Thank you

In my family, being invulnerable and impenetrable is the ideal.  Emotion is weakness. This was one of our unspoken rules.  We thought that by not feeling, we were being strong and couldn’t get hurt.  My personal motto was, “If I don’t expect anything from anyone, I’ll never be disappointed.”

Thankfully, my story does not end there.  Throughout my life, there were people that cared enough about me to shove through my barriers.  So, in lieu of “Gratitude Week” and “Mentoring Month,” I would like to show my gratitude to some of those who took the time to pour themselves into my life in a meaningful way.

Aunt Mary

You know the stereotype of the spinster librarian that goes home to read, watch British comedy and feed her 7 stray cats?  Yep, that’s my Aunt Mary.  Only, this is her Clark Kent visage.  In real life, she feeds, shelters, and clothes the homeless, sings in a choir, and is basically awesome.  Aunt Mary has always been my hero.  She is kind, wise, has a witty sense of humor, an explosive laugh that makes you know when you’ve said something funny, she is a master at self-deprecating humor, and although she denies this, she has a great patience for mere mortals.

Growing up, she taught me to not be afraid to be different; after all, she wore a T-shirt proclaiming her love for Polka.  She never treated me as if I was merely an ignorant child like many adults did.  She taught me the importance of taking care of any creature that God brings along your path–no matter how small or mean.  I can’t say I was terribly sad when her meanest cat died.  It would wait around corners for you to walk by and would lunge at you when you were least expecting it.  What was that cat’s name?

The Hardin family

The first time that I visited the Hardin’s home was on a Sunday afternoon after church.  I’ll never forget how joyful Mrs. Hardin was as she danced around the kitchen preparing lunch and singing made up words to a hymn.  As we were about to sit down to lunch, she stopped mid-song and wondered aloud if to sing silly words to a hymn was blasphemous or possibly sacrilegious.  I didn’t know what either of those was at the time, but I shrugged and said I didn’t think so.

We ate Mrs. Winner’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes and drank sweet tea.  I remember because I had never had Mrs. Winner’s before (too expensive).  That’s when I noticed that they didn’t start grabbing food right away like we did at home.  I grew suddenly nervous, realizing that I had no idea how to eat a meal with proper manners.  I looked at everyone else at the table and mimicked as they placed their napkins in their laps and ceremoniously passed the food around.  I continued the mimicry throughout the rest of the meal, hoping that they wouldn’t notice.

The more I got to spend time with their family, I saw that although they were not a perfect family, they loved each other, laughed together, read the Bible together and prayed together.  Before I met them, I did not know that such a family existed.  I thought that the every-man-for-himself mentality was normal.

Larry and Penny

That’s what we’ve always called them since I was about 4 (I think).  Larry and Penny have gone out of their way, almost my whole life to show that they care about our family. When my brothers and I were young, they would take us hiking in the GA mountains, camping, and on fun day trips where my brothers fought the whole time in the back seat (poor Penny).

Together, they’ve taught me how to listen and how to love people (even when someone is difficult to love).  They’ve taught me the importance of self-reflection and understanding the “why” of me so that I can understand the “why” of others better.  Above everything else, they taught me thoughtfulness towards others.

Mrs. Pollard

Mrs. Pollard was my piano teacher who inspired me to become a teacher.  She had a soft voice and unlike some of my previous teachers, even if I didn’t do well on a piece, she would find something encouraging to say.  She was humble, and the gentlest person I’d ever met.  At the end of each lesson, she would ask me if I had written anything new.  When I had, she would ask me to play it for her.  She would sit next to me with her eyes closed and sometimes, I would finish to see that tears ran down her cheeks.  “Thank you,” she would say.  “That really spoke to me.  That was beautiful.”  It was this belief in me as a musician that gave me the courage to go on to study music in college.

Ms. Graves

Ms. Graves was my Sunday school teacher for a few years during high school.  The first time I met her, I thought, this woman is totally kick-butt (I was a good girl, so I didn’t think of bad words like “ass” back then).  She was in her 50’s, had short cropped hair, leathery weathered skin, and at the time was a brown belt in Karate working towards her black belt.  I came to learn later that she was a former horse trainer that had a heroic story of saving her horses in a flash flood that devastated her farm and ultimately left her bankrupt.  And unlike many people, that didn’t stop her.  Nope.  By the time I met her, she was doing well as a real estate agent and taught me a few things about the real estate market.  She encouraged me to do what I thought God was calling me to and to let nothing stop me.  After 2 years of teaching Sunday school, she felt called by God to be a missionary to Costa Rica, thus, she sold everything and went for several years.  Talk about teaching by example.

Who broke through your barriers?  Who were the people that made a difference in your life?

P.S. There are many others who had a great impact on my life, but for the sake of brevity have left out.  To them, I am no less grateful.