Thanks, J.B.!

The last words I spoke to my Daddy while leaning over his hospital bed and giving him a kiss were these, “you are the best Daddy in the whole entire world.” I was blessed along with many of you who have or had a wonderful father.

Today I want to give a shout-out to J.B., my kids’ Dad. I am so grateful for all the ways in which he has blessed our children.

#1 – From the very start JB was “all-in.” He painted the nursery, stood with me as I delivered all three with no major drugs, changed diapers, rocked and walked crying babies, fed baby food, and cleaned up lots of messes. He encouraged me to attend women’s events and was always willing to keep the kids. He took us to youth camp with him, bringing a babysitter along to help. He has loved his role as Dad and showed up for everything our kids did. When the boys were young he was one of their coaches. While he may not have known all the strategies of the sport, he was the one who high-fived all the kids and told them they were great and getting better by the minute! Every play or concert we were often a little late because he had to stop and get flowers to present to Mary Margaret when the performance was over. He initiated a Valentines Date with her every year – a dress-up affair, with her usually getting to choose where to go. These are all great memories for our kids to treasure.

#2 JB is the Fun Dad. In fifth grade Rob had to fill in blanks on a sheet, describing his family. His entries included, My Mom is a workaholic.  My Dad is a party animal.  That got lots of laughs from all the teachers and parents who saw it on the wall outside the classroom. And it was true. (In my own defense, somebody had to be in charge of maintenance, and that was me, and it took lots of work!) Meanwhile JB provided the fun, the spontaneous, the out-of-the box experiences that we still talk about today. Somehow in our family a tradition was established that every year every kid had a big birthday party. One year J.B. planned a party on a friend’s pontoon boat. It became memorable when the motor stopped (or maybe we ran out of gas?) and we had to call someone to come tow us in! (Thank goodness for cell phones!) Another year, when the kids were in middle school a party was in our backyard with tons of kids doing hilarious relays and games that he had done in his student ministry days. I was in charge of food and he was in charge of the fun and games. Even today our kids’ friends remind of us the fun they had at our parties. Thanks, J.B.!

Children become what you say they are.

#3 J.B. is the ultimate encourager to all, but especially to our kids. I learned something from him early in our marriage – he told me, “children become what you say they are.” At first I did not understand that, but as I watched him encourage many students in the churches we served, I watched so many blossom and become absolutely amazing, confident, fine young adults. The same has been true for our children. He has believed in them, encouraged them to pursue their dreams, and come alongside them with help and consolation when it was time to start all over again. They have always known their Dad thinks they can accomplish anything they set their minds to do.

#4 J.B. has vision. He knew that our kids would benefit greatly from some experiences that I would not have imagined possible. They went to Kanakuk Kamps for several years. The counselors and whole Kamp experiences were incredibly influential in our children’s growth and decisions and maturity. I cannot say enough about how thankful I am for that. We took our kids, along with other families, on a mission trip to the Northwest one summer. Working together with new friends to further God’s kingdom in another part of the country was a great experience. The year JB and I went to a conference in Europe, the boys went along and attended the youth camp. It was JB who let folks over there know our boys’ strengths. Rob had opportunity to speak to peers in Germany, and Wes was needed (and delighted!) to run sound for the youth camp in Switzerland!

#5 J.B. has put up with me.  Enough said ….

In summary, and sparing many more details, J.B. is not perfect … neither am I … neither are our kids. BUT, J.B. has been and continues to be a great dad to our children.

love Jesus, love who they are, love others

He told me early on that his goal for our children was that they would love Jesus with all their hearts, that they would be happy to be who they are, and that they would love other people.

Congratulations, J.B.  I believe we have seen this come to pass. Happy Fathers’ Day!


My Boy Rob

Yesterday afternoon Rob called.  “Guess what I’m doing, Mom?” he asked. My mind raced around but I could not think of a good answer. He hinted, “think about what today is.” I mentioned it was Wednesday but he said, “No, not the day, think about the date.” As I brought the date, June 3, to mind, suddenly I burst out, “You’re driving!!!!”  “Yes!” he replied with great joy and satisfaction. June 3 marked six months since Rob had a seizure and finally he has his “get out of jail free card” and can safely drive again. What a relief to be able to go to the grocery, get his car inspected, run a few errands and just ride around without having to call a friend to chauffeur him everywhere. Rob is an amazing young man and I am so proud to call him my boy. Here are a few of the highlights that make Rob so special:

Rob does not complain. We have been dealing with seizures for over ten years now and there have been some very scary and difficult times. He is a writer and I think he processes things through his writing. One of his funniest and most honest blogs was one he wrote while being treated at the Mayo Clinic.The date of his post was May 5 and the title of his post was Cinco de Mayo (pun intended), totally Rob-style! He has chosen to accept the physical challenge that lives within his body but does not let it stop him from pursuing his dreams and goals. When he can’t drive, he asks for help from friends, and they always pitch in and keep him on the move. For the past six months he has never griped about his situation but has gotten his exercise walking to and from home and work and class each day. Most of us would stage frequent pity parties, but not my boy.

Rob is a spark plug in our family. We just wrapped up our family vacation at Daytona. Early in the week I announced that since none of our kids could go to our Leavell Family Reunion in July at the University of Virginia, JB and I had decided not to go either; we would just take a year off. Now a year off really means three years off since we only have reunions every three years. My brother, Theo, said if we weren’t going then he would quit pushing Vicki and their daughter Mindy and husband and two young children to go; they would just go back to the beach instead.

Then comes Rob …….

Then comes Rob….. He decided we all should go and he got on a high horse about it. He could work out taking a little time off from work; he could even contribute to the very expensive plane ticket from Ft. Worth. He encouraged his siblings to do so as well. (One could, the other could not.) And then he shared his enthusiasm with cousin Mindy. The subject stayed on the table the whole week. So, no surprise, JB and I are going, Mary Margaret and Rob are going, Theo and Vicki as well as Mindy and Michael and Willie and Ruby.  So our family will be well represented at this year’s reunion. We all agreed we will not regret going but we may have regretted not going. Reservations are made and we are all excited. Thank you, Rob!

Rob is a social butterfly. That term comes straight from an article on birth order that I read in Real Simple magazine today. The middle child is most often described as “social butterfly and expert at negotiation.” That certainly is the case with our boy! Like his Daddy, Rob makes friends everywhere he goes and as described above he certainly can negotiate and inspire others to get on board! Rob loves people and a party, and when he is around, life is just more fun.

Social butterfly and expert at negotiation!

Rob is a great conversationalist. He is one who thinks deeply and loves to explore interesting and important ideas with just about anyone, including me! He is well-read and a continual learner; he is not afraid to pursue people he admires and respects so he can engage them in conversation and maybe learn a few new things. While a student at the seminary one of his odd jobs was picking up important people at the airport and driving them to campus. On more than one occasion Rob got so excited over someone he got to know and chat with; he even snagged a few invitations to join an interesting group for dinner at a really nice restaurant. That’s my boy!

Rob is a student. He loves to learn and functions extremely well in an academic environment. Studying and writing seem natural and almost easy for him. He is passionate about things. Currently his interest career-wise is in the field of ethics. His faith in God is strong and his commitment to Christ is rock solid. He is fascinated with the connection between faith and work; faith and entertainment; faith and sports; faith and the arts. Rob wants to make a difference in our country and in our world helping others to see how we can impact society understanding who we are, whose we are, and why we must do all that we do with excellence. It’s all for God’s glory.

Rob is a great friend. All of his life Rob has made the very best friends. He has a great memory and knows most of his friends’ birthdays. He calls them every year, just to touch base and see how they are doing. What a thoughtful gesture! I have never met a friend of Rob’s that I did not also come to love. J.R. is one of his buddies from Samford. He was waffling between becoming a doctor or a lawyer. When Rob had his worst accident with a seizure, J.R. stuck with him as he was taken to the hospital and stayed close till we could get there. Guess what? J.R. is just about to start his residency as an E.R. doctor! Rob’s “situation” helped J.R. confirm his calling. Keith is another one. Rob asked if a friend of his could come live with us in Little Rock for three months while he did a rotation in P.T. school. We had never even met Keith so I was a little hesitant. But Rob reminded me, “Mom, you love all my friends; I promise you will love Keith.” And, we did!  He is an amazing young man and our lives were enriched by having him in our home. Today Keith is a physical therapist in Nashville and he talked with Mary Margaret yesterday and helped her schedule the best rehab she needs for her ankle now that she is off crutches and soon to be rid of her boot! Thank you, God, for friends of our family who keep on blessing our lives.

Rob will be 29 on June 11. Hard to believe that my sweet little boy who always had to fix his hair just right and always shared and always made us laugh is a grown-up man. Thanks, Rob, for all the good memories. (And we will try to forget the not so good ones!) It is with joy that we relish every day with you and look forward to your amazing future!

That’s my boy.


The White Flower Club

On Sunday I became a member of the white flower club. When I woke up early on Mothers’ Day, the first thing that came to mind was that I would be wearing a white flower this year instead of a red one if this tradition was still active. All day long I kept thinking about that.

Let me explain. When I was growing up, on Mothers’ Day everyone wore a flower to church – and I mean everyone! Those whose mothers were living wore a red flower and those whose mothers had died wore a white one. Mama was not much of a gardener, but she did have a red rose bush that was typically in full bloom in early May. I remember being sent outside early morning on Mothers’ Day to cut three red roses – for Mama, my brother, and me. We were blessed to have my sweet grandmother living across the street from us so Mama got to wear a red flower also. But Daddy’s mother had died young. Mama always called my Uncle Doodle at Murphey Florist and ordered a white rose to be delivered to the house for Daddy to wear. So, off to church we went every Mothers’ Day and joined all of our friends also wearing red or white flowers.

I have not thought about this tradition from my childhood and hometown in years, BUT this year it consumed me all day long. Grief is funny like that; it hits you in the strangest ways.

Grief is funny like that; it hits you in the strangest way.

The past months since Mama died on Nov. 29th have been a whirlwind. I have literally felt like a hamster on a wheel that just would not stop spinning so I have been forced to keep running. The things that have had to be done – only those who have walked this path know what I’m talking about. The hardest thing is that regular life just kept happening, other challenges and heartaches presented themselves, all while I was just trying to survive Mama’s death and tackle my long list.  I wanted to scream – “wait, wait, wait!”, but that was not an option.

Just to illustrate – our son Rob graduated with his Masters’ degree in December – a happy occasion to celebrate. Our daughter, Mary Margaret, fell on the ice in Nashville on February 16 and crushed her ankle. I did just what my Mama always did for me – I showed up for surgery and became her side-kick for months – back and forth between Nashville and Newnan. And then – whew – my precious Aunt JoAnn Leavell – my other mother, died in March. This brought on another wave of grief and realization that “we” are quickly becoming “the grown-ups.” Can the world please slow down for a minute?

Life doesn’t stop to give us time to grieve; we have to learn to grieve and keep living. This life lesson cannot be learned ahead of time.

Life doesn’t stop to give us time to grieve; we have to learn to grieve and keep living.

The good news is that I am blessed in the midst of this unpleasant chapter of life.

Blessing #1  I just have one brother and the good news is that Theo and I get along! I know this is huge – not everyone has a good relationship with siblings. Theo is an attorney and has always handled Mama’s “paperwork” and that has been such a relief. He discusses things with me, takes care of the necessary communications, and keeps me informed! That’s a good deal for me. We decided to go through Mama’s house together – just the two of us. It took F-O-R-E-V-E-R. Initially we met every couple of weeks for a few hours. We took it room by room and had many trips down memory lane as we opened every drawer and cleaned out every cabinet and closet. Let me summarize – Mama. Saved. Things.

Blessing #2  I have said before that Mama was the most organized person I’ve ever known. She put a tiny number on the bottom of most everything in her house; then she made a long list describing the items – where they came from and what was the significance. Hundreds of items were cataloged and as we went through her things, with the list in hand, we were reminded or learned for the first time the significance. We now have treasures that came from all sides of our family – things passed down from parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents.  Thank you, Mama! What a blessing for us and our children.

Blessing #3  Mama’s house sold and we didn’t even have to put it on the market! An offer was made and we accepted. This was a huge blessing and what came with it was a deadline. For a month Theo and I met at the house almost every afternoon and stepped up our process of cleaning out and dividing. When friends have gone through this I never knew how emotional and physical and hard it is. Now I do. It has been exhausting.

I could go on and on. But I will stop for now. People told me that when both parents have died you will feel like an orphan. That feeling has not been troubling, but the realization that frightens me is the fact the “we” are now the “grown-ups,” the ones whose decisions will influence the younger generation coming behind us. At my age and now as an official member of The White Flower Club, I pray my choices and life will give honor to the Lord and to my parents who set a great example before me. Counting my blessings and acknowledging things I am grateful for each day has brought the best comfort in this time of grief.


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