Friday, December 23, 2011

25 Years of Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree

Merry Christmas early, y'all! I hope you enjoyed my first guest post as my dad recounted the WORST present he had ever received. After reliving countless memories with my family this week toppled with my Aunt Jane's Christmas letter, I have been left feeling a little nostalgic...homesick for the good ol' days.

Sitting at Mom and Dad's today, I decided to thumb through old pictures and take a trip down memory lane. Then I felt compelled to scan these bazillion pictures and share with y'all my family's many Christmases. I hope you enjoy the several decade long Christmas card I made for y'all this year!!

Back: Grandma K, Mom, Uncle David
Front: Aunt Jane, cousin Lance, Grandpa K, Sis, Dad
Thank you, Aunt Jane, for wearing the Arkansas shirt as if we were going to forget where we were living at. Sadly, this photograph was taken in 1983, 3 short years before yours truly brightened the world. My grandparents only had 2 grandkids at the time...they had no idea how much they were missing me until...

clockwise: Grandpa K, Sis, cousin Eric, me (I think-ha!)
See how I brought the family together! I was a loving little booger. What I want you to notice here is the great Christmas decor my Grandma K always had. Nothing like throwing (literally) some silver on the tree and putting out some sheep with everyone's name on them. Do you see those on the left?!

Mom, Dad, me, and Sis (the cheesy smiling one)
What would Christmas be without matching sweaters and earrings...and my sister smiling gayly at the camera? It wouldn't be. Oh, my dad, always so excited about being with us! haha 
Who is this guy?
Apparently, my parents just believed anyone when they said they were Santa. Look at this guy. I even made a big, black circle around his face. He looks like a D rated Santa. Well, I'm not buying it. You can if you want. Check out my sister with the same Santa below...
Sis...she doesn't even notice Santa
To get my sister to sit on Santa's lap it didn't take much. Basically, you just had to say, "He's a guy, and he'll let you sit on his lap and give him a hug." And off she was pushing down every other kid in line. No joke. She was boy crazy. But here she doesn't even notice Santa. She is obviously much more worried about her awesome "number" gloves. I remember those gloves...I believe that's how I learned how to count.

And did anyone else notice how bad that Santa was? I mean...just that he can't seem to put his right arm down. Forget all the crazy moms taking pictures of you and their children who won't be children forever and it might possibly be their last year to believe in Santa. No, don't worry about that, you terrible looking Santa. Just keep your right arm up.
Sis..always in the middle
Moving along with life we see Sis in yet the middle of another picture. You'll notice I'm in the VERY back being shunned (in my little white sweater). My sister had probably pushed me back there.
remember that pink gown
Then Christmas morning...oh yes, that's always every kid's favorite, right? I mean...for crying outloud, get the family junk over. We need some Santa up in here!

Those were probably the only 2 dolls I was ever given as my parents wished I had been a boy (I'm pretty certain anyway). What I want you to see here is Sis's pink gown. Bonus points to the person who can find it later on in life's later pictures. And while we're at it, why don't we start counting how many bad haircuts the two of us had. (Note: Mom claims that I cut my own hair at this point in life. Bahumbug!)

You can start the bad haircut counting...
Yes, I said to count the bad haircuts. Maybe I should also add...count the onesies. And...count how many Christmas trees we had that looked more like bushes than trees. We're at 1 here.

I take back what I said about my parents not giving me dolls. Apparently they gave me dolls and my sister stole them, as evidenced by this picture of her with our cousin Lacey. You won't believe this, but Lacey now teaches 6th grade Literacy after playing college basketball (although the chubby cheeks were very cute!). And my sister teaches 1st grade and just finished her master's degree. Who knew these two little doll thieves would be teaching tomorrow's leaders. Hide your children, hide your wives husbands!

"Hey, let's get dressed up and take Christmas pictures!"
As you can tell Christmas is a very exciting, special time for my family. We have always prided ourselves in dressing to the nines on Christmas morning. And...does anyone notice that my sister always puts her hand up in every picture? You remember that picture of her with the bad Santa? I'm fairly certain she was showing off her hand then too. crack head. (Not literally...I have to make that disclaimer that I just lied so that she does not make me eat another wasper.)
Kuykendall cousins
It's a good thing someone owned a camera in our family. It appears as if we now have concrete proof that I got my dressing ability from my precious father. I know what you're all thinking, "How did you get so lucky?" It's just comes natural to sport some bad to the bone overalls. What can I say? Another game: count how many pairs of overalls you see.

Check out the patchwork!
 It may be evident to you by now that my family didn't have a lot of money growing up. My parents always made Christmas special, that is true, but they honestly never worried about clothes and fashion. My Granny Dutton was superb at sewing though. And boy, could she patch up some jeans! I'm all about some patchwork and saving a dime...why else do you think I've learned how to sew?! But my Granny has this odd obsession with hearts. Seriously. She made me a bedspread when I was growing was a big yellow and blue heart. She made my sister's the same with different colors. She obviously patched jeans with hearts. And just take a glance at the picture below. 
Can you spot the heart?
Can you spot the heart here? And I don't mean the heart and soul of laughter coming from Uncle Travis (in the red jacket). Do you see it? Yes you do! It's the pocket of my sister's jacket...that my Granny Dutton sewed! She actually sewed EVERYONE OF US a jacket JUST LIKE THIS. Every single one of us.

I will say that dinners at Granny and Pa's were always so fun. If you weren't laughing at Uncle Travis for his jokes, you were definitely laughing at him for the way he laughed at his own jokes. And kudos to him and my dad for sporting very bright jackets. And look at little Brad in the red 49ers jersey. We were super close as kiddos...we really were. He and his wife just moved back to Ozark where he got the head coaching job for the senior high boys' basketball team. Isn't it crazy to see where people come from?!

learning the diva role from my sista!
Ohhhhpppp, don't you worry. Grandma Kuykendall never lost that silver decor for her Christmas tree. That was a staple to the house in December. What does Lance's hat say?? Does that say "Texas?" My lanta. My eyes are terrible. I think it was an omen.
We are so good looking. I know.
Okay, fine, I'll admit that I wore my heart jacket too. Do you see it back there behind me? When I was getting pictures out, I started noticing another trend. My parents apparently never made me wear pants. A little awkward, I know. But when you live in rural Arkansas, who even cares? Right?
sweet vest
 Here we see a few things. sister has on an awesome vest with a blue jean shirt buttoned up to her goozel. You can thank her for always having a sense of style. B...a different house. This is the only picture I found from our rent house as our new house was being built. Darn the luck. That was one creepy house. As I recall there was a full fledge coffin upstairs. Or was that my imagination and me being scared of the dark?

awesome pants
Like I said...we didn't wear pants that often. Everyone has a misperception of Arkansas. They believe we do not wear shoes. That's absolutely fabricated. I mean, OUCH!! Can you imagine walking around these hills without shoes?! Pshtt. It's the pants we don't wear!
Did you notice?
Well, I don't know the number you're up to on the bad hair counting game...or the no pants wearing game...but do you see what I see? Yes! That's my sister's old pink nightgown. I am sporting it like it just came off the runway. I probably thought it did, because she probably lied to me and told me it did. 
someone found shorts. someone did not.
This is the exact same Christmas. I can tell by the fact that I have on the same shirt and no shorts. My sister decided to apparently put on her new "Property of Nike" Christmas t-shirt on for pictures. I had too many great presents to decide what to put on, so I guess I just left on this solitary shirt.  
check out those presents!
When I found this picture of yet the same Christmas, I had to laugh. This is the exact little Avery I remember: baseball cap, jerseys, nintendo games, windsuit outfit. I see some Charlotte Hornets, Dallas Cowboys, and Arkansas Razorbacks. "Charlotte Hornets?" you ask yourself. Yeah, I'm not quite remembering why I wanted that sweatshirt. I was a huge (HUGE) Karl Malone/Utah Jazz fan. This may be blasphemy here! ;)

The cowtown boots...yes, typical present in our country home. And the can opener...maybe I'll have my dad write another guest post on that one. My poor mother got the can opener 9 dreaded years in a row.

Grandma K and me
Okay, you can keep counting the overalls I seem to continue to find. What can I say? I was a fashionista at a very young age. I loved my Grandma Kuykendall so so so much. She's probably the single biggest reason I dug through old pictures this week. I miss her like crazy.

with Sis and Dust
Oh, my sister and Dustin and their young, puppy love. I was so excited they were getting married. He would always be hugging on my sister, and you were always thinking, "engaged people!" or "newlyweds!" Now it's 10 years later and you think, "Get the heck over it."
And I know you're completely checking out my awesome perm. Hey...I've been laughing at everyone else today. I guess it's time to laugh at myself now too. If you can't laugh at yourself, you have no right to laugh at anyone else. So I better pay my dues.

Yes, I had a perm at one point in my early high school career. And yes, I wore the mess out of my purple letter jacket.
before the wedding
 Sometimes my brother-in-law makes me fighting when he gives wet willies or pushes me so he can hug on my sister. But crap. When I found this picture I instantly remembered why my sister married the guy. He was good looking!! Props to you, Sis. Here is 6 months before their wedding...and the attachment has only gotten worse. 
She was so excited to marry Dustin that year. This is 6 months after their wedding. If the kids let them now, they still are pretty much attached like this. Does it get quite annoying? Yes. Does he have on overalls too? Yes. Apparently it's part of being in our family. (Good luck, Cash! ahhahaha)
Grandma K
2003 doesn't seem that long ago, but man does it seem like eons since I have seen my grandma being goofy. I'm fairly certain this is one of the last times she really could enjoy Christmas. Have I mentioned how much I miss her?

little Addi on her first Christmas
I love being an aunt!! I don't know what happened to all the Christmas pictures from my sophomore year of high school to my junior year of college, but goodness sakes I love that child! She didn't even know what to think about Christmas that year. I'm afraid that changed...and now I scour my brain for 364 days trying to top my gift from the year before.
Brae and Addi as little tots
I know they're still little, but I can barely remember them being THIS little! Look closely (well, you don't have to look that closely), and you will notice that every present behind them is for them. Spoiled. Rotten.
Peters family
It didn't take too long for these newlyweds to pop out some cute little ones. And I suppose what they say is true about girls marrying guys like their fathers. First the overalls. Now the lack of a smile. Wow, Brother, you are just like my father.
one of our last Christmases
This picture isn't the very last Christmas with Grandma K, but it was one of them. You see how sick she got over those last few years. It barely even looks like the same grandma to me. I've had a lot of fun poking at my family throughout this post, but I guess it's time to get serious. My grandma's last Christmas was in 2009. As I was leaving their house that Christmas Eve, she grabbed me and said, "Don't ever forget me. Please." I promised her I wouldn't. How could we? She lit up our lives like no one else. I miss her every single day. I miss her taking me to the swinging bridge south of Ozark. I miss her giving me fudgecicles for dinner. I miss her making pizza and hot dogs for holiday meals. I miss her giving my grandpa the what for if any woman ever even said a polite hello. I miss her telling us something "forty-eleven" times. Sometimes I even miss the crazy grandma when she had Alzheimer's. She was the best....the very, very best.
Kuykendall's 2008
That's the latest Christmas day picture I found. You can probably guess I was getting a little lathargic from 25 years of Christmases! haha. It has been quite enjoyable to take you down memory lane for a little stroll. I love looking at who we were and what we looked like...and what presents we found most exciting. But I also like living in the here and now and enjoying this stage. I wanted to leave you with this year's Christmas card from yours truly.

I wanted to spread a little Christmas cheer all the way from the Middle East! "Milad majid" means "Merry Christmas" in Arabic, as I can guess you assumed. And it sure was incredible to be so near the birth of our Savior this past summer. Joy to the world...the whole entire world! I hope your family has a blessed Christmas season! And I want to add that my nephew just got here 5 minutes ago and has already announced, "I'm taking my pants off!" Apples don't fall too far from the Christmas tree do they?

Merry Christmas...XOXO

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Most Memorable Christmas

It's true: I'm off work for 2 weeks. That. Is. Glorious.

Keeping with the Christmas spirit of giving, I chose to allow my parents to bless me with the giving of a bedroom for the next week or so. It's nice to be in a heated home AND not have to pay the electric bill!

As you know I blog often about those closest to me, and several times I've written about my dad. While he may be smart {ehhhh}, he also likes to embarrass the soup out of my sister and me. In fact at his 20 year high school reunion they made a little yearbook in which each person in that class was asked to submit a short synopsis of what they had been doing the past {2} decades. My dad actually included, "...and I've spent the last 20 years trying to convince my daughters their dad is not a dork." Yeah, he never really accomplished that goal.

Dad at turkey camp 2011
That's all in fun and games, of course. I love coming to my parents' house whether they pay for the heat or not. It's just fun to sit around with them and talk about memories. My dad can always make me laugh when he talks about his childhood. Man, what a nerd! The only problem with that is I came out just like him.

2 peas in a pod? Dad and I during a snowball fight
So it really tickled my fancy tonight when he and I were sitting in the living room watching the Broncos/Patriots game as my mom (yes, my mom) was down in her deer stand. We were anxiously awaiting her to get back and cook us dinner. And during commercials we were solving the world's political problems when a local TV channel prompted a dialogue about memorable Christmases. I had {2} ideas.

1. I wanted to spend the next week talking about funny (and, uh, not so funny) Christmases.

2. Have my dad tell you about his most memorable Christmas in his own words.

It took me a good 30 seconds or so to convince him why he needed to do this. I think I said, "I have several guys who read my blog and would probably love to read a guy's perspective every once in a while. Plus, I'm pretty sure some of the ladies at the Bank read my blog. What better way to communicate with co-workers?"

Without further my father "in real life"...

Oh, woops. That's not my dad. That's Jim Tressel--his evil twin! HAHA

"Avery and I were watching the local news on television when they ran a little teaser of the local media personalities talking about their most memorable Christmas ever. Avery and I just looked at each other and laughed. She has heard about my most memorable Christmas on several occasions and knew exactly what I was thinking.

We discussed Christmas memories for a few minutes and then she asked, “Dad, would you write a guest blog for me about Christmas?”

I protested that I didn’t want to do it, no one would be interested, and I didn’t even know what a blog was. Avery was undeterred. Avery is also a world class manipulator. I suspect she has no interest in this story, but if she can post a blog without any effort on her part, she is all for it. With this posting, you can also surmise that Avery’s Dad is a sucker.

When I was thirteen years old, I really, really, really wanted a motorcycle for Christmas. I knew the chances were small that I would actually get a motorcycle, but at least I could wish for one. I also knew my parents weren’t exactly rich or actually middle income for that matter. Yah, yah, yah, they loved me and I never went to bed hungry and all that other crud that people always say, but what I really wanted was a motorcycle. I wouldn’t have minded going to bed hungry a few times if that motorcycle could be a red, 175cc, Honda trail bike! I also recognized that neither of my older brothers had ever gotten a motorcycle for Christmas, but hey, they were hooligans and didn’t deserve such a nice gift.

I don’t remember a lot of the other details that Christmas morning, but I vividly remember opening presents. The first thing I noticed, there wasn’t a present under the tree large enough to be a motorcycle. Undeterred, I knew the Christmas package could contain a key and I would know the motorcycle was waiting for me outside. As usual, my brothers and I had several presents under the tree, but most of them would be clothes. You could pretty much tell the small, mushy presents were underwear or socks and the larger mushy presents were jeans or shirts, which pretty much left one present that was a surprise. I tore open that gift and boy did I get a surprise. Inside was a clapping monkey. I was stunned. I was thirteen years old, nearly grown, and I got a clapping monkey? The next time we were at school and the teacher asked the annual question of what we got for Christmas, it was the first time I proudly mentioned the clothes, every item. I may have forgotten to mention the clapping monkey.

Thirty years later, my brothers and I were at our parents’ home for Christmas along with our spouses and children and were reminiscing about Christmases past. My oldest brother brought up the Christmas that I got the clapping monkey. He commented that he couldn’t remember what he got that year, but he was just thankful that he didn’t get a clapping monkey. My other brother and I chimed in talking about that gift and how thankful he was and how appalled I was. My parents were surprised to find out our opinions of that gift. They actually thought I liked it because we played with it for years. We gently reminded them that THEY were the ones that played with it.

Dad and his dad during a recent elk sighting--trying to forget the ever famous clapping monkey
I did learn a valuable lesson from that Christmas gift long ago. Every gift I’ve received since then, I’ve appreciated; whether it’s clothes, a really cool electronic gadget, or a bag of switches. Anything (or nothing at all) is better than a clapping monkey. But I have to admit it was memorable. I received a lot of gifts as a kid growing up and I’ve forgotten most of them, but I will always remember that gift and that Christmas with my family. We lost my Mom last year after a long, hard battle with Alzheimer’s. My Mom wasn’t a lot of fun the last few years due to that terrible disease, but I’ll remember her from the Christmases of when I was a kid and when her grandkids were little. I wouldn’t have minded seeing another clapping monkey this year…but I would hope it was for my brothers."

Peace out and Merry Christmas...XOXO

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Few, The Not So Proud, The Called

I know several of you are probably tired of the Tebow hype. I'm going there still. But stay with me for a moment, because it's not so much Mr. Tebow that I want to concentrate on. It's the humility.

We've seen Tebow's hype anywhere from Sports Center to the Republican primary debates. It didn't start in the NFL or with the Denver Broncos. It didn't even start with the Florida Gators. Tebow is where he is today because of whom he chose to be his entire life.

Of course we've all heard by now that he was raised by missionary parents and homeschooled. I even read the other day that his first TV appearance was against Hoover High School in Alabama (remember that show?) when he was the opposing quarterback. He lost.

My dad will argue with me that Tebow's had it so much better than other kids, because he had parents who loved him unconditionally. Agreed. But you can't get everywhere in life because of your parents...or the love they showed. At some point you have to become {you} and learn where {you}'re going to stand.

I was in college once. Remember those days? For me the peer pressure in college far exceeded that of high school. I saw and witnessed things in those {4} years that have dulled my sense of innocence. I was brought up in a home with 2 firm believing parents and a close family all around me. I still saw it. It was still there. No matter how much my parents loved me.

I have to know that Tim Tebow has had similar experiences. He's probably been pressured, even moreso than yours truly. I was never a quarterback or the main man on campus, but I saw people who were. Take half of LSU's football team for instance. Great athletes? Best in the nation. Great character? Seems to be lacking, what with all the suspensions and jail time and all.

Bottom line is that I'm sure he's been exposed to circumstances that he's had to overcome. And I would venture to say that it takes a lot more strength and faith {initially} to back away from peer pressure and live a life completely not mainstream.

I say initially, because I firmly believe that in the long run strength and faith pay off. That's where we see Tim Tebow now. He's been mocked for taking a stance for his belief, even by Christians. He's not backing down from critics, because that's not what he feels called to do in life. I like to think that Tebow is a lot like Job. I bet if you took football away from him, he'd consider himself blessed still and love the Lord as much then as he does now. He's not God. He's not a Messiah. He's simply a guy who goes with all his heart for something and has the humility to put others before himself and God even before the others.

Why as Christians do we not respect that? Why do we say, "Oh, what will he do to embarrass Christianity?" What have you done to embarrass Christianity? I've done a lot!

Why do we say, "Oh, just hang it up, Tebow. Quit beating everyone up with it." Last I checked it was everyone else who kept tuning in wanting to know what he was saying. It was the media who thrust him into the spotlight. Tebow isn't a Kardashian or Hilton who gets millions of $$ and attention for just breathing. The guy has done something with his life. And just because he is open with his faith, Christians are the first to cast their stones?? Lindsey Lohan can go in and out of rehab and jail about as often as I eat lunch, and we still watch her every move like she's a goddess. What's up with that? Why are we lifting up the Lohans and Kim K's of the world when we have Tim Tebow's for our children to look up to?

Have you prayed for Tebow?

I mean, have you gotten on your knees and talked to the most high God and asked him to protect Tebow's character and humility? I think of Esther when I think of Tebow. She would have been happy to have just been the queen. But when the situation called for action, just read what was told to her:

"For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?" --Esther 4:14

Just food for thought...but have you ever wondered if maybe God does care about football? Granted, I know He doesn't care about a game or a superbowl championship. But God speaks to His people in their language. What has America become? A sports-driven society. Maybe...JUST MAYBE...God is using the Tim Tebow's of the NFL to shed light on true Christianity. Maybe Tebow was brought to this point not for glory or fame or wealth in the name of Tim Tebow. Maybe he was brought to this point for such a time as this. 

God's never been One to call the mighty to carry out His unique plan. He's called widows, like Ruth. He's called prostitutes, like Rahab. He's called the poor, like Mary. He's called sinners, like Saul/Paul. He's called "orphans," like Moses. He's called radicals, like Noah. He's called runts, like David.

How many times has God used a Herod to deliver His plan? Why?? Wouldn't that be easier?

I undoubtedly think that God cannot use the Herods and the Esaus, because they have no humility. His word firmly tells us, "He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble." --Proverbs 3:34

Think about your life. Sure some people have come into fame and fortune through corrupt and immoral ways. But who has a genuinely peaceful, enjoyable life? Who does God allow through faith and endurance to enjoy His blessings because they have walked so diligently on the path He set out?

Tim Tebow

Sweet Dee Ann who never tried to manipulate the system; never dreamed of becoming a principal--She will tell you He straight up called her to that role. And she only took it in obedience.

My father who would've been happy with a wife and his 2 daughters on a farm--When he graduated with his associate's degree, he was offered a higher paying job at a local alcohol producing company. He did not agree with drinking, even if it paid more. He took the lower paying job at a bank in order to keep his character. He's now an executive officer at the #1 rated bank in America. (He's still the same overall-wearing, bee-keeping, master gardener dad I grew up with too.)

A friend of mine from college, Rachel, had never dated. Ever. She wanted that, of course, but she also wanted a man to so violently pursue God that he could only get to her through God. She's married now, happily, to an amazing man of God. He was the first and only person she ever dated.

I'm sure you can look around and see people who have fought the good fight, who have ran the race, who have kept the faith. (2 Tim 4:7)

The last hard decision I had to make was one of staying at school and giving semester tests (my professional obligation) or go to a bridal luncheon for a friend whose wedding I was to be in. I struggled with that literally for months, because I wanted to take off work and have fun. Who wouldn't? But in the depths of my heart I knew it wasn't right to ask off work for the 2nd semester in a row (I had to take off 2 weeks to go to the Middle East) during testing. I chose what was the hardest and least enjoyable but what I felt was the most professional route. I lost 2 friendships and a roommate over it.

Of course I was in disbelief, but I never got down about that. I knew I had made the choice based on maturity and responsibility. I had prayed about it, and I felt that God had lead me to the decision I needed to make. Losing friendships and a roommate aren't exactly enjoyable things to go through. But they're not the worst, either. Because the Lord blesses you when you believe in Him. He gives you affirmation when you walk His narrow path.

I encourage you to make the right decision, even if it's the harder. Many times I haven't done so, but ultimately I paid the price. This time I made the right, hard decision. Some saw it and thought it blew up in my face. But I saw it and felt such peace. Even through trials, life is peaceful when walking through them with the Lord.

And on the Tebow note...Instead of blasting those in the middle of a marathon for Christ, let's boldly pray for and encourage them. Let's hold up our brothers and sisters in Christ. In doing so we will also be fighting the good fight.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Who is your best friend?

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about friendships. By that I mean that I've taken a back seat and looked at my friendships, evaluated their authenticity, and realized the ones that God blessed me with.

In high school I had a best friend who lived 10 minutes from via 4-wheeler. Our families had farms that were connected on backroads. I even rode my horse to her house a couple times. We played basketball together, went to football games, rode 4-wheelers, talked about hunting, got lost ALL THE TIME. Since both of us had grown up in the country, it was a natural friendship. I remember one night we even went out to a deer camp where some of our guy friends were staying just to give them cookies for their football game the next day. Yep, we were two peas in a pod! But we drifted apart throughout college, even though we had selected a college together. Even now we live in the same town again but rarely see each other as life just gets in the way. I think we'll always be friends, though, because we have such a history of friendship. She was the first person I spent time with this summer when I got home.
My high school BF and I at a good friend's wedding May 2011

In college my best friend was this super fun girl who made me laugh uncontrollably. We were both education majors but completely different. While she was from a small town as well, she loved the college life and her sorority. Me? I still went home every weekend to hang out on the farm. She was the free-loving hippy. I was the nerd. But that made our conversations so ridiculously funny. We prided ourselves in being the funniest duo that had ever set foot on the planet. One time we drove to Dallas for a friend's wedding, and the bride's mom came and got us off the dance floor to be bartenders. Okay, I don't really even know how to open a bottle of wine. It was a disaster. And it was really obnoxious that she had even asked this of us, but it was just the nature of our friendship to just roll with stuff and enjoy it. So what'd we do? My friend taught me how to open a bottle of wine, and by the end of the wedding the party was around the bar which happened to be in a different room.

This was right after we had just gotten back from Destin, Florida, where we had persuaded an entire comedy club that I grew up Amish, lost a friend one night after we had decided to go for a late night swim without the rest of the group, and then found the same friend on the side of the road wearing a sombrero. Life was always an adrenaline rush and a crazy, fun time when we were together. Of course we still talk regularly, but being in separate towns and different stages of life has made it almost impossible to spend much time together. I have to say, though, she brings out a side of me that no one else can. Every time I'm with her I feel like I'm being funny again...that I'm the Avery I love being. She just a secret key to my funny bone. And I still have a picture of the two of us as decor in my bathroom. That's big considering most frames got updated with pictures of Cash. Not my pic with her. Never!
My college BF and I summer 2010
Fast forward to the year I moved to Alma. Life seemed to spiral quickly as I was in a new town without friends or family and found myself in the middle of an engagement break-up. Not where I had exactly planned to be. But exactly where I needed to be.

I've talked before about the trials I've been through that made me so proud of where they had taken God is always protecting us. I learned at that point in my life how to fully depend on God. Often I feel like that's all I have left. I firmly believe that God allows us to go through those times so that we learn to trust, strengthen faith, and pursue Him with every ounce of our hearts.

Luckily for me, one of those times came for me in my 2nd year of teaching.

While I was trying to find a church home in Alma, I stumbled upon this little country church on the south side of town. Not realizing it at the time, I was walking into some of the deepest friendships my life would ever know. I made friends with a girl my age, but she and her husband were about to move to Little Rock to start professional school. While we are still great friends, it was her mother-in-law Dee Ann who became one of the closest people to me.

Actually, her MIL was the one who introduced us. Dee Ann and I worked together at the middle school and began a friendship that is so unique considering our age differences. Soon I started Bible studies in which Dee Ann was leading. She and her husband started inviting me to lunch with their family after services on Sunday mornings. And it was no time before I found myself with someone in their family all the time. They just became my family in Alma. Below is a picture of me with the 3 "Harris" girls before the Hillsong concert in November. I'd say this picture sums up who I've considered my family in Alma, especially since it's been Dee Ann's facebook picture since it was taken.

Malia (daughter), Leslie (daughter-in-law), Dee Ann, and me before the Hillsong concert
Dee Ann and I decided to start having breakfast together on Tuesday mornings, and for a year and a half we have gotten to know the morning Cracker Barrel staff. We love our breakfasts together, especially in the winter time when we get to sit by the fire.
I would have been a bridesmaid in her daughter's wedding this past summer had I not been in the Middle East. I have been to Little Rock several times to spend time with her son and daughter-in-law. I went to their family Christmas last year as it was a few days before the actualy holiday. And Dee Ann was the very first person (outside of my family) my mother called when my tragedy in the Middle East happened. I'm sure my mom would have done that anyway, but I had left her a list of numbers for "just in case." Besides Cash, Dee Ann's number was the only one on that list.

Talking to her and learning from her has become one of my very favorite things over the past few years. Since we work together, I have known I could just walk down to her office and get the best advice. She's been there on weekdays at work, Sundays at church, and Wednesday night services.

When my grandmother passed away last year, I was sitting in the back of the funeral parlor talking to my family. I looked over and saw Dee Ann walk in the door. I lost it. She knew I was speaking, and she came just to support me. I don't know any other friend (besides the Hub, of course) who reached out to me during that time nevertheless take off work to come support me.

Many people will ask if we have a mother/daughter relationship. I mean, I guess in a way...because I'm always learning from her. But we have a friendship that far exceeds age. She has been my best friend in this town. The person I turn to for everything from grad school to oven problems to student issues to moving. She just always knows what to say.

While we were realizing that life wouldn't always keep us in the same town considering my relationship is serious and 600 miles apart, it never occurred to us that we'd be separated so soon. Tonight it became official, though.

She was hired as the new assistant principal at the Alma Primary School. While she not only deserves this position, she's going to kick it's tail end. I couldn't be happier for her. She just passed National Boards, and now she got an amazing promotion.

Still my heart breaks, because she won't be there all day long. She'll have to be at work earlier, and our Tuesday morning breakfasts will be changed. I know that's selfish. I know. And as she tells me, I don't have room to talk...but I'm going to miss her like crazy.

I don't see our friendship dwindling. I just spent Friday night celebrating with her, her husband, son-in-law, daughter, and my own sweet momma. Then I spent Saturday morning wither her daughter and her daughter's new in-laws at my parents' farm. And yesterday I spent a couple hours eating lunch with her daughter. Tomorrow Dee Ann and I have our traditional breakfast. Yeah, I don't think our friendship is ending over a promotion. :)

It's just reality of how much I miss her...but it's also a testimony of how deep our friendship is. Authentic? To the core. Blessing from God? One of the biggest of my life.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What I Learned on the Sidelines

So what if I'm sitting here in some cow spotted footed pajamas? You can buy your own at your local Wal-Mart. They're real nice.

Cash is off on yet another hunting trip this deer season. He loves going with his dad and brother the most, but this happens to be a trip with work. Sweet job, huh? I talked to him at lunch today until he lost service, so we're on our own until Sunday. While I of course hate not being able to talk to him, I love so much that he gets to go on these trips that he loves so much.

Tonight I went with my mom to my brother-in-law's basketball game against Cedarville. (I know, imagine!) When I got to the gym, I immediately spotted my cousin Brad sitting up top scouting. Yep..scouting my own brother-in-law! haha. I went up to sit by him then saw my sister, niece, and nephew across the way. They eventually came over, and we all got to hang out.

Then I saw Coach Parrish and his family sitting across from us as well since his son-in-law is the coach at Cedarville. (very. small. world) Coach Parrish was Brad's coach growing up and my brother-in-law's head coach when he was the assistant at Ozark. And Coach Parrish was a huge influence on me when I was in school.

My freshman year I had had an okay basketball season and unbeknownst at the time the best high school track season of my life. After placing 9th in the state meet as a 9th grader, my track coach had expected me to possibly win state in the 800 the next year. I had run the last leg in the 4x800 the entire season, and we placed 6th in state. I was in the shape of my life and had so much potential ahead of me with the right amount of preparation the next year.

But track season ended, and I had to have surgery on my left foot that kept me out the entire summer. I was going into high school basketball with a cast. While not wanting to miss anything, I sat in the old gym every single day that summer with Coach Parrish. To give you an idea of what the old gym was like, it had wooden bleachers with all sorts of names carved in them, dim lights that barely aided in seeing the goals, side goals that literally rolled up when you manually cranked them, and not one single air conditioner. Hot, humid summers in Arkansas were deathly to a teenager playing in that gym.

Coach Parrish and Coach Rippy would open it everyday, though, just so we could go in and shoot and play pick-up games. Since I was just going into high school, it was intimidating to know I was getting so behind in basketball.

Some of the kids would come in and just goof off. That burned me up, because I wanted to be out there so bad. I even got to the point that I started walking without my crutches and shooting around. Then I played a few half court games. Then I started playing full-court games. By the time I went to the doctor to get my cast removed, I had worn a hole out on the bottom of my cast. Dr. Magrini griped at me, because he had never released me. I still had another couple months in a walking cast before I was supposed to even play.

Coach Rippy ended up letting me go to summer camp anyway, and I played a few games. Then within the first two weeks of practice, I was back on the sidelines. He was explaining something to the entire team, then when he let us start again I began dribbling. He stepped one way, and I stepped another; yet his foot was accidentally on top of mine and it broke my ankle. We didn't know it was broken until a couple days later...after I had been out on the track running.

At that point I was devastated. Surgery, broken ankle, what next? How could I ever compete with these older girls if I couldn't ever get out there? I couldn't.

To be honest I never ran a track season like I did the year I ran up as a freshman. I gleaned most of my basketball experience my sophomore year from the end of the bench. It seemed the only way to learn was to watch.

But what I learned on the sidelines that summer and beginning of that semester shaped my life more than a starting position in basketball or state championship in track ever could.

When I was out that summer, I would just sit in the gym and watch. Coach Parrish would sit right next to me and give me a hard time about something, try to teach me something else, then call me ignorant. But I knew he loved me, because he started letting me go to summer team camps with the boys so I could watch. Of course that was Brad's senior year, so it was fun to spend time with Brad too.

Coach would talk to me about politics, something I didn't realize at the time would have so much emphasis on my life. He openly hated (hates) Bill Clinton, but I would research anything I could to argue with him. It wasn't my side that I cared was winning an argument with Coach that mattered. We were both pretty stubborn that summer and never admitted when the other could possibly be right.

We fought about who was a better player...this such and such girl or that such and such boy. We fought about who was a better coach...Jerry Sloan or Phil Jackson. (Jerry Sloan is, if you're wondering). We fought about square bales vs round bales of hay. We fought about pure bred or mixed breed cattle. We fought about if you should cuss or not.

But one thing Coach would make sure he taught you, not fought with you about, was your relationship with Christ. He might send 3 zinging cuss words at you, but he would never..NEVER..use the Lord's name in vain. He would always be fair, because that was the right thing to do. He would always have a belief and stick to it. He would always tell you about his love of his Savior. Always.

You know as well as I do that as a teenager, you are impressionable by any adult. While I thought my summer on crutches getting behind in sports was detrimental to everything I had ever wanted in life, I look back and realize that Coach showed me that at the end of the day a game is over, but your relationship with Christ is eternal. His boldness in sharing his faith helped me to see what a strong adult Christian would look like. He didn't just do it by shoving it down your throat. He built relationships with his players and students, and he showed them you work hard in life. You make the best of who you are. You make good choices. And you love, love, love the Lord.

Of course my own basketball coach was a very Godly man, and he would always encourage us to be in the Word. I remember Coach Rippy being the first person to ever explain fasting to me, and he encouraged us to fast if we ever were in a situation that may call for it. My senior year I wanted to write my favorite verse on my basketball shoes. Coach Rippy sat me down to discuss how important it was to set the example of that verse first. He allowed me to put it on there, but he made sure I was always showing the attributes I so highly admired in that verse.

We were lucky to have faithful teachers and coaches where I grew up. Tonight looking across the gym at one of the men I have so highly admired all my life, I realized how blessed I was to sit a summer on the sidelines. To listen. To grow. And to be good at something besides sports.

After the game we walked over to say something to Coach Parrish, and he met us before we even made it to the other side. Mom and I both gave him big hugs, and you knew he had to be proud to see 2 of his own prodigies (Brad and Dustin) scouting each other. I told him that I had been meaning to call ask if he would come speak to my FCA group at school this year. After a moment he said, "Yep, I'll come talk to your kids. But only after I get my corral built."

This past summer Coach Parrish was inducted into the Arkansas Coaches' Hall of Fame. I know he's proud of that. But what he'd tell you he's most proud of is his relationship with the Lord. I'm glad I got to learn both from him.