Saturday, May 12, 2018

Blessing Carly

          Carly Jean Crawford, daughter of Newton Ulysses Crawford III (aka Sonny), granddaughter of Barbara Ann Crawford and Newton Ulysses Crawford Jr. (Granny and Gaffer), great-granddaughter of Willa Juanita and Newton Ulysses Crawford Sr., sister of Newton Ulysses Crawford IV (aka Little Sonny), niece to multiple aunts and uncles, cousin to 20 plus first cousins, you come from a large family and a great heritage of growing up on a century farm. Like the generations before, you are creative, intelligent, athletic, beautiful, hardworking, and simply remarkable.
          We cherish our memories with you: playing spades (don’t bid glasses, no matter what your dad or Fred say!), planting seeds in the garden, decorating Christmas cookies, having fun at VBS, celebrating so many holidays and birthdays, watching your athletic games, listening to your concerts, hanging out at the river, canoeing on float trips, attending church services at Bado, swimming at Crawford camp, going to drive-in movies, ordering drinks from Sonic, morel mushroom hunting, eating homemade dinners, making kebobs for your dad to grill, and so many more.
          Even though you participated in numerous sports and academic activities, you are graduating in the top few of your class. From basketball, softball, and track to band, choir, and math/science club to homecoming queen during your sophomore year to student council, scholar bowl, and National Honor Society (and so much more), you led the way as a strong student and an outstanding young woman.
Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

Congratulation to the best person I know. Thanks for all you do. 
Love, Dad

The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and he adds no sorrow with it. Proverbs 10:22
I have been blessed with the honor and privilege of sharing my life with yours. I have loved every minute that I have spent with you. I have enjoyed every game, concert, program, every meal we have had together, and even prom and homecoming dress shopping. Participating in your senior nights and going to Hunter’s games and bringing you home from your games have been very special memories that I will never forget. I am especially proud of all that you have accomplished through hard work and good choices. You are amazing!
I now pray that you will enjoy college and will find the purpose that God created for only you to fulfill. I love you very much! Love, Granny
For you are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that you should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

Carly, You are an amazing young woman! Incredibly smart, adventurous, and extraordinary.  You have finally finished a huge chapter in your life. As you begin creating yourself as an adult, you will learn so many more things that will help you grow as a person. You are already such a lovely person, and I can't wait to see what you make of yourself next. I love you. Laina xoxo

We are all very proud of you and can't wait to see what you accomplish next. Love, Tom, Amanda, Brett, and Cale

Congratulations, Carly Barley, Car Bear, Maggie, Carl, Carly Bear, Buggy Bear, Cake E.  Love, Serena

You truly are such an incredible person. I have watched you turn from the cutest, strong-willed, chubby-cheeked baby into a beautiful, strong, driven woman. You were faced with so many obstacles in life, and you overcame them all with a smile on your face and a heart for helping others. I have a deep admiration for your amazing strength in life and have loved watching you excel in sports, school, and in loving others through relationships. Continue this next journey with a smile on your face, a fire in your belly, and your heart full of love and you will do such amazing things. These are some verses that make me think of you:
She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. Proverbs 31:25
God is within her, she will not fall. Psalm 46:5
By the grace of God, I am what I am.  
1 Corinthians 15:10
I truly believe that you mirror each of these verses in your life today, and going forward, you will continue to honor God in this way. I am so proud of you, and I believe in you more than you know. I can’t wait to see all of the amazing things you accomplish in life! I love you, Car Bear! Love, Jill
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11
You are standing at the beginning of your life as an adult; your whole future is ahead of you, and we can’t wait to see what amazing things you accomplish. As you step into your future, continue being kind and listening to your heart and trusting God. As you have done the past four years, continue playing hard and going for what you want. We believe in you, and we stand beside you, always.
Our prayers and love are with you as you journey into the next phase of your life. We are proud of you. We love you. We wish you blessings and a long life of joy, prosperity, and dreams coming true.
Your family

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Road Trip

Dear UD,

Taking a road trip with you is better than all the travels in the world.

2006, Lexi and Laina, young girls, giggle in the backseat while you drive with me in the passenger seat.

Like the time when you taught 16-year-old me how to drive. Then, my siblings Sonny and Britt and Amanda sat in the backseat with me in the front passenger seat. Both then and now, we ride curves, glide up and down hills, traveling between the Crawford farm nestled in the Bible-belt of the Ozark Mountains and the Cunningham farm or your welcoming house, both near the greater Kansas City area.

Then, you offered driving tips, advice on how to drive, or how NOT to drive, as we later laughed about when, on that road trip, you missed the sharp turn sign indicating a 90 degree turn and plowed the rental car straight onto the gravel road, into the ditch, landing against the barbed wire fence. Luckily, everyone was fine, and we piled back into the car, driving the dented rental all the way.

Then, we talked bookshelves and jungle gyms (you built for the family), Chuckles (the bean bag throw game that Grandpa Bruce made and you delivered), family stories, garden harvest, and driving tips.

Now, we’re in your light blue 2006 Ford Taurus, sailing the curves and hills between family farms. On this road trip, we talk Broadway shows and musicals in between listening to the Wicked and Into the Woods original Broadway cast recordings. After each number, you pause the CD and interpret the lines for us, and we discuss characters and themes. I know in this moment that I will always remember these road trips with you, these discussions with you, these lessons and learning.

Years later, Lexi, Laina, and I saw Wicked off Broadway, and more years later, Pippin on Broadway. Throughout the years, we’ve watched the movie versions of various musicals from Oklahoma, Singing in the Rain, Holiday Inn, White Christmas, and Annie Get Your Gun to Grease, Hairspray, Billy Elliot, The Court Jester, Mamma Mia, Chicago, Jersey Boys, Newsies, Phantom of the Opera, to Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, Cinderella, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Aladdin, and Anastasia. And so on. Plus, we’ve attended local productions of shows such as The Man of La Mancha and Fiddler on the Roof.

On December 31st, 2014, we decided to celebrate Lexi’s 20th birthday at your house; this time the three of us took another road trip between family farms, and that evening, we went to the movies with you, Britt, and Sean to watch Into the Woods. What a thrill to see the story you shared with us so long before come to life on the big screen! Four months later, you left this world, so that was the last movie we would have a chance to see with you. I wish we could see more, but I’m glad the last one was a Broadway musical. And I’m glad that we played Broadway that night, the board game that you created, another memory, another connection.

Uncle David, without you, I doubt we would have our love of musicals and all things Broadway, and I am so grateful to you for teaching us, through musicals, about life and literature and living and loving.

2018, everyone’s talking about Hamilton, and remembering our road trips, I bought the original Broadway cast recording. It arrived this week and sits, unopened, on my dining room table. I am excited to listen to it and explore the story, and at the same time, I wish you were here to listen to it with me, interpret the lines, and tell me the story.

So many things you taught me, but you did not “Teach me how to say goodbye” (Alexander Hamilton, “The World Was Wide Enough”).

But what you did teach, I promise to pass on. This summer, I will take a road trip, play the Hamilton CD, and share it with someone else.

“Legacy. What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see”- Alexander Hamilton, “The World Was Wide Enough.”

UD, your legacy lives on in the lives of your loved ones, and we are all the richer for it.

Love, Rach

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The World Is Too Much With Us

Dear UD,

Around 1802, William Wordsworth wrote “the world is too much with us” partly to express how overwhelming everything feels sometimes and partly in criticism of how the Industrial Revolution led people towards a life consumed with material things and work and away from nature and the spiritual life. How little could anyone imagine back then how he got it so right.

In the past couple of weeks, the Eastern Puma has become extinct, and the last Northern White male Rhino has died while giraffes have gone on the endangered species list. I can't imagine a world without these creatures in it.

On another level, in meetings and emails and news headlines and social media posts, I see hatred and violence and tyranny working its way through our country. It angers and frightens me.

Also, I keep reading or hearing about too many people dying suddenly for no reason too young. That is sad and scary.

And I'm grading research papers where too many college students do not know how to write a clear sentence or how to follow directions or how to think critically enough to write a focused thesis statement or how to slow down for a moment to get it right. It worries me for the next generation—not only the world we leave them but the lack of skills we leave them with.

Uncle David, it's your birthday month and almost exactly one month from the day I received the call three years ago, the call that you were gone from this world, the call that shattered my world. Three years and I still miss you so much. Sometimes the ache of the loss is too much. But that's personal. And selfish. Because I wouldn't want you to see this horrible world right now. But I still want you here, and I still need you and still miss you. Three years ago, yet in this moment the loss feels too fresh all over again.

So I start a letter because I want to tell you all about it. Because I know you were so full of love that you would still see some good in the world right now.

It's spring, and I remember that you would be outside hunting for buds and feeding birds and walking your dogs and delighting in spring bulbs and flowers.

I have a 12-hour day of classes and grading. But tomorrow, I promise to go outside and sit in nature for a little while. And I will gaze in wonder at the beauty around me. Let it fill me up so that I might go out with kindness and some joy and be a blessing to others, like you were to so many.

Love, Rach

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Those Winter Nights

My personal world exploded in 2006, and I responded by going back to school. At that time, I felt shy, scared, and insecure, unsure of my writing abilities or who I was or how my near-future world would look. The first day of my MFA low-residency program, I went to my classes and returned to my dorm room, alone. Shortly after, at a reception for our program, one of my classmates invited me to the evening hangout. I said no at first, of course. After all, I was Rachel the mommy/wife/daughter, and those were the only parts of me I recalled. Who was Rachel the person? I didn’t know anymore.       
            Thankfully, Daniel persisted. “What, are you an old lady?” He challenged.
            The question stuck with me, and before I knew it, I found myself at the party, playing poker and hanging out with these strange and hilarious writers and writing teachers. Jack was part of this crew, and he along with the others listened to me, teased me, accepted me, challenged me, and helped me remember Rachel. Just Rachel.  
            They also read my writing and responded, providing needed feedback and affirmation. After three years in the program, I emerged a stronger, more confident writer and person, something I would need as I stepped into the future as a single mother of two and a college writing instructor.
I will never forget Jack or the others I met during this time of study, reflection, and writing. And I strive to always remember Just Rachel, even when all the roles I have press down on me.
Last night, I learned that Jack passed away suddenly. I am shocked, devastated, saddened. Over the past decade, I have remained Facebook friends with Jack and many of the others from the time working on my MFA degree. I value that connection. Jack always posted things that were inspiring or important. Kind and passionate, Jack was a light in the dark and a voice for those who needed one. He died too young. The world has lost one of the good ones, and I am heartbroken.
As I think about Jack and those long nights of fellowship and of how everything felt, I am reminded of a poem that I wrote then. Today, I write again, and tonight, I will drink a shot of tequila in memory of Jack and those winter nights.
          * I write this in tribute to Jack and in gratitude to him and all the others from my MFA program. 

These Winter Nights 

Tom Waits etches in the Days Inn hotel room in Murray, Kentucky,
each of the black, sleepless nights,
discussions of anything and everything
and nothing over poker chips and tequila. 
Of Chekhov and Blake and tired old affairs. 
Of clich├ęs, childhood stories and orgasmic delight. 
Our tongues bloody, we revisit, rehash, reopen. 
We expand. 
Nothing too sacred, brilliant writing the exception. 
We create lyrics and jokes, strum banjos, guitars and mandolins,
blow kazoos in the Dunce corner
with our busy hands, cold feet, little ears and echoing laughter. 
We speak the language of the damned. 
Another gulp of gold beer, a crunch of Cheeze-its. 

"Boobs are the new ankle." 

We endearingly call ourselves, "Freaks!" 
I mean, "Artists."  "Freaks!"

First experiences for some,
"Fuck you, motherfucker, I've lost my laundry money."

We do nothing and everything. 
Present each moment. 
It is perfect. 
My mind stretches, vivid images color my dreams.

It's the witching hour, and I

Masks falling,
falling away.

I am naked and new, trembling, brimming with words. 
I am alive!

*“These Winter Nights” was first published in 2008 with Big Pulp

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Thing of Beauty: two years later

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever” ~John Keats
November approaches again and of late I greet the month with part dread, part joy, part appreciation, and part hope. It's the month of my birth, and, of course, Thanksgiving, so I generally like to share daily notes of blessings during the month. Two years ago, though, I did not feel any gratitude, having lost a grandpa, dad, and uncle in succession within less than a year. Still in deep mourning, I could not find my way to thankfulness. Yet I wanted to try, and, more, I wanted to honor the men our family had lost.
Two years later, and I continue this tradition to honor them.
Two years later, and I still find feeling gratitude difficult, almost a chore, something I know I should do and even something I know is true when it comes down to it. This life is a gift, a miracle, and every minute there are thousands of microscopic reasons to express thankfulness. I know this. I see this. I appreciate this.
And still…
In the past two years, I have lost several more people who were special to me. It’s hard to be in this world without them. We will never again be who we were before losing them, and I feel such a deep sadness, anger, and fear inside now. The sorrow permeates everything in this new world, new normal, new me, and the anxiety is easy to see—too many awful things happening in our country, in the world, all the time now. But I didn’t realize the rage until last week when I was triggered into a memory of the moment my mom called to tell me that my uncle had died. If I think about it, I can still feel that moment and my body’s reaction as if it is happening right now. And, when I thought about it last week, I was livid that UD died, that the doctors didn’t catch it in time and help him, that God allowed it to happen, that we have to live in this world without him now.
Two years later, and I’m still finding my way through this new normal.
Gratitude is an attitude, a perspective that we choose, or not. And I want to choose it. But, how to do so in the midst of the grief, fury, and fear.
The online dictionary defines gratitude as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” I am ready to “return kindness” when I can find it. Yes, I know that there are still many kind people out there, but in the past few years, acts of kindness appear few and far between. UD had a spirit of love and a kind, giving heart, and we all still miss him so much.
In my blog entry two years ago when I started this tradition, I wrote, “A Thing of Beauty is combining gratitude with seeing things in a new way and with authenticity; it’s living in the moment and acknowledging what is (good and bad) and reinventing what life gives us. This reminds me of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, “Valentine for Ernest Mann” where the narrator sees beauty and connection in the eyes of skunks. This I feel I can do. I can look at what is, whether I like it or not, whether it’s ugly or bizarre, and find beauty or create meaning out of the muck. Like a lotus flower, I can find a way to blossom out of the mud….A Thing of Beauty is just that: to approach life with the “openness” and sense of “wonder” in order to reveal meaning.”
And last year, I wrote of how I needed this, needed to focus for a few minutes every day on something positive, on seeing beauty, noticing blessings, and acknowledging kindness.
So, once again, I will find “a thing of beauty” each day to share. I pray that it revives my spirits and that it influences others along the way. I invite you to find a thing of beauty in your life and share it with us. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Autumn Turning

 Fall 2016
Dear UD,
Autumn turning is glorious in the Missouri Ozarks. I spy golds, purples, reds, yellows. I spot colors. Colors that match the emotions of my soul. Passion, wonder, joy, sadness. It’s autumn, and the trees weep leaves.

Autumn is here again... The first I've seen in seven years.

Apple Butter Day, the last weekend in October, again my first in seven years. And the first family event that I went to where you should be there.

This new normal is still so hard.

There are still so many times that I want to call and talk to you. So many things I want to tell you or Dad. The simple act of telling…something no longer possible. I wonder what you and Dad would say about this election year. I want to listen to Bob Dylan with Dad in celebration of Dylan’s Nobel prize for literature. I want to talk to you about my job (another interview this month), family stories (past and present), Laina’s gothic class (she’s reading Jekyll and Hyde), and Lexi’s jobs at Universal.

UD, more than you knew, you held the family together. And without you, we are splintered, shattered. We miss you so much.
I remember autumn from your back deck, eight years ago, and now I stand on the same deck and gaze into the backyard. Everything is different.

No barking dogs greeted us. 
Trees chopped down.
No hummingbirds at empty feeders.

Old merges with new, familiar with unfamiliar, too many conflicting images pound my mind, bombard my senses. I am too overwhelmed to respond, to breathe...

The whole first evening in the not-yours-anymore house where your older brother, Uncle Bob, now lives, I couldn’t breathe, had to process.

That night I slept in the guest room upstairs, similar but different both in looks and sounds. The computer still sits in a corner with a gentle hum, but the bed and covers are new. And, all night I could hear music floating lightly through the air. Unnerved, for hours, I couldn’t sleep. I imagined you, a ghost, your spirit trapped, and I was supposed to save you. Somehow release your spirit so you could move on. Eyes wide awake, body strung tight, I listened and plotted. Until I realized that it must be a windchime, a new addition to a new household. Finally, I fell into a light sleep and dreamed of once upon a time in your house.
The next morning over breakfast Aunt Laura confirmed that she had put up windchimes, and I released the pent-up tension. Took a deep breath.

I realized that, in the end, the house is still full. Cousins, siblings still play games. Laughter and conversations still bubble and ripple through the rooms. And, like you used to, Uncle Bob made a feast. Homemade, homegrown, special meals. The royal treatment. People connecting and connected. All of it filling me with peace. Uncle David, you are now gone from this home, from this world, but your spirit and love are still here watching over us. I imagine that you glance around and are pleased. It is good.

Love, Rach

Postscript: I started writing this a year ago October 2016 when I was in Missouri with my family and I went to our Apple Butter Day celebration. But I couldn't finish it then so here it is a year later. I don't know that it's completely finished yet and I don't know that I'm ready yet, but it's Apple Butter Day again and I wanted to share it. Such is the life of writing, such is the cycle of grief.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Blessing Laina

Alaina Beth Johnson, daughter of Rachel, daughter of Barbara, daughter of Bonnie, daughter of Iva, and sister of Alexia Devin. Alaina Beth, you are of the Crawford - Cunningham Clans, the Johnson - Kellhofer families, and the Rineharts.
Laina, you are a daughter of the American Revolution. A daughter of the Native American Cherokee tribe. A daughter of inventors, leaders, homesteaders. You come from those who blaze their own path and those who fight for freedom, those who create and those who work the land, those who help others and those who teach, and those who heal and those who survive. Ultimately, you come from those who make things happen. 
A farm girl, beach girl, big city girl, you know how to navigate many worlds. Like the time when, barely 16, you followed me from Missouri to Florida, and then at 18, you drove alone from Florida up to the Smoky Mountains. Or when you trained as a gymnast for 25 hours a week at age ten. And, I remember when you were only 16 and we were visiting Lexi and you hopped off the subway train in New York City alone at dusk to shop and your cell phone died but you were able to find your way back to our lodging. You are fierce, fearless, resilient, and resourceful.
When I look at the headlines and statistics around this country and in this world today and see all the devastation to our planet, the dangers, and the problems that your generation faces, I cringe to think this is what we leave you.
Yes, the world might seem scary and dark sometimes, and you have already endured so much more than I wanted you to have to deal with--too much heartache, loss, and pain. At the same time, you have also already seen great kindness, compassion, and goodness from others for which I am grateful.
In the past two years alone, you have lived through four moves and too many losses, but through it all, you have stood on a strong foundation, a foundation built from the sphere of your family, friends, and ancestors, from the land that has been in our family for over one hundred years, and from God.
Through it all, you have remained pure and kind and good and light. Yes, dark and light both exist, but remember that light can chase away the dark. Shadow disappears when light shines on it.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

When you were a child, I thought that you were poetry in action, and now that you are a young woman I see a firecracker who was born during Fourth of July weekend, and I know that your heart and your creativity and your smarts and your talents will come together to do some good in this world. Sassy and full of fire, you are the light this world needs.

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12  

You've got this. Whether you follow your gifts or whether you follow your intellect or your beauty or all three, continue following your heart and you will leave an impact on your community and your country and your world, an impact that you have already started and that I'm so proud to see.
What we remember most, George Saunders said in a graduation speech at Syracuse University, are acts of kindness, so the most important thing is to be kind. I don't have to tell you this because you have the biggest heart of anyone I know. If the first rule is to be kind, then you have mastered it. I see the seeds of kindness in everything you do. I think of the time when your 9th grade teacher lost his dog and you picked out a special card, wrote in it, and gave it to him. Or when you, a stranger in a new school for your senior year, befriended the newer new girl who had nowhere to sit and knew no one. Or when you rescued the kitten, befriended the dog, wanted to take in every lost animal.

“May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” 

Laina, there are so many things I can say that I like about you. To start, you have a genuinely good spirit. You are a caring, intelligent and nurturing person who is beautiful on the inside and out. I’m so proud of you for graduating high school. This is a big transition for you into adulthood, and you will have a lot of fun and freedom that comes with it as well as responsibilities and trials. But when the challenges come, remember to use them as motivation to keep going and grow from the experience. Let each challenge help you grow and become the person that you are meant to be. I know that God has a great plan for you and that He will help you grow into the amazing woman He designed you to be. I’m so glad that you are my sister, and I wouldn’t want it to be anyone else in the world.  I love you, Laina.   Love, Lexi

Alaina: simple meanings; Little Rock, beautiful, light, torch, bright.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9  

Characteristics of Alaina:  cooperative, considerate, compassionate, nurturing, sensitive, patient, loving, kind, gracious, balanced.
I am proud to say that you are a perfect embodiment of every one of those characteristics. I pray you will stay true to them and seek God's will for your life. I pray you will continue to be the bright light that you already are in this ever-darkening world where light is so desperately needed. 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6  

I cherish every moment I was able to spend with you last semester. I pray you will be a force for good everywhere you go. May the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face shine upon you and give you peace. Love you, Granny

“But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Hebrews 11:6  

Graduation is just the beginning; let the Lord reveal his plan for your life by submitting to his Lordship.  Love and prayers, Uncle Bob

“Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.” Psalm 100:3-6  

Twice-Laine, Congratulations! Remember, sometimes all you can bid is glasses. Love, Fred (Uncle Sonny’s ghost-friend).
Alaina, you are a blessed and beloved daughter of God. You are loved, you are wanted, you are wise, you are safe, and you are strong. Your family, your friends, and those who we lost too soon are with you. For instance, Grandma Johnson is watching over you, your special angel. Wherever you are, our hearts and love are with you. Wherever we are, your heart and love are with us. Our hearts and spirit are with you always.
It has been my honor and privilege to be your mother and to see you grow into this amazing, talented, kindhearted, bright, beautiful young woman.
And so with our blessing, we send you out into the world to work, to travel, to live, to love, to laugh.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26  

Together, we offer you our blessing. Now, we watch you flip into the wide world waiting for you as you tumble into your future of beauty, kindness, creativity, peace, and love. Travel with God’s love, His presence, His Word, and His promises.
With all our prayers, blessing, love, and faith in you,
Your family