So Much More Than Toys

Last evening I watched Toy Story 4 with my husband, daughter, and youngest son. My emotional reaction to the ending, though not surprising, made me question. Why am I crying over a movie about a bunch of toys?

The very first Toy Story movie was released a month before our oldest son, Robert, turned one. He is twenty-four. Toy Story 2 premiered when Rachel was two, now twenty-one. And Toy Story 3? Ryan was ten, now eighteen. You can do the math for Toy Story 4.

All four movies were sprinkled throughout the lives of our children. Our family watched while Andy grew up and Buzz and Woody became the best of friends. In a way, we grew up with them.

Many sets of Buzz and Woody toys graced our home over the years. I’m pretty sure there was even an Emperor Zurg living here at one time. And there may be a build-a-bear-frog wearing a Buzz Lightyear costume hiding somewhere in the garage. 😉

These stories are about so much more than toys. They provide a window into childhood. Viewers witness family dynamics such as single parenting and sibling rivalry. We feel the emotions of a mom letting go of her little boy. We watch a little boy recognize how much he has grown.

But what about the toys? Their adventures teach us about friendship and loyalty. All we need to do is consider Buzz and Woody, a cowboy and space ranger. Two unlikely friends who stick together through thick and thin. And the strength of their friendship provides security and support for their other toy friends and their kids.

These friendships also teach us about perseverance. In each of the four films, there are points in the story which seem to spell disaster. Yet, no matter what obstacle crosses their path they never give up. Together they stand up to Sid, the mean kid next door. A misguided bear, a toy seller in a chicken suit, and creepy ventriloquist dolls also prove no match for this determined group.

Toy Story shows us the importance of being loved, wanted, and needed. Lessons which begin in childhood but continue throughout our adult lives. They transport us to the place of hearing, “Job well done. Everything will be ok.”

It’s no surprise this series of animated movies have the power to bring a fifty-one-year-old woman to tears. Honestly, I cried during at least one scene in each story. I also laughed out loud and smiled until my face hurt.

Watching Toy Story 4 took me on a journey down memory lane. Not just the memories of the other movies, but also the memories of my children growing up. It also reminded me of lessons learned from a bunch of toys.

And looking back, I realize they are so much more than toys. ❤

Carry Them With Me

My daughter, Rachel, and I made a trip to Hobby Lobby yesterday. Her goal was to purchase frames for her newly acquired teaching certificate and college diploma! They are now ready to be proudly displayed.

I was also shopping for something to display. A storage box or pretty container for storing letters. Not just any old letters. Letters which were written by my husband, Gart.

We have moved many times over the last twenty-six years. Somehow, I managed to keep up with the letters. They have occupied several different boxes and resided on a variety of closet shelves. As we prepare to move from our current home after fifteen years, I decided they need a more prominent location.

Rachel and I walked down the aisle of decorative boxes. There were many shapes, styles, and colors. One immediately caught her eye. “Ooh look. This is cute! It looks like a mini-suitcase.” After exploring several others, I returned to Rachel’s pick. Perfect!

Once home, I carefully transferred Gart’s letters to their new home. I couldn’t walk away without reading several. Sweet memories.

Some were typed, carefully folded, and placed in envelopes. Others hand-written on notebook paper and folded in half. Each marked with his unmistakable signature. 😉

The messages were just as varied as the paper on which they were written. Notes from when we dated, the rest scattered throughout our twenty-six-year marriage.

I miss you. I love you. I’m sorry.

The new box is proudly displayed on my dresser. As I glanced at it this morning, my first thought was, “How perfect! My collection of love letters carefully placed in their very own suitcase.”

I will always carry the sentiments expressed by the words in my heart. And the papers on which the words were written? I will continue to carry them with me, in their very own suitcase, wherever this life leads. ❤

Front-Yard Goodbyes

I’ve had many experiences, too many to count, with front-yard goodbyes. A close friend or family member prepare to move away or go home after a visit. I walk them to the door. Hugs given and received, well-wishes spoken, but it doesn’t end at the front door.

We walk outside together, down the sidewalk. One more hug, one last “be careful,” conversation continuing until the car door closes. As they drive away, I stand firm in the yard. We wave, and I watch until they are out of sight.

These memories range from my childhood all the way up to this very day. Each filled with images of people I love. People I hope to see again soon. People who are difficult to watch drive away.

An emotional reaction from me is pretty much a guarantee. Sometimes it is immediate. Uncontrolled tears flow for all to see. Attempts to dry them to no avail.

Other times, my reaction is delayed. Although I feel sad as they drive away, there are no tears. And just when I think, “Wow! I didn’t cry” they are mentioned later in the day, and I’m suddenly fighting back tears.

Whether the emotions are instantaneous or deferred really does not matter. What matters is time. Taking the time to say goodbye not only once, but two or three times. Taking the time to follow, stand firm, wave, and watch.

Showing them how much they are loved through a simple front-yard goodbye.

A Stormy Week

It has been quite a week here in Oklahoma. Day after day brought flooding rains, damaging winds, and tornadoes. I’ve lost track of the number of times we heard the tornado sirens. Not to mention the flood sirens…

The Arkansas River flows through our part of the country. Due to the excessive rainfall, the river is rising at record levels. The amount of water being released through the lock and dam systems increases daily. Many towns have already experienced devastating floods, and it is far from over.

The most concerning moment for our family occurred two nights ago. Emergency phone alerts woke us up around midnight. We turned on the local news. Another tornado warning. This time we were right in the storm’s path.

By 12:45 A.M. I was sitting in the closet with Ryan, Rachel, and our dog, Poppy. Gart remained close by, listening to the weatherman and watching outside conditions. When he entered the closet, closing the door behind him, we knew the situation was serious.

Strong winds and popping sounds were heard overhead. The lights flashed off and on a couple of times. And just like that, the storm was over. The damage was minimal, only a few branches in our yard. Other areas were devastated. Less than a mile away, power lines blocked the road.

There is no rhyme or reason to explain the paths of such storms. They rise and fall with no respect to the ones affected or the destruction left behind. There are no automatic exemptions.

The truth is, there will always be another storm. This is beyond my control. So how do I respond?

As the storm approaches, I watch and pray.
As the storm rages, I hope and pray.
As the storm passes, I trust and pray.
Once it has passed, there is work to be done.

His thunder announces the coming storm…

Job 36:33

I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.

Psalm 55:8

He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.

Psalm 107:29

When Your Dad is the Principal

As I reflect on yesterday’s graduation ceremonies, my thoughts keep floating back to my husband, Gart. He is a career educator, twenty-six years now. His path began with band directing and moved through various levels of administration. Because of this, our kids’ educational experiences included “Dad as principal.”

What is it like when your dad is the principal? I’m sure my kids would have things to add, but today I’ll share my perspective.

When the kids were younger, elementary and junior high age, it meant riding the bus to his school in the afternoons. It meant exploring every inch of his building. It meant finding all the secret hiding places while staying out of trouble.

As they got older, the meaning changed. The following questions should help paint the picture.

  • Do I need to spend the day with you at your school?
  • Do I need to contact your teacher?
  • Exactly why have you not turned in your assignments this week?

Those questions and the conversations which followed carried a heavier weight than their earlier building adventures. They were only matched by statements like these:

  • I received a call/email today from your principal/teacher.
  • I contacted your teacher today, and you will be…
  • Due to your choices, you will not be able to…

Thankfully, these did not happen often. But when they did, they were not taken lightly. There were some difficult, uncomfortable conversations around the dinner table. But we all survived and are stronger because of them.

Experiencing their dad as principal also meant wisdom and guidance in planning for the future. He witnessed the impact poor choices can have on a student’s future many times. And although he was always ready to share advice or answer questions, he encouraged them to choose their own path.

“Just do you,” he still loves to tell them.

There is no question as to the best part of “dad as principal.” When each of them completed high school and walked across that graduation stage, Dad was waiting there to greet them. He stood with open arms, ready to hand them their diploma, and say, “Congratulations! I’m so proud of you!” And just as quickly, he watched them walk away.

Of course, Gart is much more than “principal” to our three kids. But the impact that title had on our family will be felt for years to come. It helped shape the three of them into amazing young adults.

Each of our children has their own goals and aspirations. Each shows the determination to see them fulfilled. Most importantly, each of them loves their dad. And from my perspective, that’s what happens when your dad is the principal.

My Girl

My Rachel is the perfect combination of sassy and sweet. Big blue eyes, tight ringlet curls, her looks, and style are a classic beauty. She sets goals, lays out a plan, and the rest is history.

Rachel practiced being a teacher when she was little. Her room transformed into a classroom with stuffed animals and dolls, a whiteboard, notebooks with lesson plans and assignments. How many kids ask for a whiteboard and markers for Christmas?

During junior high, she worked as a peer tutor in special education classes. For her, it was more than simply being helpful or nice to her peers who were different. She made connections, treated them as friends, sat with them at lunch.

This continued throughout high school. Proms were happily spent with her special friends. Summer camp meant being a buddy to a friend who otherwise would not have a camp experience. Friday nights were often spent volunteering at a respite night for parents of children with special needs. This was the high school life she chose.

When it was time for college, there was no doubt as to her career path-special education. Ultimately, she wanted to be a teacher in the district from which she graduated. The place that allowed her so much experience in the field she loved.

I am so proud of my girl. Tonight, she graduates from Northeastern State University with a degree in special education. She begins her teaching career next year at her alma mater, Union Public Schools, teaching secondary special education.

Rachel is already dreaming, thinking, planning for her future students. Wondering who they will be and what she will need to reach them. Her bedroom is lined with containers filled with supplies, fidgets, thinking putty. She knows this is not an easy path. But she embraces it with courage, excitement, and hope.

I’m looking forward to helping her set up her first classroom. I can’t wait to hear her stories. No doubt she will have an impact on the lives of her students, and they on hers. Get ready world, my girl is beautiful, determined, and strong. Here she comes! ❤

Baby Number Three

When Gart and I moved to Guthrie, Oklahoma in 1997, we were a family of four. Our son, Robert, was 2 ½ and our daughter, Rachel, was only a month old. Although I do not recommend moving with a one-month-old, we were excited about this new adventure.

The house we purchased was built in 1924 and only had around 900 square feet. The outside was red brick with an arched front porch. Inside, there were wood floors, lots of character and only two bedrooms. Though it was small, it was perfect for our little family.

At that time, I was a stay-at-home-mom. Our one boy and one girl was the perfect combination. Friends and family assumed we would not have any more children, and we pretty much thought the same thing. That is until around the time Rachel started walking…

Suddenly, I wanted to have another baby. I just knew our family was not complete. When I mentioned it to Gart he asked, “Where in the world would we put another baby?” His argument was logical. We did not have room, nor could we afford to have another baby.

Despite his logic, I could not shake this feeling. It did not help that my closest friends were pregnant. Everywhere I turned, it seemed as if there were more babies. I would often cry, but discussions with Gart were not successful. We would only end up arguing.

I soon realized that this was not the right time for discussions and began to pray. My prayer was simple, “Take this desire for another baby away from me or give Gart the same desire.” Sometimes I felt silly praying the same thing over and over, yet I continued.

Almost a year passed. Although the desire was not completely gone, at least I was not crying all the time. My restlessness was easing. I was about ready to accept that the answer must have been no, and I must have missed it. Though a little sad, I knew it would be ok.

About a week after my revelation, the most amazing thing happened. Out of the blue, Gart said to me, “You know, I think you were right. We should have another baby.” What a surprise! And Ryan Lee Morris was born in November of 2000.

Now we were a family of five, still living in a 900 square foot house. We remained in that house for two more years until a job change took us on another adventure. What a sweet two years. I still miss the times we had in that tiny cottage home.

Well, baby number three graduates from high school tomorrow. He is 6’3 and handsome. A kind, sensitive and funny soul. He is also an artist. I am so proud of the young man he has become and can’t wait to see what the future holds. Our family would not be the same without him.

We love you, Ryan! ❤