Thursday, May 11, 2017

On your mark, get set, go!

"Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win." 

1 Corinthians 9:24

On your mark, get so, go was the commanding charge that many of us had in childhood games. Racing as fast as we could go, we set out to not just run the race, but to win it. As the class of 2017 prepares for their race, I thought it was fitting to ask some friends about their life advice to graduating seniors. Congratulations Class of 2017!  Now, on your mark, get set, go!

"Be true to yourself." 
Eve Cole

"Always check your grammar." 
Julie Wells

"Don't let your education end with the conclusion of your formal studies, be it a high school diploma or your Ph.D. A fulfilling life is about learning new things every day. First, learn to use Spellcheck." 
James Firth

"Call your mom!" 
Teresa Harris

"Every day!" 
Tina Horn

"Take some time to see the country, the world if you can and enjoy a break before real life starts." 
Jackie Maskew Cavallin

"It's okay to change your mind and to not have it all figured out." 
Ashley Marie Toney

"If it all doesn't pan out the way you planned, God has something better in mind. Trust Him." 
Kristy Austin-Payne-Pate

"Learn to budget." 
Ariel Edwards

"Remember where you came from as you look to God for where you are going." 
Tina Horn

"Live at home with your parents as long as you can. Really, I would say allow Christ to lead and guide every move you make. Depend on Him and relax in His mercy and grace." 
Shawn Mason

"Stay focused on your ultimate goal in life. & remove any distraction preventing you from accomplishing that." 
Randell Curry

"Do not be afraid to fail. Through persistence and failure you will become stronger and more equipped for success." 
Uncle Brien Holcombe

"Stupid mistakes are okay but always have a mindset to accept the consequences and fix them. Nothing last forever and everything will be alright in the end. There's nothing wrong with admitting that you are wrong. Always take an opportunity when it provides itself. Don't ever give up but know when something is worth letting go. The truth is always important and saves a lot of trouble in the future. Education is important but values and morals are more important . Always try something new because there's no telling if it can change your life. I've personally learned these so far in college and they're the only ones I can think of off the top of my head" 
Nathan Gilbert

"Move away from home and learn who you are. Travel on a budget (it makes it fun and you can travel more). Plan for your future financially. Continue meeting new people and making new friends. Put your phones down and really talk to people that are all around you. Lastly, love every bit of life and find someone that loves life and Christ as much as you do!" 
Ashley Adams-Webster

"Remember that only reason and science will bring you through." 
Bob Shier

"Stay healthy" 
Derryl Groce

"Having knowledge is not the same has having wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to use your knowledge for the better." 
Stacy C. Smith

"Pick your battles, let God have control." 
Annalisa Amerson

"Use your knowledge to the best of your ability to excel in all areas of life. Stay clear of drugs and shady types of individuals. They get you in trouble. Wait until you are done with college to marry and start your family." 
Tonya Bailey

"Don't be afraid to be a little lost. You don't have to figure out the next 30 years of your life next week, next year, or even in the next decade. It's ok not to know what you want to do or be. As long as what you want to be allows you to be you. Many successful people reinvent themselves at 28, 38, and 48 so don't be worried about being 18 and not being sure. It's important to understand that life is more of a journey than a destination, and it's ok to take detours, revisit the map, and change paths. You can't put the next 40 years in the proverbial GPS of "you" and follow it to a T. They'll be construction along the way, but that's ok... Breathe, smile, and be happy. You'll find your way along the way. "
It's important to understand that life is more of a journey than a destination, and it's ok to take detours, revisit the map, and change paths. You can't put the next 40 years in the proverbial GPS of "you" and follow it to a T. They'll be construction along the way, but that's ok... Breathe, smile, and be happy. You'll find your way along the way. " 
Will Estell

"Try everything (unless it's drugs) that you're interested in." 
Cindy Woodard

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding! And ALWAYS wear sunscreen!" 
Martha Bain

"Don't register for 7:30am classes in college because you "got up that early all through high school and are used to it." It's objectively a terrible idea." 
Jonathan Gamble

"College is so much more fun when you know you'll be graduating debt free, with a degree in a practical career field with steady income. Risk taking is fine but you don't want to be financially irresponsible." 
Hannah Gay

"Just because something doesn't turn out the way you think it should, trust that God holds it and you and move on! not everything is easy, and just because someone else is doing something doesn't mean you have to the same. learn to love yourself and laugh at your mistake. take it one day at a time. and when you're late, you're already late might as well get breakfast too. " 
Raegan Thompson

"As I overheard my college junior tell a 15 year old the other day " choose a career path doing something that will make you happy , it's not all about the money " 
Kim Harris Guthary

"Find something you love to do, and work hard to do it well. And GET A JOB...You'll feel much better about yourself if you are supporting yourself." 
Lisa Sosebee

"Be an open minded leader and always willing to admit your mistakes. But above all love God." Anne Bradshaw
"Be true to yourself. God placed you here for a unique mission. If you follow through you will always have a sense of belonging to a greater cause. You will find joy and purpose in the lessons you learn. The lessons serve you or teach you what you need to share with others. Live close to nature and remember the heavenly light that you will return to someday when your mission here is done"
Anita Armbrister

"Follow your passion and do something you love. Adulting and working is hard enough...do something you love so you will be happy. Money isn't everything! You can't put a price on happiness and joy each day." 
Cindy Pair

"Keep your eyes on Jesus and get connected with like minded students if in college or not." 
Diane Smith

"Keep in mind walking distance between classes and how much time you put between each class. Schedule classes wisely. Also, email professors a week before classes start to find out if textbooks are gonna be used in class." 
Taylor Davenport

"Nothing in this life is free. Hard work pays off and so does networking! And high school is not the pinnacle of your life." 
Suzy Lindblom

"Consider other careers that doesn't necessarily need a 4 year college degree. Find and develop a trade!" 
Sally Duke

"Ask yourself who you want to help. It will do a great deal in leading you toward a fulfilling future. And, don't wait until you have all the resources/money/answers. Just start with what you have and go from there." 
Patrick Hallowell

"Never let someone influence your decisions that doesn't have a record of success! In the work force be kind and respectful to all people no matter their position there is no difference between the janitor and the CEO when it comes to respect!" 
Shawn Austin

"You can't say, "Read the Bible and follow its words. However, you can tell them to see faith, peace, strength, and joy." 
Sherry Kughn

"The medial tasks you take seriously and do your best at pay off. There is always someone watching." 
Angela Barnett

"Dream Big!!" 
Barry Russell

"Pick a career that involves something you love spending time doing! Something that you will be excited to get to everyday! You don't want to dread your day everyday!" 
Amanda Watts

"Pay your Civic Rent .....and ...if you don't lie you don't have to remember what you said!" Chip Howell

"Stay focused on your future don't let anyone sway you to get off your path. Get more education on your career.and keep steady" 
Cathi Handy

"Always try your hardest even on things you dislike. Even go out of your way to accomplish things. Employers watch for the ones that strive to improve every day. Might get yourself a raise! Also to try to make someone smile each day, you never know if that one person just needed that." 
Ryleigh Clark

"No matter what life throws at you never, ever give up. What you think is the worst thing to ever happen one day may turn out to be the next day's biggest blessing. Hang in there and trust the Lord with EVERYTHING!" 
Kelly Cline

"Follow your heart. God will lead you toward your dreams and sometimes your idea of your dream won't be what God's idea is. Welcome the change. Don't let failure get you down. Remember, you're following a path less traveled. If it was easy, everyone would do it. The difficulty makes it worth it. Don't be afraid to take chances. Oh, and don't take any class before 9 a.m. unless you have to." 
Sierra Hill

"Stay positive and always hold the door open for the person behind you. You never know who they might be." 
Stella Thomas

"Tomorrow is for second chances. Not for procrastinating."
 Sonya Bedford

"Get a job!" 
Kathy Murphy

"First-if you don't know Jesus-let me introduce you; Second-pray hard; Third-follow the Holy Spirit's leading as your life will be the BEST it can be...because you were created for a specific purpose." 
Carol Stewart

"Serve God, pray about everything, learn to manage your money, stay healthy and enjoy your life!!!" Vicki Pontero
"You may fail once, twice or even three times. Just pick yourself back up and try it again. In other words, never give up because once you do, that's when failure sets in." 
Kizzie Gooden

"Know that you will make mistakes, forgive yourself and learn from them, pray and follow God's advice (even if it's not what you want to hear), be nice to everyone, you never know what they've been though or what they may be dealing with, if you don't love your job look for another one, always have a dog...they will always love you, just because everyone else is doing it, doesn't mean it's right, don't always believe what you hear, every story has two sides, if someone really loves you they will not be mean to you, don't settle for less than the best...wait on your Prince or Princess....last one... don't use run on sentences--lol." 
Lori Campbell

"When you find your true love, hold on and fight for what you want. But real love will always find a way of working out...even if it takes 25 years to find it again." 
Sherri Allen

"I have always told both of my boys that nobody said that life is fair but hard work will pay off and the world is theirs!!!" 
Carol Lee

"Pay your bills on time.
Save at least a dollar from every paycheck. 
Take care of your family. 
Your word is your bond.
Lynn Fendlason

"Set "Achievable " goals. Don't set yourself up for failure. One step at a time!" 
Ken Rollins

"It's not your failures that define you.. it's how you move forward after.. 
.. treat the Janitor with the same respect that you would treat the President, you never know when you might encounter these people later in life 
...stay humble and have the same dignity behind closed doors that you portray in public (you sleep better )
And take ownership of your errors,
The whole band isn't always out of step.. sometimes it's YOU
AND SEND THANK YOU NOTES!!! When you receive a gift, when you have a job interview.. when someone helps you"
 Trayce Austin

"Your planner will be your best friend." 
Emma Foster

"Let fear drive you to chase your dreams! Don't miss out on things in life for fear of failure or what others think. Learn from your mistakes, but never let fear keep you frozen in life. Let it push you!" 
Addie Shake

"U DON'T have to figure everything out right now....Don't do what your parents or anyone else wants U to do but find your own passion and do what makes U happy....AND always be nice to everyone along the way cause U never know who will be your BOSS one day!!!" 
Tara Hazle

"Don't waste time and money not being 100% sure about what you want to do. At this point you should know what your passion in life is. If not, then you should sit down with s life coach to pin point what truly drives you. Don't be guilty of following someone else's dream for your life." 

Bob McClain

The past whispers constantly

This is a story of the power of listening to someone's story and caring about her journey. Still today, it makes me cry thinking about this adventure we had.

The past whispers constantly
Published in Longleaf Style, Summer 2009

The past can be haunting. For some people, lingering questions of “who am I” often distract at inconvenient times. Maybe it’s a family reunion where one blond is surrounded by a sea of dark hair. Sometimes it’s in the doctor’s office where the family history is left blank on the forms.

At other times, it is meeting a stranger and wondering, “Could she be my mother?”

Not all adopted children wonder about their birth families, but, for some, the past whispers constantly. Anniston resident Catherine “Cathi” Handy heard those whispers and grew weary of trying to drown them out. “I tried for years to find out who my birth mother was, but I didn’t know what to do,” she said. It was never a secret to Cathi that she was adopted.

The one thing that was a secret was her birth mother’s name. Any reference to her identity was blacked out on adoption papers. Cathi had treasured a few facts, she knew she was born prematurely in New Haven, Connecticut, on December 14, 1949, and she was adopted on September 17, 1950.

She knew a few nuggets about her birth mother; a single mom, abandoned by her sailor boyfriend, who was in her sixth month of pregnancy when she contacted Catholic Social Services about adoption.

“She felt unable to provide a home for her child without the support of a father or her family . . . adoption is in the best interest of the child,” the adoption papers read. Cathi’s mother also added a few details of her own, like the fact that her birth mother died. Cathi always felt this wasn’t true. A strange intuition?

Perhaps. After graduating from high school in East Haven, Connecticut, Cathi married and had two children, Jo-Ann and Steven. After her husband’s sudden death of a heart attack at 31, she was a single mom working labor jobs to pay the bills. Eventually, she re-married and moved to Alabama and came to work at The Anniston Star in the building department. In the midst of her adult life, she attempted to find information about her birth mother and even left a letter with Catholic Social Services.

She heard nothing.

Life went on.

The Search 
There are times when a conversation is idle and has little life-changing value. But, often, if you listen closely you will find something priceless.

One morning in October 2007, Cathi and I, a friend and co-worker, had our usual chat about the day’s work and somehow her love of opera came up. She said something like, “I wonder if my birth mother liked opera.” I was curious about her comment. I had to know more.

As I listened to her share the disappointments about not knowing her medical history and exactly where she fits in a the family tree, I wrote down all the details she had gathered through the years. She was ready to know more. Besides, her adoptive parents were both deceased and she felt a quest for the truth would not be painful to them.

“I had a good life, I have no regrets.” she told me. I wanted to help Cathi. As a former church social worker, I had contacts. My first call was to Catholic Social Services in New Haven, Connecticut. The organization emailed an “Adoption Reunion Registration” form, which Cathi and I completed on October 31, 2007. If her birth mother had completed the same form, then she would be reunited.

We hoped against hope. I also made a call to the probate office and inquired about adoption laws in Connecticut. Then, we waited. After several months, we knew the next step had to be taken. So, on May 9, 2008 we completed a “Search” form with Catholic Social Services and sent it along with a $200 search fee.

Then, we waited some more.

Occasionally, I called the caseworker and told her all about Cathi’s excitement and prayers while inquiring about the search. Since the adoption was in 1950, our contact had her work cut out for her. In July, the caseworker called to tell me that she was being reassigned, but she wanted resolution on the case before she left.

Cathi and I got to the point of not even bringing up the search when we passed each other in the hall at work. We just nodded. Our patience couldn’t handle the pressure of conversation.

Then, On September 9, 2008 I received a call from the new caseworker. The news was not good. She faxed a death certificate. I called Cathi and told her that I had news.

As we sat in my work area, I started to cry as I told her that her birth mother died of breast cancer in 2004. Along with our year-long search, Cathi’s journey ended. But, much to my surprise, Cathi said, “But, you know her name!”

She then whispered “Mary” a few times. Also, she wondered out loud if she had any siblings. Cathi and I had been on this quest too long to stop. We were committed to the search. I called the local newspaper in New Haven to get a copy of Mary’s obituary and was referred to the library. After another form, another fee, and another search, a copy of the obituary was mailed. Cathi now had the name of Mary’s husband and children. A quick Internet search yielded an address.

Cathi wrote a letter. More waiting.

Almost a year to the date from the beginning of our search, Cathi received a phone call from Ellena, her half-sister. I received a call from Ellena as well. It seemed she had been searching for Cathi for many years, as had her mother.

Mary and Ellena didn’t have much information to help in their searches. Mary, Ellena said, had been told that her baby died. She always felt it wasn’t true. Strange intuition indeed.

Mary’s Story 
Mary was, in fact, an unwed mother in 1949 and was “promised the world” by her boyfriend, until she got pregnant that is. Raised in a strict Roman Catholic Italian family, Mary’s father was abusive and put the 19-year-old out of the house. She lived with family and friends. Since the time her mother died when she was six, Mary had probably never felt more alone. She turned to Catholic Social Services as her last resort.

When Cathi was born in 1949, Mary was still under the influence of her strict father. She was torn between doing what was right in the eyes of her culture, family, and faith regarding keeping her baby. She knew her firstborn was a girl, but she never got to hold her baby. After her discharge from the hospital, Mary went back and told them she changed her mind and wanted to keep her baby. She was informed the baby didn’t survive. She went back again a few days later and was told again the baby didn’t live.

She was taught to not question authority; so she went on with life. Mary married the love of her life and they had three sons and a daughter. Ellena told me that she and her father were the only ones who knew about Cathi, but it wasn’t something she talked about much. When she died of breast cancer, Mary told her daughter to find her sister. It would be na├»ve to say that this story had the happy ending that Cathi, Ellena and Mary dreamed about. As the two sisters get acquainted, the life of their mother is resurrected through memories. This is not always a comfortable feeling for other family members, such as Mary’s 80-year-old husband. He held the secret close to him during his 54-year marriage and from their church and community. It’s safe to say that even in death, Mary is under the influence of a strict code of silence.

Now, after finding each other, Ellena and Cathi are getting to know each other and plan to meet in New Haven In July. Cathi plans to take Ellena to the opera because she has never been. They will hug, share stories and visit Mary’s grave. More than anything, they will realize that Cathi, Ellena and Mary are not connected because of a haunting past, but through their roots.

Theresa Shadrix is managing editor of Longleaf Style. She counts her experience as helping Cathi locate her birth family as a precious one. 


Friday, January 29, 2016

My Home's in Alabama

This was originally published on A Good Blog is Hard to Find. on Monday, June 15, 2009.


Kathryn Tucker Windham, Scarey Ann, and Theresa Shadrix at the 2009 Alabama Book Festival. 

With the latest issue of Longleaf Style magazine focusing on roots, even a Bubba could figure out why I’ve been thinking so much about home and the South. In the summer (2009) issue, we have Rick Bragg’s “Why I write about home”, Diane McWhorter wrote about Birmingham and the civil rights and Nathalee Dupree gives a tasty ode to Southern cooking. To think about anything other than the South would a downright shame after reading it.

Truth be known, I used to feel somewhat like a carpetbagger. Yes, I was born in the South and I’ve lived in the South for over two decades. But, my childhood memories of the South are slim, thanks to my mother’s second marriage to an Army man.

With two separate tours in Germany, I was a bonified cultured girl. I toured castles and camped under the stars in Munich. I shopped stores downtown markets. I bought fresh pretzels from street vendors. I never went to church and didn’t know one single thing about VBS, GA’s, or Sunday School. I learned to play soccer with kids who couldn’t speak English. I listened to Oingo Boingo, Led Zeppelin, and Generation X. I got my ears pierced in Frankfurt. I read C.S. Lewis and Trixie Beldon.

I was in the 9th grade when my family returned to the South and made our home in Alabama. I couldn’t have been more out of touch with Southern reality as I was then. In the mid-80s, I was a European-inspired fashionista who talked funny. My “oil” rhymed with boil and I had not grasped the concept that anything that came before “bless your heart” was probably an insult in sweet disguise. I didn’t eat biscuits or grits or lard in my green beans. I had never seen the Andy Griffith Show. I was really quite pitiful.

But, I’ve come a long way. I married a born-and-bred Southern boy almost 18 years ago. 

I live in the country and drive by pastures with grazing cows every day o my way to work. 

I can make biscuits from scratch, prefer creamed potatoes to rice, can’t stand to eat those five minute boxed grits and green beans are not cooked unless seasoned with a touch of lard. 

I reference tweezers to Barney and hunting tigers. 

I love my relationship with Jesus Christ more than I love fried okra and home-grown tomatoes. 

I also prefer to listen to Rick & Bubba than Larry the Cable Guy because they are real good ol’ boys. Speaking of which, I’m not scared of rednecks, overalls, trucks or camo shorts. I can’t wear white to before Easter, even if they do in New York. I don’t flinch if I see a Memaw put a pinch of chewing tobacco in her mouth after supper. And, for Heaven’s sake, I capitalize “South”.

And, I love Southern authors!

As an editor, no writer has influenced me more than Kathryn Tucker Windham because she was one of the first “girl reporters” in Alabama. And, she has a mess of talent even at 91 and she really, really loves the South. 

At the 2009 Alabama Book Festival, she told the crowd that something was wrong with people who put sugar in cornbread. She was serious too. She cried when I gave her a "Scarey Ann" doll that I found online. If you don't know why "Scarey Ann" means so much to her, well, read her latest book "Spit, Scarey Ann & Sweat Bees."

I really love to recommend Southern authors to my friends cause there is nothing like telling someone, “”One Mississippi” by Mark Childress will leave you feeling a little beside yourself, but just remember that not everyone down here is crazy. He just wrote it that way for fun.”

Most recently, I recommended Cassandra King’s “Sunday Wife” to a northern writer friend, who is also a pastor’s wife. 

I also told one friend, who suffered minor headaches, to read “Ray in Reverse” by Daniel Wallace and she said she had to think so much that it cured her. (I’ve also learned to embrace my sense of humor, which, I think, comes from walking barefoot in red clay in Alabama.) 

The only books by northerners I recommend are “Life with Father” by Clarence Day, Jr., who died in 1935, and anything by Erma Bombeck.


My list of authors who influence, entertain and, sometimes, warp me is very long. I bet it will continue to grow. I like reading Southern authors because they make me feel at home. 

I may have lived for a few years in another country but I wouldn’t live anywhere else than in Alabama. I think it’s because the South has a way of wrapping her arms around you and squeezing the city right out of you. Bless all our hearts.