Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Un-Perfect Christmas

Well, we’ve survived Christmas! Now just a few more long days of the holiday break to go… Stay strong, fellow moms of teens! The holidays are abundant with opportunities for disappointing moments, meals, and potentially humiliating gift exchanges. Childhood magic-related epic fails abound. Did you have any epically disappointing moments this holiday season? Often, we’re too ashamed to admit it. Our deeply ingrained standards for perfection brought forth from our perfect parents and grandparents bring out all kinds of blatantly obvious guilt when we acknowledge the admittedly ridiculous pressure we put on ourselves and our ridiculously spoiled children this time of year.  As parents, we all want to "hit it out of the park" each year.

Oftentimes, I sit on my bed and hear the “discussion of differences” going on around me….fighting over which movie to see, what to spend gift cards on, who ate all the Doritos that we just bought last night, or what restaurant to drive through. Who has used “who’s” itunes account, and who stole who’s iphone charger. Iphone 5’s by the way….which until a couple of months ago, was the “latest and greateast”….now is old and needs to be replaced with the coveted “6.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve taught them well. We all love and want nice things. The secret is….do we appreciate what we work so hard to have? My kiddos are a tad spoiled. And I’m not alone.

What was it, my first day on the job? Rookie mistake. When the times come…and often, when I have a 15-year old pouting because I can’t buy this or that…or my 18 year old ticked because we chose something other than HIS choice….I’ll be honest: When my kids sulk about something that is clearly a First World Problem, it kind of pushes my buttons. I struggle to find a meaningful way to teach my children to genuinely practice gratitude while still respecting the fact that at this age, their disappointments are very real.

Out in the hallway, one of my perfectly behaved children apparently whacked the other one on the head with something. At 18 and 15 years old, they generally get along together remarkably well, but this was an off day. Accusations, protests and wails echoed beyond the bedroom door. I sighed. “I don’t feel like they deserve to go anywhere or have anything right now,” I confessed myself. “What a couple of ingrates.”

We’ve all had those days. The kids are fighting. They don’t seem to appreciate the extras you gave them. And the EXTRA you have to do to be able to give to them. They’re rude. They forget their manners. Does it make them monsters or you a bad parent? Despite what many would say while wagging a finger, No. It does not.

But it does indicate a very real phenomenon that many of us are unprepared for when we transition to parenthood. Parenting sometimes sucks. Sure, we knew it would be hard. (I can already hear the haters now: “You should’ve known it would be hard! Why did you even have kids?” Thanks for that. Really.) We knew we would be tired and that raising kids would be a lot of work. But it goes beyond that. Sometimes, it really actually suuuuuucks. And here’s the funny thing: While it aggravates me when my kids handle their disappointments like a pair of enraged gorillas on crack, I have to admit that I, too, have a problem handing disappointment.

I had been looking forward to Christmas. When my kids had moments of bickering, complaining and wreaking havoc, I was disappointed. I wanted a magical week — the one you see flashing through your Facebook newsfeed. The snapshots of beaming parents and giggling children making memories. I didn’t want whiny, ungrateful kids who had, wait for it… ruined MY day. Then I remembered….they were bickering trying to figure out how to please everyone. They wanted to be with me…and my family. They wanted to see their dad…and his family. Sadly…Christmas Day isn’t longer because we need it to be. And ultimately….I put them in this situation…their dad & I. Try swallowing THAT pill.

Nothing brings out the possibilities for disappointment like the holiday season. The meltdown of stress; the parties; the indignation at being forbidden to eat forty-eleven Christmas cookies in one sitting; the Christmas list that there is no WAY you can afford and here you are, just wanting to make some dang holiday magic with your kids, and the “spirit of compromise” totally ruins it. What is wrong with these people? It’s like I morphed into Clark W. Griswold and everything is going wrong, and I threw a good old-fashioned “Terri Tantrum” which later left me feeling guilty.

So, what are parents supposed to do during the disappointing moments? I think first of all, we need to stop judging ourselves for feeling let down. Just like we need to stop judging our kids for melting down for ridiculous reasons. Let them mumble and gripe and complain over the sheer hell of not being allowed to do this or that or have this or that. And let yourself feel bummed out when you need to. You’re only human. You’ll move on, of course. Maybe you’ll even laugh about it later.

I feel so much guilt for not savoring every minute. Every time we dare to admit that we’d really been looking forward to something — a vacation, a birthday party, a simple lazy day — and our kids’ behavior was atrocious, somebody pops up to remind us that there are plenty of people who would do anything to have kids and we should just shut up. And that works about as well as when we tell our kids that there are starving children in Africa who would have been thrilled to have that measly one cookie that was apparently inadequate. It doesn’t work. Because shaming doesn’t work.

So let’s stop shaming ourselves for feeling disappointed sometimes. This Christmas, I made them happy. My Sam came to me and told me that I always “worry too much” and it always “turns out perfect.” And I want to tell you that as I dropped them off with their dad (at 10 am Christmas Day instead of 4 pm) that I felt their love. I felt their appreciation for the memories we had made in the short few minutes of Christmas. I hugged them both…and THEY held on for a minute. I want to tell you that my heart felt full, close to bursting. It was one of those crazy gratitude moments.

For you see, Christ blessed us this Christmas. They love me so much. Almost as much as I love them. They text, call, and can’t wait to share their lives with me. No matter where they lay their head at night. They know Jesus.  They have giving hearts.  And sweet spirits.  We are not perfect. Our circumstances are not perfect. But we are perfect together.

Christmas 2014 is in the books. Happy Birthday to my Lord and Savior....Who blesses us each day. Because of Him....I don't have to be perfect.  MY imperfections are there to remind me to come back to Him....The reason for this season.

In Him,

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas 2014

"Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful." -- Norman Vincent Peale

I love this. Simply love it.

Growing up in a home run by a mom who made sure ALLL special days were just that...."special".....allowed for moments of great revelry. The hours spent with each other, sharing in the times at rest and at play, contain some of the best memories of my childhood. When I think of treasured moments that are ever present in my mind, I am reminded of the impressions of Christmases past. The moments filled with the season of wonder and joy. The decorating of the tree, writing letters to Santa, decorating cookies, searching for gifts that I NEVER could find, occasionally opening a package and taping it back because the curiosity KILLED me (and once finding a note that simply read "Gotcha!"....true story....my mom was smart!), constructing the handcrafted gifts for those most loved, always taking the "scenic route" home from anywhere just to look at Christmas lights, and attending midnight candlelight service on Christmas Eve.

My kiddos have experienced much of these traditions....complete with gingerbread houses, Christmas decor, surprises and smiles. Oh... and Jesus. Lots of Jesus. I miss mom. For when she was alive, it was a time for our family to gather and create new memories to hold dear to our hearts. In recalling past holidays, three words come to mind: faith, hope and love. The faith that there was God who sent His Savior to watch over us each and every day. The hope of a better today and the tomorrows still to come. The love of family and good friends celebrating and breaking bread as one. Mom and her special touches made us remember the magic of Christmas. These three emotions were the reasons that this particular time of year filled my heart with such magic.

It hit me....that it is up to me now. For my kiddos to know the magic. I admit that I'm sometimes wallowed with financial stresses, time management, and pure exhaustion during the holidays. I've told them more than once, after review of the Christmas lists....and even further review of the budget....that I may not be able to be as "magical" as years past. Both children, more than once, have told me... "you always say that mom, every year...and its always perfect." That is the good stuff. Our little family is pretty special.

I miss that lady. For when she was alive...the miles did not matter. Christmas was about our family. And somehow, we always made the effort to see everyone....and we seemed to always fit it all in. I've had a hard time with the changes. Read as....this has broken my heart. This year....I'm going to somehow make it happen. Just like she did. Just like she would. Just like she would want. I'm going to wake up Christmas morning with my Mamaw. And my kids will feel a little bit of her "magic." I can only pray that my whole family will one day be together again. For they are in my heart.

We never know when our last Christmas would be. We didn't know that our last Christmas with mom would be our last. I still remember the pain of the first one without her....as we sat around my living room and cried tears of bitter sweet emotion. Life is too short to let one day go by without a blanket of "softer and more beautiful."

I am now mindful of what Christmas meant then and what it means in the present day. In my youth, one filled with the excitement of the Spirit of Santa, Christmas carried an important meaning. I comprehended an air of great consequence because everyone seemed to be a bit kinder and more caring. The heartfelt sentiment still remains for me. With many days now gone by, the emotions attached to this special time have grown to include a kaleidoscope of faith, hope and love. A hope for a new beginning and a time of renewal, not only in a sense of religious traditions, but in those rooted to the spirituality of my soul. A soul that has come full-circle in its understanding of what Christmas means to me.

In this lifetime, I have learned that Christmas magic is powerful, but the power in our hearts is even more magical. Our ability to love one another, to renew our faith and bring hope into our lives and the lives of others, are the greatest of gifts to bestow and receive. Christmas is indeed a time for sharing in gift giving and celebrating, too. And yet, the greatest gifts are not those wrapped in fine papers or dressed in colorful bows. They are those given with an open heart, one wrapped in the lovely ribbons of faith, hope, and love. I've also learned that "Family" isn't defined by blood and a given name. It is those you do life with. Who love you through it. Who are there and make you relevant. Friends are angels sent straight from heaven....and they are my family....when I can't have mine. Blessed, I am.

To quote Charles Dickens' classic tale, "A Christmas Carol," "I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year." Words of wisdom that should be echoed on this day and all the days yet to be.

Merry Christmas and Many Blessings to you.

In Him,

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Spider Woman

This is supposed to be my happy, cancer-free blog, but today, it's not. This is me trying not to panic anyone, because I don't want that. But I have a lump. It's hard, unmoving and about the size of ... well, in my mind, a bowling ball, but that's probably incorrect. You see, it's 4am and I've not been to sleep yet. I got about two hours of sleep last night and less the night before. There sits whole bottle of Benedryl on my bedside table. Enough for me to sleep through a hurricane. Duh, I should. But I hate taking medicine; I always feel sluggish the next day.

Anyway... the lump. I've been feeling a tightening under my skin in my chest area the last few weeks and I figured it was just scar tissue. Everything feels numb....but then not really numb. It's weird. But kinda painful. After researching mastectomy scar tissue online...(Yes, I know...Dr. Google, the expert) I worry that it may not be scar tissue. It's been 2 years since my mastectomy...there shouldn't be any new scar tissue forming. Ok, so what is it? I don't know. Then, I lay here for hours poking and prodding my chest, underarms, etc., and I wonder if its just my mind playing tricks on me. I've not breathed a word to anyone. That makes it real. Or makes me "real crazy."

Let me see if i can describe what is going on in my head... Try to imagine walking through the jungle and believing there are spiders everywhere. Now even if you're not scared of spiders, you've been told there's a chance one is going to jump out and bite you. You've been bitten before and you know how painful it is. How that tiny little bite changes everything about you and your life. You know that if you get bitten again what happens to your life - you create a domino effect - it's almost as if that spider's poison is passed on from one person to the next. Oh, and not just any people either! Heavens, no. Your spider bite affects the lives of all the people you love. You need to keep walking, but you are jumpy and fretting the whole time. Right now I'm frozen in one place, because I'm too scared to keep going.

I'm quite certain that I'll see Dr. Sneed tomorrow morning..... He will poke around on me, tap on his computer, give me a hug, and pat me on the arm and send me home with a "trust me, it's nothing". And I'll be fine for another 3 months and 3 weeks until I have the spider dreams again.

See? There is no such thing as "cancer free." It lasts forever.

Please be in prayer for any and all touched by these "spiders".....for that is pretty much everyone.
I. hate. cancer. Lord, please, I beg you....send us a cure.

In Him,

Monday, December 15, 2014

Another 4 Months

I live in 4 month increments.  And this week marks the time when I can either buy a few more....or my life changes forever....again.  My Oncology checkup is this week.

I try hard not to talk about "the cancer."  Because as much as those around me are sick of hearing it....I'm certainly sick of living it.  One week every four months....I'm declaring that I get to not just be scared.  But I get to be scared...and say I'm scared.  I know whoever is reading this may not understand.  And God bless the ones who do, because you have most likely lived it.  For that, I pray for you.

I'm still struggling with survivor-ship.  It's the most lonely place in the world.  I get the occasional punch in the arm along with "you're just fine....you beat this!"   I get the pep talks of how I'm "Cancer-free" from all those who love me and walked the battle with me.  I see the occasional eye-rolls if I dare to bring up my fears...and then the quick "subject change"....I see it all.  And I live with it.  Because, I know they mean well.  They don't understand.  They don't get it.  And that's ok.  Nobody has the right words...because there really are none.

I've received a couple of unexpected phone calls from a close friend lately.  I've been placed heavy on her heart and it's forced me to look at other areas of my health and ask questions.  To be proactive.  To be educated.  And to not stop.  This friend understands my fears.  And lets me cry.  Cries with me.  And lets me worry.  And prays with me and for me.

In true form, I have began my ritual of googling, and trolling the message boards which never do anything to calm me.  Instead, I can have death sentence in about 2.5 seconds.  Still....I worry.

This one stuck out for me:
Question: Since triple-negative breast cancer returns often, and to other vital organs such as the liver and lungs, how often and what testing should be done?

Expert: There is no data that routine testing impacts outcome. In other words, it is not helpful to obtain routine scans looking for recurrence. Scans should be done as needed based on symptoms, findings on blood tests or physical examination. Clearly, symptoms should not be ignored. However, finding metastases “early,” by scan alone, does not change survival from or treatment for this disease. Recurrence in other sites in the body is treatable but not curable regardless of when the disease is discovered.

It does no good to test??  There is no cure for metastatic cancer?  Well, that just sucks.  And puts a whole new spin on things friends. I feel like if I knew my exact chances of the cancer coming back, I could deal with it. But when I ask my doctor, he gives me a range of statistics over a number of years. I can’t live like this. I need more specifics.   I'm a planner.  I'm a control-freak.  And This....is out of my control.

Yesterday I was feeling a little overwhelmed. There was so much noise, not from my kiddos, but the static of life in all it's glory, that I could not focus my attention on what mattered, or even figured out what it was that did matter.

I thought the problem was that I couldn't hear myself think.  That it was just "that time again" and I'm not in control of what this appointment may or may not bring.  I even let myself go there....even voice out loud...."If I get bad news, I will not even think of telling my kids until after Christmas."  Crazy, I know.  Well...not really.  Not in the mind of a survivor.

I was ready to clear my plate of obligations. Instead of discernment, I was experiencing a little bit of "fight or flight" response. Fortunately, after some time, deep breathing, snuggles with the kiddos and prayer, I was able to refocus. The static was drowned out by the still, small voice as I listened to Him.  I didn't need to hear myself. I was getting in my own way.

I like to repeat that quote, "Life is what happens when we're making other plans." There is another saying, "Man plans, God laughs." Sometimes my plans don't work out the way I expect or plan. Sometimes, I do think God has a tremendous sense of humor....and timing. Sometimes I do not understand God's plan, but often, if I give it enough time, I can see a purpose and His blessing, even in the "unanswered prayers" of my own spoiled plans.

I do not need to clear my plate to hear, I need to clear my soul and tame my prideful heart. I need to focus not on myself, but on God.  I am slowly seeing His purpose for me.  And I know He is not finished with me quite yet.  (Philippians 1:6 tells me so.)

Last night, as I read Paul's letter to the Philippians, I came across this verse, "...Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13,14)

I will press on, focus on the future, not on myself and the noise I create in my own head, but listening for the still small voice that will direct me. I guess God can be the ultimate white noise, drowning out the nonsense and bringing peace.

I will always look at Christmas differently.  Cancer forced me to slow down.  To love and to love DEEPLY.  In many ways, Cancer has sort of "directed" my entire adult life.  First, when it attacked my mother....and then living through it myself.  Test results....either way, will not change my purpose under God's direction.  I know this.  For all that it has taken from me....God has made sure that it replaced with blessings beyond belief.

With each passing day, each passing checkup, and each passing Christmas....I'm finding my peace.  I know one day....I'll have it.....and it will be when my focus is truly and COMPLETELY on Him.

Find a survivor to love, friends.  For they are everywhere....and they need you.

In Him,

Thursday, December 11, 2014

To you Mommas: We moved!

Leadership.  Wow.  For this girl, that's a scary word.  

I've written before about this powerful little group that I've had the honor to be a part of...the "Benton Panther Mom's Ministry"....This posting a few weeks ago, gives a "smidge" of what this group has done and what it means to me.


When that posting was written, I had no idea what "specialness" was to be in our future.  For you see?  God truly blessed our season....in every sense of the word.

We made to the end.  To the 'ship!  To the last game.  We fought and we fought and we did it.  This team made history.  And I couldn't be prouder.  

But this isn't about them.  This is about a different group.  This is about their mommas. Their fans.  The ones that loved them through it all.  Who prayed for them.  Who lost sleep in worry.  And who stood proudly for them at the end of the day.  The moms.

While I wanted to do a sequel of sorts to the above posting....to "finish the story".....I've sat down repeatedly to write and have become overwhelmed with emotion.  First....let me show ya the stuff:

To some....it may appear that this is exactly that...."stuff."  A bracelet and a cross.  You have to realize a couple of points here.  First, we are not a booster club.  We have no money.  No budget.  To do things for our boys took a lot of time and alot of money.  Cards, printer ink, bracelets, candy, cookies, notes, envelopes, all of it....times 150.  This small group did it!  Each and every week....we did it!  :)  First....fall on your knees and thank HIM!  Second, take your arm and reach around and pat yourselves on the back.  We moved!  (I'll explain that in a minute!)

Secondly, when we hit playoff weeks, its extremely difficult to "plan ahead" so to be successful in all of our endeavors took a lot of work in a little time for our little group.  Time and Money...Satan's little diversions didn't stop us, friends.  Again, We moved!

On Thanksgiving Day, it is estimated that we fed about 250-300 mouths that morning. Take a peek at that gallery here:


I wrote about that too....just in case you missed it.  Such a powerful morning.


November 28: Benton vs. El Dorado.
We "Believed"....and fought our way to the Title Game.

As we met to pray with the teams the day before we were to head to the championship, We presented each of them with a cross, engraved with their motto "family."  As they read their notes and dawned their crosses, my hope is that they will remember this F.A.M.I.L.Y forever.

They learned that day, that each cross was handmade over a period of about 48 hours.  When a sweet "angel" from Texas learned of our Panther story, she agreed to make it happen.  And shared with us how as she made each one, she prayed over it and the child that would be wearing it.  Wow.  Just wow.  150 of these.  Our Jane and our Touchdown Club, and our Community made this special gift possible.  I choke up everytime I see one of them walk by with it nestled around their neck.

I've had so many come to me and thank me for "leading this group." My response has always been the same.  No thank YOU!  I'm SO thankful for a group that always says "yes"!  That always digs deep....financially, with their time, and with their presence.  I cannot help but think we have made a difference in a child's life.  That we have MOVED.

On Sept 2, I sent the text out to my "little group" of Panther Senior moms that I love so dearly.  5 of us that chat together daily.  The text simply said....'What do y'all think about meeting each week to pray?"  We got approval from the coaches and began spreading the word....and held our first meeting on the morning of the Salt Bowl a few days later.  We have done so much in just a few short weeks.  I was talking with my boss and friend about our little group yesterday and immediately he called me a "lone nut!" I looked at him like he must have grown horns and he shared with me this video.....Its not long...but the point is SOOO worth it....

For you see? He was right.  I was simply the "lone nut".....:)  Those of you who continued to say "yes"....are the leaders here.  WE MOVED!  

God has proven that where HIS presence is....that His good works and love will simply shine.  Of course, we don't have to take our shirts off and act like fools to start a "movement"....we just simply have to "say yes" and He will lead us.

Thank you moms and dads and friends, for it all.  I will love you always...for the way we moved!

Love in Him,

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Let Go. Let God.

Being a mom drops me to my knees daily. It's in prayer..brought on frequently by fear, despair or frustration.

So often I try to find the solutions myself. I want to anticipate and wrap the kids in some sort of protective covering that will stop the hurts, physical and emotional. I try to anticipate their disappointments, so I can either prevent them or warn them. It sort of takes a little (or a lot) of the joy out of life to live this way, but I am a mother consumed by fear and worry. I try that magical thinking game, "If I worry about it, it will not happen. If I am a good enough mom, I will have kids that are successful and happy and always free of pain."

Every day I pray that God will wrap my children in a hedge of protection. A bubble.  Heck...who am I kidding...some days I'd like to put them behind the "Great Wall of China" and let nothing negative near them.  I have discovered that the hedge does not stop them from getting hurt feelings, a bad grade, or a skinned knee. I do nott believe for a minute that while my mom was fighting the FBC -- that she didn't pray often, if not daily, that it didn't reach her child.  I. KNOW. THIS. FEAR.  You cannot pray them away from the disappointments in life.  I cannot prevent the hurts of life even if I get them to follow the rules, do their best, look both ways when they cross the street, and mind their manners.  Even if I ask God daily to prevent them from pain.

I have two incredibly great kids.  Just this week, after a devastating State Championship, Season- and Career- ending loss for my son and his team, they both exhibited such grace.  And strength.  And faith.  I received many texts....I stopped counting after 22.....countless facebook messages....and a couple of phone calls telling me how proud people were of my Sam.  Yes, a near-perfect, historical, record-breaking season is quite the thing to be proud of.  But his attitude, demeanor, and actions during defeat is what I admired most.  It's easy to be the best of everything when things are going your way.....but life lessons are taught in the face of defeat.

While I was flooded with tears and emotion, in awe of the pain I was sure he was feeling, and preparing to pick up a multitude of pieces, Sam got off that bus with a smile on his face.  Yes, you read that right...a SMILE!  He was the example of "don't cry because it's over but smile because it happened" mentality.  It wasn't until I received a phone call from a sweet friend, that I really noticed how wondeful that was.   He consoled ME.  Don't get me wrong.  He was heartbroken and sad.  But still maintained the belief in everything we taught him to be.  And in those moments...HE  taught ME.

Don't get me wrong.  Sam isn't a hero.  By any means.  And as a mom, I struggle daily to keep my kiddos on the correct path, when the lines are sometimes blurred which path that is.  I do not make excuses for them and will be the first to come down on them if they need it.  Life is just hard.  Parenting is just hard.  I'm so blessed with the ability to be able to recognize teachable moments and moments when he is precious in spite of me....like that night.  AND...friends who bring it to my attention when I'm wallowing and can't see for myself.

I lost my cool.  Grown adults lost their cool.  Life lessons were taught EVERYWHERE that evening.  Not just on the football field.  I scrolled through my twitter feed....(Yes, I'm aware that Satan lives and plays there)....and saw all of the ugly things written about our "team" that just weren't true.  My heart just hurt.  It just ain't so.  These are honorable, God-loving, and God-LIVING young men.

We built them up for weeks.  We burst with pride for WEEKS!  Guess what?  This is the same team.  The same young men.  With the same hearts as before the loss.  Gotta love a bandwagon.  Something, I've learned about well.

2nd in the state.  Not too shabby.  These boys faced and overcome adversity.  This team of Seniors led like no other.  Look at their faces.  Love them.  And continue to build them up as they leave the field and enter our world.  This world that so needs leaders like them.  

I would just like to ask right now, how is it that I can try my hardest to protect them and yet they still get hurt? How fair is that? Come on!

Umm...yeah. I caught that. I try MY hardest. I turn to prayer in the midst of the pain and yet, I still want to cover it myself. I don't pray and turn it over to God. Nope. I give it to God but I still keep a grip on it. I guess I don't trust him to cover it the way I envision. I mean, my plan is probably superior to His even though His plan is superior, right? I'm good at giving God instructions for what I WANT, rather than just listening to His plan and following HIS guidance.  Even though He can use everything for good. Even though He loved them before I even knew them with a perfect love only He can have.

How ummm perfectly, humanly, stubbornly wasteful of me.  Moms just aren't wired that way.

This is my struggle. Turning it over and letting it go and believing He's got it covered without me. I haven't mastered it yet. I keep trying. I will keep praying; for peace, for protection, and for ummmm....the mere ability to give it over to God.  Please tell me I'm not alone.

I am and always will be a proud Panther mom.  And will never forget the leaders of this "Dream Team."

Keep livin for HIM, boys....He will never leave you.  What an ultimate Coach.

In Him,

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dear Sam....It's Here.

My precious Sam,

It's 3 am on the eve of your State Championship football game.  As a senior, the "buck stops here" so to speak....and your ride as a Benton Panther football player comes to an end. I just crept through the house to check on you and your sister, as I often do in the night.  I'm writing through tears as I can still see that little boy curled up with a Titan hoodie hanging on the post beside you.  

I remember your first game.  I remember Coach Donnie teaching you all about being a receiver.  Even then. I remember Yall trying to bust through the little "run through" and the tape being so strong that you all fell backwards trying to run through it. :) 

I remember all those practices....oftentimes, by way of car headlights.  I remember your 7th grade year, when the Titans won the championship. In the mud and rain.  Much like it's expected to be tomorrow. I will never forget the "smell of football". 

I also remember your Junior High years.  When your season records weren't always indicative of how talented, and determined you all were.  So many of your classmates quit.  Moved on to other sports.  Or other things.  Not you. Not your brothers. 

You all have become the leaders on this field that every mother could dream of. Every moment of this season will be etched into your mind forever.  Never forget how you feel today.  Before you step out on to the field for the last time.  Knowing in your heart that you have one more chance to play for your team of brothers, your school, your community and the legacy of Benton Football.  I was only 6 years old the last time this has happened.  Just let that sink in for a moment. 

Think back over this season.  The practices.  Family Farm. The cookouts.  Pep Rallies.  Each game....each one harder than the next. From the moment we stepped on the field at War Memorial for the Salt Bowl, I knew in my heart this would be a special season.  I knew this team was special.  

You all have found ways to win....game after game.  You have adjusted to every situation thrown at you....and overcome.  From 100 yard touchdowns from an interception in the last minute, to field goals in the last seconds.  Injuries, weather...and just bigger arguably faster teams.  YOUR team has overcome. There are no heros.  Just a team of brothers playing this game that you all love so much.  You have restored the confidence of your coaches.  And your fans.  

Your attitudes and behavior have remained humble and that of winners.  You have shown that by never giving up and and working hard you can persevere.    By giving God the glory, He has blessed and rewarded your efforts in such an amazing way. Spend some time today thanking Him, son. 

Know how much I love you.  Know how I fight back the tears as each day passes toward the last game. I've shared with my friends at every game throughout the playoffs that I knew we would win simply because God hadn't prepared me yet for the emotion of "today being the last one."  So I'm trying to let Him prepare me now. Of all the teams, two are left.  They ALL want to be playing tomorrow night.  All eyes are on the Panthers. 

Please know how many are praying for you all.  Personally, by name.  Know that week after week....we lifted your name....Sam Baker....to our Father.  You, and your brothers and sisters.  And your coaches. Never take for granted where your roots are planted. In a community that finds great strength in prayer.  Where it is not only ok to pray to Him, but it's welcomed. 

You became a winner that day in December, four years ago when you were Baptized in the Holy Spirit and asked Him to be Coach of your life. When you joined  THAT team, you laid out the destiny for your years to come.  Thank you, son, for being such a wonderful example of that. 
For always trying your best.  For picking up your brothers when they were down. For ALWAYS showing a Godly attitide with your actions both on and off the field.  For always showing respect to your Coaches, teammates, opponents, officials and your school.  You are an excellent role model and I'm so very proud of you.  Continue "doing for Him" in whatever you do....and you will be a winner. 

"The Best" has been defined.  You all have beat the odds.  And have earned your place.  Enjoy. Every. Moment.  

Never forget the smell of football....

The smell will never go away. After a hot summer day, cool evening air sets over the turf creating a light dew that glazes the blades. In the morning, the dew tickles your shoes. The heat rises. Another summer day begins.  If the heat creates light perspiration, you begin to smell it...It's this odd conglomeration of morning dew, freshly cut grass, gasoline and sweat.
The smell of football.

Anybody who strapped on pads for the first day of practice knows this smell. The new practice jersey and uniform has a smell of freshly done laundry mixed with the remnants of previous players' stale sweat. From the moment you hit the field, the helmet houses the beads, the jersey gets the cuts, the pants get the dirt and the hands get the bruises. The cleats get caught in grass and the socks get slowly rolled down to the tops of the shoe. From that first line of calisthenics to that first hit drill; the dive drill...the blocking sled, the ball machine, the repeated routes, the perfected step-drops. You get to hear the whistles, the yelling of the coaches...and with it all you get the smell.

The smell lasts through double sessions: through the heat, through the shin splints, past the bum knee. You can see it on your undershirt, the stains on your pants, your jersey reeks, and the stench...that beautiful stench.
Football smells.

It may sound like helmets hitting pads, the wind of a running back getting sucked out of the summer air, or the leg of the kicker on fresh pigskin...but it will always smell more than it sounds. The stench sticks to your clothing for the entire season, no matter how many times you wash. It gets to the point where you wear the stench like a badge of honor. You go through the double sessions, the wind sprints, the three mile testing, the taunting, the fighting, the inevitable chew out during the film session.

You get hit. You get hit some more. You get flattened. You also hit others. You hit them some more. You flatten others. Two hour heavy sessions. Twice a day. Moments that separate the wannabes from the realities.
Then, the doubles end. The season begins. Nine weeks and a playoff push. You get hit. You hit others. Rinse, repeat...then, it stops. You can play pick-up games in every sport. You can go to a field and play a pick-up game of soccer, baseball or lacrosse. You can go to the gym and play basketball...for the players of other sports, you always have the opportunity to relive your past.

In football, once the end comes...it's over. The pads come off. There are no pick-up games. Just pictures, memories, and friendships. The only thing you have left from your days playing football are those memories.
And that smell. 

Do you know that this is really the time of your life??  I intend to remind you.  

Monday, you will be swinging a baseball bat.  But for today....it's football season. For only two teams left.  For the Panthers.  For you.  As you walk through with your "high fives" the last time tomorrow night, look each person in the eye.  See their pride and love for you and your team staring back at you.  Remember it forever. 

My advice?  Play for Him, son.  Play for Him.

I love you.