Remembering Where You Come From


Graduation signifies the ending of one chapter and the beginning of another.

The first time I was totally aware of the meaning of that statement was when I graduated from high school.

June 5, 1963 came so quickly. It didn’t seem possible our graduation day had arrived. But there we were marching across the high school track to the football field, through the junior honor guard, walking past our parents seated in rented wooden folding chairs , marching in time to the processional played by the high school band.

As we filed onto the stage built just for the graduation ceremony, we were happy everything was going as we had rehearsed it. After hearing stories of girls at past graduations walking right out of their shoes when heels got stuck in the grass, my friends and I were happy to hit the stage with our high heels still intact.

The sign to be seated was given and the class went silent. Even the rowdy students were on their best behavior; no one wanting to embarrass themselves in front of school officials, their parents, and friends.

Suddenly it became real. High school days were over. We were really graduating. A chapter of our life was closing, never to be reopened.

The graduation ceremony included the usual speakers reminding us of the highlights of our four years at Norwood High School and describing what our futures might hold. All too soon, we were standing one row at a time, walking across the stage when our name was called to receive our diplomas from the Board of Education president.

Then standing as a class, we completed our last official act, switched our tassels and it was over.

Afterwards, happy graduates milled around, smiling, and laughing. Flashbulbs flashed as cameras captured images of graduates posing with family and friends. Parents were proud and some of our mothers cried. We didn’t understand their tears.

Looking back on that night, the keynote speaker’s comments remain a blur. I wish I had paid more attention to his advice. Bet his talk shared some wisdom that might have helped me somewhere along my way.

Flash forward to 1986 when the keynote talk was my responsibility. The ceremony was no longer held on the high school football field. An increase in graduating class sizes had changed the venue several times; otherwise the format hadn’t changed in the twenty-three years since my graduation. The only obvious changes had transpired in my life. Marriage, motherhood, building a career, and trying to live a good life had kept me busy.

I wrote and rewrote that speech, struggling for weeks to find the right words to inspire and offer helpful advice to the Class of 1986. In the back of my mind, I wondered if anyone would be listening. Would the graduates be more aware than I had been? Would they know a most important chapter in their lives was ending?

Would they understand that after high school, classmates go their separate ways, scattering into the next chapter of their lives; some to college, some to the military, some moving away while others stayed close to home? Classmates marry, have families. Some are never seen again. Never return for class reunions. Some never step foot in their old high school ever again.

As president of the board of education, I had the honor of awarding diplomas to the Class of 1986. While serving on the board, I also had the pleasure of presenting both of my daughters with their diplomas. What special memories.

Another big jump forward to May 25, 2017 when my husband and I attended our granddaughter’s high school graduation at Deer Park High School. The graduation once again, came too quickly. It seemed our granddaughter went from five to eighteen at warp speed.

Watching her sing in the Senior Chorus at the beginning of the ceremony, I cried as they sang For Good, a beautiful poignant song from the Broadway musical Wicked—the untold story of the Witches of Oz. It fit the moment perfectly.

“It well may be

That we will never meet again

In this lifetime

So let me say before we part

So much of me

Is made of what I learned from you

You’ll be with me

Like a handprint on my heart

And now whatever way our stories end

I know you have re-written mine

By being my friend:

Like a ship blown from its mooring

By a wind off the sea

Like a seed dropped by a skybird

In a distant wood

Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?

But because I knew you: have been changed for good.

After the song, the graduation format unfolded with the usual components; the same familiar words. This time I listened more intently to what the speakers were saying. I find the older I get, the better I listen.

I especially related to the words of the keynote speaker and hoped the young people on the stage were listening. Richie Schueler, a proud native of Deer Park and Class of 1996 graduate of Deer Park High School had an impressive life resume. He was an engaging young man who spoke honest, insightful, and inspirational words. It was obvious he had immense pride in his Deer Park roots and attributed the foundation of his life to the community he grew up in. He seemed to be telling my high school story.

His words about the advantages of small high schools; having the opportunity to know everyone in the class, or maybe even the whole school, resonated with me and my memories of Norwood High School.

He asked the 2017 grads to take a look around at their classmates, to recognize after thirteen years together their life was about to change drastically. That night might be the last time they would ever be together as a class. He encouraged them to follow their passion, work hard, and never forget where they were from, and to proudly go and show the world just what a kid from Deer Park could do with their life. He then closed with their traditional school motto: It’s always a great day to be a Wildcat!

Then standing as a class, they completed their last official act. All together, they switched their tassels, marched out with big smiles on their faces and it was over.

Once again, I watched as graduates happily hugged their family and friends, and posed for lots of photos, this time photos were taken primarily with cell phones. Hugging my granddaughter, I told her we were so proud of her and her many accomplishments, but also proud of her eagerness to begin college, her next chapter. Happy she was so excited to be on her way to her future.

I sought out the keynote speaker to offer my congratulations on his wonderful words. As he thanked me, he laughed saying, “That was the hardest speech I ever had to write. I really struggled.”

“You ever have to do one of those talks?” Laughing, I answered yes and told him of my own difficulties to find just the right words. We both agreed it had been a proud moment in our lives.

Norwood and Deer Park are similar; both small schools, both filled with tons of traditions. How exciting to think of the graduations happening all across the nation with millions of graduates, parents and grandparents experiencing similar emotions, going through comparable traditions at their respective high schools.

Traditions tend to create a common bond among fellow classmates because high school is a special time. Classmates together in the same place learning to take baby steps to discover who they are, learning to make their own decisions, discovering new interests, learning to trust, and beginning to find their way.

Life after high school takes us in different directions, down different paths. Experiences after high school help polish and hone one’s goals, one’s skills, and one’s determination to succeed. Smoothing out the rough edges while we are figuring out what kind of person we truly want to become. Those experiences help to define our life.

High school graduation has always been a significant moment. As graduates everywhere close their first chapter and get ready to embark on an exciting next step, I hope they remember the foundation they received from the schools and communities they grew up in.

The carefree days before I graduated from Norwood High School remain inside me. Those years were some of the best years of my life. They helped prepare me to think for myself and to maintain an open mind as I ventured into a very diverse, complex world.

Reflecting on my life, three things stand out. Remembering who I am, where I come from, and what I believe.

Wishing all 2017 grads good luck in their future endeavors and hoping they will influence their world with good by remembering where they come from.

Ending on a Positive Note: The graduation photos and posts all over Facebook for the last few weeks have energized my spirit; given me new hope for the future of this country, this world. A new batch of bright, energized young people beginning their next chapter is cause for celebration.


Encounter of the Best Kind

Recently, Tom and I went out for lunch. The restaurant choice was easy. We both said, “Cracker Barrel” almost at the same time. One can always depend on their food to taste good; never any surprises at Cracker Barrel.  Only downfall is I always like to take a quick look at the merchandise in their store. While I shop, Tom pays the bill and heads for the rocking chairs out front. We’ve got it down to a science.

About halfway through our meal, an elderly gentleman was seated at the table next to us. I saw him walk in. His steps were a little wobbly. He was alone. Finishing our meal, the waitress brought my walker to me. She had placed it by the fireplace, out of everyone’s way.

As I was pushing my walker past this fellow, he asked, “How do you like that thing?” I answered, “It’s sort of a pain to get in and out of the car, but using it means I can walk without falling. If I get to a point where I can’t stand, I turn it around and plop down on the seat. It’s pretty handy.”

 He gave a little wave toward the empty chair opposite him and said, “She always wanted me to get one.” I assumed he was talking about his wife, but his comment made me wonder if his wife was deceased or just not able to accompany him to lunch. I wasn’t quite sure what to say.

Taking the safe route, I asked if he would like to try my walker on for size. He declined saying, “That’s really nice, but I’ll wait for her. She likes to pick out my stuff.”

He had a few questions, so we discussed insurance coverage and where he could purchase one. Then he announced with confidence, “I think I’m going to get one as soon as she gets home from her trip.”

Politely, I asked if she would be home soon. His answer surprised me. “She will be home on Sunday. She is eighty-two and on her way to Washington. She and our daughters are participating in the Women’s March tomorrow.”

Not wanting to discuss politics, I just said, “Wow.” His face lit up with the biggest smile as he went on to talk about how proud he was of her for wanting to be a part of the March. “She’s always been a little feisty. One of the reasons I love her.”

 “If I had one of those walkers, I think I would have gone with her to offer my support.”

 As I told him how lucky he was to have a marriage that obviously was filled with love and respect, he just beamed. He asked how long Tom and I had been married and when I told him almost fifty-three years, he smiled again. “Then you know what I’m talking about.”

As I said goodbye and took my leave, I found Tom waiting patiently outside. For years, I have been accused of being able to talk to a rock. The accusation is pretty accurate. I make no excuses because having short conversations with nice people is fun.

I’ll never know his name. Pretty certain I will never see him again. But, that little 15-minute encounter made my day. What a joy to see a husband’s eyes light up with love and respect for his wife of sixty-one years. I bet she knows how lucky she is.

Ending on a Positive Note:  How lucky am I to have a husband that understands the enjoyment I get from talking to a few “human rocks” every now and then.

Time to Think

Stop. Slow down. Take time. Be still. Be silent. Listen. Hear. Accept. Let God help!

Stop. Slow down. Take time. Be still. Be silent. Listen. Hear. Accept. Let God help!

Thankfully, I am slowly recovering from a bout of the Noro Virus that is making the rounds this winter. For three weeks, this virus zapped all my strength and energy giving me plenty of time for sleeping and resting, but left me too weak to hold a book or my Kindle. So if you can’t read or watch TV, and trying not to focus on the fact that everything hurts, how do you spend your time?

My mother always told me to count my blessings when times were tough. So, I did. As usual, the blessings were there. I had a comfy bed, a warm home, plenty of food (which I didn’t want), and a caring husband who took great care of me. There are many that would trade places with me in a heartbeat. I am one lucky lady who has been richly blessed.

But, I found my mind drifting; thinking how I would have handled this illness ten years ago. My mindset then would have been to slow down a bit, rest for maybe a day or two and then push on through; getting back to my normal activity too quickly, going back to work before I was healed, telling myself I could overcome anything if I just worked a little harder (or perhaps a little smarter).

Ten years ago, my husband’s doctor forced him to take permanent disability due to his painful arthritis. The doctor said he would end up in a wheelchair within six months if he continued working. To compensate for the change in our income, I moved to a new profession because it paid a higher salary. I found I was quite good at it, but this new role came with loads of stress; too much work, and exhausting long hours that left me in constant overload.

During that time, my life felt a bit like Job’s when he was overwhelmed with adversities despite his efforts to live a good life. Many of you may relate to Job’s words, “I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” (Job 3:26 NIV).

Having the Noro Virus was not pleasant, in fact it was pretty darn yucky, but I am grateful for the time it gave me to think about how far I have come in the last few years.

My lesson learned is if we are not hurrying and worrying every second of every day, there will be plenty of time for us to think and reflect. There will be time to slow down and evaluate how we are living our lives; to simplify and make changes to improve. To take responsibility for what is in your control and let God handle the rest. To find joy in life’s significant moments with the people who are most important to us.

Ending on a Positive Note: The Bible tells us in Psalm 46:10 to “Be still and know that He is God.” Often, our busy existence in today’s world is lacking clear boundaries. I have learned setting limitations in my life is essential to good health and survival.

Attitude of Gratitude

Sherry at a birthday celebration thrown by her friends.

I have always been a pretty positive person, but in the last few months have been reminded just how important an “attitude of gratitude” really is in life.

As I told you in my last post (two months ago) our daughter Sherry had undergone emergency surgery to remove a cancerous mass in her colon. The cancer was Stage 4 and had been there for at least three years. We were overwhelmed because there had been no symptoms and no warning.

The surgeon is confident he was able to remove all of the cancer and is very pleased with her progress. Her oncologist is being very aggressive with her chemo; starting her treatments just a few weeks after the surgery. Sherry knows there is a long road in front of her with the chemo and radiation and having to deal with a colostomy bag for 7-8 months. But the doctors tell us she has youth on her side and have been so impressed with her positive attitude.  

It could have been very easy for Sherry to slip into an attitude of “poor me” vs. an “attitude of gratitude.” Her Daddy and I are so proud of the way she has reacted to such an overwhelming situation. She is a daily inspiration to me with her positive attitude and wonderful sense of humor, even . . .

  • When I forgot to check her robe pocket and almost washed her iPod (that has over 12,000 songs in it).  Obviously I’m a little out of practice at this “Mom” stuff.
  • When she was getting hooked up for her first “at home” chemo treatment and putting on the sterile gown, mask and gloves said, “Oh, I didn’t know we got to play dress up.”
  • When two nurses took her vitals and come up with a blood pressure reading of 88/54 and made four attempts to get blood. She remained cheerful as the nurses had her lying down, sitting up, leaning over, on her side, but finally got the blood they needed. Sherry joked maybe she should try standing on her head next time!
  • When I see her smile although she is hurting and I know she doesn’t feel like smiling.
  • When she jokes about countless little things throughout each day that could just as easily have been complaints.
  • When I see her do just what the doctors order every day. Especially when she worked so hard during a chemo week so she could attend a party her friends threw for her (just for a short time). Good medicine for her as you can see in the photo above.

I know there are many moments of fear and frustration, but her “attitude of gratitude” allows her to view her glass as half full. So today, I am taking a page out of Sherry’s book with a few gratitude’s of my own. 

  • I am grateful for friends, loved ones, and family who have demonstrated such incredible generosity and have been there for Sherry (and for our family) whether next door or 2000 miles away. Their kindness has been unbelievable and we will never forget how they have embraced our daughter and surrounded her with their love and prayers.
  • I am grateful to Sherry’s wonderful friends and former high school classmates for being such nice people and sticking with her during this difficult time. 
  • I am grateful for technology like the internet, where I can communicate easily, quickly and for practically no cost.
  • I am grateful for being well enough, physically and mentally, that I can care for my daughter so she can concentrate on getting well.
  • I am grateful for fun, laughter and prayers that help us get through tough times.
  • I am grateful for the surgeon and oncologist for the knowledge and skills they utilized to remove the cancer and give her the treatment she needs.
  • I am grateful knowing I can rely on a God that is always with me to supply comfort, strength and healing.

We all have a choice every single day to view challenges as an opportunity or impassable roadblocks. To view the glass half-empty or half-full. To live with an  “attitude of gratitude” that will make a huge difference in our lives.  

Ending on a Positive Note: I thank God for Sherry’s inspiration during this rough time. I am so blessed that both Sherry and Stacy were such sweet, loving little girls that grew up to be loving, caring individuals with an “attitude of gratitude.”

NOTE: March is National Colorectal Cancer Month! The most powerful prevention for this type of cancer is a colonoscopy, so if you are 50+ be sure to follow your doctor’s screening recommendations.

Life Comes At You Fast

Nationwide Insurance has great commercials that carry the theme of “Life Comes At You Fast.” This last week gave me a good idea of what the commercial can really mean.

Friday, January 21st we took our daughter to the ER. She had been experiencing bad stomach cramps and couldn’t keep any food or drink down. After hours of giving her pain and nausea medication and running tests, they admitted her at 11:30 p.m. Early Saturday morning they did emergency surgery and found colon cancer. They feel confident they were able to remove all of the cancer and expect her to fully recover.

We were blindsided and we sort of felt like life had come at us fast and stopped us cold. The word cancer is such a terrifying word, but the doctors all have commented that our daughter’s positive attitude will do as much for her recovery as her upcoming chemo and radiation treatments.

After our daughter gets all her facts and understands what she is dealing with, she can be quite resilient, but she has a tough road in front of her. I’m so proud of her as to the way she has reacted to such an overwhelming situation, but realizing the enormity of the situation may bring her down once reality sets in.

We continue to rely on a God that supplies comfort and strength. We know that He is in control, but it is so difficult when things happen to your kids – I am much better at handling things happening to me. 

Our family and friends (some we haven’t seen for years) have rallied round with lots of love, prayer and support. It is so comforting to know there are so many people in our corner thinking of us and praying for our family.  We are blessed beyond measure!

Ending on a Positive Note: Life can come at us fast, but if we allow God to be in control He can bring us through any situation. Slow down and don’t take life for granted!

May not be posting for a while as I take care of my daughter during healing and recovery. I would appreciate your prayers!

What is Christmas

What is Christmas? What can it be?
Can I feel it or is it something I can see?
Is it in the air? Is it something I can hear?
Is it magic? Is it really everywhere?

Is Christmas tall, green, scented trees of pine?
Is it tinsel and stars that twinkle and shine?
Is it snowy streets all blanketed in white?
Is it church bells ringing in the still of the night?

Is Christmas the songs that the carolers sing?
Is it the silver bells on city streets that ring?
Is it candles all aglow with flickering light?
Is it warm hearths glowing with fires crackling bright?

Is Christmas each heart that is filled with cheer
By greeting cards and phone calls sent far and near?
Is it visiting old friends, or somehow finding a way
To be home with your family if only for a day.

Or is Christmas quite simply the happiness and joy,
Found on the faces of each small girl or boy?
Faces filled with both eagerness and glee
While opening gifts beneath their Christmas tree.

Is Christmas just a holiday celebrated once a year?
Do we only seek its spirit as the season draws near?
Is it really only a star on a tree, a wreath on a door?
Maybe! But, something tells me it is so much more!

Christmas is shepherds and wise men traveling far.
Guided on their journey by a bright Bethlehem star.
Christmas is a tiny baby lying on a humble bed of hay.
His birth the true reason we celebrate Christmas Day!

Copyright Agnes Spurlock – December, 1985

A Pollyanna World this Christmas

Hayley Mills as Pollyanna

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled onto the old classic Disney film Pollyanna. I loved the movie as a child and enjoyed watching it again. The story is a simple one. A little girl comes to live with her wealthy Aunt Polly after her father dies. A stern perfectionist, Aunt Polly is used to intimidating the whole town, even the minister by suggesting scriptures and themes for his weekly sermons.

Aunt Polly is not prepared for Pollyanna’s optimistic attitude that she learned from her father. Her philosophy of life centers on what she calls “The Glad Game,” a game that consists of finding something to be glad about in every situation. The Glad Game has seen Pollyanna through the toughest of circumstances in her young life, including the loss of both her parents. Seeing the good in people around her, despite their negative outlooks on life, slowly wins over even the grumpiest residents of the town. Pollyanna’s sunny personality and sincere attitude literally transforms the community into a pleasant place to live.

The term “Pollyanna” is usually thought to describe someone who unfailingly finds the good in life, no matter the circumstances. In today’s fast paced, success-oriented, complicated world it often takes on a negative connotation, as if finding the good was hopelessly naïve and unrealistic.

In this Christmas season of love and giving, what if we all took this simple lesson to heart? What if we absolutely insisted on seeing the best in each other? What if we always looked for silver linings and knew, just knew they would be there? What if we took it upon ourselves to always bring good cheer, always lend a hand when needed, and always, without fail, without regard for what was in it for us, love others? Life would be transformed for us and for those around us.

Ending on a Positive Note:  The point of Pollyanna’s Glad Game was the challenge to discover something in any situation you could be glad about. I don’t think my mother ever saw the movie, but she had the same philosophy because she used to tell me, “Look for the good in people and you will always find it.” Think I’ll take a lesson from Pollyanna and my mother and play the Glad Game this Christmas and throughout the coming year.