2016: Lessons Learned

2016 has not been one of those years where you end it thinking, “Man, what an amazing year!” However, amongst the turmoil and challenges I learned quite a bit. That’s the way growth and learning happens – painfully, slowly and feeling uncomfortable. Well, 2016 was definitely an uncomfortable year. I want to share my lessons learned.


My father spent about three weeks in the Intensive Care Unit of Plano Medical Center this year.  During that three weeks my sister and I found ourselves answering questions and providing permission for procedures that we could not have foreseen. “Does your father want dialysis?” or “Is he okay with a blood transfusion?” or “Will you provide permission for a feeding tube?”  The experts will tell you to have these conversations about organ donation, life support and medical treatments BEFORE your relatives are sick, but nobody listens. Let me encourage you to have those conversations. Those decisions are weighty and take on a level of importance that you cannot understand when your parents are healthy. So this Christmas ask your Mom her feelings on life support. And keep asking those questions every couple of years until you no longer need to ask.


Like most mothers I sacrifice my own health at the altar of the health of my children. My kids see a dentist twice a year.  I haven’t gone in 5 years. My kids see a doctor with every cold and virus. I haven’t had a physical in 5 years. This year David made me promise that I would take care of my own health. (Literally. He made me say the words “I promise”) I went to see the dentist and I saw my gynecologist for a check up. I didn’t expect any big news since nothing really had been bothering me. That isn’t exactly what happened though. So one afternoon while I was driving my mother to visit my father in the ICU I received a call from my doctor telling me that they found a cyst that was 13cm in diameter and that I would need to get it removed as soon as possible.  When I got home I took out a ruler so I could see how big 13 cm really was – a large grapefruit. I had a mass the size of a grapefruit sitting on my right ovary and I had no idea. No symptoms. No pain. This whole thing could have turned out poorly for me but I was lucky. It was a simple cyst and outside of the fact that a big hunk of my ovary is now gone I should have little long lasting effects. It wasn’t cancer – but it could have been and I wouldn’t have known.  Moral to the story: preventive care is important, which leads me to my next lesson.


Some of you may know that David started a radical health journey this year.  He has lost quite a bit of weight and has changed the way he treats his own body and his attitudes about his health. Early in this journey somebody told David, “getting healthy is a selfish act, but you HAVE TO be selfish.”  I think I’m very bad at being selfish. We are rewarded a hundred different ways to think of other people and not ourselves.  I suppose as a mother and a teacher this comes even more naturally to give of yourself until it hurts. This year pushed me to evaluate how much of myself I was willing to give. I was forced to draw boundaries and I admit that I needed outside help to figure out where those boundaries should be (thanks to professional therapist). I’ve learned this year to be selfish. To do what I WANT to do. To rest. To read. To honor the Sabbath in all ways.


The election. We all suffered through it. This election felt personal in a way that previous elections have not. Like most women I have been a victim of sexual harassment/discrimination/assault. (It is so prolific that I have yet to meet a single woman who has NOT said, “yep, me too.” to that admission). So the rejection and general dismissiveness of the things our President-Elect has said about women felt like a personal rejection and belittlement of those very humiliating and hurtful moments in my life. I know many women didn’t feel that way, but I did. I also live in the reddest of red states. As a result, I spent most of this year biting my tongue, staying silent and feeling alone. I’ve never felt more isolated and alone in my life. At times I felt like an alien in a strange land.  A constant bombardment on my values and things that I believe. I was left questioning my faith, my friendships, and the very things I thought I had built my life upon. And then something surprising happened after the election and after my thoughts could no longer be hidden….

People still wanted to be my friend. After months of biting my tongue and feeling like I was an outcast in my own community I realized how much of that was self-imposed. I had given too little credit to the people who call me friend. I was ashamed, embarrassed and felt remorse that I had put so little faith in their friendship and love. Fear grows strong when we lose faith and this year has taught me to have more faith in the people I call friends. I’m sorry. I’m sorry to those people in whom I allowed doubt to fester.

Maybe the greatest lesson I learned this year is that we continue to grow wise. Wisdom is just a fancy way of saying experience and with every new experience we gain knowledge. So this year I have grown wiser. And I would like to think that perhaps I’ve also become a better person. It is with a new sense of who I am that I say with a large amount of relief, goodbye to 2016.

The Wind Blows

When Lucy was about three years old she discovered the wind.  She loved having the car windows rolled down  and would squeal with delight. Her eyes closed, her face bent slightly to feel the air blow across her cheeks and through her hair. She loved it. A child in delight of the world.

Perhaps it was the feeling of being free that she loved. Or perhaps it was the idea of the wind blowing dangerously strong into her face that gave her a sense of adrenaline. Or perhaps she liked the way the noise and sensation seemed to block everything else out.

Like most children Lucy’s wonder with the wind faded as she grew older. The innocence lost in the wake of recognized fears and new responsibilities. The wind, once mysterious, was now a known entity no longer worth acknowledgement or delight.

This past week concluded rehearsals for Lucy’s third theater production.  If you don’t know about theater the last week includes full dress rehearsals every night. Long, arduous rehearsals where the pressure for perfection increases with every practice.  The week is a blur of last minute costume changes, make up, wigs, line changes, and dance numbers. Even for a youth production these weeks can be grueling. The smell of sweat, grease paint, hairspray and youth angst is like a thick smog in the changing rooms. Every night Lucy dragged herself back into the car and rattled off a non-stop monologue of all the things she did wrong that night and what needed to change.

This happened for five nights until the final rehearsal. No more practicing. No more chances to make the wrongs right. When I picked Lucy up she was tired and quiet. She crawled into the car and barely made eye contact. I asked her if she was nervous for opening night and she silently shrugged her shoulders. It was late and the coolness of the day had started to settle. Sensing that she didn’t want to talk about the last rehearsal or the impending opening night I remained silent.

She lowered the car window and hung her head out.  The wind blew her hair violently and she closed her eyes. She needed time to visit with an old friend.


Getting Older

In November of 2015 my mother was admitted to the hospital for an infection that had turned sepsis. Like many systematic infections it began to settle in her lungs and brought on pneumonia. My sister and I took turns sitting vigil by her side speaking with doctors and helping direct her care. It was a quiet morning  when both my sister and I sat bedside next to my mother  when the doctor came to speak with us. My sister and I are both goal-driven, results oriented people so when the doctor arrived my sister asked, “what is the next step?”

The doctor paused for just a heartbeat, took a deep breath and said, “there are no next steps. We’ve done all we can to fight the infection it is now between her and the medicine.” My sister and I did not know what to do when there was nothing left to do. How do you move forward? How do we plan? How can we fix it? The doctor continued, “how do you feel about your mother being ventilated if necessary? Or her stance on life support?”

Why was he asking me this question? I’m not old enough to make this decision. I’m not qualified. This is a decision for an adult – for somebody older. I’m just a child.

I’m 46.

There are so many decisions in life that feel like the moment you become an adult — getting married, buying a house, deciding to put a pet to sleep, having a child, buying a car, quitting a job, getting a promotion — but none of those moments feel more adult-like then deciding on your own parent’s health.

I don’t feel any different than I did at 36 or even 26. I still love a good book and a good meal. I am still suspicious of people who stifle a sneeze or a laugh (some things are meant to be released).  I still love a good cookie or piece of cake. I still love going to the movie theater and smelling a rain storm. I still love learning about new technology and meeting new people from strange places.  I’m the same person and yet, I’m not.

Life experience is just that – experience — and you can’t escape it.  It softens your edges, it smoothes the rough bits, it makes you realize how small you are in relation to the grandeur of the world.

And perhaps that feeling of being a child is the most beautiful part of life. It is that small part of innocence and wonder that we must protect and cherish for as long as possible, because that is the part that makes life worth living — even when life feels impossible.

The Sanctity Of Voting

Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual – or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country    -Samuel Adams-

There is a lot of passion in this presidential election and I think that is a good thing. America is an amazing country because we allow people to have passionate opinions. Passion is what changes the world. Passion shouldn’t be scary but should be inspiring. Passion becomes scary when it crosses over into hate and so much of this election is soaked in the stink of hate.

Hate doesn’t allow us to listen to somebody else’s opinion. Hate clouds judgment which brings me to the sanctity of voting.

Samuel Adams stated that voting is a “solemn trust in human society for which he is accountable to God” – When you vote you are telling the world, yourself, God, family and your fellow citizens that I AGREE AND SUPPORT THIS PERSON AND THINK THEY ARE THE BEST PERSON TO DO THE JOB.

I do not feel this way about either of the presidential candidates. As a matter of fact, I have lost all trust and support in our two-party system. If our two-party system gives me Clinton vs. Trump then I no longer support that system and since I live in America I can express that disagreement WITH MY VOTE.

People keep telling me that I HAVE TO vote AGAINST somebody but that contradicts the very edicts of what voting means. When I, as an American, go to the polling location I am ELECTING my leader. I am CHOOSING the person for whom I feel can do the job the best. And since I live in America I don’t HAVE TO do something that I disagree with.

And this is where the big lie happens. We actually have more than two options. The two big parties don’t want you to think about that. They want you to think that voting third party is throwing away your vote, that you will be taking votes away from your party.  But what party is that? The Republican party? The Democratic party? Does anybody even recognize these parties as representing them any longer? For years we have all lamented that these parties have grown isolating, partisan, and out of touch. So why do we keep voting for them? I believe, like our ancestors before us, it is time to vote in a new party.

Anybody remember the  Whig party? What about the Federalist party? These were old political parties  of the past and when they no longer met the needs of the electorate they morphed, changed and created new parties.

Well, I say it is time for the electorate to do this again. It is time for us to elect a new party into power. You want to shake up the system? You want to disturb the status quo? Then vote third-party. I know what you are thinking, “They can’t win.”  Why? Because enough people won’t vote? Why not? Why won’t people vote? Because we believe in the myth that we live in a two-party system. You want to start a movement? You want to send a message to Washington that you are sick of the way these two parties conduct themselves then don’t vote AGAINST someone – vote FOR something new.

Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, is the two-term state governor of Arizona. His running mate, Bill Weld, is the two-term state governor of Massachusetts. These are gentlemen familiar with immigration, with running government, and they pride themselves on upsetting the status-quo. Republican governors elected in Democratic states in land-slide victories.

All I ask is that you take the time to explore ALL of your options and don’t throw your vote away on a two-party system that is obviously broken.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Banned Book Review)

I was required to take a contemporary literature course while in graduate school. I dreaded the class. I was a medievalist who dabbled in the Romantic period but contemporary literature was way outside of my comfort zone. That class proved to do what it was intended to – expand my literary horizons. And it was in that class that I read “Reservation Blues” by Sherman Alexie. A gut-wrenching,  brutally realistic tale of living on an Indian reservation. That book clung to me like a sweaty t-shirt. It made me uncomfortable and introspective and I was left emotionally rattled. To this day it sits on my book shelf taunting me to forget about it.

So when I started reading about books getting banned at local schools and that “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie had made the list, I was curious. I knew this man to be an amazing, thought-provoking story writer and so I was eager to see what his stab at youth fiction produced.

The book starts simply,  written in first-person from the perspective of a 14 year old boy.   By page 10 — yes, 10 pages in — we are hearing this young boy talk about poverty. But not poverty as some abstract idea, but the ugly, honest, difficult reality of poverty.  And no, it isn’t about going to bed hungry, it is about having to shoot your own dog because you can’t afford the vet bills. It is about living with the consequences of generations of poverty.

“Dad just looked down at me with the saddest look in his eyes. He was crying. He looked weak. I wanted to hate him for his weakness. I wanted to hate Dad and Mom for our poverty. I wanted to blame them for my sick dog and for all the other sickness in the world. But I can’t blame my parents for our poverty because mother and father are the twin suns around which I orbit and my world would EXPLODE without them. 

And it’s  not like my mother and father were born with wealth. It’s not like they gambled away their family fortune. My parents came from poor people who came from poor people who came from poor people, all the way back to the first poor people”

And this is how the book starts and you know right away that this book is going to change you. Arnold, our 14 year old guide to life on the reservation, is a typical 14 year old.  He plays basketball, develops crushes on girls, is interested in the female anatomy, he cusses, and burps.  But he’s also smart, and is desperate to escape the poverty that threatens to consume him.

I cried for Arnold at the end. Not loud shaking sobs, but quiet tears that streamed down my face out of helplessness. The knowledge that there are thousands of kids like Arnold and perhaps we all choose to be blind to them.

As an English teacher would I use this in my classroom (now aware of the curse words, references to masturbation, and girls boobs)? A resounding YES. I absolutely would use this as a teaching tool in a classroom. Oh sure the kids could read “Oliver” if we wanted to teach them about poverty – but that tells a story about a reality that happened over a hundred years ago in a country that isn’t even our own, which would keep the idea of poverty removed and abstract.  No, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” brings poverty home. It strips us of all abilities to deny poverty’s existence and for that reason alone I would have every 14-16 year old I know read this book.

Happy Birthday

Dear Lucy,

12374873_10153284826858616_652953355194088461_oYou are turning 12 this year.  You are in staunch denial of the fact that you are growing up. As desperately as possible you are pushing back impending womanhood. You are clinging to the rough and tumble life of a child like a new swimmer clutches the edge of the pool. You still have bruised knees and bandaid elbows. You are far more likely to wear Chuck Taylor tennis shoes and jeans than you are a dress and flats. You don’t like makeup, boys or movie stars, and as your mother I indulge these desires. I encourage you to cling to your childhood.


Like a desert mirage I periodically see glimpses of your maturation.  Your persona on stage, your soaring voice when you sing, the gentle way you care for your sister — all glimpses of grown-up Lucy. Your sudden and passionate interest in world news and politics, your initiative and organization during school hours, your sophisticated taste in music and art — all make my heart glow as I see the person you are becoming.  And then, at the end of the day you fling your arms around my neck as tight as can be, nuzzle your head and mumble, “do you know how much I love you?” and I think, “not nearly as much as I love you.”

Dear Max,

You just turned 10 and this is the year you really discovered yourself.  Up until now you have hid in the background just hoping people wouldn’t really notice you, unsure of your strengths, not knowing what made you special.  But this past year I have seen you blossom.

12573701_10153347498018616_1716082666157365196_nAlthough your stutter persists you are no longer self conscious about it. In fact you volunteered to sing with your band – IN FRONT OF PEOPLE.  And that band has been key in building your self-confidence. An environment of young boys and men where you feel like you can be yourself — a little quirky, a little rock and roll.

Your gentle heart and delicate emotions still run very close to the surface always threatening to bubble over. And although at times you view this as a weakness I can assure you that it is your greatest strength — your strong desire to love and be sympathetic is crafting you into a strong, virtuous young man. An honorable gentleman who diverts his eyes when faced with scantily clad women or 12106878_10153178506923616_2863318764181416606_ninappropriate content. A young sir who is painfully honest and who defends those weaker and more vulnerable than himself.

And yet when I tuck you into bed at night – with a quick kiss to the forehead – you still feel like my tiny boy. Not sure that feeling will ever go away.

Dear Harper,

You turned 6 years old. I owe you an apology Harper. Your childhood has been a series of missed steps. You seemed to never have had the 12002239_10153149740018616_2361204001561556348_n-2opportunity to wallow in being little because your big sister and brother have dragged you quickly into “big-kid” territory.  You ride a two-wheel bike with no training wheels, you are rushing to learn to read, and want to do everything they do.  You want to be EXACTLY like your big sister and follow her around everywhere. You are very lucky that she is so gentle and patient with you and rarely complains. In fact, she lets you sleep with her every night.

You have a spunky personality that does not take well to being denied ANYTHING. “No” is not a word you like to hear.  As stubborn and pushy as you can be I’ve never seen such an empathetic spirit. You are quick to run to somebody’s aid,  nurse a boo-boo or dry 12439553_10153354450948616_4476357401909199334_nsome tears. You get great joy in taking care of others and with every step I become even more convinced that you will go into the medical field someday. You love hospitals, doctor’s offices and look forward to going.

I snuggle and cajole and bend to your will.  You are my last baby and I will not let go easily and you seem to be completely okay with that.  At this age I was already worrying about your big brother and sister giving up blankets and sucking thumbs and rushing them to be “big” but with you I have no such desire.  Just stay little Harper – for as long as possible.

An Open Letter To My Students

Dear Students,

Ten years ago I stumbled into a classroom with a textbook in one hand and a hastily written syllabus in the other. I had no idea what I was doing or the adventure I was about to embark upon. Most surprisingly I could not have foreseen how you would change me.

It is now time for me to end that adventure. I am walking away from the podium, turning off the lights, picking up my books and moving on.  It is bitter sweet to say the least.  However, I cannot leave without taking a moment to acknowledge the many lessons you taught me.

1.) To be strong in the face of adversity

I met so many students who were facing challenges and obstacles that I could not even begin to imagine. Things that neither child nor adult should face.

The woman who raised two sets of triplets while her husband was deployed with the Air Force, and then discovered she had a brain tumor. After surgery she could no longer work as a math teacher. She decided to return to school and retrain her brain in a different field.

The sixteen year old girl whose mother was diagnosed with stage 4 Ovarian cancer and had to drive her to chemo everyday and then come to class. The same girl who developed Swine Flu that semester and refused my offer of an incomplete and instead soldiered on and got a B+ in my class.

All the soldiers who wandered into my classroom after being deployed in a war zone. Many of whom  were lost, scared and unsure of how to relate in a place that didn’t warrant lightening fast reflexes.

The young lady whose parents had moved away when she was 14 and left her in charge of her two younger siblings. They visited periodically, provided financial support but emotionally she was the parent.

The list goes on and on but each of these very real students, with very real circumstances showed me what real bravery and courage looks like.

2.) Don’t listen to what people say you can’t do

I met so many, many young single mothers. I give each of you a standing ovation. I looked into your eyes and saw fear and doubt, but I also saw bravery, determination, courage and the tightly set jaw of a person who was going to accomplish their goals at all costs.  A person who ignored the “couldn’t” and “shouldn’t” and “can’t”s that were constantly being thrown your way. I watched you waddle into classrooms, run out of them throwing up, and then crawl back in after birth.  You amaze me and inspire me to never given up.

3.) Believe in the future

To all the cock-eyed optimists – which is all of you.  You see careers in front of you filled with success and money and prestige. The world is an oyster and you are thrilled to be a part of it. You are excited and eager to start work, to contribute, to achieve.  You reminded me that there is joy to be found in the future if you just keep looking for it. That the future should always be something welcomed with excitement.

4.) Recognize your accomplishments

I have never considered myself neither smart nor wise. Yet you generously proffered that compliment on me again and again. Until I realized that my years of living – just by having experienced them – gave me wisdom.  I did nothing special to achieve this wisdom, I just lived, but in living I accomplished and that is not something to be dismissed. So thank you for showing me that age is to be celebrated and not denigrated.

I will miss you – my students – very, very much. I wish I could hug each of you, and give you a chocolate chip cookie.

YOU are amazing and I have been blessed that for one fleeting moment I got to be a part of your life journey.

Thank You,

Professor Beth Morley

“Go Set A Watchman” – A Review

When my copy of “Go Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee arrived I placed it on my nightstand untouched — for weeks.  I circled it like a matador sizing up a bull. Did I want to read it? Was it best left a mystery? What if I read it and hated it? What if it forever changed my feelings about “To Kill A Mockingbird”?  And so the book sat. Eventually I concluded I could not consider myself a person of literature if I never read it and so like one of those Russian polar bear swimmers I plunged.

I wish I could say the reading went swiftly but it didn’t. I wanted to make sure I gave this book it’s best opportunity to shine so I read slowly, meticulously, and thoughtfully.  The chapters crept by and I took the time to reflect on the story, the language and the purpose of the author.

This is really two books that have been clumsily merged into one. The first half of the book is filled with Jean Louise’s memories of her childhood as she wanders through her hometown of Maycomb. We hear of familiar characters – Jem, Dill, Atticus and we meet some new ones – Aunt Alexandra, Dr. Finch and Henry. However, the first half of the book feels like a continuation of “To Kill A Mockingbird”. We see glimmers of Harper Lee’s unique style and the Southern tone that infects all of her writing.  This passage where she describes Atticus sang out as the Harper Lee voice we all know:

“Atticus Finch’s secret of living was so simple it was deeply complex: where most men had codes and tried to live up to them, Atticus lived his to the letter with no fuss, no fanfare, and no soul-searching. His private character was his public character. His code was simple New Testament ethic, its rewards were the respect and devotion of all who knew him. Even his enemies loved him, because Atticus never acknowledged that they were his enemies. He was never a rich man, but he was the richest man his children knew.”

Somewhere around chapter 7 the book shifts and we discover what Lee really wanted to tell us. And this second story, well, it has left me itchy.  During this time in our American history, when we struggle to make sense of race relations, or to discuss difficult topics respectfully,  this book seems particularly relevant and important.

Lee shows us a Jean Louise struggling to be comfortable in her own beliefs and the beliefs of others.  She comes back to Maycomb only to discover that she’s changed, or Maycomb has changed. In the end she realizes neither has changed but they are just seeing each other truthfully for the first time. And that stripped down nakedness is uncomfortable, enlightening and a bit disappointing.

One of the more poignant sections of the book comes when Jean Louise is challenged to define the word bigot and realizes that perhaps even in her enlightened state she too is a bigot – a person incapable of even entertaining or considering an opposing opinion or belief.

“Jean Louise rose and went to the bookshelves. She pulled down a dictionary and leafed through it. ‘Bigot’, she read. ‘Noun. One obstinately or intolerably devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion.’ Explain yourself, sir.’

“I was tryin’ to answer your running question. Let me elaborate a little on the definition. What does a bigot do when he meets someone who challenge his opinions?” He doesn’t give. He stays rigid. Doesn’t even try to listen, just lashes out…”

As the reader I sat there stunned by the accusations being laid at my feet. My Facebook feed is filled with opinions so strong, so staunch so contrary to each other that we are all bigots. Every single one of us and Lee forces us to face that in ourselves.  This country is young – like Jean Louise – and before we reach adulthood we must face the bigotry inside of all of us and only then can we mature.

In the end, I’m glad I read the book. Harper Lee has once again provided us with an avenue to talk about race relations. She has shown us the power of humility and the importance of respect.  And it feels like we needed to hear this more today than ever before.