Category Archives: relationships, family stories

Where Have I Been???



“Sometimes the person who’s been there for everyone else needs to be there for herself.” S. Kim Henson

I’m funniest in the shower, like this morning. I asked myself a slightly revised question from the movie Sabrina, and in the same tone William Holden asked it of Audrey Hepburn, “Where have I been all my life?”

I laughed, and then, giving it a second thought, genuinely asked it out loud, “Where have I been all my life?”

By the time I wrapped myself in a towel, I sounded annoyed, “Where have I been all my life?”

An hour later, I scrolled through Christmas photos on my phone and found the one I shared above of my three-year-old granddaughter. Her self-studying picture reminded me I hadn’t answered my question, and to answer it gently.

A friend’s suggestion to evaluate my life in seven-year scenes, or thereabouts, seemed a good idea for coming up with an account of where I’ve been. Aside from specifics, maybe you’ll relate.

I spent the first eight years or so of my life – Scene One – growing up on military bases in New York. Mom disliked being away from her family in South Carolina, which meant Dad tried appeasing her until he could get her back to the South. Homesick wasn’t all that was wrong, so I set out at a very young age to figure out and fix us.

I confused a playful childhood with child labor – trying to be silly enough, cute enough, and obedient enough to give Mom and Dad reasons to lighten up, laugh, and be happy in place of her crying and him covering his pain with anger.

Dad was stationed in Vietnam the first year of Scene Two, around the time I turned nine. He moved Mom, my brother, and me to Mom’s childhood home in South Carolina, which also meant being moved in with my great aunt who raised my mom. I cherished Aunt Viola, but I think Dad felt differently. When he returned to the states, he bought a motel in a nearby resort town and lived there seven, then eight, and finally nine months out of every year.

By then, I was hiding out because we weren’t normal anymore. We no longer had a dad, a mom, and siblings living together while Dad worked 9 to 5. Being “not normal anymore” also meant my mentally ill uncle moved in and out of my great aunt’s house, so he lived with us on and off. His disturbing behavior left behind even more to hide.

During Scene Three, I graduated from high school, chose a local college since I was too anxious to move away, and attached myself to my future husband to help me escape the house I wouldn’t leave. We eloped at age 20. Mom gifted us baby presents because she was certain I’d run off to get married because I’d gotten pregnant. Our first child was born five years later.

I ran, although uncertain where I was headed. In retrospect, I was making a run for the metaphorical white picket fence, a place where I convinced myself I’d feel loved enough, taken care of enough, and safe enough.

For the next 28 years, the next four scenes of my life, I moved back to my hometown to live close by my parents who I eventually distanced myself from. I made up a fairytale marriage. I birthed and raised two children (who, by the way, are my two accomplishments that are “enough”). I worked determinedly and went back to school for degrees to teach, counsel, supervise, and write so as to increase my income and my self-worth, and to prove myself to people who weren’t paying much attention. I chose some wrong friends who made me feel important for the same “wrong” reason I picked them – their prominence, not their praiseworthiness. Most of my actions were okay, but my motives, well, not so much. I did a lot of what I did in hopes that I’d earn enough, buy enough, elevate myself enough, help enough, be seen enough, be needed enough, accomplish enough to ultimately persuade myself I was enough.

I immersed myself in other people’s scenes so I wouldn’t have to engage in my own conflicted ones. I lost myself in their lives because I wasn’t sure how to get my own.

It wasn’t until my most recent scene, preceded by Dad’s death and when I was coming up on 50, that I began showing up the way I believe we’re supposed to – for me, for my life’s purpose, and for my God. I stepped back from being confused, hiding, running, and immersing myself in others. I’m excited you’re still reading because this is the scene with the hashtags, the ones that help us focus on ourselves. #selfcaringin2017 #gettingyourownlife #whilelovingthepeopleinit

But first, before I worked my way up to wondering Where have I been all my life?, I wondered where all these people, places, and things in my life came from. At half-a-century-old (that’ll get your attention), I was no longer able to disregard uncomfortable questions that kept surfacing.


Questions like …

Why am I living in this big house? In this town? Why do I do for others what they can and should do for themselves? Why do I spend time with people I discern aren’t friends or even kind, for that matter? Why’d I spend money on that? Why do I tolerate disrespect? Lying? Others calling me crazy when they’re the ones driving me there? Why don’t I feel emotionally safe? Why don’t I fit in at church? Any church? Ever? Why do I rise to others’ expectations, but not my own? Why am I avoiding the gym? Why do I sidestep genuine friendships? Why am I procrastinating when productivity makes me feel good? Why don’t I pick up the phone when I need someone? Why don’t I like to cook? Why do I make writing difficult? Why am I eating a third Reese Cup?

Nine years of “cleaning house,” sometimes literally like the time we downsized from 4,000 to 1,000 square feet, and I’m finally asking the foundational question that undergirds the rest, “Where have I been all my life?”

 … and how appropriate for it to pop into my head at the start of 2017, the year I’ve committed to self-care … and how appropriate during a shower because water is a big part of my self-care.


 So, where have I been all my life? Answer the question, already.

I’m where most of us are right now, no matter our ages – I’m right here (like on the map in a shopping center: “You are here”) and doing all I can to make my story better. Aren’t we all? Isn’t “being better” what most of us attempt daily in our lives? We try to look younger, eat healthier, get wealthier, promote louder, work harder, act calmer, help further, workout longer, treat others kinder, connect deeper, pray profounder, feel stronger, and all so we’ll be better.

We just want to “arrive,” and though arriving is impossible this side of heaven, I believe one inroad to being better is self-care. I hope you’re with me since it’s easier to get better together. #selfcaringin2017

In This Together,

I’m inviting you back next week to read about acceptance and tolerance. #selfcaring2017 #whilelovingthepeopleinit


Marriage, Messes and Miracles


“… I still hesitate, hoping for a miracle. I forget the miracle is already here.” Anonymous (from devotional reading mentioned below)

My husband John and I were attracted to each other kind of like moths to fire.

He liked that I was quiet, and that my family sat in silence around the kitchen table, listening to each other’s forks scrape the plates.

I liked that he was loud, and that his family was whooping it up during mealtimes … laughing, talking all at once, sometimes even hollering.

We were proof positive that opposites attract. Only thing is, we found out our families weren’t all that different. And that we were attracted because we looked like ”home” to each other.

And that together, we weren’t the perfect couple or a good match or even okay.

We concocted separate plans to settle our differences. He figured we would be okay if he ignored that we weren’t. He got quiet. I figured we’d be okay if I pointed out everything that needed fixing so I got loud.

With all that ignoring and pointing, we found ourselves in a mess, and clueless how to fix it, so we had two children.

I made lists of relational concerns that needed attention. He’d shake his head and walk away. After years of trying our best, our unresolved fights ended the same way over and over.

I’d say, “It’s going to take a miracle to fix this.”

Somewhere along the way, that verdict became a prayer. I wish I could say I prayed it faithfully, but I worried if our marriage would survive. I worried about the effects on our children. I worried what price we’d have to pay to fix the mess we made.

I added to my prayer, “In the end, help our family not be humiliated or devastated.”

Like most repair jobs, our lives got worse before they got better. For a long time, I couldn’t see one bit of improvement. In fact, I had no idea we were mid-miracle until the night of the phone call turned wakeup call. The unsettling news from the other end was an indirect result of our ignoring and pointing, but it also prompted changes that may not have happened otherwise.

“Not exactly what I was hoping for,” I said. “But could this be our miracle?”

A couple of days and a box of Kleenex later, John asked if I realized the call came on August 6th. It’s the date of a significant devotional reading that has offered reassurance when I quit a job, encouragement when we bought a house, and comfort when my dad died.

It’s a hope-filled reading about miracles.

Do you have a marriage miracle to share? Or maybe you’re in need of one? I’m honored to pray alongside you for yours.

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Dear God, most of us could use a miracle, and we’d spare ourselves if we trusted you to know when, where and what kind. I hope ours offers hope to others.

On the side: John and I recently celebrated our 34th anniversary, one day at time.

Wrapped in Gratitude, memories of an imperfect dad


“Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.” Lionel Hampton

I stook over a bed strewn with ribbon, tape and wrapping paper when I felt overcome with gratitude for knowing how to wrap gifts.

Dad used to stand for hours during Christmastime over the bed in an extra room upstairs. He’d meticulously wrap every gift, adding matching ribbon and bow. He also wrapped at our family’s dress shop during the holiday season.

I watched him tape the gift so it wouldn’t shift about, fold the edges of paper to align both sides exactly (there are two ways to do this), tie a ribbon around the package, and make many of the bows by hand even though we had a bow-making machine.

It’s not the first time I’ve felt this sort of gratitude for my father.

However, it may be the first time I’ve felt appreciation alongside opposing thoughts … too many holidays filled with anger and pain.

For years, unpleasant feelings tangled up our lives sort of like a string of Christmas lights just retrieved from the attic. Do you ever wonder how they get in such a mess just lying there throughout the year?

Today’s post is about assessments and awakenings, about this year’s Christmas and Christmases past.

Today’s post, wrapped neatly in Christmas paper and a matching bow just like Dad’s, is about gratitude in the midst of imperfection.

This day I’m entertained by all Dad gave, like the cartoonish boat captain figurine that looks happy in our living room and baseball-sized earrings he spray painted gold as a gift when I pierced my ears – instead of being bothered by what I think I missed in our relationship.

This day I’m enthusiastic about the creativity he passed down to me and to his grandkids, our inherited love of home improvement stores, and the renovation tips my husband and I learned from him – instead of low-spirited about his bad habits I made my own.

This day I’m indebted that not only can I wrap an attractive gift, but I can tuck the top bed sheet tight enough for military inspection, mow and edge a yard like a landscaper and, if I want to, scrub a bathroom with Comet till it’s sparkling clean. Just like Dad.

I’d love to hear your season’s gratitude list.

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – This Christmas, my memories are wrapped in gratitude. I hope yours are also.

Coffee Shop Moments, staying open to possibilities


“The most beautiful things cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart.” Helen Keller

My husband John and I ran to the overhang, holding the same umbrella. Both of us wet from our knees down when we got inside, I pulled off my shoes and sat cross-legged on the overstuffed corduroy sofa.

Our son Rusty met us there and asked if his sister was coming.

We were settled at a local coffee shop that smelled of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and coffee brewing behind the counter.

Fifteen minutes passed before Kelly’s broken umbrella caught the doorframe while she pulled at the sleeve of her raincoat to take it off.

She volunteered to take pictures for Rusty’s lawn care website, the one he was making plans for while he drank a mug of hot chocolate. His dad and I said she had to include a photo of him balancing a rake upside down in the palm of his hand, like when he was kid and avoiding work.

All the while, water splashed off the windows.

“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but I’m tempted to join in. I’ve never heard so much laughter,” said a woman walking toward the door.

Until she spoke, our conversation was surreal.

Kelly headed to work. Rusty had plans with friends. Goodbyes left John and me reflecting on the afternoon, the one I initially thought was ruined by the downpour.

In the place of my plans, our family talked for hours in a cozy coffee shop on a rainy afternoon. Perhaps Kelly put it best, “Time just stood still, didn’t it?”

I’d love to hear about your coffee shop moment.

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – That magical day taught me to show up, even sopping wet, and stay open to possibilities.

On This Election Day … vote. leave the results to God.

"Never talk religion or politics." Unknown

“Never talk religion or politics.” Unknown (Photo from iStock)

When I stepped into the voting booth this morning, it occurred to me I had no idea whether my parents were Republicans or Democrats.

Strange, huh?

I typically vote straight ticket and today was no exception. However, if Dad and Mom had been in line, they could have just as easily canceled out my efforts as supporting them. I would never know.

How did I live for most of my life in the same household or only miles apart, talk politics during family gatherings, and  yet, I can’t make an educated guess at their political preference?

The explanation likely lies in my dad’s 20-plus years of military service.

In our home, degrading the country’s leaders was unacceptable. Not that Dad didn’t believe in freedom of speech; he did. He simply believed we did our talking at the polls by voting. The results he left to God.

The joke I made to my husband, “I’ve voted, so now I can complain,” was just that, a joke.

What’s your stand on political talk?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Dear God, remind me when I’m tempted to grumble and criticize that positive results come from positive action. Prayer, entrusting our country to your care, and quiet acceptance are dignified choices.

Yabba Dabba Doo (cartoon characters in the family)


EL (Pop Pop) Henson

Google announced today the celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Flintstones.

Earlier in the week, I posted EL’s famous family sayings.

EL is my father-in-law. He’s also known as Everett Laverne, Ever Lovin’, Slim, Dad, Pop Pop and, most importantly on this occasion, a look-alike to Fred Flintstone.

I couldn’t resist a quick post and a link to fun facts about The Flintstones.

Do you have any cartoon characters in your family?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – I hope your characters are as entertaining as mine.

Southern-Style Wisdom Passed Down, enjoy it like we say it


“South Cackalacky – it’s not just a place, it’s a state of mind.” Unknown

Our relationship started like most, all over each other like “white on rice.”

John would pick me up in his 1966 blue and white station wagon and borrow a one-liner from his dad, “You look finer than frog hair.” We’d eat dinner, dance at a local club and usually end up parked behind his dad’s service station, “playing smushy face.”

John worked with his dad who everyone called EL (Everett Laverne or Ever Lovin’ – you choose after reading this). John pumped gas, took apart Volkswagen engines, and continued to be shaped by his dad’s sayings.

When I’d drive off after visiting them at work, particularly on a date night, I’d roll down my car window so EL could tell me, “Be good. If you can’t be good, be careful. If you can’t be careful, name it after me.”

Our wedding in a nutshell was the day John “bought the cow because the milk wasn’t free”. EL was there for us after we married, with cooking advice for me, “I wouldn’t eat that with your mouth,” and counsel to John if he wasn’t acting husbandly, “Smooth move, Ex-Lax.”

We were confident when we had children EL’s words would live on and influence them as well. Both times I was pregnant, he said, “You look like you swallowed an air hose.” If he hadn’t told me, who would?

In the kids’ younger years, he saved our son’s life, “You’re starving the boy to death. He’s so hungry he could eat the north end out of a southbound mule.” He saved our daughter’s social life, “If you keep cuttin’ her bangs that short she’s not gonna die, she’s gonna ugly away.”

John quoted his dad during our kids’ elementary school years. When enough was enough, he told them, “I’m going to beat you like a redheaded stepchild.” Every kid knows that’s a bad spanking. If they cried about not getting their way, John said, “I’m going to give you something to cry about.” And if they were good, they were “gooder than goat grease.”

He relied on his dad’s insights during the more-trying middle school days, when the kids whined, “Why can’t I? Everyone else is doing it.” He’d answer, “Don’t let your hippopotamus mouth overload your hummingbird butt.” As soon as our daughter “got a little too big for her britches,” he told her so. The day our son took a step toward him, John stepped up as well, “You aren’t big enough to whoop your old man, and by the time you are, you won’t want to.”

When our kids were high-schoolers, we heard, “If I had a TV, a phone in my room, a car, my own laptop, your credit card, and if I didn’t have to work for any of them, I’d be mature.” John said, “If a bullfrog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his butt.”

One of the kids would leave the house in a huff, “Limp on down the shoulder on the rim.”

They’d disappear when they thought we wanted them around, “I think they went to the bathroom and the hogs ate ‘em.”

And when teachers called about homework not being turned in, “We buy you books, send you to school and all you do is chew the backs off. We don’t want anymore calls, understood?”

The kids have long since moved out and moved on. On their packing day, John shared the same wisdom his dad shared with him, “The door only swings one way.”

To John and EL’s credit, their legacy lives on. Our daughter lives in South Cackalacky (that’s South Carolina, Southern style). And I overheard our son telling a friend, “My dad said when I was big enough to whoop him, I wouldn’t want to. And he was right.”

Surely you have some sayins to share with us. Go ahead. I’m dying to read them.

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Southern-style livin’ may not top the list for being politically correct, but let me tell you, I’m tickled pink with how our family turned out. Thanks to old-fashioned, ever-lovin’ common sense.

Day is Done, a tribute to my dad

Metal sculpture by Bob Doster.

Metal sculpture by Bob Doster.

Dad stopped to watch a flag waving high on the flagpole. I stood quietly beside him and squinted to see its red and white stripes.

I looked up at Dad in a starched blue shirt tucked neatly into his creased uniform pants. The eight silver stripes on his jacket sleeve caught the sun. Chief Master Sergeant – I liked the way it sounded. I could smell his cologne.

The bugler played Taps over the loud speaker. Its solitary sound echoed throughout the Air Force base. Every afternoon at 5, cars came to a standstill, soldiers stood at attention, business-as-usual halted.

Day is done.

We walked to meet Mom and my brother at the commissary. A soldier saluted. Dad saluted back. The soldier was gone before I could tell him, “That’s my dad.”

Dad accomplished a lot in his lifetime, but for me, nothing measured up to “growing up military.”

I didn’t find out until after Dad died that he was nominated for the country’s highest enlisted level of leadership in his branch, a title held by one non-commissioned officer at a time, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. Dad was like that, humble about his service even though I watched him pin medals on his uniform, assume more work than he had to, and leave his family to go on extra tours of duty. He postponed his retirement to serve in Vietnam.

He set the bar high for patriotism. I never once heard Dad make a derogatory comment about his supreme Commanders-in-Chief, our presidents. When I spoke out on one occasion , he said, “Do you really think that’s so?”

I wish I had been quiet.

On August 13, 2005, Dad died. Instead of a uniform, he was in a suit. His cologne only a faint memory. The flag wasn’t flying – it was draped over his casket. Again I stood beside Dad while a bugler played Taps, but this time I looked down and cried.

Dad’s day was done.

I’d appreciate hearing your military story.

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Dear God, I want to remember the sacrifice when I say, “I grew up military.” To follow my dad’s patriotic example. To thank a passing uniformed soldier. And when I’m tempted to make negative comments about our leaders, to be quiet instead.

For more metal sculptures, check out Bob Doster’s Backstreet Gallery on Facebook.