assurances, I still feel the need, every time my trail goes dim, to tell a few longsuffering friends, “Hey, I’m over here–I’m on this uphill path, and it looks like it might be difficult, especially since I’m pretty tired already: would you mind saying a few prayers for me?”

And I thank God that there are those people who are unequivocal with their, “YES!” Who, even after years of watching me trudging the same paths, wandering in my wilderness and gnawing on my manna, will say, “I’ve got you.” Some Christians know that drug-addicted children take a while to find their peace; stillborn babies take more than eight days to grieve; marriages take decades to recover from affairs;  a parent’s Alzheimer’s breaks hearts daily. On these long roads, it is the few who stay near, who steady our hands until sunset, who are the dearest.

I was sitting in church on Sunday, thinking in typical midlife-crisis-fashion about my life: like many nearing fifty, I feel I have very little to show. It seems I have wasted much on things that are now ashes and tears.

Then, the pastor started talking about the paralytic, whose friends removed part of the roof to get him to Jesus.

Think about that: to get him to Jesus, the paralyzed man’s friends carried him on a couch down the long, dusty road–he couldn’t walk the path at all, he was so broken. They were hot, they were tired, their arms ached. But they carried him because he was their friend--he had likely been so a long time. They had probably heard him talk about his dreams of running, how he wanted to feel the earth under his feet, to feel his knees pumping, and they maybe had rolled their eyes at each other when he wasn’t looking, thinking, “He isn’t going to walk.”

And then, they heard the Savior was coming. Maybe it was the paralytic who said, “Hey, guys, can you carry me to see Him?” Or perhaps one of his friends said, “Hey,  guys, grab  the sofa, we are going to town.”

They mobilized for the immobile–and then, when there was no passing through the throng, they DID NOT STOP. They climbed the roof. They had the strength. They had the determination.

I’d spent the previous weeks–before the pastor brought it up–thinking about that story. I’d thought about how I had friends who were roof climbers, still. People who were not tired of me, who would walk with me a little while longer, who would work to push me through the roof, dropping me through prayer into the lap of the Savior, saying, “She’s a mess, but we know you can fix her. We love her, even though she can’t walk, even though we have been feeding her so long, and she’s had this problem forever.”

To have this handful of people who see steadily past the trouble I cause them–who still discern heart and value and worth when I see only damage and destruction–to have those people who will exhaust themselves for my chance at wholeness–is amazing. Incredible.

Because we, all of us, get tired of ourselves–our same problems, our thorns in the flesh, these things that just will not go away–and it is a glory and a grace that there are others who are not weary of us. Who can carry our couches. Who can buy us coffee just to be told once again about our cheating spouses, our heartbreaking children, about the weariness of all this pain. Who see promise where we see pain.


These friends will reach across tables, handing us crumpled Starbucks napkins to wipe away, again, our thousand tears. They will once again prepare to drag us up the roof.

And they will smile as they watch us fall, dropping through the air.

Delivered. To Our Deliverer.





Measuring Sticks (Suffering is not a Competition)


I don’t really like church. I wake up on Sunday mornings and try to talk myself out of going. While I  dilly-dally over breakfast, playing online Scrabble, I tell myself there are other, more productive things I could do,

No one else in my family goes. (I once believed I was destined to be a quiver-full wife, and now, ironically, I am, mostly, alone on the pew.) So it is tempting to stay home and pet cats and drink Dr. Pepper.

But lately, I go, and for the stupidest of reasons. A friend, a handsome, mildly-womanizing good old boy, attends his own church weekly. And once when I teased him about going on Sundays, probably hungover, he said simply, “You always learn something.”

Point taken.

This morning, my first thought upon waking was a PMS-fueled, yet pragmatic, “What is Screenshot_20170917-143848even the point?” But twenty minutes before church was to begin, I mustered the energy to dress, putting on my twenty-five-pounds-ago pants that were, in my favorite aunt’s polite terms, “unflattering” even when they fit. I didn’t brush my teeth.

My husband wandered in the bathroom and asked mildly, “You going? The last thing I heard was you asking the cat if you should go . . . She must have said yes.”


The door greeters were, thankfully, non-handshaky, and I made it through the narthex without a hug. The lady behind me had a cough, and I didn’t really like the songs, but I was singing. My mind was everywhere–no one I know is at their personal mental best right now after Hurricane Irma–and I was really wrestling to focus on the lyrics, to leave my hectic week behind me, to feel churchy instead of blah.

The chorus leader began “When You Walk Into the Room,” a song that I like enough that I wouldn’t skip it on Pandora. As we congregants sang, “When you walk into the room/The dead begin to rise/Cause there is resurrection life/In all You do,” from across the sanctuary, there came a joyous shout.

Tina Goble, a mother who, having lost her five-year-old daughter to DIPG brain cancer, fully gets the promise of the resurrection,  rejoiced, shouting praise to our God who sustains.

I looked over and thought, “She is so together. She lost her daughter, yet can worship so freely.”

And, immediately, in my spirit, I heard, “Give yourself some credit. You lost your granddaughter, and you are here.”


Once again, I was getting out my measuring sticks in church. Thinking: she is better than me. She is more patient, more genuinely kind. Why, she is even able, somehow, to sincerely smile–even with her eyes.

When I see Tina, my reaction is always immediately positive. I give her gold stars for being in public, having makeup on, and being so peppy.  My instinct is adulation.

When I see myself in the mirror now, most days, I’m just surprised–who knew that skin could be that gray or hair could be that stringy? I’m full of judgment and disdain for myself. My instinct is condemnation.

That’s what placeholder Christianity does–it puts Tina here and me there. She’s nearer Jesus because she can smile and curl her hair and raise her hands, and I am much farther from Christ because I am here with unbrushed teeth, I looked at Facebook on my phone during the sermon, and then took my shoe off and gave myself a mini foot massage–in church!!!

And my mind gets full, so full, of all the things that I am not. There are so many things that I am not. Then, the pain at all my lack comes in, followed by the envy of others who are doing life better–who are successfully navigating over and around and through their waves, while I am going under again.

And it is so stupid.

Tina and I both faced certain horror. We both held children who were given death sentences, children who were bombarded with cannots and willnots, and who needed accompanying past them. Precious little girls who needed love on the journey to death, and we gave them that.

Christ allowed us to give them that. 

Now, we both have days where we are empty and aching. Days where the smile of another child isn’t enough. Days where we remember the heartbreaks we witnessed. Days where we touch our lost children’s clothes and blankets–and we want so desperately to kiss our girls’ sweet foreheads again.

That I would take out a measuring stick and want to compare my horror with hers, my coping with hers, my current smile and hairdo with hers–and that I would even SEE or THINK about these stupid, superficial things–having seen all that I have, having endured so much, shows desperately the need we have a revelation of Grace, true Grace.

Our God is not a God of checklists and balanced scales. He does not keep track of which of us was kinder to the greeters. He does not care whose breath is fresher. He does not ever notice our hairstyles.

For God’s Word tells us that He does not look upon our outward appearance, but that He looks upon our hearts, and he sees them Whole. And so, when He saw the two of us talking at lunch, He probably chuckled and said to Jesus, “Look, there’s Rachel–she’s telling Tina that she forgot, for a second, the most important thing . . .

When I look at them, I only see You.”

Cancer Survivors, Please Take Note:

You are allowed to want:

A clean table.

Fresh sheets.

A few things

(modest household items)

from Pier One

On sale. With coupon.


(You are also allowed,

in a lifetime,

One stainless steel trashcan

and two Lowes clearance appliances.)


You can want, desperately,

your aunt’s second-hand sofa

with its tufted pillows.

And Lindt Christmas peppermint truffles

at the after-New-Years Walgreens price.


Permission granted! Dance with true joy

when your brother gives you

a seventeen-year-old fishing truck

(your only vehicle with A/C).


(Even now, there are tears: you possess A/C.)


Don’t dare want

the smiling husband at the amphitheater concert.

Forget the gurgling grandchild, alive in your arms.

(We understood your wanting her last year,

but, really?, this year, too?)


Accept your fate. Shut up. Sit down.


Even after sixteen years–

character building via financial destruction,

$208,000 in medical bills,

a new Nissan’s worth of eyedrops.


You cannot desire relief.


It is not his fault. Not your fault.

You can’t blame anyone.


Stop all that tacky wanting.


Like what you have.

Take what you get.


And just shut up about the car.


There’s no driving away from this.







When Your Lousy Mother’s Day Can’t Compete


My friend Ashley Garrett likes to use Facebook to promote conversations. Last year, she asked, “What’s a good surprise for someone on Mother’s Day?” She got a lot of good answers, including the predictable (spa day, manicure, day of peace) and the interesting (bourbon, everything on my Amazon wish list). One that caught my eye was very simple: “A husband who doesn’t say, “You’re not my mother.””

I had to chuckle at that because I have that version. The stoic, who can look me in the face and say, with all the sincere logic in the world, “You’re not my mom.”

The thought process goes, I believe, something like this: You did not give birth to me. You did not adopt me. You, therefore, are not MY mother. This is Mother’s Day. You are our children’s mother. They made you a card at daycare/school/church. It’s really cute. You should be happy because, after all, you are THEIR mother. And, besides, the card is sweet and heartfelt.

Society, though, has turned Mother’s Day–like everything else–into a competitive sport. The mom who gets breakfast in bed, a card, and flowers feels pretty good until she sees on social media that her BFF got breakfast, a card, flowers, and a Michaels gift card. But then that Mother’s Day winner is upended by the wife who got the Pandora bracelet with a charm for each of her golden-haired offspring and ate her eggs Benedict–with real Hollandaise sauce–poolside.

The temptation is to see the not.

If a mom is just holding a construction paper card, her husband did not take the children shopping.

If a mother doesn’t eat breakfast in bed, her husband is not trying–or her older children do not care.

If there are no flowers, then her husband does not love her because they sell flowers at every grocery store in town for only $7.00.

And the woman who sees these nots feels like a Mother’s Day loser in a land of Pandora-Hollandaise winners.

I know because I used to be one, and on those Mother’s Days where I got nothing–not even a construction paper card, I ranted. I railed. I felt angry, devalued, unloved and unrecognized. My husband and my girls could listen to me rage because they didn’t get it.

But my husband and girls were totally unaware that Mother’s Day was a competition.

They weren’t shopping three times a week in a rose-filled Walmart or reading the circulars proclaiming, “All Perfume 25% Off For Mom!”

I was the one who bought the groceries. Who checked the mail. Who read the women’s magazines and got the targeted emails. I was the one who was fully aware that Mother’s Day was coming.

It wasn’t a vendetta. (The children were, as my younger daughter so aptly puts it, “Barely self-aware.”)

Less honored never meant–and never means–less loved.

When I was a young wife and mother, I didn’t know this. Mother’s Day was a day of weighing and measuring, of waiting for the scales to balance. I didn’t see it for what it was: one Sunday in May.

Think about it–Mother’s Days are a collective emotional motherlode, but they are less than 1% of a woman’s life.  The average woman will live 4,025 Sundays–Sundays on which her husband will maybe make a Hardee’s run or whip up some pancakes. On some of those Sundays, there will be family picnics and spontaneous roadtrips and lingering dinners.

There will be beautiful Sundays. Lousy Sundays. Lots and lots and lots of Sundays.

Don’t judge your family–or your worth–by this one.





I’d Like to Thank my Teacher

17858438_10211453422783959_961153226_oI live in small-town South Georgia, where we have to drive long distances to see quality movies. In the 1980s, my childhood friend Laura’s cultured mother drove her daughters to Jacksonville, Florida, monthly, where they would watch three movies in succession, then report back to us.

Though lacking Laura’s background, I have always watched the Oscars. I like the glamour, the genuine emotion, the chance to see another, far-away world.

When the joyous winners leap up the steps, I inevitably weep, thinking of their teachers.  The men and women who tried to corral their energetic charges while simultaneously leaving their spirits intact; who, remembering daily what it was like to be young, gave guidance with dignity and compassion; who bought snacks when these now-tuxedo-clad adults were hungry youngsters; who encouraged and cajoled during quick hallway conferences, saying things like, “Really, Casey, you have amazing talent. No, I’m not just saying that to be nice.”

I think of these teachers, who have sown much and are too often forgotten. I imagine them, in the weeks before the Oscars, sitting at the beauty parlor saying things like, “Oh, you know, Emma Stone was in my English class. Sweet, sweet girl.” I picture them putting their charges’ names on Sunday School prayer lists; carefully cutting out Oscar newspaper articles; telling their current students, “Viggo hated history, too, but he studied and did well, and Sunday night, 40 million people are going to watch him on TV.”

I picture these teachers in their frayed recliners and modest homes, DVRs carefully set, their forewarned children and spouses giving them a wide berth because Mom is watching one of her favorite all-time kids. 

I can hear the screams when their favorite’s name is called. I see them dancing, arms in the air, yelling, “He did it! He did it!” and cackling with delight.

For a moment, these exultant educators forget the sorrows that come with teaching, all of the lack and sacrifice. For this moment, they are rich. They have done it. They have changed a life, pushed one child past the most awesome of finish lines.

Tonight, when Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor, as the camera rose high behind him and the clapping throng rose to their feet, Mr. Ali stood tall and confident at centerstage. I felt tears forming. His teachers, seeing this.

And then, Mr. Ali spoke. In the first speech of Hollywood’s most important night, the first people he thanked were teachers. “I want to thank my teachers, my professors . . .I had so many wonderful teachers. Zelda Fichandler, Ron Van Lieu, Ken Washington.”

He spoke their names. He felt their weight. In his acknowledgement of those who unknowingly readied him for a long-distant February night, Mr. Ali reminded us all to remember that we do not reach our goals alone.

As he stood onstage, one man speaking directly to millions, Mr. Ali recalled the men and women who helped him find his voice.

He thanked them first; he thanked them clearly.

It was, perhaps, surprising: teachers are not friends. Not family. But sometimes, they are the first to see the spark–to train pupils how to heft it, to convince them that they are worthy to carry it.

And so, while the world sees only the now-tuxedoed glory, fully ablaze, it is fitting to shout the names of those who remember those long-past days–

The days before the fire.





I’m a Teacher, and I Don’t Want to Die With Your Child in a Tornado

Dave Sanders was the first teacher to haunt me. I would wager that, although you have forgotten him, many teachers could instantly tell you, “He died in Columbine. His students held up his pictures of his family members as he bled out on the floor.”

liviuLiviu Librescu’s name cannot be spoken with enough reverence: a Holocaust survivor, this professor chose to hold his Virginia Tech classroom’s door shut so his students could escape the raging gunman on the other side. Librescu died.

27 year-old Sandy Hook teacher Victoria Soto hid her small students in a cabinet and then faced down gunman Adam Lanza, telling him her kids were in the gym. Her students lived; their teacher died.

Third-grade teacher Jennifer Doan was pregnant when she heroically shielded her students with her body in a desperate attempt to save their lives. Seven of her twenty kids died. 35%. Gone.

I can tell you about these teachers–and others like them–because I, too, am a teacher. Like bankers, who keep up with new federal regulations, and chefs, who learn about the latest food trends, teachers are constantly educated, too. We don’t wile away our days making cutsey bulletin boards and singing songs about friendship: we do real work.

And a large part of that work is making sure your children are safe. And so we continually think about what we would be willing to sacrifice for your child.

Before Liviu Librescu’s death in 2007, very few American classrooms could be locked from the inside. Teachers, during lockdowns, had to go out into the hall and lock their classroom doors. Most of us who taught before 2007 did this–grabbed our keys at the principal’s urgent voice, dashed into the hall as quickly as possible, hurriedly locked our doors, and ducked back in, saying grateful prayers that we were okay, having done our required duties–and kept your children safe.

My husband, also a teacher, was pulled from his classroom several years ago and told, “There’s been a bomb threat . . . look around for bombs.” Your children? Safe.

At the same school, he was also told that, if there was a fire, he was to “go deep into the building to see if any children were left inside.” As a teacher–not a firefighter–he was expected to display this level of de facto heroism. To keep your children safe.

llI have hidden my autistic elementary school students in a bathroom while an angry man with a weapon roamed the campus. I have had a rib broken and rotator cuff torn by a student. I have been threatened by an angry, belt-wielding parent as I stepped between her and her child. I have dashed out of a prom carrying burning decorations. I have been brave for your kids.

Right now, though, I’m not being brave. I’m at home eating pimento cheese on Ritz crackers in my blue polka-dotted pajamas. School was called off early today because there was a chance of tornadic activity. So far, a drop of rain has not fallen, and our school system was ridiculed by a meteorologist on TV in the next major town.

That meteorologist has never been in a classroom. Taught 115 kids for 180 days. Pinned their Homecoming boutonnieres on; visited them in hospital rooms after football injuries and car wrecks; held their hands in funeral homes after their relatives died; videotaped their Promposals, having first been complicit in the hiding of the teddy bears and the Snickers bars. That weatherman has never been knee-deep in children.

I have been. I am.

For those of you who have not been, imagine this: you are single, but have a large brick home, and you are hosting a spend the night party for your son, Johnny. He has invited thirty friends, and they all said yes. Everyone is coming. You have assembled a bouncy-house, pre-ordered the pizza, and iced the homemade Power Rangers cake. You’ve rented a party bus to transport them to Chucky Cheese for a night of fun. Imagine, then, just fifteen hours before, you hear that a squall line with 60 MPH winds, large hail, thunderstorms, and perhaps tornadoes too, is likely headed your way.

Your next move, of course, is to cancel the party.

It’s a no brainer. If parents insisted on sending their kids before the storm hit, you would lock the doors and hide. You would not let those kids in your house because they might get hurt. You would cancel the bus and forfeit the deposit because who wants to be on a bus with children in a tornado??? Who would chance that? Who would make that gamble?

As a party host, you would assess the risk–you would think about your liability; you would consider how many things could go wrong. You would choose the wiser path.

Sure, a wind shift could result in you eating hypothetical cake alone under a sunny sky while people Facebooked about how foolish you were. However, the alternative hypothetical, with your son surrounded by seven of his best friends’ bodies and people still Facebooking about your idiocy–well, that’s too much to bear.

So, know this: of all the heroic teachers listed above–Sanders, Librescu, Soto, and Doan–only Doan could have possibly been spared her trauma. Her school system likely had two hours’ notice before the EF5 tornado flattened Plaza Towers Elementary.  They stayed.

I’m grateful I didn’t have to stay at work today in potentially dangerous conditions. Because I already knew about the pregnant teacher who tried to keep her students safe during a tornado.

Who broke her back and sternum.

Who lost seven students.

Who holds a baby in her arms who is named for the student who died–whom she felt die–beneath her palm as they lay together, crushed in the rubble.

Most teachers, like me, already knew about her. Now, you do.

Please, tell me again about how this weather day hurt you.

213 Days: Waiting on a Faithful God

I am a rambly high school English teacher. Like my own high school teachers, I talk frankly about life’s joys and losses. I talk about hindsight and heartbreak. I preach constantly about choices. My students know the things I have survived. I tell them that it may someday be helpful to think, “Well, if Mrs. G survived that, I can, too.”
A few days ago, a successful, happily-married former student messaged me out of the blue. She  said, “If you ever need an anonymous guest post on your blog . . .It’s been a while since I’ve written anything, but I felt the need today . . . it goes along with the feel of your blog and what all your readers have seen . . . I’ve thought of you often while going through this.”
I was heartbroken by the honest words below. Read on for a reminder of a young mother’s heart–and then, in Paul Harvey fashion, read the rest of the story, and marvel at our ever-faithful God, who uses sorrow to transform. Who gives hope. Who reminds. 
March 9:  The day, my baby should have been born, I thought I was over it.
After all, I have had 213 days to get over it,” but Im not.
30 weeks and 3 days ago I had to have what should have been my baby removed from my body.
Just a week prior, I had been told, “We cant find a fetus. Maybe youre not as far along as you thought.” I knew how far along I was; I knew exactly when I got pregnant eight weeks before because we had been trying for a few months already.
I will always remember that day.
I had started bleeding just a few days before my first appointment, so I was already worried that something was not right. After the nurse confirmed that my test was positive, we talked about what was to come over the next several months. I was handed packets of information on the hospital, medicines to take and not to take, what to expect at each appointment, etc.
We then went into the ultrasound room where the bubbly ultrasound technician let her trainee perform the sonogram. I was quickly reassured that my bleed was nothing to worry about–it was just a subchorionic hemorrhage that would need to be monitored. I was put on pelvic rest for two weeks. She then kept looking and looking, with an expressionless face.
Then the more experienced ultrasound tech took over. She also looked and looked, nothing. While my husband firmly held my hand through their silence, I never once looked at the monitor.
Theres a sac, but no fetus or heartbeat. Well give it a week to see if anything changes,they  finally told me.
Im not a crier, but that day I cried and cried the entire long ride home. For more than an hour, I sobbed.
We hadn’t told our families that I was pregnant, so I put on a brave face and went to work, visited with family, went to family celebrations and to church, pretending everything was okay. It wasnt.
I spent hours on my phone, googling stories of other women who had positive outcomes to my same situation. There were some, but it still didnt help. I stayed on forums, talking with other women who had been in my shoes. I cried whenever I was alone.
It was the longest week of my life.

On my husband’s birthday, we returned to the doctor’s office. We went into the same ultrasound room. This time, the nurse and tech were not as chipper. More looking, nothing. Without much being said, I was escorted into another room where I waited on the doctor.
I knew.
She came in and advised me I had what is called a blighted ovum. For some reason, my body did not let this fetus form inside the present sac.
She told me I could “let my body take care of it itself” or have a dilation and curettage. Maybe Im weak because I was just ready for it to be over, but I was.
We had to call our parents and tell them simultaneously that I was pregnant and that I wouldnt be having a baby.
Early the next morning my mom, my husband and myself headed to the hospital for my outpatient D&C. Spontaneous abortion is the medical term for a miscarriage; I wasnt having an abortion. I didnt CHOOSE this. I wanted my baby. I had prayed for my baby. I had cried for my baby.
In just a couple of hours, I wasnt pregnant anymore. I was on my way home, cramping, nauseous, drowsy, emotionally numb. And not pregnant.
Over the next few weeks I experienced the same decrease in hormones I would have if I had delivered a beautiful baby. My hair started breaking; I cried for no reason; I had hot flashes; I bled.
But I didnt have a baby, and I wasnt pregnant anymore.


17349546_10211224690345791_877001159_oThree months: thats how long I was told to wait before tryingagain. I didnt listen; I wanted to get pregnant right away. I wanted a baby.

Every other day there was a new Facebook announcement from parents-to-be or a video of baby moving around in his mommys belly. I hated these people. I was bitter, believing that they didnt deserve to have the happiness of pregnancy if I couldnt.

I wanted to have morning sickness; I wanted to feel my baby move inside of me; I wanted to be decorating my babys nursery.

Month after month, test after test, still no positive.

And I messaged the author to call. She had to call. It had to be heard, not written–she had to hear the tears and the laughter–the mourning turned to joy–for herself
Because when I looked at the picture of my blighted ovum, the date I read was November 30, 1995. 
My only birthchild’s birthday?  November 30, 1999. 

We Love Your Lost Dog

16990185_10211053146977314_425826418_o2/23/2017 This morning, when you woke up, maybe you rolled over and tearily told your partner: “Today is the day. It’s been a year. She’s been gone a year–can you believe it???

Maybe you looked at her pictures on your refrigerator; spoke words of half-hearted comfort to your eight-year-old, who stubbornly refuses to give up hope that she will come home; mindlessly patted your “replacement” dog who will not ever replace her.

Perhaps you imagined her long dead on a lonely highway. Lost in woods, hungry and afraid. Stolen: a bait dog or a laboratory tester. Horrors all.

I should tell you, then, that she’s safely ensconced on our sofa. On her  favorite pillow. Today, we’ve celebrated: she had her fill of Milkbones, went to the pet store for an anniversary toy, her head hanging  happily out of the van window all the way there.

17035999_10211053146817310_614326617_oOn the drive, she considered leaving us for the young guy in the blue Chevy at the red light; they eyed one another with shared understanding. We think that’s how you lost her: she jumped out of your car window on the highway, smack dab in the middle of No Man’s Land. Because this dog is definitely a runner, and as my daughter puts it, “She isn’t just running away. She is leaving you to start her new life.

She was found running down the four lane highway, dodging semis. Lynn M—, a dog-lover hustled your pup into her vehicle and a state trooper stopped to help her–because, as I am sure you know, your dog does things with panache.

Last February when we Lynn’s desperate “dogneedsahomeTODAY” Facebook post, we didn’t really want this pup. We were grieving our perfect pit bull, Ezra, the (second) best dog we’d ever owned. But we had space in our home, and Lynn was in the middle of a move, so we half-heartedly offered to foster.

We put ads on the Internet. We tried to find you. Your dog had no microchip; the vet said she was half Labrador retriever, half dachshund, immediately adding, “Don’t try to picture it.”


When your dog was indifferent to our cats (whom Ezra always wanted to eat), we welcomed the change. That first day, your dog fell asleep on my lap, then cuddled next to my feet all night. She wasn’t pushy or demanding, nor was she cowering and timid. She was simply there, offering her companionship.

We could tell that she was someone’s beloved dog: she was housebroken; she sat on command; she refused to walk into a small room without hearty encouragement and instead stood expectantly, awaiting a release command that we did not know. When we got Ezra’s old crate from the garage, she entered it without complaint, and she still does so  a year later–you trained her so well.

17036146_10211053147617330_1364976929_oOur other dog and the four cats adapted to her, as did we. But we couldn’t name her. She had no defining characteristics. She wasn’t an Oreo, Shadow, or Midnight, either, and no girlie names fit. She was just a little dog. That was all.

And so we began simply calling her that, Little Dog. A homage to a favorite AFV video.

Her story is no Marley and Me. She hasn’t been funny or clever; other than escaping occasionally to romp through the neighborhood or visit the next-door Great Dane, there are no anecdotes, really, to share. All she has done is sit within arm’s length for a year–one of the worst years of our lives. 

My seventeen-year-old grumbled one night as she sat petting Little Dog, “We should’ve known we were in for it when we got this Party Favor From God.”

That’s what she’s been for us. A tiny gift. A silent solace. Your little dog.

I’m so sorry you miss her.

I’m so grateful she’s here.16935735_10211053146697307_249733088_o