“To my children, with love”

If you don’t want to read the blog, here is the YouTube video.
In the year of 2007….James IV, Destinee, and Shania

Every time that I write, I feel that it is always from the heart. Each time that I write, I feel that it makes me go to a deeper depth, but I think this one is most personable. Today is Mother’s Day, and I’m thankful to be a mother. Being a mother, it is not a title that I take lightly. It is a honor to be a part of this “special club.”

I am the mother of three adult children. I have two daughters and one son. Their names are Destinee, Shania, and James Carston, IV. If you have been following me through the years, I discussed my divorce. When I got divorced, I had to leave the marital home. I missed living with them the last teenage years of their lives. There were many nights that I cried because I felt that I missed out on certain moments. It was times that our relationship was estranged, but I am thankful for them being adults. God restored our relationship with my children, and I am thankful each day that He did.

July 2021….. The last time that all three of us were together at the same time. 🥹🥹

We have a group text. A few weeks ago, Shania sent me these memes and asked me to answer them. When I read them, I said whew. These are deep, but I want to honor her request by doing this blog post this morning. Here I am today and happy to oblige her request.

What is the happiest memory of my children? For Destinee, my happiest memory of her is her strength. I will never forget the day I received a call from her. Destinee was attending Delta State University. She only had one year left of school. Unbeknownst to me, she was in an abusive relationship. She called me and asked me could she come home. I said, “sweetheart, you can always come home.” That day, Destinee made a decision for her. She packed up her things and moved back to Tupelo. A lot of people would think that she was crazy for changing schools on her last year. Due to the transfer, she lost a lot of hours, but that was ok. Destinee showed strength and courage. I am proud of her for putting herself first.

My second daughter is Shania. My happiest memory of her is her independence. I’d never moved from MS, but I wanted them to leave if that is what they desired. That saying “be careful what you wish for” is true. Shania took it to heart. Even when she was younger, Shania told me she wanted to live out of state, and that’s what she did. I remember taking her to the airport when she left MS for the first time. I was very sad because a mom never wants their child to be away from home, but I was proud of her for not being afraid to explore what other things were in the world. I can’t count how many times she’s moved since then. ☺️I can say that each time she has moved it has been an elevation.

The baby is my son, Carston. My happiest moment with him was standing on the field on senior night at Itawamba High School. He had played football from pee wee. That night, the parents were called onto the field with the players. I know you’re probably thinking that I’m his mom. Why would I not be on the field? Honestly, I didn’t know because we were not close at the moment. It was his choice as to whom he would allow to be on the field with him. I was at work, and he called me to tell me about the night. I was glad to stand on the field with my son for all the stadium to hear my name being called as his mother.

What was the nicest thing that I ever done for you?

For Destinee, the nicest thing she did for me was her forgiving me. Destinee is my oldest child. I was a teenage mother. Also, as the oldest, she was the oldest to understand the mistakes that I made as a mother. There are things that I wish that I could take back in life, but we can’t rewrite life. The only thing we can do is learn from the mistakes and move on. I am thankful for the love and forgiveness that Destinee has shown onto me.

Shania.. The nicest thing she has done for me is make me a grandmother. ☺️ I have always heard about being a grandmother, and I thought it was not true what people say. It really is TRUE!!!! I love being a grandmother. It is an amazing feeling. When I am having a bad day, Shania will send me a picture or video of Mason. When I see his handsome face, it takes all my worries away. Mason makes me want to be in the best health that I can be because I want to see him grow old and have memories with my children and him.

My grandson Mason and I 💙💙💙💙

Carston, if you have a son, you know they become a certain age and they are not as communicative as girls. Most guys do not express themselves or open up. Trust me. I am one that believes in therapy and communicating. Therapy and communication is a personal journey for each individual. The nicest thing my son did for me was texting me and saying that he appreciated every sacrifice that I made for him and his sisters. He said I was the goat 😉 and his queen. That meant the world to me.

What do I want or wish most for your kids? I would want all my children to be happy. I know it sounds clique’, but it’s the truth. I want them to be surrounded by people that love and support them. It can be family or friends that become family.

All of my children are special and unique in their own way. If traveling around the world makes one happy, travel. If finding the perfect job for you makes you happy, go find it. If being a stay at home mother makes you happy, stay at home with my sweet grand baby.

I want them to be at peace with whatever decision makes her/him happy. I do not want them to live life with regrets. Life will have its ups and downs. I want them to embrace every mistake they make. The things that I have experienced in life made me stronger. I no longer look at things as failures. I say that life is either a lesson or a blessing. I want them to think the same. I want them to live life with no regrets.

I was not the traditional domestic mother. I was focused on my career. My children didn’t wake up to hot breakfast in the morning. A lot of times, the dinners were fast food. Some of that was due to the children’s extracirrulicar activities, and some of it was due to me not liking to cook.

I grew up with a working mother. She and my father had eight children. She had to work. My mom worked for the City of Tupelo for thirty years. She made a name for herself. One that makes me proud to be her daughter. I wanted to emulate the same thing. I wanted to climb the corporate ladder at the bank. By trying to climb that corporate ladder, it made to where there were moments that I missed with my children. I was out volunteering. I wanted to be seen that I was worthy of promotion.

Eventually, I was promoted several times throughout the years. At one point, I was a branch manager. Promotion, volunteering, and trying to climb the corporate ladder came with sacrifices. I wasn’t always the happiest person to be around. Before I started therapy, I took a lot of things out on my children. Working in corporate America (bank in the South), it was more acceptable for White males to be in leadership. Here I was a younger Black woman in management. It was not accepted by a lot of customers and even some coworkers. I brought my frustrations and anger home. I did a lot of yelling at my children. I wish that I was doing therapy then. I didn’t start therapy until May 2012. Often times, I wonder if I had therapy what kind of mother would I be. I wonder how the divorce would have gone. I can’t dwell on the shoulda, woulda, coulda’s. Instead, I focus on what we have now. I’m thankful for the relationship that I have my three adult children. We can have honest and tough conversations. They can ask me anything, and I will give them a honest answer.

Sooo this question is the hardest question of them all. The writer and English teacher in me, I can’t just say one thing. ☺️😂 I know that one day I will no longer be here on earth with my children. When they think of me, I want them to smile and be happy. I want them to remember the sacrifices I made. I want them to remember my love for the beach. I want them to remember my love for sunrises and sunsets. I want them to remember my love of traveling. I want them to remember my love my reading, writing, and photography. I want them to remember that therapy and God helped me to become a healed woman. I want them to know that I always tried my best. Lastly, I want them to know that there are not enough words in the dictionary to express my love for them. They are and will be forever my babies. 🫶🏾🫶🏾🫶🏾🫶🏾

#forevermybabies 💛💛💛💛

“Find your village”

My children and I (July 2021)

Beyonce’ sings, “who runs the world? Girls?” Women, really, do run the world. Often times, we are overlooked, overworked, overwhelmed, unappreciated, and underpaid. We are mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, cousins, grandmothers, bosses, entrepreneurs, and much more. Each of these roles have different meanings for every woman. March is recognized as Women’s History Month. This blog goes out to all the women of the world. 🌎

My mom, sisters, and I

There never seems to be enough time in the day to get it all done. It doesn’t matter how early we wake up; it is something that wasn’t done during the 24 hours. The demands and expectations of women are exhausting. Society expects us to be “Superwoman.” Some will say, she needs to cook breakfast for her children before she goes to work. Others say, if she is a mother that gives them the pop tart or something quick, she’s criticized for not providing her children with a hot meal. If she returns to work after having a newborn, some people in society make her feel bad for returning. If she stays at home, some in society “assume” that she is not doing anything because she is a stay at home mom. The criticism doesn’t end, and women are trying to live up to the expectations of people that don’t even matter in their lives.

If the children are involved in after school activities, the day doesn’t end. She has to pick up her child/children from school or after school location. Then, they are in route to the activity. After the activity, they arrive home. Sometimes, there is homework to still be done, baths to be given, and meal to still be prepared. Regardless, if she is a stay at home mother or in the work environment, what time has she spent for herself? To answer the question, it leaves very little time.

Men don’t mind playing golf, shooting basketball, going fishing, getting haircuts, playing flag football, or going to the cigar lounge with their friends and leaving their family at home. It is women that think that we have to do everything with our children (getting groceries, going shopping, going to the salon, etc). Why do we think that we can’t do the same as men? A lot of it is because of what society has taught us or the way we were raised (our culture and environment). We have a feeling of guilt when we have alone time, but women need to have alone time as well.

It is important to have alone time. Alone time can be getting a massage, a manicure, a pedicure, a facial, going to the movies, going to the library, going to see your therapist, reading a book, journaling, or whatever makes you happy. Alone time increases mental strength, creates happiness, and helps you get to know yourself better. https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2017/08/05/7-science-backed-reasons-you-should-spend-more-time-alone/?sh=69d8e06c1b7e . Leaving little time for yourself is the complete opposite. Having little time for oneself could lead to a feeling of being burnt out, anxiety, and depression.

Going to the movies is one of my favorite relaxation activities is going to the movies.

Women are walking around with anxiety/depression and don’t even know it. Some of the symptoms are sleep disturbances, sadness, changes in appetite, lack of energy, or mood swings. There are many more. Statistics show that women are twice as likely to experience anxiety or depression then men. Without help from a therapist/psychologist and even at times with help from a licensed individual, depression can last weeks, months, or years. Typically, the signs of depression are ignored because women feel that is an effect from the day to day living. In actuality, it is much more than cause and effect of daily living. https://www.psycom.net/depression/depression-in-women.

As women, we have to come to the realization that we can’t do it all. We look at our grandmothers and think that she did it with no problems. We look at our mothers and think she did it with no problems. We say to ourselves, ” if they did, I can too. I don’t have to have help. If I ask for help, I will be looked at as weak. Aren’t women supposed to be able to do it all?” What we may not know is that grandma and momma might have been exhausted and cried at night when she was alone to herself. This is why having a village is important. I don’t care if you are a single mom, married woman, married with children, divorced, or divorced with children. We all need a village.

My grandmother and I…. I miss her everyday. 🥹

For me, my village is my children, my parents, siblings, my therapist, some family and friends that I can’t imagine not having in my life. Some people aren’t blessed to have relationships with their children, parents, siblings, certain family members, or friends. Who is your village?

My parents, siblings, and I

Your village is people that you can depend on to take the kids to soccer practice. Your village is people that will take kids to gymnastics. Your village is people that you can depend on when you need a listening ear. Your village is people that will not judge when you say I am weak. Your village is people that will help you and take your kids to the movies when need a break. Your village is people that you can go to the Mexican restaurant, laugh all night, and have some margaritas to unwind. Your village is people that will pray with you when you can’t seem to pray for yourself. Your village is your support when you have distanced yourself because you are depressed but don’t know it. Your village is people that check on you when they notice you aren’t yourself lately. Your village is people that never give up on you even though you say you are ok. Your village is people that it is ok to ask for help.

As women, we need to remove the stigma that we have to do it alone. Just because you ask for help, it doesn’t make you weak. In actuality, it makes you strong because you are taking care of yourself. It’s perfectly ok to have alone time to yourself and not feel bad about it. This is why it is important to identify your village.

Even though my children are grown, I can contact my village and have them to pray for my children. My village will pray for me. My village will text me when I am feeling sad and put that smile on my face. My village will FaceTime me and say I haven’t seen your face lately. My village will let me send them “book” text messages and read it in its entirety. My village will allow me to be vulnerable when I have worn a smile on my face all day long.

My children when they were small. 💛💛💛

To my village, thank you. I can’t do life without you! You are appreciated!!!!!

“New Year. New Location. New Me. New Life.”

With tears in my eyes, this was my last day living in MS.

Sometimes, we sing songs without them having a personal meaning. We sing it because we heard it on the radio, at home, or in the church. Young teenage me led a gospel song in my church’s young adult choir. It is called “New Life.” I led the song because I was told to lead it by my choir director, who happened to be my mom. ☺️ With my recent move, I was talking to one of my friends. She said “Carman, do you remember the song you sang growing up, Brand New Life?” I said yea. She said that’s what you’re living.” Later on that day and several moments since then, I have reflected on the words of the song. Now, “New Life” has a more personal meaning for the grown up me.

Verse one says “I moved from my old house. I moved from my old friends. I moved from my old way of strife. Thank God, I moved out to a brand new life.” Verse two says “He changed my old way with words. He changed my old leveled mind. He changed my heart and gave me new start. Thank God, I moved out to a brand new life.” Bridge.. “Can’t you see I’m a new man. Don’t you know I got a new name. And one day, I’ll live in a brand new land.” She ends it with saying. “I got a new walk. I got a new talk. I got a new look. I got a new name. I got a new heart. I got a new mind. I got a new home, and a new start is going my way. Yes, it is. Because I moved out to a brand new life.”

July 31, 2022, my first day in Florida

The lyrics are talking about how God changed the person’s heart from a sinner to now a believer in Christ. I thought about the words in a literal sense for what is going on in my life for the year of 2022 and the beginning of 2023. I can say that I truly appreciate the words to the song even more.

Often times when we reflect back in life, we ask ourselves the question if we saw ourselves doing a particular thing a year ago. I wouldn’t even have to go back a year. I can say if someone asked me these questions six months ago that my answers would not have been yes. If someone asked me, Carman, do you think you’d live in another state? I would have said no. If someone asked me if I was going to teaching English for over 125 middle school students, I would have quickly said heck no. Never in my life, I would not have seen myself doing either of them. Jeremiah 29:11 says “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord.” I am trusting in His plan more and more each day.

This summer when I drove to do Florida to do my preliminary paperwork.

After being in banking for 25 years, it was harder learning something totally different. I had to shift my brain from bank customers to students. I had to learn new things.Banking has federal regulation that employees have to abide by each day. Teachers have state and federal regulations and laws too.

My last day at the bank. (Headed to work, last selfie, my goodbye) ✌🏾✌🏾

When I was reading or hearing a coworker speak of 504 plans, ESE, ESL, those things were like listening and learning a foreign language. All of them have certain things that the teachers must do in order to make sure the appropriate student is being treated fairly and ensuring the right accommodation/s are made in order for the student to be successful in the classroom. Initially, I was becoming frustrated because it was taking me longer to catch on. I prayed and gave myself a pep talk. I told myself that I deserved grace. I didn’t know banking the first day I began. It took time to learn those things. Why was I so hard on myself to learn benchmarks, IEP’s, and what a 504 accommodations in a week or even a month? As each day arrives, I learn a little more each day. As each day arrives, that light inside my brain clicks each day. As each day arrives, my understanding develops more and more.

First day of school, August 10, 2022

Even in the short time that I have been teaching, God has blessed me. The school district had a voluntary writing contest about Dr. Martin Luther King. I’d told all my students about it and encouraged them to write. If you have or know 7th grade children, they don’t want to do anything that’s not mandatory. A couple of days before the deadline, the principal asked all teachers (not just the English department) to ask our students again if they would consider participating in the contest. Our school had won in the past, but how could we win again if we didn’t have anything to submit in middle school division? I have two advanced classes and some strong writers in one of my regular class. I asked all my students again and pleaded with those three classes. Out of more than 125+ students, I had two that submitted essays.

Picture from Readers Digest

All submissions were to be printed and turned in to the central office on October 31 by 11:00 am. That morning, we experienced technical issues. My students were trying to email me their essays for me to print. They didn’t have me until 6th period. 6th period doesn’t begin until after 1:00 pm. We were trying to meet the deadline. They were going from teacher to teacher to get it to email with the attachment or have the teacher to go ahead and print it. Neither option was working. We were down to almost the last hour. Finally, it went through to one of the front desk secretaries. She printed it off for the students and gave them to Dr. Leatherwood (school principal). Dr. Leatherwood made sure there would be no technical issues with the students meeting the deadline. She had them driven to the central office.

Dr Leatherwood (school principal) and I at award banquet for Rising Star Teacher

One morning, during 3rd period, I was sitting at my desk and received an email. The subject line said “Congratulations.” I opened it to read. One of my students won the written essay contest in the entire school district for the middle school division. Polk County is the the 7th largest school district in Florida with over 150 schools. I screamed inside the class. My students said “Ms Long. What is it?” I told them that one of my students won the essay. Immediately, I called the principal and asked her to check her email. She made an announcement over the school’s intercom letting the student body and staff know of the accomplishment.

Part of the program

There was a banquet with all winners from K-12. The attendees were all the winners and family (1st-3rd place from every division), teacher (of the student with overall winner of the particular division ), and principals (from the perspective student) were invited to attend. There were employees from the school district, the sheriff of Polk County and some of his staff, and other local politicians that were attendance with us. The winners from each division read their essays to the entire crowd. My student and I were recognized on stage and had our picture taken for the school’s website. This week, one of the local newspapers came to the school and interviewed the two students from our school that won the essay, their teachers, and our principal. It will be printed this week. The Lord continues to bless.

Martin Luther King award banquet

A few weeks after the Martin Luther King award, I received another email. I was selected as “Rising Star” for my school, Citrus Ridge: A Civics Academy. The award is for first year teachers that are making a difference in their school. The award is given by a national women organization, Delta Kappa Gamma. I am not the only first year teacher at Citrus Ridge, but I am very humble and ecstatic about being selected. There was a banquet for it as well. After the ceremony, several came to me and said that my story was inspiring. I take no credit. I give all the glory to God.

Photos from the Rising Star banquet

As other schools in the US, Florida has state testing at the end of the year. During the school year, Florida has the students do practice testing for preparation. Teachers and administrators are able to see if students are digressing, staying the same, or progressing. For the majority of my students, they are improving. It makes me happy to see that they are trying their best. That’s what I encourage them to do on a daily basis. I have four classroom rules. The last one says “believe in yourself.” I do not allow them to tell me that they can’t do it or allow them to put themselves down. I will tell them quickly to read rule number four.

My classroom rules

One of my students came to me on Friday. At the beginning of the school year, I could not get him to read or participate during class. Friday morning, he said “hey Ms. I studied for my test.” I said you did. I’m proud of you. Then, he asked when we were going to the library again because he had been reading at home for 30 minutes a day as I asked them to do. He was finished reading his book and needed another one. I told him it would not be until next week, but I had some on my book shelf that he could pick out. He grabbed a book about football. When he left my class, I began to cry. I know it seems minute, but it is really huge. A lot of the students are below reading level. This is not just for my school. It is all over the United States. If you look at statistics, you will see that America has a problem with literacy. https://www.crossrivertherapy.com/research/reading-statistics The thing is, he could have gotten two books when we last went to the library, but he only got one. Now, he has an excitement to go to the library and to check out two books. Yes. I was in tears because my prayers are being answered.

Before I stepped foot in the school, my prayer to God was that my classroom be a safe place. I prayed that the students know that they are loved. I prayed that I instill values in them. I prayed that they develop a passion to read and write. I know that I will not be able to have all 125+ on board, but I want as many as I can. As long as I am in the classroom, I will always give my best to the students. It is a learning process for me as well. I know together that we can do it.

This is what I want my students to say about me. Not because I’m cool but because I changed their lives and made a good

Let’s keep living Carman. The only way to go is up. I’m thankful for the opportunity for a new job. A new home. A new location. A new me. A new life. .. #blessup

“Trying to be perfect almost got me killed”

The first minute is the same from part one but keep watching.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month might have ended in October, but it is an ongoing daily battle for women, men, and children. Statistics shows that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of physical abuse (examples beating, burning, strangulation). Also, statistics show that 1 out of 15 children will be exposed to domestic violence, and 90% of the children will actually witness the abuse. 20% death of intimate homicides weren’t the actual victims themselves, but the homicide victims were family, friends, law enforcement responders, bystanders, or neighbors that tried to intervene. https://ncadv.org/STATISTICS. Even though Tiffany wasn’t aware of the statistics, she was aware of what her family would do to her lover if they were aware of what was going on inside her home. For those reasons, she never told any of them what was happening inside her home for years and years. One day, her world would come tumbling down, and everything she tried to keep secret for the sake of being “perfect” would be exposed.

Abuse affects children as well. Tiffany recalls a time when Camden informed one of his elementary teachers about what was happening at their home. The principal had her to come to the school to talk about it. Tiffany denied the allegations because she wanted to protect the image of her boyfriend. Studies show that children living in an abusive home grow up as adults with certain issues (depression, alcoholism, obesity, tobacco use, unwanted pregnancies, and more). https://assets.speakcdn.com/assets/2497/children_and_dv.pdf. Tiffany had been in an abusive relationship with him for almost 8 years. Her children were about to enter high school. Their first day of school would be August 4th. Tiffany prayed to God for a way out. She told Him that she didn’t want to still be in the toxic relationship anymore.

On July 29th, Tiffany confronted her lover about a cash app card that came to their house. The name on the card said “my king.” During the length of their relationship, her lover had numerous affairs. This was the final straw for her. It meant her lover had brought the woman to their home. For Tiffany, it was the ultimate sign of disrespect. She decided to confront him about the card that arrived at the house. When he arrived home, he was angry. He was upset that she’d opened his mail. He began to choke her. On other occasions, Tiffany fought back. This time, it was no fight left in her. She made up in her mind that enough was enough. That day would be the day she would call the police. This was something she’d never done before. After he was done choking her, she hugged him. It was her final goodbye.

A few months after she left

When he went outside, she called 911. When the police arrived, he ran away. The police were not able to find him. Tiffany’s mother lived next door. Tiffany had to let her know why the police were at her home. For years, Tiffany keep the secret that she was being abused from her family and close friends. Even though Tiffany never mentioned anything to anyone about what was going on, her mom suspected something was happening because of the bruises on her arm. She never went around when she had busted lips. With her makeup skills, she was able to hide her blacked eyes. When her mom would ask her what happened, Tiffany made excuses, but her mom didn’t believe her. In order to protect her and her lover, Tiffany made a decision. Tiffany wanted to keep the appearance of “perfection.” In order to keep that look, she made the decision to keep herself and her children away. She and the children stopped going around her family. She knew that if the kids went alone that they might have been questioned by her family. As children, they would have told what was happening inside the home. She isolated them from their family. Tiffany knew that if her family knew what was going on that her lover would be in danger. Someone she loved might have been one of the homicide statistics. After making the call to 911, Tiffany was no longer able to hide anything from them.

As in many larger families, once you tell one person, the information keeps going down the line. ☺️ A few days later, Tiffany decided to inform her oldest brother what was going on. She wanted him to hear it from her. As she was on the phone with her brother, her lover came from behind the house. She was not expecting to see him. 60.8% of females and 43.5% of men have been stalked by current or former lovers. https://ncadv.org/STATISTICS. When she saw him, she screamed. Her lover grabbed the phone out of her hand and hung up the call. Her brother, that lives in New Jersey, began to freak out. It was nothing he could do to help being that far away. The only thing he could do was call their mom and tell what happened. Her brother didn’t know if her lover had taken her away or what. As Tiffany recalls the incident, tears form in her eyes. Her children heard her screaming, but they were afraid to open the door. They didn’t know what was going to happen if they’d opened the door. The police arrived, but he ran off again. What Tiffany suspected about her siblings was right. When she told her siblings what occurred, they wanted to retaliate and do bodily harm to him. She didn’t want them to do that because they had families on their own. Therefore, she told them not to do anything.

Tiffany and Chloe and Camden

I asked her why did she stay in the relationship for the eight years and endure all that she had. It was because of the love she had for him. If she had him to leave or made him leave, “she would have let him come back.” Tiffany said that God had to harden her heart because “when it was over, it was over.” That was the end of their relationship. Tiffany did not take him back.

Tiffany with her brothers

Tiffany said that being in an abusive relationship is a generational thing. Her grandmother went through it. Her mother went through it. She went through it. Studies have shown that children that witness abuse in some fashion are likely to repeat the same pattern. They are either victims or the abusers. https://assets.speakcdn.com/assets/2497/children_and_dv.pdf. Tiffany wants to break the cycle in order for her children. She does not want them to endure an abusive relationship. She asks them all the time “are they mad at her for staying so long.”They said “no momma. We’re not mad at you. You did what you had to do.” Tiffany said even though she went through a lot that “they went through a lot too.”

Tiffany and her siblings

I asked her what things she was doing in order to make sure they don’t repeat the cycle. Did they have counseling or etc? They haven’t been to counseling, but Tiffany has open and candid conversations with her children. Tiffany said she was raised not to talk about her feelings. Her family is well known around the community. Therefore, it was forbidden to discuss anything that goes on in your home. It was important to keep up the “facade as being perfect Christian people.” Tiffany said life is not perfect. She said that (keeping secrets) is not the way she and her generation are raising their children. They made a choice not to be like the older generations of their family. If something is bothering them, they will talk about it. Tiffany said she has told her children that “she has nothing to hide. There is nothing that anyone can come to you about me that I haven’t already told you. I am an open book. God seems who I am. I’m not perfect.” She is vocal to her children about what happened to her and apologized to them for putting them through it. This is the first time that she is she vocal to the world about her experience. She wants to help someone that might be going through the same thing to not endure it any longer. She wants she/he to get help.

Tiffany and siblings

Regardless of the topic, I always ask the person I’m interviewing what advice would you give someone that is dealing with what the same situation. Tiffany says, “to anyone (male or female), you have to love yourself. If you don’t love yourself, how can you expect anyone else to love you? Love is not supposed to hurt. It’s not someone putting their hands on your physically. Mentally abusing you. It’s not worth it. It’s not worth it. It’s not worth it. If you are going through it, prayer will work, but talk to someone. Don’t hide it. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Get out. Get out now!”

Two of Tiffany’s sisters

As Tiffany reflects on having gone through this traumatic experience, it helped her realize that she does not have to “be perfect.” In her mind, she has struggled with thinking that she has to look a certain way to be accepted by family, friends, and lovers. She began wearing a full face of makeup at 16. That’s why she was good at hiding the black eyes that her ex placed on her. She is able to put on makeup with perfection.

All her life, Tiffany said she was more of a bigger girl. She was considered “fat.” She was told by family members that she needed to lose weight. When she left the house, Tiffany would wear three girdles in order to have the “perfect shape.” Even though she didn’t want to do these things (wear a full face of makeup or wear girdles), she did it for approval. Tiffany knows that seeking love and approval from her ex is another reason that she endured the relationship as long as she did with him. It wasn’t until last year that she felt comfortable in her body and to love her shape. If that man can not accept her body for what it, he can get the deuces.

She is still a work in progress. She is still working on not having a full face of makeup each time that she goes out. One day, Tiffany said she is going to be all natural. It will take all her courage to walk out of her front door without any makeup, without a wig, or without lashes. Now, Chloe is 16. She has told Chloe that is ok not to have a desire to wear makeup. All Chloe wants to wear is eyeliner, and Tiffany loves the fact that her daughter is comfortable in her natural beauty. She loves the fact that she knows that she doesn’t have to look “perfect” for the approval of people because being “perfect” almost got her killed.

“I learned to be careful what I asked God for in prayer.”

Part 1 of Tiffany’s testimony

I want you to think for a moment. I want you to reflect on the last time you were in a room with at least 20 or more people. For every minute, at least 20 people are physically abused. Keep reflecting. Out of that 20, 1 out of the 3 are women have experienced physical violence from their partner. 72% of murder-suicide are by people in relationships. Sadly, 94% of those murder victims are women. Even if it were a man, it would still be sad. https://ncadv.org/STATISTICS These heart breaking statistics go on and on.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, dial 211 for help.

I had the honor and privilege of interviewing someone I love, Tiffany Shaw, for the month of October (Domestic Violence Awareness Month). She thought that her prayers would changed her lover. Would it change him, or would she be the one changed? Here is Tiffany’s story.

Tiffany’s occupation is a caregiver. She loves helping people. Her words were “it is a blessing and a cursing”. She and her lover were childhood sweethearts. After reuniting on Facebook, they started back dating. In the beginning, things were good, but “things quickly changed.” Tiffany said there were signs in the beginning, but she ignored them. I asked her what were some of the signs he displayed. Initially, it was anger. She felt that she could pray the bad behavior away. If she prayed, she thought it would turn him to become a better man.

Tiffany was confused by the change in his behavior because he’d never acted that way. He began to question her about her past relationships. Whenever she answered him, he became upset. She felt if was from his insecurities and jealousy. It did not take long before the behavior escalated to physical abuse. Tiffany remembers the first time he put his hands on her. Just as before, he asked her about one of her previous relationships. He got upset and started choking her. He apologized, and she accepted it. She said it would be the “first of many times that it happened.”

The manipulation and toxic love continued. He called her ugly, whore, dumb, slow, and told her she acted like an old woman. He used the words “if you love me, you wouldn’t leave me. If you leave, you are doing the same as others.” For Tiffany, she had a point to prove. She wanted to prove to him and herself that she was better than the other women that had been in his life. She was in it, committed to the relationship, and committed to him. He used the words “you made me do this.” Tiffany began to believe all the words he spoke to her. She thought, maybe, she shouldn’t have confronted him about his cheating. She said he was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Tiffany said if a person were to see him in person the person wouldn’t believe the things he did to her behind closed doors.

Even with the toxic love, she accepted his behavior. She accepted his cheating. Because of the death of her father at an early age, Tiffany desired and longed for the love of a man. He did certain things for her children. Tiffany has a set of twins from a previous relationship (Chloe and Camden). She was convinced this man was the one. She felt this was the love from a man that she was missing in her life.

Tiffany as an infant

I asked Tiffany to recall one of the worst incidents. She had no problem recalling that horrible day. They’d gone to the convenience store. Tiffany didn’t want to go inside, but he had her to go in to buy the items he wanted. To keep down confusion or a possible argument, she went inside. As she was in line to check out, there was a man in the line behind her. He told her she had something on her back. Politely, the man took it off for her shirt. When she got back to the car, her ex asked her why the man touched her butt. She told him the man did no such thing. Immediately, he punched her in the mouth. Tiffany was shocked because he’d never physically abused her in public before. At home, she’d already been choked. She’d already been punched in the eye. Now, his anger was escalating.

Her lip was swollen very badly. She had no choice but to go to the emergency room to get it seen about. As most domestic violence victims, she took up for him and denied what happened to cause her to have a swollen lip. She told the hospital that she and her son were trying to catch the dog. He jumped, and his head hit her lip. She was embarrassed and didn’t want to go home. She would have to face her children. He’d hit her before. Usually, it was places that couldn’t be seen. Once, he hit her in the eye. She was able to cover up all the other bruises with makeup. There was no makeup to cover a busted lip.

When she arrived home from the emergency room, 11 year old Camden was outside waiting on her. The lies continued. Tiffany told them she had an accident. Her children had never seen him actually hit her, but they heard the arguments. They did not believe what she said. They knew what she said wasn’t true.

Camden at a younger age

The thing is that he would never hit her while her children were around. One day, he didn’t know they were home. Earlier that day, Tiffany checked the mailed. Inside, there was a cash app card. The name on the card said “my king.” Tiffany was furious. She said it meant that the other woman knew where they lived, and it was a sign of total disrespect.Tiffany called him and confronted him. When he arrived home, he was furious for being confronted. He began to yell and attack her. When she asked him was he going to continue to do this with the kids being upstairs, he immediately stopped. She went upstairs to check on her children. Instead, the twins asked her how she was. She put on a pretend face and said she was ok. Her son told her that her behavior scared him. He’d heard them arguing. Yet, she walked upstairs and acted like nothing happened. He said he was scared that his mom would do something to her lover. She knew her son was right. She knew that she had to get out of it. She didn’t want to be killed, and she didn’t want to kill him.

At this point, Tiffany had begun to fight him back. When she fought him back, the licks were worse. Months passed, and the fighting continued, Tiffany didn’t want her children to continue to be exposed to this behavior.In order to protect them, Tiffany had the twins to move in with her mom next door.

Chloe at a younger age

When Camden spoke those words to her, it was an eye opening moment. She had been with this man from the time they were in second grade. When that particular incident happened, they were in eight grade. Tiffany said that she didn’t want her children to go to high school and her still being in that situation. This is when her prayers began to change. Her prayer went from her asking God to help her change this man. Instead, her new prayers to God was that she needed him gone by August 4 (when school started).

She asked him about ANOTHER woman. He got upset and went outside to leave the house. When he went outside, his tire was on flat. He came back in. He said to her. “You know what. I’m so sick of you. I hate you. Everyday that I’m with you, I get weaker and weaker. You don’t think of nobody but you and your dumb ass kids. I hate I even came down here.” (After they reconnected, he’d moved from Memphis to live with her.) Tiffany didn’t even argue back with him. He was upset that she didn’t. He got up and started choking her. This time, she had no fight left in her. She felt “nothing.” In her mind, she knew she was going to call 911. This was something she’d never done before. Tiffany knew that she had to be smart about it to make sure she was safe. She apologized and said she was sorry. She hugged him, and that solidified her goodbye. When he left, she did call 911. Would he ask for forgiveness? Would she forgive him as she had done previously in the past? Would he change? Would she take him back?

“Are you surviving your storm?”

When my father and I crossed the Florida state line

July 31rst, I left Mississippi and moved to Florida. The nickname for the state of Florida is the Sunshine State, but it’s not always sunshine. Typically, it rains about 4 times a week, and the weather is always unpredictable. It can be sunny one minute. The next minute, it is raining. Unfortunately, Florida is also known for hurricanes. This week, I survived my first one, Hurricane Ian.

My sentiments exactly

Friday morning, I was in the airport headed to North Carolina, and I received an automated call from our school district. It said that the school was preparing for the incoming hurricane, and they would keep us posted on school closing. I was oblivious to the fact that it was one was brewing in the ocean. Truthfully, at that moment, I didn’t care. My only concern was getting to my grandson and meeting him for the first time.

After being in the airport from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm, I was all smiles. It was only one airline that had a flight going to North Carolina.

On the way back home Monday, I received a text from my principal and friends. My principal wanted to see where I was. I told her I was about to board the plane in a few minutes. She informed me that school was being canceled the next two days due to Hurricane Ian. On the way there, my flight was canceled without any notice. I had to find another airline to get to NC. With what transpired on Friday morning, I was worried about the returning flight being delayed or canceled due to the impending weather. Thankfully, it wasn’t. I made it home safely, and the first stop was to Wal-Mart. I purchased some nonperishable food items in case the power went out. I said if it doesn’t go out that I can always take what I bought to school for lunch. I tried to purchase a flashlight and batteries, but they were sold out. I went back Tuesday morning to see if the flashlights were restocked, but they were still out. On my way out the door, I saw one of the battery powered fans. I bought one of those in case the power went out. I didn’t get what I anticipated, but I still got something else to prepare for the storm.

The late arrival was worth it all. I was able to spoil my first grandchild.

Tuesday night, the weather forecast was saying that it would hit central Florida, but Tuesday wasn’t bad. It was rain and wind. As I said earlier, it rains all the time. It wasn’t much different. Wednesday came, but this time was a different rain and wind. I was watching a tv episode on my laptop when the lights went out. I was a little after 4:30. I said it’s beginning. I reached out to my brother and father because they live in Florida as well. Their power was still on. In my mind, I said theirs will probably go out later. I was on the phone with Juan telling him about my power outage. It was weird. In the living room, the light about the stove was working, but everything else in the living room/kitchen area did not work. I went in the bedroom and bathroom. The bathroom light was on, but the sockets didn’t work. Juan suggest that I flip the breaker. I did. When I did that, all power in the living room and kitchen was gone. Yet, the light remained on the bathroom, but my sockets in the bedroom now worked. I decided to charge my phone and laptop because I didn’t know how long the power would be out. Even though it was weird, I didn’t question it. I said thank You God for allowing what is working to work.

My battery powered fan. I didn’t go to Walmart for it, but God put it in my path. He knew I’d need it.

During the night, things got really bad. I am not sure how fast the wind was blowing, but it was very loud. The rain was pouring hard. Occasionally, I would wake up because of the sound of debris hitting my window. I said I know it is going to look bad in the morning. I would say a prayer and go back to sleep.

One of my moments when I woke up during the middle of the night because of debris hitting the window

Thursday morning, the heavy rain and strong winds continued. Juan and my dad still had power. They laughed at me. They said that I was wishing them bad luck. Juan said he’d prayed about the storm. Well, I had too, but I didn’t have any power. I said my dad is closer to the coast, where you’d assume that he’d be hit by the hurricane. Nope. Hurricane Ian ran its path in Central Florida. It came to me.

This is how the wind was blowing the tree limbs.

With me having no power, I had to be strategic on being on my phone. I didn’t want my battery to run down quickly. I wasn’t going outside in the rain to only get soaked to charge it in truck. I did the best that I could have done for my soul. That was talk to Jesus in prayer.

This is what I spoke to God. 🙌🏾

Mentally, I had no clue on how to prepare for the hurricane. It was my first one. On Monday night, questions were running through my mind. How bad will it be? What is going to happen? Will I lose power? They didn’t tell us to evacuate, but I didn’t take it lightly. Hurricanes are a serious matter. They come in and wreak havoc in our lives. There is flooding. There is damage to homes. Power outages can last for days and weeks. Sadly, people have lost lives. The same way as the hurricane, spiritual storms storms come in our lives. The devil wants to wreak havoc and have us to lose faith in God.

Water coming in from outside.

Back to Thursday morning, I laughed and said God I’ve only been here barely two months. I’m experiencing my first hurricane. Truthfully, I was feeling some kind of way having no power. God began to speak to me. He had me to look out the window. He said you see the storm outside. I said I do God. Look at it. From where you are sitting, it looks disastrous. The wind is very strong and blowing things all around. The rain is pouring heavy. It doesn’t look safe. Limbs are down. Lights are out. Devastation is all around. Now, I want you to look at you. You are sitting inside your apartment. You are focusing on what is going on outside instead of what you have going on in here. You might not have power, but you have a place to lay your head tonight. It might be raining outside, but are you wet? You might not be able to cook on your stove, but you have food. You might have some water coming in under the door and your air conditioner, but have you lost any of your belongings? You might not be able to be on your phone as much as you want, but you can. There is a huge tree that has fallen in the apartment complex, but did anything happen to your vehicle? You are home sitting in the dark, but are you losing pay? Carman, things might not always be what you want them to be, but I have never left your side. I haven’t left you alone. I am the Lord, Your Father, Your God. All I could do was cry.

When the power was restored

Situations are going to happen in life, and we don’t know the exact moment they are coming. The Bible tells us that they are coming. We just don’t know when. John 16:33 says “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” As I’d gone to Walmart to prepare for Hurricane Ian, it is imperative for us to stay in the word of God to prepare for the next spiritual storm that will happen in our lives.

I can’t speak for anyone else. I can only speak for myself. Often times, when I have gone through these storms, I am crying and asking God why. Why do I have to go through this? I’m looking at others and saying why isn’t it happening to them (one example was wondering why my brother and dad weren’t experiencing what I was experiencing). Why does my truck engine have to go out on me? Why did I have to have a bitter divorce? Why did I have to go through lies on my job? Why did I have to have surgery on my shoulder? Why did the loan go bad on the one I co-signed, and I did it with a good heart? I’m constantly pleading and asking God for direction and answers. I can say that EVERY spiritual storm that has happened in my life that God has given me strength to endure. It was dark in my city for almost 30 hours. I had no clue when the power would be restored. Those spiritual storms were dark moments in my life too. I wondered how long will this particular storm last. Oh but God. He never left me. Sometimes, He will send a ram in the bush. Thursday afternoon, my food began to thaw in my freezer. I called a friend. She told me to bring it to her. Here I was freaking out because I didn’t want to have to repurchase food. I didn’t lose a thing. If I had lost the food, I know that He would have provided. Everything that I thought I lost during the spiritual storms, God restored. When He restores, it is always better than what it was before.

Linemen from different states coming to rescue us in Florida

School was dismissed from Tuesday through Friday. I received calls and text from friends, family, and loved ones from all around checking to make sure I was ok. They were greatly appreciated. Initially, when asked how I was, I would complain and say that I have no power. After the revelation on Thursday morning, I changed my words and said I am blessed. I wasn’t expecting to experience a hurricane this quick moving to Florida, but it was a great learning experience. This morning, I opened my door to sunshine. If you were visiting the city, you would not have known what was going on only a few hours beforehand.

First selfie after the storm ⛈ 🌀🌀

During this week, God and I have had some deep conversations. I am thankful for this time alone with Him. He continues to restore my faith. There was no way in the world that one light and one only socket works (in two separate rooms) when everything else in the apartment didn’t. That was God looking out for me. He showed me to quit focusing on what is going on around me. It might look dark, but greater is He that in me than he that is in the world. I will have more trials and tribulations. When I do, I need to stay in His face. As quickly as Hurricane Ian came and left, that’s the same way the storms will leave in our lives. Storms will not last forever. We just have to make sure we survive and stay focused on the One that will keep us in the midst of our storms.

My first self care Saturday in Florida 💛💛💛 🌞🌞☀️

“You’re never too old to start over”

Here is the YouTube video if you don’t want to read the blog.

In the African American culture, we are taught to get a good job. If you get that good job, you stick with it. We are taught to work hard. We use that saying ” God won’t put more on you than you can bear. Pray about it. He’ll give you strength. You are getting paid good money with good benefits. Even when hard things come, it’s ok. God blessed you with it. You better be thankful. You don’t quit because someone else would love to have that job.” For twenty two years, that’s exactly what I did.

Last bank selfie (July 14, 2022)

I was taught to give my best at whatever I did. I went to work and always gave it 100%. Was I perfect employee? No. I made mistakes, but I learned from mistakes. I didn’t repeat that mistake again. Prior to my current job, I worked at another financial institution for almost three years and the last one for a little over twenty-two years. I loved what I did and loved my customers. I loved working with customers and helping them repair credit. I enjoyed going to the classrooms and educating children about banking. I loved volunteering and being a part of the community. My last years of employment were no longer a pleasure going to work each day. I had people that began to lie. I would say pull the cameras or let’s have a joint discussion. Those request never happened. Things are different in corporate America. A lot of times, management will identify a strong African American woman that speaks up for herself as defiant. If a man does it, that man is a leader. My request were always ignored. Management said why would this person lie on you .People have been lying on people since the days of Jesus. Folks lie on innocent people every single day. Innocent people are in jail for someone lies because they didn’t want the blame to be on them. If a person wants to get to the truth, he/she can, but the truth has to want to be sought. I had a former manager that was worried about staff not liking him. I remember saying to him that people didn’t like Jesus. Everyone wasn’t going to like him. Who was I to think that they wouldn’t lie on me?

I continued to accept the behavior because of the things I’d been taught. It was a good job. I’d been there a long time. I was making good money. I had seniority when it came to taking vacations. I had great benefits. I put up with toxicity longer that what I should have for those reasons. The write ups were becoming more frequent, and the accusations became worse. There were plenty of chances and reason that I should have left, but I was complacent. Things would get good again. I’d forget about the bad things/lies being told until it happened again. I’d become accustomed to toxicity. I feel that God had to allow things to get extremely bad and to that point in order for Him to get my attention to want to leave. If things hadn’t gotten to that point, I would have continued to stay because I wanted to prove that I was no “quitter.”

My celebration photo shoot selfie

November 2021, I submitted an internal application. That was my first time applying for anything different because I truly loved what I did. I didn’t get the job. At the first of the year, I began to apply in the Southaven/Memphis area at other financial institutions. I applied for over twenty different positions. Some institutions had four rounds of interviews. I would make it to the last interview, but I wasn’t getting the jobs. I knew that with almost twenty five of years of banking experience I was qualified. I’d even make it to be the last two candidates. I got discouraged and stopped applying. I was tired of being told no. I prayed to God and asked for Him to give me peace.

Last day at the bank

He gave me peace, but it wasn’t the way I expected. Last year, I was having excruciating pain in my shoulder I’d been going to physical therapy for quite some time. I’d received three cortisone shots in my shoulder. My doctor said that I need to have a MRI. It wasn’t good that my shoulder wasn’t healing. The MRI revealed a tear. May 24, 2022, I had shoulder surgery and was off work. It was going to be at least six weeks. I dreaded having the surgery, but I needed a mental break. He gave me the peace that I’d asked for in prayer. When you pray, be specific. ☺️

June 5 (Nashville, Tennessee)

As it was getting closer time for me to return to work, I told God that I wanted Him to open a door for me. I needed a fresh start. I really wanted to move to another area to work. One day during prayer, God spoke to me clearly and said “teach.” It wasn’t shocking because I have family that are educators. I was totally at peace with it. Another reason was conversations that I’d had with my therapist and friends. In one of my therapy sessions, Sandy told me if you can’t change the world you’re in. You change your world. Some dear friends and my daughter told my that I should think about a career change. I said nawww. I like banking. A few days before God spoke to me, one of my long time friends changed careers. She made a Facebook post and said who’s to say that you can’t change careers after 40. When God spoke to me that day, I said God. You were trying to tell me then, but I wasn’t listening. I had to have this surgery for You to clear my mind and speak to me. Once I said yes to Him, He began opening doors and lining everything up in His will. I understood why I was getting those no’s on all those banking applications. Jeremiah 29:11 says I know the plans I have for you.” Those bank jobs weren’t the plans He had for me.

I knew I wanted to teach English. With my degree not being in education, I would have to do the alternate route. God begin to places names of people I knew in education. He, only, allowed me to speak about the transitioning to certain people. It wasn’t something that I wanted to get around the bank that I was job searching. He gave me the names of four individuals that I used for references that would keep everything confidential. I began applying for jobs (permanent substitute) in Tupelo Public School District. I even had an interview for it. One of my friends told me about Florida needing teachers and how the pay worked. I decided to apply.

The Facebook post from the school

I was supposed to return from FMLA the first week of July, but my return doctor’s follow up appointment was changed. I went to pick up my paperwork and inquired about when my appointment was with the nurse practitioner. I’d missed her phone calls due to physical therapy. I assumed they were courtesy calls. With me missing the calls, I had to get a later appointment. That day, I was in tears. I said God. I didn’t ask for my appointment to be changed. The bank is going to think I am faking. This is another entire three weeks before I go back to work. My short term disability hasn’t been approved. What am I going to do? I was frantic. I didn’t know what God had in store for me. Again, His will was not my will. Later, I realized why the changed occurred. With my appointment being changed, it allowed me to drive to Florida to get my drug test, finger printing done, and other paperwork for the school district.

Headed home. Taken at a Florida rest stop

I was offered the job. I had all kinds of emotions running through my mind. The first call I made was to my children. I got them on a four way call. I told them about the job offer. They told me to take it. They said I needed this for me. They were correct. I NEVER in my life thought I’d move. I love to travel, but I assumed that I’d live in Mississippi all my life. I’d encouraged my children to move when they graduated if that’s what they desired. I was hesitant to take the job because I’d never left home. I am forty five and never lived alone. I had my oldest daughter at eighteen. When I graduated from high school, I commuted back and forth to Oxford for two years. Then, my ex-husband, and I got married. We were married for almost twelve years. After we got divorced, I moved in with my parents. It was scary to think about relocating and leaving my mom, family, and friends behind. My children were right. I needed to do this for me. I accepted the job, and everything moved fast. I went to work on July 14th, and I quit later that day. It was an immediate weight lifted off my shoulders. If you have ever been mentally drained about anything, you know the feeling of exhilaration when you let it go. This only gave me about two and half weeks to get everything to leave. I found an apartment. It is in a great part of town. It’s only 8 miles away from the school. My dad agreed to drive my things to Florida in the Uhaul. This was all a blessing.

At the school district’s central office

When the school made it official, I made a post on my social media pages. One of my former coworkers shared the post. The ironic thing is that I used to be her after school camp leader when she was in elementary school. That day, God brought to my remembrance all the jobs that I’d held. My first jobs were babysitting for families. When I was a teenager, my first job was with the City of Tupelo as an after school counselor. As stated previously, I went to the schools and taught about financial literacy. I was a Sunday school teacher for years at church. I was a mentor at THS when they had their mentorship program (troubled youth and teenage pregnancy). I served as board member for AEE (Association for Educational Excellence) for several years. It awarded grants to teachers to do innovative things in their classroom. After my time was served, I continued to read the grants each year. God said you might have gone about teaching in a different way of getting here, but you are now walking in your purpose. This is what you were called to do. All I could do was cry and thank Him.

My classroom rules

Even though this transition (new state, new career, and move) was scary, it was one of the best things I have done for myself in my life. For over half of my life, all I’ve known was banking. I had to redirect my thinking to learn something new. School began on August 4th. If you have seen my stories on social media, you will hear me say the students referring to me as “Ms Long.” That’s because on my birthday, in June, I did two things for me. One was changing my last name back to Long. I have had three different lawyers from the time of my divorce up to now. I didn’t know to ask the previous two, but I would have assumed that they would ask. It wasn’t as if I had ever been divorced before. I didn’t know to specifically ask for the request. With my last attorney, I made sure I asked him to place it in the working for me to go back to Carman T Long. It wasn’t finalized in my paperwork until November 2020. If you know me, I’m taking trips. I had one three different international trips. I couldn’t change my passport. I had my last one for this year in February. I wanted to do something special and memorable for me on my birthday this year.

My sun tattoo. I love having tattoos and not being judged by the type of job I have. A person with tattoos can still be professional!!!!!

The second thing for me for my birthday was getting a sun tattoo. The sun tattoo is symbolic to me. It represents my personality and starting over. I had no idea in June that my life would be starting a new chapter in life a month later. After you have been in a season of rain, you are happy for the sun to come out. The sun is strong and powerful. This morning, I got up before 5:00 am to see the sunrise on the beach in the great state of Florida. Sunrises are a beautiful thing. They represent a new day and a new beginning. Sometimes, we have to create our own sunsets. Don’t get complacent on that job or relationship. If you know you deserve better, you should go for it. Regardless of what happened the day before or in your past, I want you to remember this. You are never too old to start over.

Sunset (September 5, 2022

“My Gentle Giant”

Here is the video if you’d rather watch the interview.

Chasney was carrying the first born grandchild on both sides of the family. Everyone was excited about the baby that would be born. There was even more excitement when Chasney found out that she was carrying a boy. She knew that he would be involved in sports. Her ex-husband, Dewitt, said it would be basketball since his due date was March. March is college basketball finales known as March madness. On March 30, 1999, Tylan Andrew Rayford was born.

Tylan at one year old

I asked Chasney to describe Tylan as a baby. She begins to smile. With him being the first grandchild on both sides of his family, he was very spoiled. Whatever he wanted, he got. He was well loved all around. He made parenting easy because he didn’t require much. Even during her pregnancy, she had no issues with him. As a baby, he slept all during the night. He never gave her any problems. As he grew older, he was grateful and went with the flow.

Dewitt’s dream of Tylan playing basketball did come to pass. Around the age of eight, he started playing summer league basketball with a local church in Memphis. She recalls an incident that happened on the last game of the season. He went up for a dunk and broke his arm. Chasney can smile about it now, but it was not a laughing moment when it happened that day.

That same summer, Chasney and Dewitt got divorced. Chasney and Tylan moved from Memphis to Tupelo. Here, he joined a pee-wee football league at North Pontotoc around the age of eleven or twelve. Tylan fell in love with football. His basketball career was short lived. She thinks that it was because of the accident when he broke his arm and seeing all his cousins playing football. She and Dewitt were shocked that he remained committed to football instead of basketball. One of the reasons they were shocked was because of his height. Ty was 6’7″.

Sometimes, siblings do not along. There are even examples of this in the Bible, but that was not the case between Tylan and his sisters (Taylor and Jadeyn). Immediately after each girl was born, he took them under his wings. He was their protector. He was a role model. He took care of them and made sure they had everything they needed. Even tho the girls were younger, he was very hands on with his sisters. After the divorce, Chasney was a single mother. Ty did not mind stepping up to help his mom. After he got his car, he drove he and Taylor to school. Whatever they needed, he was always there.

Unfortunately, Ty’s football career did not last long either. July 31, 2017 began as a typical normal day. The kids went to school that morning, and Chasney went to work. That evening, everyone was doing their normal routine things. Tylan came in from football practice. He was his loving self. He came in the house and began playing with his sisters. He loved on Jadeyn and Taylor. After he played with his sisters, he went into his room and got on his phone; the things typical teenagers do. Chasney and Taylor were doing girl things. Jadeyn had her night bath, and the family was preparing for dinner. It was a regular evening. Later, the evening took a turn for the worse. Chasney called Ty’s name, but she didn’t get an answer. She walked in his room to see why he didn’t respond. There, she found her son in the bed. At that same moment, Charlotte, her cousin, was home. She was under her hair dryer and heard a scream. She ignored it and thought it was kids in the neighborhood were playing. She told herself that she would listen for it again. If she did, she said she’d investigate. Charlotte heard it again. This time, she decided to see what was going on. She went out the door and walked outside. The screaming was still happening. Charlotte describe it as a mother wailing. She recognized the voice as Chasney. She said with the scream she knew that it was something wrong with the kids, but she didn’t know which one. Shortly, Taylor walked outside with Jadeyn. That only left Tylan as to why Chasney would be screaming the way she was. Tylan’s heart had given out.

Charlotte recalls Chasney asking for help. Remember, Tylan was gentle giant. With her adrenaline going, Chasney was able to lift him out of the bed and began to perform CPR. Unfortunately, it was nothing that Chasney could do. Tylan died peacefully in his sleep.

The cause of Tylan’s death was cardiomyopathy, enlarged heart. It was hereditary. He and his father had the trait. It had never been detected. He received routine physicals playing football. Also, Tylan was following routine medical appointment and seeing physicians. It was not anything that anyone (parents or doctors) thought to specifically check because she nor her ex-husband have any indications of having heart problems. The doctors did say that his enlarged heart would have been an issue later on in life. With him playing sports, it brought the issue to surface.

Losing a child first goes against the circle of life. Children are supposed to bury parents. It is not supposed to be the other way around. One question I had for Chasney how was it to prepare for his funeral. Her response was “It is a tragedy within itself. It is something that you can’t fathom. You can’t prepare for. It’s something you can never prepare for. I was not ready then, and I’m not ready now. It is something I would never be ready for.” Chasney said this is a pain that she wouldn’t wish upon her own enemy. For her to process the funeral, she had to go into business mode. She set aside “parent role” and went into “business mode.” She knew there were things that had to be done. She made sure she was busy in order not to process what was going on. She had to make sure that everything he needed would be taken care of because she had his back no matter what happened in life.

Leading up to the day of the funeral is blurry in her mind. As that day drew near, she had support from her family and her ex-husband. Funeral homes will ask the family to come view the deceased body prior to the funeral. They want to make sure the body is presentable in the way the loved one wants it on the day of the funeral. Mentally, she was shutting down. This was not a task that Chasney was able to do. Charlotte and Dewitt were the ones that approved his body in the casket. The day of the funeral, she walked to the casket and viewed his body for the last time. Her seeing him laying in the casket took a toll on her mind. She had to process this is her son laying there. He is never coming back. It was an image and moment that she will never leave her mind. It is something “she will never forget. “

Through the tragedy, her faith was tested. She got to know God in a way that she hadn’t before his loss. Going through the divorce, it was a life changing event. She didn’t rely on God as much. After losing her oldest child, she and God have had a lot of conversations. She asked why her. She has already been through so much. Why put something else on me? Why take my child? Do You even love me? She got to know God in a closer way. There are days when she cries and wants to close off from everyone. She doesn’t want to go out of the house. She doesn’t want to go to work. There are times when she wants to give up, but God and Tylan give her strength to keep going. Those nights of crying, she expects to wake up with bags under her eyes. She laughs and says she will wake up and look ten years younger. Those days that she doesn’t want to get off that bathroom floor, God give her strength. She gets her girls ready for school and goes about her day at work. God took Tylan away, but He has made life easy. When she is having those moments, she isn’t expecting that push, but she knows it is her angel telling God that his momma needs it. He is telling to Give his momma extra help to make it through the day. The only way she is able to bounce back is with God.

A cliche’ statement is time heals all wounds, but this is not true. Life goes on, but it doesn’t heal the loss of a loved one. They have not adjusted to life without Tylan being around. They suppress their feelings in. There are times when she and Taylor have moments when they reflect on memories and process that Tylan is no longer here on earth. Jadeyn was younger when he passed away. She doesn’t have as many memories as Taylor does. Taylor had Tylan in her life for almost nine years. It wasn’t until after he passed that she told her mom Tylan would stop at the store and buy her breakfast before school. When those hard moments come, Chasney will wrap Taylor in her arms and let her know it is ok to have these moments. One thing that gives them all peace is that they know they have a personal angel looking down from heaven watching over them here on earth.

Losing a child is not normal. I asked Chasney what advice would she give to parents that has lost a child. These are her words. “It doesn’t get better. Time does not heal. It is a new normal. You have to take care of yourself. Your child is in God’s hands. So you have to take care of you and keep going. You can’t give up. Keep pushing through. Call on God.” Life is going to be tough. Grief will hit at different time. There will be times when you will reflect on memories. You’ll reflect more on birthdays, date of death, and other days, but you have to keep going and pushing through.

Chasney and Tylan experienced a lot of first moments together. He experienced her being a new mom, going through a divorce, relocating from Memphis to Tupelo, and more. When she looked at Tylan, he was her motivation. He gave her a push to keep going because she didn’t want to fail. She misses him fixing things around the house. She misses him looking out for his grandmother. She misses him telling Taylor “if you just do what momma says, you’ll get what you want. All you have to do is obey her.” He was loving and would asked her what was needed. I asked Chasney to name something she misses about Ty. Her response “everything.”

“He is.. He was..He will forever be my Rock.”

Here’s the video if you’d rather watch it.

Can you imagine being 24 weeks pregnant and not knowing? That was the last thing that Jackie expected. There was no way that she could be pregnant. She was still having regular cycles. If she was pregnant, that would be three children within the last three years at the age of twenty. She thought the symptoms were simply the flu. She decided to go to the doctor to see what was going on. There, the doctor gave her the news that it wasn’t the flu. Instead, she was carrying a baby. That baby would be known as Preston “Rock” Dozier, II. Even tho having a child was unexpected, Rock was a blessing to her life. Sadly, his life on earth was short lived.

Preston “Rock” Dozier II was born January 25, 1995. Jackie said he was not like his two older siblings, Laquarius and Teeana. He was a momma’s boy. He enjoyed being at home with his mom. There was a time that Cederia, his grandmother, had to tell him that she was his grandmother, and that it was ok to be with her. Rock was more of a loner. Jackie said he was never one to be with the crowd. He was quiet. He didn’t have to have anyone to be happy. All he needed was something to eat and a video game. He enjoyed himself.

Rock never gave Jackie any problems growing up. She didn’t have to worry about him getting into trouble. With a laugh, she said he was the typical teenager and a ladies man growing up. I asked how was he as a brother. She said that he and Laquarius would disagree and wrestle. Laquariaus was older, but Rock was always bigger. Rock’s body and feet grew like weeds. Even tho he might have been bigger in size, Laquaris wanted to remind know who was the oldest brother. 😊 With his bigger size, he was Teeana’s “big brother.”

Jackie and her four children (Jaquarius, Teeanna, Preston, and Zoey

As an adult, Jackie said that if you were ever to Rock’s home that it was a privilege. Remember, as a child, he didn’t mind being alone. As an adult, he still didn’t believe in crowds. He was not one to just have people over to simply have people over. If you were at his home, you were special. You were his friend or family. That meant, he really wanted you there.

Rock had two biological children of his own and two others that he raised as his own (Malaysia, Jayla, A’myah, Preston III). After his parent’s bitter divorce, his father wasn’t a presence in his life. Rock was determined to do fatherhood differently. If Rock wasn’t at work, he had his children with him. He made up in his mind that he would devote his time with his children. He took fatherhood seriously and was committed to being the best father he could be before the fatal accident took his life.

The dreadful day of February 3, 2020, Jackie’s life was never the same. Her world was turned upside down. She remembers it as if was yesterday. She was at work and had been in a meeting without her cell phone. After she got out of the meeting, she had numerous missed calls from her family and the hospital. She returned her husband’s, Donald, call to ask what was wrong. He informed her that Preston had been in a wreck. He thought it was bad because they asked him to come off the road (Donald drives 18 wheelers) and come to the hospital as well. She tried to return other calls to her family, but no one was answering. She grabbed her purse, told her boss that her son was in a wreck, and she had to go. She remembers praying to God and saying “God, I’m not going to be worried. I know You got this.”

When she pulled up at the hospital, the first person she saw was her sister, Valerie. Valerie was headed to Jackie’s job to come pick her up. Valerie already knew the news. All Valerie was doing was crying and couldn’t speak. Jackie went passed her to go inside to see what was happening. After she entered the room, the first person she was was the coroner. She knew something was wrong. The coroner began the routine questions. “Are you Mrs. Shumpert? Is Preston Dozier your son?” The next statement was “I’m sorry. There’s been a wreck.” At that moment, Jackie blacked out. When she returned to consciousness, she asked the coroner was she sure it was her son because Laquarius was known for allowing others to borrow his car if they had a need. She wasn’t wishing death upon another parent’s child, but she didn’t want it to be hers. The coroner handed Jackie Rock’s wallet. Then, Jackie knew it was her child that was no longer here on earth. Jackie didn’t go see his body until after her husband and family arrived at the hospital. She said it looked like he was sleeping because he slept with his eyes open. After closing his eyes for the last time, she walked out the room. When she walked out the room, she was surprised by the outpouring of people that came to surrounded her with love. Her sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, friends, pastors, church members, and coworkers were there. The hallway was full. It was over the “certain” people that the hospital said could come. Jackie is thankful for the love and support she received that day. She knows that she could not have done it alone.

Jackie is a minister of the gospel. One of the questions I asked was how was her faith tested being a Christian and minister of Christ. The Saturday before Preston’s death, she had to preach at a women’s brunch. That week, she was preparing for a sermon and a topic, but her mind was blank. That morning, God gave her a title, “Don’t break before your breakthrough.” She assumed the sermon was for the ladies at the brunch, but the sermon was really for her. That following Monday, Rock was in the accident that took his life.

Preparing for the moments before hand and the funeral were some of the hardest things that she has ever done in her life. There was no way in the world that she thought she would be burying her child. She had to make phone calls to inform loved ones that Preston was dead and to prepare for his funeral. People told that once she began making arrangements and preparing for the funeral that it was might bring closure to her mind. For Jackie, that was the opposite. The finalization of things were the heartache. It made it reality because she was about to prepare a funeral for her child. She had to decide on which caskets, what clothes, and approve the body before the visitation and funeral. Life isn’t supposed to be that way. When she went to view his body, he had no scratches. Even tho he had the wreck and body was thrown around in the car, he died from internal bleeding. He appeared to be sleeping, but the touch said “he is really dead.”With the help of God, she has kept her sanity. Grief is real. It has no time period. A person can see something, hear something, smell something, and it can all remind you of the loved one that has gone on. She tells people that she is not a superwoman. She is weak. She breaks just like everyone else.

On the day of the funeral, Jackie had gotten everyone ready but herself. She’d bought everyone’s outfits. She wanted everyone to look the same. When she got them ready, she was going to send them off in the funeral and stay home. She thought that staying home would be a safe thing to do. She felt that people were acting a certain way. Would she be strong? Would be break down? She didn’t want to deal with people’s expectations. God spoke to her and said “there is purpose beyond your pain.” As a woman of faith, she told God. “I can believe everything you’ve told me, but I can’t believe this. What kinda pain is this losing me kid? My heart shattered that day?” Her uncle-in-love realized that Jackie wasn’t in the limo as everyone else. He inquired and asked was she getting ready. He let her know that he was not leaving until she was ready, but he was not going to rush her. That was the longest ride in her life.

For her, she wants to keep Rock’s memory alive. She will never let his memory die. Every other weekend, his children come over to stay. When Rock was younger, he had a speech impediment. He spoke really fast. For about a year, he was put into the special education program at school. They helped him overcome the issue. Now, his son speaks the same way. Each time she hears her grandson, she thinks of Rock at the same age.

I asked Jackie what advice would she give anyone that has lost a child. She said there is no manual or book that tells parents how to handle that loss. It is your child. Grief has no time period. For her, one way of coping with his loss is visiting his grave sight. Another thing is to realize that everyone’s relationship with their children are different. As loving parents, parents want to protect and save their children. It doesn’t matter what age the child is; no parent wants to see his/her child hurt. Jackie felt that she failed Preston because she was not able to save him that day from dying. That morning, Preston fell asleep on his way home from work. That’s how the wreck happened. He would always call his mom on the way home from work. She used to joke with him and tell him to call her instead. That morning, she realized that she didn’t receive either. She beat herself up. She thought she’d failed him. Without her faith, Jackie said that she would question it all. The devil wants to play with your mind. She has a grief counselor/therapist to help deal with grief. There were days that she had to force herself to get up, get dressed up, nor eat. She said to herself “if I’m breathing, I can do it.” There have been moments that she has had to scream it out. Her husband will just shut the door and let her do it. With help, she realizes that she never failed him. Preston knew that his mom loved him. His death was God’s will. God knows how long our days are numbered. We are the ones that don’t know. To the parents, there is no time period to grieve. She recommends people to have faith in God.

One thing she misses about Rock is that he loved family. If he wasn’t working, he would be there. She didn’t worry about food being leftover. He would either eat it up or take it home for himself. He would always have fun with the family and crack jokes on each one. The most important thing is his presence. With his death, there is a void in her life. Even tho Preston Dozier is no longer physically here with her on earth, he will always and forever be here “Rock.”

“Things that one year taught me.”

Here’s the YouTube video in case you’d rather view instead.

Me the night of my 44th birthday party 🥳

Here are some things that one year (44-45) taught me. Number one is I matured in life. Proverbs 18:21 says that death and life lie in the power of the tongue. The tongue is a powerful thing. You can speak positivity over your life and loved ones (as you should). You can also hurt people with it. I did both. I spoke life into situations, but I also hurt people with it. In retrospect, people hurt me. If it’s someone that’s insignificant in your life, what that person says or does is irrelevant! You care less and keep it moving. I learned that it’s the people you love that are the ones you hurt and the ones that hurt you. You have to be an adult about it. If you hurt someone you, you should take responsibility for it. You should definitely apologize for what you said. That’s exactly what I did. Now, it is up to that person to accept the apology. You can’t make a person accept your apology nor can you rush another person’s time to heal. Don’t beat yourself up after you apologize. We have to realize that sometimes when we hurt someone that person might not want you back in his/her life. You accept your mistake of you of what you said and move on. On the other hand… When someone hurts you, you might not get the apology from that person that you feel that you should get. Don’t wait for it. Life doesn’t stop for you, me, and anyone else. You have to keep living.

One of my prayers

I learned it’s ok to sometimes be alone and do things alone. I took my first international trip (to my favorite land, Jamaica 🇯🇲). I didn’t respond to any business calls, text or messages. That was my first time ever in my life that I didn’t feel the need to even give the response I’m on vacation. This time was truly for me. While I was there, I made my first vlog for my YouTube page. The trip was very therapeutic and peaceful. I heard God’s voice clearly and received clarity on things I’d been praying for in my life. I’m not saying everyone should travel out of the country alone, but you should definitely go somewhere alone.

I am a huge music lover. One of my favorite things to do is hear live music. When Covid came, it shut concerts down. I was very happy that Covid numbers were down some, and concerts were back in effect. For my first time, March 2022, I attended a concert by myself. The lineup was amazing. It was Joe, Anthony Hamilton, and Maxwell. I am a HUGE Anthony Hamilton fan. I didn’t know the people beside me, but we danced and sang the night away.

Concert selfie

I learned that life is short. I suffered more losses of loved ones that were hard to accept. One in particular was my Uncle Hazel. I’d lost my grandmother, my Uncle Tom, and my cousin Chris in 2020. Uncle Hazel’s death was the beginning of 2021 (January). There is not one mean thing that anyone could say about him. He was the most gentle and most kind soul. He was always willing to help someone in need. He helped me out sooooo many times. He never once complained. He wouldn’t allow you to pay him for his help. He spoke with soft voice, and he gave great advice. After my divorce in 2012, he was my next door neighbor. I miss him waving at me across the yard. I miss him calling me and telling me the dogs were at his house. I miss him. I will say that he left his helpfulness spirit behind. His granddaughter, Kamri, took on his mantle. She is always there whenever I call. She won’t let me repay her either. We all know that death will one day come knocking on our door, and it’s a part of life. It doesn’t make it easier when we lose loved ones. The pain is still there. I grieve my own way and take it one day at a time.

Some moments with Uncle Hazel, and that’s him with his granddaughter, Kamru

November 2021, I climbed a freaking mountain. My cousin, Keeisha, and I went to Aruba. While we were there, we met one of the sweetest people that I’d ever met in my life. His name is Maxromy Brown. During our trip, he took us to various places on the island. On our last day there, Max told us that he wanted us to climb a mountain. We got up around 4:00 am. He picked us up before sunrise. That was the purpose. We were to see the sun rise over the island. Oh my gosh. It was hard work. It took a lot, mentally and physically, to climb the mountain. It was the largest altitude in Aruba, and we accomplished walking miles up a mountain to see a sun rise. It was one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve seen in my life. Getting up early and walking for miles was worth it all.

When you travel internationally, you get to see a lot of things. Americans take a lot of things for granted. The U.S. is a great place to live, but I wish there were things that we had stricter rules. One example is gun control. The recent mass shootings of innocent people is mentally devastating. One of the most recent ones, elementary school in Texas, is traumatizing. My three children are now adults, but I could have been one of those parents that child that didn’t make it home that night. Two days ago,there was a shooting at a health facility. Again, innocent people lost their lives. I had shoulder surgery on May 24. I’ve been to the doctor numerous times before the surgery, after the surgery, and still more to go. That could have been me. I’m thankful for every morning I open my eyes.

My children and I (July 2021)

Lastly, I did something that I never in my life of living would have thought I’d do. All my life, I’ve loved photography and had some type of camera device. God spoke to me and said to do a photo exhibit of my work. It took me by surprise and pushed me out of my comfort zone.I took pictures from two of my trips to Jamaica. The theme was “One night in Jamaica.” It was a lot of work. It was a lot of preparation. You can read about my experience in a previous blog, but I’ll say this. There were days and nights that I wanted to quit, but God wouldn’t let me quit. I had friends and family praying for me. Those prayers and help from friends and family got me through it. I cried before and after it was over. Seeing my work around the wall was a feeling that I’d never had before. I did it. The night was absolutely amazing. That was only the first, but it won’t be the last.

Life is too short. Life is uncertain. We are here today and could be gone tomorrow. We shouldn’t live life worrying about what others say about you. Some people are simply miserable people. They’ll always have something to say. They’re not happy with themselves and not happy with life. Don’t let those people control how you live yours. With that being said….. Wear what you want. Drink what you want. Go where you want. Turn up the music and sing to the top of your lungs. Take time for yourself. Pamper yourself. Get a therapist or counselor to help you balance out life. Cause is sometimes to heavy to bare. Take a trip at least once a year to unwind and unplug from the real world. Most importantly… Be you and be great.

Here’s to another year. Bless up!!!

My therapist and I

“My dreams becoming a reality”

Here’s the vlog in case you aren’t a reader.

People get adrenaline rushes or excitement off of different things. Some people jump out of planes. Some gear up and play a game of basketball. Some people paint. For me, it’s taking pictures. Photography has always been my passion. Since I was a little girl, I have always loved taking photos. Even from the beginning, my parents supported me. They weren’t able to buy a “big girl” Nikon, Cannon, or etc, but they kept the disposable cameras in stock for me. I get such a rush taking pictures and later looking to see how they turn out. It’s one of the best feelings in the world. When I see that developed picture, it doesn’t matter how many years have lapsed, I can recall memories of what happened that day. That’s why I am always taking pictures because I love capturing moments and creating memories.

My shirt says “I may snap at any moment.”

Some people, only, see paintings as art. You enter the gallery, and you can decide how you feel about the painting. The artist might have painted the picture with an idea in mind, and you might have a totally different interpretation. That’s what art is about. That’s why paintings are not the only form of art for me. I can see art in everything. I can look at nature, a building, food, people, sand. etc. It doesn’t matter. I see something that I can photograph. Photography is art. You can look at a picture. I feel it should evoke a type of emotion in you; especially, if it’s one that you took. I have always loved going to different art shows. I never imagined in my life thought that I would be having my own.

March 2020, the entire world was turned upside down because of the pandemic. With all the company closures, the pandemic made people turn to their passions for income. I have been in banking for over 20+ years. I didn’t lose my job, but the pandemic showed me that no one or no job was safe. God spoke to me and pushed me to use my gifts that He’d given me. I purchased a new “big girl” Cannon camera and was ready to conquer the world.

My mom was my first subject with my new camera.

I went in full force and oblivious to what it took to be a professional photographer. I was ready to take on whatever opportunity presented. I was willing to do birthday parties, graduation photos, weddings, whatever. I had to learn that just because you love taking pictures that every event might not be your speciality. Another thing I had to learn was, living in Mississippi, the weather does not always cooperate with you. We can have all four season in one day. I would have a customer, and it would start raining, or the temperature would drop 30*. I don’t have a studio. Therefore, I lost a client. I was getting discouraged about becoming a professional photographer. Isaiah 55:8 says that “for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways, my ways.” I was focusing on “trying to make additional money”. It’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but that’s not the direction that God was leaving me during this season.

I love to to travel. When I travel, I come back with thousands of pictures that I have taken in only 4 or 5 days. I’d been to Jamaica December 2020 and June 2021. Whenever I come back from a trip, I will post lots of pictures on my social media outlets. During both trips, there were some pictures that I didn’t post. My spirit did not allow me to post them. At the moment, I did not understand why. It wasn’t until about a week after the second trip that God spoke to me and said for me to do a photo exhibit with the pictures that I hadn’t posted. God and I went back and forth. It was me because I didn’t think I could do it, and God isn’t going to argue. Fear was inside of me. Eventually, I told God that I will obey. When I obeyed, everything lined up for me.

July 3, 2021 (I made my first vlog in Jamaica 🇯🇲

The first person that I told was my mother. I had no clue on where to even hold a photo exhibit. She suggested for me to inquire at the Gumtree Museum of Art or the Link Center. She referred me to a friend, Evie, that knew people at both facilities. The Gumtree had years for their waiting list, and I’d have to submit my work for approval. I wasn’t going to wait years. If I were to do this thing, I had to do it while I had the courage. I didn’t want “approval” from anyone on my work that I’d done. The Link Center was available. As long as my work wasn’t explicit, I could have it there.

My younger sister, Zierra, had a performance at the Link Center. She was the opening act for a jazz concert. After the concert, I informed Melanie that I was the one that was inquiring about having the photo exhibit there. She allowed me to see the room. The room was perfect. I began to cry because I envisioned my pictures on the wall. Later, we had a meeting to finalize all the details of the photo exhibit.

It was official. I had work to do and a lot of work it was. With me having thousands of pictures, I had to decide which ones I wanted to use. Then, I had to edit. Editing takes hours and hours. People see the final picture, but they don’t know the work that it took to have that final picture. After I edited the pictures, I had to decide what size I wanted to print the pictures in. I had to purchase frames and place the pictures in the frames.

This process took months. There were moments that I was discouraged. I’d edited the pictures, but I couldn’t get them to upload to a website to order the pictures. The files were too large. I bought a flash drive to maybe put them on there. It was still too large. I cried for several nights. I said God, You pushed me to do this. I need your help. He did. I airdropped them off my computer to my phone, saved in a favorite file, and ordered off a different website (Walgreen’s Photo). My photo exhibit was in January. Walgreen’s photo department was slammed. They’d run out of canvas material. I’d made several of those. My anxiety level went up again, but the ladies were awesome. They would notify me of what was happening. I was able to get all my pictures and canvases printed in time for my exhibit. I had to place the pictures inside of the frames. That was an ordeal itself. I had to choose which frame that I felt went great with each particular picture. My fingers got sore and tender from doing it day after day. Lastly, I didn’t have enough tables, stands, and easels for all the pictures I’d selected. I had to rent everything from Busylad.

These are some the pictures I had made into canvases.

The week of the exhibit……I was excited but fear, nervousness, and anxiety crept back in. The Sunday prior, my pastor, Eric Burton, preached about us trying to prepare ahead and God wants us to trust Him. We didn’t need to worry about the days ahead. We need to trust God in that moment. I was on the phone with my friend, Charlotte. I can’t even remember what I was crying about at that moment. She spoke to me almost the same words that my pastor preached about the day before. I said ok. God. I am going to trust in You. Friday isn’t even here yet. Everything will be ok.

The assistant director captured me jamming with the band.

I didn’t have a clue on how to hang up pictures and arrange them nicely. I called one of my bank customers. Yep. You guessed it. I was crying. They were booked, but God touched their hearts. A few hours laters, they stopped what they were doing and came to help me. Stephanie and Jennifer were God sent. I handed them pictures, and they did their thing. I let the professionals do what they do best. If I had a million dollars at that moment, I sure would have blessed them with it. 😊

Stephanie helping me hang pictures.

The actual day was January 14, 2022. The night was absolutely amazing. My entire outfit was perfect. I had the best glam squad for the night (Candace and Patrice). I hired my mentor, Necole Fears, as the photographer for an hour. I had live music. My sister and the crew made my want to dance the entire night away. My mom worked the door for me and had everyone to sign in. I had friends that drove near and far to support. My pastors (Eric and Kamala) came. He prayed over me, my future with photography, and took us to church. It was covid friendly, and no one caught covid because of my event.

The band

Even though I could not see it at the moment, God worked it out for me from the very beginning. Charlotte and her husband helped me picking up rentals, and she helped me framing pictures a few additional pictures. Stephanie and Jennifer helped me arrange the pictures on the walls and on the table. After the event was over, Gillie’s Girls (Allison, Claudia, and Kim) and Elnora’s ladies (Rhonda and Kechia) helped me take the pictures off the wall. If I was alone, it would have taken me hours or a couple of days to get everything down. The band took everything to my truck and loaded it up for me. God let me know that I was never alone.

Some of Gillie’s Girls and Elnora’s ladies

I followed through with something that I have always loved doing. Even when I wanted to quit and give up, I pressed forward. I am thankful for each person that prayed for me and encouraged me during this time. Whether you drove near or far, I am thankful for each person that was able to attend. I am thankful for the ones that wanted to attend, but things arose. It was the weekend of Dr. Marting Luther King. I picked it for a reason. He had a dream, and I did too. He was one that made history, and this was history making for me. January 14, 2022 will always be special to me. It was my first exhibit, but it won’t be my last. I am thankful for the dream that became a reality. My advice to anyone that’s reading or listening; Don’t ever stop dreaming.

“The greatest Christmas gift there is—loving yourself”

Recently, I was traveling home after spending the weekend and enjoying time with my cousins. I was cruising along the highway with the radio blasting. One of my favorite artist, Mary J Blige, new song came on. I began to focus on the lyrics. “All the times that I hated myself. All the times that I wanted to be someone else. All the times that I should have been gentle with with me. All the times that I should’ve been careful with me. Why did I hate myself so intensely? Lord help me…I wake up every morning and tell myself good morning gorgeous.”

Gillie’s Girls (missing Toya and Keeisha)

This song is a song full of great affirmations. Even before affirmations were cool and became an “it” thing, my Aunt Yogie had my cousins and I doing it. We loved the summer because we would be able to spend the night at her house. She allowed us to freely express ourselves. We would vocalize things that we liked or disliked about ourselves. She would have us take a look in the mirror and tell ourselves that we were beautiful. She continued and said, “Even though we might not like certain things about ourselves, we were made in God’s image. We were beautifully and wonderfully made.”

My aunt Yogie and my cousins (missing Allison) Blood doesn’t have to make you family.

Back to the trip driving home….I began to think about how I used to hate a certain thing about my body and how it was/is my insecurity. I’ve never been insecure about my size. Even at my largest size, I still felt fly. I have a family history of diabetes, breast cancer, high blood pressure, and I suffer from hypothyroidism. The reason that I am staying focused on weight loss now is to prevent the potential future health complications in my body.

My thing, my insecurity, my weakness, my kryptonite is facial hair. Even though I have come a long way in self care and self love, every now and then, things/feelings sneak up on you. Sometimes, these old feelings makes me doubt myself and makes me feel insecure all over again. As I listened to the song, I said this needs to be my daily affirmation, and I should say this to myself each morning.

Insecurities can develop over time and for different reasons. Mine developed because my mustache became a running joke in junior high. Kids, in school, can be cruel. I’ve always been more of a hairier person and had facial hair. I remember being picked on at school. Other classmates would say in front of other classmates. “You have a mustache”. Other classmates would laugh at the “joke.” I would retaliate back with an insult to deflect the laughs. Deep inside, all I wanted to do was yell or cry. I never cried in front of anyone, but, occasionally, I would when I got home.

A picture of me in high school

As I became an adult, it didn’t get any easier. Instead of classmates, it came from young children. The child might ask his/her why does she have a mustache. Most times, the parent would reprimand the child. I’d say it’s ok because I know children are innocent and inquisitive. They didn’t know. Even though I said it’s ok, I was hurting inside.

I didn’t do any type of self care growing up or as a young adult. It wasn’t until after my divorce that I began to do things for myself. I began to get massages, manicures, pedicures, and even laser treatments. The esthetician informed me that it can be hereditary. My fraternal grandmother had facial hair. It was definitely hereditary for me. As an African American, it will take more laser sessions in order to completely remove. https://www.glamour.com/story/laser-hair-removal-for-dark-skin/amp.

Doing laser treatments is a catch 22. You have to grow hair in order for the esthetician to be able to have enough to remove and treat. Laser treatment on the face is a painful procedure. Yes. I have tattoos, but laser treatment is a different type of pain. The face/lip have more sensitive nerve sensation. It is not fun having to do multiple sessions. I started using Nair or doing derma-facials to rid the facial hair in order to avoid the pain.

Before and after picture after receiving dermafacial treatment from Santana Roberson

I realize that everything is a process. If I want it completely gone, I have to trust and endure the process. Thank You Lord for the reminder that I am made in Your image. Just as the song says, I am beautiful (even with my facial hair). Therefore the greatest Christmas gift of all is loving yourself. My goals is to always love Carman (mind, heart, body, and soul) because girl. You are gorgeous. 💛💛💛

Part of the song *** I do not own the rights to this song***


The YouTube link above if you want to see me read it.

What 98 years of living taught me.

Today, I paid my respects to one of the sweetest people on earth. 🤍🤍🤍

Mrs Louise Kisor passed away last Friday. She lived to be 98 years old. I took this pic 10/10/2017. She was never one that liked having her picture taken. I was honored that she allowed me to take it that day. It made me feel special. I couldn’t post it, but I could take it lol
Phyllis and I laughed. We said that she can’t fuss at me for posting her gorgeous picture tonight. She might be fussing in heaven lol.

Here’s what Mrs Louise’s 98 years of living taught me.

  1. Always wear a smile. There was NEVER a time that I saw her, and she didn’t have a smile on her face. What a gorgeous smile it was. 😊
  2. Always look your best. There was never a time that I saw her that she wasn’t fashionable.
  3. Keep your hair done. I never saw Mrs Louise with a bad hair day.
  4. Love has no color. When Mrs Louise had her birthday parties, sometimes, I would be the only African American in the room. It made no difference to her. She loved me still.
  5. Treat people the way you want to be treated. It goes with number 4. If you show respect, you will be given respect.
  6. Honor your mother and your father. Your days will be long. This is a commandment in the Bible. Obviously, she got that right. She lived 98 years on earth.
  7. Travel. She had a daughter that lives in New York. She didn’t mind going to visit, but she was coming home. I love to travel.
  8. It’s ok to be independent. Mrs Louise did not mind doing things on her own. She didn’t look for a handout. If she could do it, she did it herself.
  9. To thine own self be true. It didn’t matter what others might have thought about her independence, she was a strong woman. She did what she felt was best for her.
  10. Love God. Mrs Louise was a God loving woman. She was active at her church home and loved her church family.

I could go on and on about her and the things she taught me. You’d be reading all night. 🙃

Mrs Louise, you will surely be missed. May you forever live in our hearts. 💛💛💛




“My past does not define me. I am a man.”

The man himself

“I am a man” are words that Jason takes pride in saying. For Jason, the meaning of being a man is being able to provide for his family; not only their needs but, also, their wants. Therefore, the words “I am a man” are not words that Jason takes lightly. There was a time period when Jason was unable to provide. He was sentenced to 40 years for possession of cocaine and intent to distribute cocaine. Some of his years were suspended. Jason served 5 years, but his past does not define the man that he is today. Statistics show that up to 63-75% of people that have been incarcerated will go back to jail within five years. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/76-released-inmates-arrested-again-within-5-years-report-n86826. Jason Westmoreland would not become one of these statistics.

The baby of the family

Jason said that his mother always made sure that he and his siblings needs were always met. Jason’s appetite of “wanting more” led him to a different lifestyle. Jason saw finer and fancier things, and he desired them for himself. Instead of working for those things, Jason took the path of selling drugs. “Selling drugs was was the only way that I thought I could I make sufficient amount of money to suppress my appetite,” but it didn’t last long. After 5-6 year of living the lifestyle he desired, Jason was arrested for possession of cocaine, intent to sell, and distribution of cocaine. Jason served 5 years.

A picture of Jason while he was incarcerated

After serving his time, Jason tried working working 9-5 jobs. He even tried work factory jobs, but none of those jobs were for him. He still had a taste for finer things in life, but he wanted to do it a legal way. With limited education, his choices were few that would allow him to make close to the money he had gotten accustomed to making.He was familiar with trucking because his grandfather, uncles, and some cousins were drivers. Jason decided he wanted to make a career in transportation. He said rain, sleet, or snow, you’ll find him behind the wheel of an 18 wheeler. Each time he is behind that wheel, Amber, his wife, is praying for his safety.

Amber, the queen of the house

Just because there is money in the industry, Jason and Amber have made sacrifices for their family for the betterment for their family. Initially, when Jason began to drive trucks, he had to do extremely long hauls on the road. He would be gone for a month or more and would only have two days off. He knew it was a sacrifice that he had to make to gain experience. After a period of time, Jason tried the short haul. He was coming home each day. Of course with the shorter distance, the money wasn’t the same. He and Amber had a discussion. In order for him to provide the lifestyle he desired and what he wanted to be able to give his wife and children{ (Jqwon(16), Gavin(12), and Jaceion (5)} all their needs and their wants, they decided for Jason to go back to long haul. Amber said that she would much rather have Jason on the road and absent during the week versus being prison walls.

The Westmoreland family

I asked Jason what was the hardest thing being on the road. His response was not being there to help his wife. He feels that he puts a burden on her by being on the road. She has to take the kids to their football games, karate, work, and do household chores alone. Jason said on the other aspect if he wasn’t on the road that he’d be at the house looking at them, and what good would that do them? He and Amber understand that sacrifices have to be made with him being in transportation, but it is a sacrifice that they are willing to make together. With the love, communication, and commitment, the Westmorelands are making it work.

My next question to him was what keeps you motivated to drive. One of the benefits is seeing the world for free. Jason said that he is paid to travel the US. He gets to see beautiful sceneries, mountains, and things he might not have ever seen before had he not been a truck driver.

One of the greatest benefits of driving is that Jason loves the fact that he can provide for his family. “It is a blessing not living paycheck to paycheck. I don’t have any worries when it comes to financial stabilities. I wish I’d started driving 20 years ago. I could have been a millionaire and retired by now.” By being in transportation, it has provided him the opportunity to purchase a new home for his family. Amber was desiring a new vehicle. A few Saturdays ago, he left the home with intentions of going to grab a sausage and biscuit. Instead, he came home with two new vehicles for their family. When his kids say “daddy I want this”, Jason said he has to stop himself from buying everything at that moment. Some of the reasoning for going ahead and purchasing what the kids wants is because it is his way of making sure that his sons do not go down the path that he was once on. He encourages and pushes education to them. If they decide on a trade, Jason will encourage them to do that as well. He knows that the 9-5 jobs aren’t for everyone. His oldest son told me that he might become a truck driver whenever he graduates. As we all know, truck drivers make the world go round.

The Westmoreland family

I asked Jason what advice would he give to anyone that is considering driving trucks. He would let anyone know that their are other options besides selling drugs. He said that a career can be made in driving trucks. “You have to leave home freely. If you don’t, you will leave home forcefully, be in a situation that you regret. It is great money, but sacrifices have to be made.” We discussed sacrifices earlier, but one of his sacrifices he made was that he moved away from home. The Westmorelands lived in Nashville for approximately 6 months. It didn’t last long. Jason said “I am a momma’s boy.” The family moved back to Mississippi. He doesn’t criticize the next person because he was once there. That way for him was simply turned into another direction (positive).

Jason now drives for Milan Supply Chain Solutions

If you are looking for Jason Westmoreland, you won’t find him behind a prison wall. Instead, you can look out your window on the highway, you might see him in passing on the highway in his 18 wheeler.

It won’t matter if it’s rain, sleet, or snow, you can count on Jason to be behind the wheel of his 18 wheeler being the man for his family. Be safe driver. You are appreciated.

This is Jason’s truck. He’d gotten stuck in the yard the night before. He was waiting on a tow truck to come pull him out. We got a laugh out of it.

**Here’s the link if you want to see the full interview. https://youtu.be/2_87O94_5Jk

“Like father. Like son”

In the month of November, the US celebrates the Thanksgiving holiday. People take the time to say what they are thankful for in their lives. Typically, people say friends, family, good health, and a job that provides income. I, too, am thankful for those same things, but I wanted to express gratitude to men/women that make the world go round. You might wonder who are these men/women? These men/women are those that get behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler each day to bring every single thing we have( rent or own) into our lives.

This month, I decided to show words of appreciation, gratitutde, and recognize the men/women that make the daily sacrifices for us. I wanted to thank them for all that they do. Part 1 of this month’s blog is dedicated to a father and his sons.

I think every man wants to hear these words. Dad, I want to be like you when I grow up. That’s what happened for Johnny Wooten. Mr. Wooten’s two sons, Robert and John, followed in the footsteps of their father and became a part of the transportation industry.

Lance and Mr. Wooten

Transportation industry was not Mr. Wooten’s first job. He and his wife of 57 years, Sammie, farmed. I asked what made him decide to enter into the career path of transportation. He stated that it wasn’t many options in those days to provide for a family. He has been driving 18 wheelers for the last 47-48 years. He has enjoyed the benefits it brings. His hard work and dedication influenced both of his son to become truck drivers as well. His son, Robert, made it to almost 33 years, and John has been driving for the last 3 years. It took John a little longer to follow in the path of his father and brother.

John (“Snout”)

John was in the restaurant business since the age of 15. He started off as a car hopper at Johnnie’s Drive In. Later, John would open his own restaurant in Saltillo by the name of John’s Place. He ended up closing it. Several years later, he went back into business for himself and opened Double Barrell. He had a location in Shannon and one in Tupelo. Due to the high cost of food and trying to keep doors open, he decided the restaurant business was no longer for him. He made a call to his brother, Robert, one night. He never looked back.

John and Mr Wooten

That Saturday night, John called Robert and told him that he wanted to talk to him. John wanted to ride with him on his next delivery. John knew that Robert was on his way to Clarksdale the next morning. On the trip, John informed Robert that he wanted to get out of the restaurant business and into trucking. Robert agreed to show him the ropes, but he told John that he wouldn’t last. He said John was only a “blowed up fry cook and a steering wheel holder.” Robert told John he wouldn’t last. John was determined to be successful in the business and make it last.

Lance holding a picture of his late uncle and grandfather

John recalls one trip. Robert, John, and their friend, Gary Kisner, had to take loads to Virginia. John said all the way there Robert gave him a hard time. It didn’t matter what he was doing. He was on his back and calling out every mistake. Finally, John had enough. He asked Robert to get off him. Gary asked Robert to leave John alone. On the way back to Tupelo to park their 18 wheelers, Robert called John on his c.b. He asked him how long he’d been driving. After John replied, Robert logged on Facebook and made a post. He told John how proud of him he was. John said he’ll never forget it.

This is the post Robert made on Facebook about how proud of John he was.

I mentioned “cb” name. It’s the name that truckers call drivers on their radio. Mr Wooten said that he is called Pops or Night Owl (former night driver). Robert’s was Pig Tail. It had nothing to do with a pig. It was because of one incident when Robert tore his pig tail wiring loose on his trailer. His co-workers used it accident as a joke. John’s cb name is Snout. It is a play on names because of Robert’s mistake.

Where John’s hand is pointing is what the “pig tail” wires are

March 15, 2021, Robert went on to be with the Lord. They’d come off the road the night before and went to hang out at Sharp Shooters. John recalls seeing him walk out of the building and smiling back at him. That would be the last time he’d see his brother alive. Robert made a career in transportation. This year would have made 33 years that he drove an 18 wheeler. His career began at Stone Container. He drove for Fed Ex for 8 years, GBC, and Ashley Furniture. Williams Logistics is where made his home and was who he drove for prior to his death. John said that Robert never stopped picking at him, but it was brotherly love. John said Mr. Wooten was the patient teacher, and Robert was the tough one. John said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Robert (“Pig Tail”)

I mentioned that Mr. Wooten has been driving for over 40 years. One day, John thought he was going to have more loads than his dad. He said he’d gotten up early one morning. He had done several trips. He was very excited entering in the office of William Logistics to turn in his bills. He thought he was going to rub it in with his dad’s face of how many he’d done. The business office informed John that Mr. Wooten had already been in hours before he had and had a head start on John. Mr. Wooten was tickled as John was telling the story. He said that even with bad knees he could still run circles around his sons. John said “he’s like an old gear that won’t stop.”

Driving trucks is not for the weak. There are some that come home each night and others do long haul. Those long haul drivers could be gone for days or weeks at a time. The longest Mr. Wooten was away was 5 days, and it was 4 days for John. Even though the pay is good on the long haul trips, Mr. Wooten enjoys coming home each night. He said at his age he is ok with working four days a week.

I asked them both what was something that made them want to keep driving. One thing that keeps Mr. Wooten motivated is the pay. He said he loves seeing that nice check each pay period. Also, he feels when he has delivered his goods and helped the economy out. The bad side of driving is when a delivery is not delivered on time. It is not always the driver’s fault. At times, traffic is bad, the weather is bad, or there is an accident on the road. They said that it isn’t an every day occurrence of these things happening, but it happens. Other times, people are on their cellphones and not paying attention to the road. People should be more aware because it is impossible to stop an 18 wheeler immediately.

At the end of each interview, I ask what advice would you like to give the next person. Mr. Wooten said that he advises anyone that is seeking employment in the transportation business to find someone to work with you. Do your best. Make yourself a good employee. Listen to someone who will help you.

Just as John had great examples in life to influence him, his son, Lance, does too. Lance is 15 and has decided that he wants to make truck driving his career as well. He said his has his grandfather, his dad, and his uncle that are an example to him. I’m not sure who will be the patient one to teach him, or who will be the strict one when it’s his time to get his lessons behind the wheel. One thing I do know is that he’ll make them all proud.

The title of this blog is “like father. like son”. One day, it will be three generations of truck drivers in the Wooten family. Thank you Wootens for all you do. You are appreciated.

If you would like to watch the full interview, here’s the link on my YouTube page. https://youtu.be/c3Q0oiqZOuU

“I am strong. I am an overcomer. I am a survivor.”

Just as the Phoenix bird, Claudia rose after the fire.

“I had the gun in my hand ready to take my life. My son walked in the room. He didn’t understand what was happening because he was younger. He gave me a look. The look, he gave, would be one of the defining moments that I realized I had to leave and get out of this situation. Not many people know, but I was ready to take my life in order to get out of it. My son walking in saved my life.”

Corwin, her son, as a toddler

Many are familiar with October being breast cancer awareness month, but did you know it is, also, domestic violence awareness month? Statistics show that 1 out of 3 women and 1 out of 4 men will experience either rape, physical violence, or stalking. Almost 50% of women and men experience psychological aggression. These are by intimate partners. People that have been victimized of digital abuse are twice as likely to be physical abused. http://www.thehotline.org/stakeholders/domestic-violence-statistics/. Studies, also, show that an average of 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner. 1 out of 15 children will be exposed to domestic violence. 21-60% of victims of partner violence will lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from abuse. http://www.ncado.org/statistic. The numbers of people that experience domestic violence were shocking to read. These are only a few of the statistics. As I was reading, I reflected on the numbers. More than likely, someone, you or I know or could be one of the people that are included in the numbers. My subconscious reminded me it was someone that I knew and someone very close to me.

Gillie’s Girls (We named it after our maternal grandmother and Claudia’s father’s mother)

For several years, my cousins and I get together bi-monthly and have quality girl time. Whenever we are together, we have intimate conversations. We are transparent about things happening in our lives. We encourage, support, and praise each other. During one of the conversations, Claudia shared with the group that she was a survivor of domestic violence. Here is her story.

Claudia was involved in abusive relationship for over 11 years. She knows that is a blessing to be a survivor and share her story. She does not take her being alive lightly because not all women/men are able to get away.72% of murder suicides involve an intimate partner. http://www.ncado.org/statistics.

The relationship did not start as physical. It began verbal, but it was disguised. It didn’t appear as what a person would think of as abuse. It was always questions about what she was doing? Where are you going? Who are you going with? Who was she talking to on the phone? If she didn’t answer any of these questions, it would be an argument. She could not change the location of where she told him she was going. If she did, it would be another argument. I asked her about one of the arguments that she remembered. She recalled a time when one of her maternal cousin’s mother passed away. Claudia told her ex-husband that she was going to her cousin’s house to spend time with her. While she was there, he was, constantly, calling her, but Claudia did not answer. She was focusing and utilizing her time on cousin as she was grieving. When she got home, he was very upset and an argument arose from her not answering.

When I captured this image, I imagined Claudia thinking of what all she has been through in life.

I asked her why did she decide to go ahead and get married if those things were happening prior to marriage. At the time, Claudia processed it as a way of him showing concern or his way of loving her. The reason he wanted to know where she was because he wanted to make sure she was safe. It made him her knight in shining armor. After marriage, the verbal abuse got worse. It progressed to him telling her she was fat, lazy, or stupid. He played on her emotions and mental state of being. He made her feel that she wasn’t beautiful and that no one else would want her. He played on her insecurities.

Claudia and Corwin in 2011

After marriage, the physical abuse began. The locations of where she was hit were hidden and disguised. They were strategically placed. The hits, bumps, and bruises were under her shirt or in the head. The bruises were never anywhere that anyone else could see. There would be words of love and endearment followed by words of hate and physical pain. It reminded me of the saying “oil and water can’t mix.” A person can’t promise you love and exemplify love while causing pain. That isn’t the way love operates. There were always promises of stopping. There were promises of changing and doing better. Please understand that a person can not change another person. The person has to want to change for himself/herself.

Claudia and Corwin (October 2021) 90’s theme party

I asked Claudia to tell me about the time when she knew enough was enough. Her ex-husband wanted to do a family day. Grudgingly, Claudia agreed. Before they left the house, Claudia received a call from a bill collector asking when they were going to pay the bill. After she hung up, she told her ex that family night was canceled because of the call. He wanted her to borrow the money from someone else for them to still go out. She felt paying the bill was more important and refused to ask a friend or family member for the money. His words to her. “I don’t know why I stayed married to your stupid ass. You get on my mother fucking nerves. I can’t wait til the day that I don’t have to be with you anymore. It won’t be much longer.” Claudia asked him to repeat what she said. The light switch went off in her head. Claudia did not want her son growing up thinking that it was ok for a man to talk to a woman nor treat a woman in this behavior. She’d prayed for a sign from God to show her when it was time to leave, and his words were that time. At the moment, they were living with her parents. She had nothing to lose. She told him to pack his things, to leave, and get out. Claudia states her son gave her the courage, and God gave her the strength to leave.

Claudia and her parents (Edwin and Virginia Jones). My uncle is deceased.

Claudia knows getting out of the relationship has made her a better person, as a sister, and a “damn good mom.” She has accomplished things in life and traveled locations that she would not have been able to do had she stayed. She is thankful for God bringing her through.

December 2018, Claudia completed her nursing assistant degree. Since then, she has continued her education and is a LPN.

Each time I interview someone, I, always, ask what advice would you give a person. Claudia’s advice is this. There are various resources and outlets that provide help to women and men that are in domestic violence relationship. Every person should be happy and feel loved because love doesn’t hurt. Love is kind and unwavering. Anytime your significant other says or does things that hurt, belittle, or make you feel less than what you are, you should get out. Don’t worry about being ashamed or embarrassed because life is more important than temporary embarrassment.

Claudia, the survivor

At this very moment, you might not have the strength to get out. I pray for each person that might be in a domestic violence relationship as you read. I pray that God orders your steps and gives you strength to get out of the potential life threatening situation. In my prayer, I will add the the prayer that Claudia prayed. “Lord, lay my path in front of me as clear as a stepping stone.” May God guide you to safety, freedom, and a better/safer life.

Claudia enjoying life and every moment it brings.


Here is the full interview on my YouTube page.

“We only have one life to live. Make sure you live your best life.”

A few weeks ago, I was at work, and one of my regular customers entered the lobby. I left my office and went to speak to Mr. John Doe (name has been changed for privacy reasons). I gave Mr. Doe a hug and asked how he’s been because it had been a while since I’d seen him. Mr. Doe said that he’d been given the diagnosis of having terminal cancer. I gave my apologies. He said for me not to apologize because he’s lived a good life. He said he was at peace and ready to be with God whenever the last breath left his body.

I was shocked and told him that I had never in my forty-four years of living heard anyone say that. He told me his reason why. His why was a promise he’d made to God over fifty years ago. Mr. Doe was drafted for the Vietnam war. At the time, his wife was pregnant with their son and was expected to deliver any moment. He was granted permission to stay at home for three months with her and the baby. He said during those three months that some of the people he knew from his hometown were killed in the war. When the time came for him to leave, he said he didn’t want to leave his wife, his new baby, and was afraid of the possibility of him losing his life as well. Mr. Doe told me that he prayed before he left. He said that he asked God if He would allow him to go to war and return back safely that he’d serve Him to the day he died. He said that was a promise that he kept. That was why he was at peace with his soon to be death.

His story really did something to me. I began to reflect over my life. I haven’t been to war, but I’ve had things that been earth shattering to my soul, moments that made me feel as if the wind had been knocked out my chest, and days and nights I’ve cried nonstop. I’ve experienced hurt that I wouldn’t want anyone else to feel. I’ve been lied on. I’ve asked God why did I have to endure those things and wondered if the truth would ever be revealed. During some of these moments, I became stressed and depressed. I couldn’t understand the why. Recently in prayer, God let me know that we might not always understand why some people do the things they do. I needed to quit stressing over things such as trying to understand those types of people. God wouldn’t let me give up. He gave me strength to keep going, to hang on, and share my testimony with someone else that might be going through something similar. I want people to know that no matter how hard it gets to never give up.

I captured this beautiful sunrise on my way to the gym one morning. Sunsets and sunrises are one of the most beautiful things that God gives. I, personally, look at it as my time from God to never give up.

This June, I went to Jamaica for my birthday. A lot of people asked me was I afraid of going internationally alone. I wasn’t because I was at peace within my spirit. There were several eventful things that happened that I could have let ruin my trip. Before I even left Memphis, I almost left my paperwork in my truck that I would have needed to enter the country. I almost missed my first flight . I’d left my paperwork for the covid test in my room that I needed in order to get back into the US. One healthcare worker didn’t want to let me sit and wait. Another one of the healthcare workers allowed me to stay, and she squeezed me in between other travelers that were prepared. I’d hired someone to take my pictures on the beach, but the photographer didn’t show up. After waiting over an hour, I asked a random worker from the resort if he’d take them. Despite all the hiccups, God showed me favor the entire trip. I went into more detail in my July blog in case you missed it. I could have let those things ruin my trip if I’d dwelt on it negatively. Instead, I went with the flow. My goal is to shift my mindset whenever a situation arises. It could be this, BUT it can also be that. Think the quantum theory we were taught growing up in our science class. It says for every negative, there is a positive. That’s the outlook I’m trying to live in my life.

One of the pictures that I had one of the resort employees took when the photographer canceled.

I bring up Jamaica for this reason.. I, too, said a prayer to God. It was my last day there in Jamaica that I gave God complete control over some situations going on in my life that were becoming overwhelming. In life, there are going to be sadness, heartaches and disappointments. I was going to my therapist and praying to God to help me endure. While I was there, I told God that I could not fix these situations. I said I can not understand everything that I am going through, but I put all the situations in His hand. I know that if I put the situations in His hands. I would have to stop trying to fix it and know that He would take care of me and the situations. I gave it all to Him on that day. Just a much as the trip was pleasure, it was spiritual and therapeutic trip as well

My last day in Jamaica. I made my first vlog here with this gorgeous background. https://youtube.com/channel/UCOZDt9VdVUzcirkECrifXyw

I know we’ve all heard the saying that life is short. It really is. We can be here today and be gone tomorrow. Think about it. There are people that you talked to on the phone and a few days later that person was gone from here on earth. We were unable to prepare for that person’s death. We are left shocked and hurting because of the quick demise. Sometimes, we have a family member or friend that is diagnosed with an illness as Mr Doe. The person is only given a few months to live. What do we do with that time? Do we sit and wonder what about the things that we should have done or could have done? Do we reflect on life and think about all things we’ve accomplished? Do we think about relationships we have with our friends and loved ones? What we could have done to make it better or to improve it? Do we think about and ask ourselves did we live our life to the best of our ability?

My reasons why I am trying to be the best version of Carman. These are my children. I want them to have a mom that is whole.

Here’s something else. Sometimes, we get caught up on wondering what other people will say about us if we do a certain thing. I can’t lie. In this past, this was something that I struggled with on a regular basis. Thanks be to God, I no longer care. I wondered if I wore this would I be criticized. If I said a certain thing and voiced me opinion about a situation, what will society think of me? We cannot control what people say about us. We cannot control what people think about us, but we can control how we respond to those things. We have to learn to not give people power and control over our lives. People will always have something to say. If we’re happy, they’ll say that it’s no way that person can be that happy. They’re just pretending. If we’re sad, they’ll say why are they sad. What’s wrong with them? They need to move on and quit being sad. That’s why we can’t get caught up on the opinions of others.

Me being happy with life

Life is truly short. It doesn’t matter if you made a promise to God. It doesn’t matter if you could care less what people say or do about you. It doesn’t matter if you have someone spreading lies on you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been through a bitter divorce. It doesn’t matter if you have lost friends that you thought would always be there for you. It doesn’t matter if you lost the job that you thought you’d retire from one day. I’m not saying those things aren’t meaningful. Nor am I saying that those things won’t bother you. I’m saying that you can’t quit living life when those things happen. Don’t get caught on people. Don’t give them your peace that you have worked hard to get to that place. Time is something that we can not get back. How we spend our time is important. We don’t want to reflect back on our lives and think of the should, woulda, and coulda’s. We need to live our lives to the fullest. We need to live our life with no regrets. Do what’s best for you and no one else!!!!! I want to be just like Mr. Doe and be at peace within myself and my spirit when my time here on earth is coming to an end. At the end of the day, you only have one life to live. Make sure you’re making the best of it.

Me not caring what anyone says because I’m out here living my best life.


My YouTube post

“My Independence Day”

Today is July 4th, and this is my vlog post for this month.

Several people have asked me why I don’t have a YouTube channel. Honestly, I was reluctant because of my lack of knowledge when it comes to technology. I even had trouble today with uploading. I had to do it from my phone. The quality isn’t the best.

While I was on vacation, I had a lot of people to send me messages asking if I traveled to Jamaica alone. Here’s my reason why. This was my first and ONLY take. I had to finish packing for the plane. I hope you enjoy.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel to make sure you don’t miss any videos.

“Preparing for the ultimate race, this thing called life”

A marathon is 26.2 miles. It’s not just for super athletes. There are people of all shapes and sizes, ages, and genre that will begin. One can’t simply wait until the day of the race to start preparing and expect to win. There is work behind this. Everyone will start, but not all will make it to the end. The good thing about life is that we can all be winners.

Typically, training takes 16-20 weeks to prepare for the marathon. This includes the runner running 3-5 times a week. Each week, he/she should increase the miles ran. There should also include strength training for your muscles to help endure (http://www.runnerworld.com).

As I was thinking about this month’s blog, I thought about another kind of racing-horses. Growing up, my father had three horses. On the weekends, we would go and ride. I have always had an admiration for horses (their strength, their beauty, and their endurance).

I’m not sure if you ever watched or heard of the Kentucky Derby. It is one of the elite social events of the year. Men and women are decked in their finest attire. Women’s heads are adorned with the largest and most unique hat they can find. While it a social event, the horses have trained and prepared for the race.

Training is typically in the mornings. Trainers focus on physiological as well as the physical. It is important for the horse not to have anxiety on the day of the race http://www.ofhorse.com. When you see the horses on tv or in person, you should know there is plenty of work and preparation behind it.

I’m sure you are wondering where I am going with this. For me, life is a simile of a race. The moment, we are born, our parents began to prepare us for life. They know what lies ahead.. They have already experienced where we are going. They watch us grow from infants into adulthood. They try to shield us from being hurt. They know that some challenges will be won, and there will be some failures. It is what life brings.

My mom and I

Even though life brings forth obstacles, we must not quit. Sometimes, just as soon as we jump over one hurdle, another one is there waiting on us. It doesn’t matter if we trample over it, leap high without touching it, or run right through it, we will not be disqualified. The importance of it is to never quit.

Other times, there is rain. The sun can be beaming down our faces, and the rain can come pouring down unexpectedly. This is the last thing that a runner or a jockey on the horse would want. Rain slows you down. If you aren’t prepared, you might want to give up. In life, we will have days where things are going great. Then, booom!!!! Here comes the rain. Will you dance in the rain like no one is watching, or will you let it ruin your day?

Family vacation in 2017. In New Orleans, and we got caught in the rain.

As I was gathering information for this month’s blog, there was one article about how to mentally prepare for a race. A couple of suggestions were to visualize yourself finishing yourself finishing and to run your own race http://www.runninforsweets.com. That was very profound to me. We must realize that life is not a competition, and that we must focus on ourselves. The race your friend or family member is on will never be the race you are on. There might be similarities, but no one deals with situations exactly the same. That is what makes us unique.

Today is my 44th birthday. I’ve had journeys. I’ve had hills. I’ve had mountains. I’ve had bumps and bruises. I’ve had heartaches. I’ve felt faint. BUTTTTT I’ve had sunny days. I had love. I’ve had rainbows. I’ve had days filled with glitter and days where I made lemonade out of lemons. Even though life might get hard at times, I shall never quit. Whether it is a Boston Marathon or the Kentucky Derby, there can only be one winner. In life, we can all win. It is the perspective we choose.

The summarization of Ecclesiastes 9:11 is the race is not given to the swift nor to the strong but he that endures to the end. It is one of my favorite scriptures. It helps keeps me focused. Another quote I use often is a sermon that my father once preached. It says, “a good start is important, but the key is to finish.” With that being said-Let’s go running y’all. We have a race to finish!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“Even superheroes get weak”

We all have that friend or family member we can depend on no matter what. That person is dependable and reliable. That person encourages and uplifts. Basically, that person is there whenever we need him/her. He/she is a confidant. He/she is trusting and a pleasure to be around. That person is our rock. If you ever had the pleasure of meeting, knowing, or spending time with Shay Ashford, you know she embodies all of these traits and characteristics.

What happens when the person we depend on and lean on so much gets weak? What happens when our rock is suffering in pain and in silence that he/she is willing to end it all? Because of a chronic illness, Crohn’s disease, Shay has suffered and dealt with pain day in and day out, and only a very few knew the extent of pain she was in. One day, Shay had enough. She asked her father, Chip Ashford, to take his gun and shoot her because of the pain she was in. We all depend on our rock. There are times, even our rock, our superheroes get weak.

Shay is a person that never complains. You would never know what she battling internally. I have been guilty of calling in for a headache. I’m sure I’m not alone for calling in and might could have gone ahead to work. Yet each day, she presses on in spite of how she is feeling and goes to work without complaining. A few weeks ago, I began a series on Shay and how Crohn’s affected her life. When she was diagnosed in 2007, there was not a lot of information about Crohn’s. During her interviews, I asked Shay how the flare ups made her feel, the number of surgeries she’s had, and some moments that stuck out to her as she deals with Crohn’s on a daily basis. In her words, “Crohn’s ruined my life.” Shay went from being the social butterfly and a star athlete to a person who was bedridden for days or weeks at a time and having to give up the sport she loved. Her body had now become her enemy. Since that time, she has had over four surgeries and over twenty hospitalizations. Ask yourself this question. Would you still be able to press on?

Prior to Crohn’s, Shay lived a carefree life. She was able to hang out with friends with no worries. After her diagnosis, she had to worry about how many times she would have to use the bathroom. She had to know how long the ride would be because of the possibility of having to use the bathroom. She had to know where she would be dining whenever she ate with friends or family. She would have to look up the menu prior to going to see if it was something she would be able to eat. After Crohn’s, Shay was no longer able to eat lettuce, popcorn, anything spicy, or crab legs (one of her favorite dishes). There would be no more overnight stays with friends. If she did agree to go, she had to make sure there would be multiple bathrooms. Shay’s main concern was that she did not want to take away the fun from others. She did not want to be a burden to anyone.

During our conversation, I asked Shay during one of her 20 hospitalization, was there any moments that stood out? There is one hospitalization that sticks out vividly in her mind. She was teaching for New Albany Public Schools. That morning, she had one of her flare up symptoms (thrush in her mouth). She said everything tasted like wood. Later that day, she began to feel worse. Her ears began to burn. For her, that is a tale-tale sign that bleeding has began in her body. Therefore, she knew that her symptoms and flare up was about to be worst. Prior to that day, Shay had already been to the ER 4-5 times because of her flare ups. Because of her symptoms and knowing and body, she knew she needed to get to the hospital fast. She calls for someone to cover her class and the nurse because she knew she had to get to the ER and quickly. The nurse would not let her drive herself to Tupelo. She met her father, Chip Ashford, halfway to Tupelo.

When she got to the room, she tells Chip that she has to use the bathroom. When she goes, the toilet is full of blood. She is weak and barely makes it back to the bed. Only a few minutes later, she has the urge to use the bathroom again. She tells Chip that she feels her body weakening and knows she is at the point of passing out. She told him she needed him to come with her because if she did pass out she would need someone to get her. Just as she suspected, she passes out in the restroom and has a dream.

Her dream is of flying pigs. They tell her “follow me Shay. Follow me into the light.” She begins to follow them. The sun was happy and shiny. She starts gravitating towards the light. After following them for a little while, she tells the pigs she can’t go the light. She tries to turn backwards, but she is unable to move. She attempts to turn again. This time, she awakens. When she does, she is on a gurney, and Chip is standing over her and asking her to wake up. She begins to vomit on the floor and in her hair. If you know Shay, you know she’s a germaphobe. She said she wasn’t worried about her body. She was worried if the vomit got in her hair. ☺️ On this visit, she has to be admitted for 3 days. Only few family members know that she is even there. They bring her one of her favorite stuffed animals, lady bug. The lady bug is symbolic for good luck. In that moment, good luck and positive vibes is what she needed.

Shay has endured four surgeries because of the Crohn’s. The most horrible surgery was in 2016. The reason for the surgery was because her bowel was not moving through her rectum as it should. She had anal fissure (tear in anal lining) and anal fistulas (infection in anus). Having the surgery was important because her body was identifying the stool as a foreign object. Her body was going into shock because of the pain. The pain she experienced prior to the surgery was nothing compared to the pain she felt after surgery. The only thing that helped eased the pain was bathing in warm water. Her mother, Carolyn, helped her into the tub. Even the warm baths weren’t helping. At that moment, Shay could not take anymore. She asked her dad to shoot her. That was the only way she felt that she could escape the pain. They all sat in the bathroom and cried as Shay suffered in pain. It would take months for her body to completely heal and for her to regain her strength. Still to this day, Shay said the pain she felt was the worst she ever felt in her life.

Typically, a person does not have colonoscopies until the age of 50 (http://www.cancer.org). Due to the in inflammation of the bowels, people that are diagnosed with Crohn’s are more likely to develop colon cancer (http://www.webmd.com). Due to Crohn’s, Shay has a colonoscopy every two years. In 2019, during one of Shay’s routine colonoscopies, the doctors were unable to complete it. The doctors were not able to see inside the colon with the scope because of two blockage, and there was a possibility of colon cancer. She was referred to a specialist. The doctors said that she would have to have surgery to go in to see what was going on. They gave her three scenarios because they didn’t know what it would look like when they went inside. Option A. The large intestines would be taken out and reconnect the small intestines. They would make a clean passage. The small intestines would do what the large intestines used to do. Option B. Everything did not go as smooth, and she would have to wear a colostomy bag for six weeks. She would go back after six weeks and reconnect the small intestines to the rectum. That is if it was a little irritation. The colostomy bag is a plastic bag that collects feces from the digestive tract with and opening from the abdominal wall (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com) Option C. If they go in, try to connect it, and it won’t connect, she would have to wear the colostomy bag permanently for the rest of her life. The doctors felt that because of her being young that option a is what they were hoping for, but she had to be prepared for option C. She didn’t want to have surgery. She did pray about the options, but she was afraid. Shay felt that she PTSD from the surgery of 2016. She didn’t want to have the surgery because of what previously happened. She was afraid of the healing process and wondered what would the pain level be this time around. She researched YouTube, talked to her doctors, and called her friends to get insight on what would happen. None of it helped, but she decided to go ahead and go through the surgery. In order to prevent the risk of colon cancer, Shay’s entire right colon and appendix was removed on December 17, 2019. The hospitalization was four days.

She said it was the best decision ever in her life. She wish she’d done it earlier. It didn’t take away her having Chron’s, but she no longer suffers in pain each day. She is able to eat things that she previously had to let go. She no longer lives her life in fear. Before the total right colon removal, Shay was afraid of trying new things and living her full potential because of her illness. Now, the fear is gone. She is able to live a care free life. She is able to bet he social butterfly that she once was. I am glad and thankful that Chip did not honor her request.

Remember, just because you see someone smiling, it does not mean there isn’t pain behind it. There are people that push through the pain regardless of what is going on with their bodies. They get up, get dressed for work, encourage you, pray for you, and still have a smile on their face. BUT!!!!!! If you don’t remember anything else, remember this!!!!!! There are times, even our superheroes get weak.

“There are superheroes living amongst us each day “

Many of us wake up each day with no pain. We get up and go about our morning/daily routine (showering, breakfast, leave for school or work). Have you ever stopped and thought that waking up with no pain is actually a blessing? For the person that suffers with Crohn’s disease or any type of chronic illness, the person may not have the luxury of waking up with no pain.

March is recognized as colon cancer awareness month. I did a three part series on my friends, Gary and Mary Pat Hancock. When I was discussing my topic for the month of March with one my close friends, Shay Ashford, she reminded me about having her total right colon removed in order to prevent the possibility of her getting colon cancer as a Crohn’s patient. Statistics show that every 1 out of 20 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. People with Crohn’s have an even higher risk of obtaining it. http://www.everdayhealth.com. Initially, I thought she would be the week four blog post in the month of March to conclude the series, but there was so much to her story that needed to be shared as well. It would be impossible to tell it all in one week.

If you were like me, you might not even know what Crohn’s disease is. I had not heard of it until Shay told me about her diagnosis and how having Crohn’s has affected her life. Before I share part one her story of her with her battle of how having Crohn’s diseased changed her life, I need to explain what Crohn’s is and how it affects people.

Crohn’s disease is an chronic illness. It is inflammation of the bowel. Some of the symptoms are excruciating stomach pains, fatigue, severe diarrhea, malnutrition, and fatigue. Sometimes, the complications of Crohn’s can lead to death. There is no cure for Crohn’s disease. People that live with it have to learn how to live with it and attempt to do certain things to reduce pain and flare ups. http://www.mayoclinic.org

The symptoms can be mild or severe. They can develop or a period of time, or it can hit a person at all once. This is called the active time period. During this active period, the list of possibilities of symptoms goes on. Sadly, a person can experience several of these symptoms at once. Other symptoms besides the ones from above are blood in stool, mouth sores, reduced appetite, pain or drainage in the anus, inflammation in several areas (skin, eyes, joints, liver, or bile ducts), iron deficiency and kidney stones. If you have some of those symptoms, it does not mean you have Crohn’s. The time to see the doctor is when you are experiencing blood in stool, days of diarrhea, unexplained weight loss, unexplained fever, or abdominal pain http://www.mayoclinic.org. There are even times when nothing is going on. This period is called remission.With symptoms as these, I would personally call it moments of gratitude because I wouldn’t be in pain.

Since November 2003, this was not the case for Shay. It would be the moment that her life would forever change, and things would never be the same. Shay remembers it as if it were yesterday. She was in her college dorm room watching an episode of The Golden Girls when she would have experience her first symptoms; what we now know as her experiencing her first flare up. She felt sick to her stomach and had to go to bathroom. She was vomiting and experiencing diarrhea. Shay assumed it was something she’d eaten and didn’t put much thought into it. Around day 5 of the same thing going on, Shay was extremely weak that her basketball coach had to come feed her like an infant. The smell of food would not allow her to keep anything down. This went on for 7-8 days. After lasting that long, Shay knew it was more than a stomach bug or a bad case of diarrhea. She just didn’t know what it was.

The next severe flare up did not happen until the summer of 2004. Shay was on the track field with her basketball team. Her vision became blurry, and her ears began to hurt. The coach blew the whistle for the team to begin. Shay could not move because of not being able to see and the pain in her ear. She began to black out. Her coach yelled at her because she was not running with her teammates. He asked her was she scared to work out. He even gave her an option. He told her she could either start working out or pack her bags and go home. If you know Shay, she is an athlete. She has been involved in sports all her life. She was not a quitter. She gathered up some strength and began walking as fast as she could around the track. Every 10 steps, she was vomiting on the track. She only made 1 lap around the track, and she collapsed. She doesn’t remember how she got back to her dorm room.

This flare up lasted almost 2 weeks. She was experiencing constant diarrehea, rapid weight loss, no desire to eat, and thrush in the mouth. Shay was going from doctor to doctor to see what was going on with her body. Doctors were saying it was bacteria in her blood, the flu, or a stomach virus. She was having a side effects from the medications on the same time having a flare up, but she didn’t know it was a flare up. She was having to use the bathroom approximately 4 times in each hour. The diagnosis the doctors were giving her symptoms were absurd. She knew it wasn’t the flu. She knew it wasn’t a stomach virus. She lost 40 pounds in 3 days. Her teammates would be shocked when they saw her. Shay was in her room crying and praying for an answer. Due to her being in pain and not being able to practice, Chip, her father, came and withdrew her from school. Shay enrolled at ICC on a basketball scholarship. The head coach gasped when Shay arrived on campus. Shay was not the athlete she’d watch play in high school. Shay told her she was overcoming a sickness. She assured the coach that she would be able to practice if she would bare with her during this time.

In January 2005, there was a little relief. Shay went to a gastroenterologist and was diagnosed with Crohn’s. Even though she had the diagnosis, it didn’t help much. There was little information out about Crohn’s. The doctors didn’t know how to control it or how to reduce the symptoms. The doctors were changing her medications to see what happened. In the first 2 years, she changed about 6 times. The doctors told her to keep up with what foods made her sick and what didn’t. Her weight and health was in such bad condition. Typical body fat for athletes ranges from between 14-20% http://www.healthline.com. During this time, Shay’s body fat was reduced to 10%.

In August 2006, Shay transferred to the University of Alabama. The first year wasn’t bad. She would have min-flare ups that lasted 1-2 weeks instead of the 2-4 weeks before diagnosis. The college got a new basketball coach in June 2007. Shay was excited. Her stamina was coming back. She was looking forward to a new season. July 2007, Shay woke up that morning feeling dizzy. She went to the bathroom, and everything was coming out on both ends. When she flushed the toilet, all she saw was blood. Within 20 minutes, it was still going on, and Shay used the bathroom 4 more times. She freaked out. She called the coach, but he didn’t answer. She called the trainer. The trainer asked if she was able to drive to the school’s infirmary. Somehow, she was able to make it. It was nothing but the grace of God that allowed her to get there safely. During the drive, her head was spinning, ears were burning, and her vision was blurred. Once she was inside of the clinic, she passed out. She remembers the nurse slapping her in the face telling her to wake up and not to die on the floor. The nurse was kind and helped Shay clean herself up before the paramedics came to take her to the ER. When the paramedics came and rolled her out, Shay remembers seeing her teammates and coaches outside watching. All she could think about at that moment was being embarrassed because they’d seen her in that condition.

For 2 days, Shay remained in the hospital with no answers. Chip came and drove her to NMMC. The doctors discovered she had ulcers in her intestines. She had to receive blood at the hospital and another form of medication at the cancer center. After about 15 minutes of her second treatment, Shay had an allergic reaction to the Remicade and couldn’t breathe. The nurse inserted Benadryl into the treatment. They tried one more time doing the blood treatments at the cancer center, and the same thing occurred. That had to be stopped. It was trial and error with her body and her medications. Her medications had been changed many times. She had taken prednisone, flagly, Remicade, and some other pills. Now, her flare ups included everything she was already experiencing with bloody stools, receiving blood, and hospitalization that lasted for days. Would this ever stop? Would Shay ever get any relief?

I asked her how did the flare ups make her feel and how often was she having them. From 2004-2009, she was having flareups 4-5 times a year. 2010-2015, she was having them 2-4 times those years. 2016-2017, there were 6 flare ups. 2016 was a very bad year for her. Later, you’ll read why. Her answer to how the flare ups made her feel was the she had no control over her body. She was afraid of going places in fear of the possibility of having to go to the bathroom. There was no word to describe the pain that she was feeling. She felt that she had lost her true identity of Shay because of Crohn’s. She didn’t want to be a burden to a potential spouse because of her illness. She felt bad because of her parents or grandmother having to take off work to take care of her. She felt useless as a person.

The first time her grandmother, Lula, saw her. She began to cry. She said my baby is dying. That was a moment that Shay will never forget. In actuality, Mrs. Lula did not realize how true of a statement she made. I recalled one weekend going to the movies. I’d seen the movie, A fault in our stars. The movie was about a two teenagers with terminally and chronically ill patients that fell in love. Their parents did not want them to be together because they knew the end results for their lives. At the end, they die. After it was over, Shay and I were on the phone. I was in tears about the movie. I will never forget Shay telling me that is how she feels. There is not a day that her body is not in pain. She was smiling on the outside and going through her day, but she was in severe pain internally. There was a point that Shay should have died, she could have died, and Shay wanted to die because of the pain, how her life completely changed, and how things were no longer the same. In 2016 (during one of her flare ups), Shay was in excruciating pain and was unbearable. To escape the pain and misery, she asked her father to take his gun and shoot her…….

“I know the true meaning of in sickness and in health.”

January 1, 2016, Gary Hancock logged onto his Facebook page and wrote “I can’t wait to see what all good things come out of 2016. I am looking forward to a blessed year.” That would be the last time he would ever write those words. He said that he wishes it in his mind, but he will never write those words again on any social media platform. 2016 became of the most trying years of his life. In 2016, it became a year that Gary would experience the true meaning of the words (when he took his vows) through sickness and health. In 2016, he, also, experienced something else that was traumatic. What a year, 2016, it would be….

In 2010, Gary’s friends told him that they wanted to introduce him to someone, he told them that as long as the woman knew he wasn’t interested in anything serious he was okay with having a new friend. All he wanted was someone to occasionally go to dinner. Surprisingly, Mary Pat told her friends the same thing. The joke was on them. They fell in love. A year later, they were walking down the aisle saying “I do”. July 22, 2011 was when they became one together with them and with God on their side. It was God that gave them strength during these tumultuous times.

It was only a month later after Gary’s Facebook post that he felt the wind knocked out of him. Mary Pat was experiencing irregular symptoms going on in her body. She was bleeding in her stool. Mary Pat assumed it was irritable bowel syndrome. Through the urging of her family and Gary, she went to the doctor. Mary Pat was diagnosed with colon cancer.

Everything was set for Mary Pat to have surgery on February 1. Two days later, Gary’s mother, Jo Ann Holloman, was diagnosed with colon cancer too. Can you imagine having to try to be there for your mother and your wife at the same time with the same diagnosis? Can you imagine being pulled in two different directions because you want to be there for your wife, and you want to be there for your mom? Mary Pat made the decision for him. She told him she had plenty of support and for Gary to be with his mother. Be being with his mother, he was able to make lasting memories. Initially, Gary was afraid of losing his wife when she received her diagnosis, but he lost his mother to colon cancer instead.

Mrs. Holloman had no symptoms of any type of cancer, and their family had no history of cancer. Her diagnosis was a surprise because she was only exhibiting signs of anemia.She set up an appointment with her endocrinologist. Her doctor ordered a colonoscopy. There was still no sign of cancer, only the anemia. Four weeks later, her doctor still wasn’t satisfied. He ordered a more invasive scope. This scope revealed that Mrs. Holloman was in stage 4 cancer. The doctor had Gary to step out and delivered the news to him. Mrs Holloman asked Gary what the doctor said. He didn’t want to tell his mom what the doctor said about her diagnosis. She insisted that he shoot it to her straight. Gary uttered the words, ” Mom, the doctor says that you only have 6-9 months to live unless a miracle happens.” Mrs. Hollomon said “maybe, I’ll be the wrong to prove him wrong.” It was exactly 3 months from her diagnosis that Mrs. Hollomon took her last breath. She passed away May 2, 2016.

Gary said the months from February to June of 2016 was a total blur. It was filled of doctor’s appointments with his mom and making sure Mary Pat was ok. He was the only surviving child left. His brother passed away over 20+ years prior. His step-father passed away 2 years prior to his mom. He is thankful for their friends and family that stayed with Mary Pat as he was with his mother the last days of her life.

Life was going good. Mary Pat received a clean bill of health for three years. In 2019, her cancer returned. Here he was having another in sickness and in health test. He felt hopeless. All he had left was his wife and children. He begged God to please not take Mary Pat from him. Mary Pat had her ovaries removed. The doctors thought this would have her tumor level numbers back aligned. When she had her follow up appointment, her numbers were four times higher. This time, it was discovered that the cancer returned in her liver. Surgery was set at UAB March 2020. Prior to surgery, the hospital told Gary that he would be able to stay in the room with her during recovery.

On day of the surgery and after they’d taken Mary Pat to the back, they told that Gary would not be able to stay at the hospital during her recovery because of new Covid procedures. Gary wanted to pass out. He could not see her in prepping, after recovery, or even after surgery. The moment she was rolled back was the last time he would see her until she was released. UAB told Gary that he could drive back home, and they would call him each day to inform him of Mary Pat’s status. Gary did not care what the hotel fee was going to be he was not leaving Birmingham without his wife. Years prior, Gary worked in the hospitality industry. He still had friends there. They allowed him to use the friends and family discount for his stay. Due to the entire world had been shut down, there was nothing Gary could do but sit and wait. Gary said that he watched a lot of television and ate at few local restaurants that were still open. Due to the havoc and extra responsibilities of everyone in a hospital, UAB was not able to contact Gary as they’d stated. He was feeling helpless.

After being in the hospital for 6 days, Mary Pat was able to come home, but the feeling of helplessness was still there. He wanted to be strong for his family. He remembers one night he and Hayden were outside. Hayden asked was his mom going to be ok. He assured him that if it was the Lord’s will that she would. In the back of his mind, he was still wondering because he was thinking of his mother and her death. His mother was ordered chemotherapy. She was not able to take it. All she had was one round, and it put her in the hospital for one month. Mary Pat was ordered 12 rounds of chemotherapy, the same regiment his mother was on. Each round Mary Pat had, Gary wondered what if it got to the point that she could no longer take it and if it would do the same to her as it did his mom. One of his friends, Bobby Mooneyham, told Gary that because of everything he experienced with his mother he knew too much dealing with Mary Pat’s health and her recovery. He finally had a meltdown one night. He had been holding in his mother’s death for years. Mary Pat encouraged him to let it out and to seek counseling to help him through the emotions. Therapy still helps him to this day get through the hard times of life.

Each year, Mary Pat has to have test to ensure that the cancer has not returned. Gary tries to remain calm and not worry that is has returned. Even in the her moments of weakness, he could not give up nor let her give up. Gary’s faith in God and the support of family and friends have helped him endure the trying times. Sometimes, Mary Pat has questioned God why she lived and his mother did not. During a private moment before her death, Mary Pat assured Mrs. Holloman that he would take care of Gary and make sure he was ok.

Often times, couples do not make it when the sickness and health comes. Divorce is soon after. I asked Gary what advice would he give to anyone that is dealing with an illness of his/her spouse. Gary said that you have to have three people in your marriage (the couple and God). Without God, it will not survive. He said to be sure to support your spouse and to remember the vows that were taken before God. Through sickness and health. To death us do part. With God, all things are possible.

Sidenote… I went back to ask Gary more questions, and Hayden was home for spring break. It was impossible not to include him in hearing how he felt about his mother’s journey. I asked him how did he feel as his mother was going through chemotherapy and diagnosis. He said that he held it in. He did not express himself outwardly. To ease his mind, he played a lot of golf. That helped keep his mind off what was happening. Because of covid, he did not want to expose his mom to any germs and visit often. Hayden said it was very tough for him. He was not one to express his emotions until it was all over. He said that his mother’s healing and a clean bill of health was the best news that he ever received in his life. He said it was priceless. He said seeing Mary Pat ring the bell was worth it all.

The day Mary Pat rang the bell.

“I heard the words I have cancer twice.”

Here she was celebrating with her friends and family having dinner at Old Venice when Mary Pat received a call from her guardian angel. He told her Mary Pat. “I know you’re celebrating with your friends and family, but you were right. You cancer is back. There is a spot on your liver. You need to have more test.”

The ironic thing is that she didn’t have a clean bill of health.

Mary Pat had stepped outside on the patio when the call came through. She turned and looked at Gary. By the look on her face, immediately, he knew something was wrong. He stepped out to the patio to join her. Her friends were inside having a joyous time believing that all was well. Mary Pat and Gary had to yet again break the dreadful news that her cancer had returned. The entire team got quiet. They said maybe it’s a mistake. Even if it is true, we will get through it as we have before. Her friends were very supportive.

NMMC referred her to UAB again. She needed an oncologist/liver specialist. She had to wait about four weeks before one was selected. The doctor, she would be seeing, was ranked as the number 1 specialist in his field. Everyone was confident that this would be the last time she’d have to have surgery or the cancer reoccurring.

The thing is Mary Pat had a feeling that something wasn’t right even before she’d received the call that night. She’d seen Nurse Nan in Walmart and told her that she was wanting them to look again at her scans. With her receiving that clean bill of health, she wasn’t due to go back to the doctor for another six months, but Mary Pat could not shake the feeling of something being wrong. She asked Nurse Nan if she will talk to the doctors to see if they can review her charts again. Thankfully, the guardian angel did so. Her doctor in Birmingham informed her that if she had waited six months after the news of the “clean bill of health” she would not have been alive.

On top of the diagnosis of her cancer coming back, covid hit the entire world. Hospitalization would not be the same. Her surgery was scheduled, but it was not a guarantee that it would be performed the day scheduled because of covid. The hospitals did not know if there would be enough blood to have the surgery. The hospital informed Mary Pat that people could donate blood even if it wasn’t her blood type. A week before surgery, the community of Tupelo and Houston (Gary’s hometown) came together to donate blood. There was an enormous turnout. The blood drive was a success, and the surgery was scheduled.

Prior to covid, the patient’s loved ones were allowed to sit in the waiting room until the patient was sent into recovery. After recovery, family was allowed to stay and spend the night in the room with the patient. Due to no one understanding the virus and how it was transferred, the hospitals around the world had to take safety precautions. Prior to the surgery, Mary Pat was nervous about surgery and Gary being allowed to be in the room. The day before the surgery, the hospital called and stated that Gary would be able to stay in the hospital room with her. On the morning of surgery, everything changed. The staff came to take Mary Pat for surgery. She and Gary told their goodbyes. Gary went to sit back up front. The staff called him to the front desk. She said the hospital received a memo that morning that no one could be in the patient’s room, no one could sit while the patient was being prepped, no one was allowed in recovery, and that was his last time seeing her before he would pick her up after release. Gary became frantic and worried about his wife. He asked had Mary Pat received the news. If so, how did she react? The staff informed him that Mary Pat was distraught and had to have medicine to calm her down. He asked if there was any left for him. The hospital told him that once she was out of surgery he could go back to Tupelo, and they would contact him each day. Even though he wasn’t able to see her, he was not going to leave the city without her. He would remain in a hotel near the hospital and wait on news from there.

The surgery was successful. When the doctors went inside, a second spot had started to develop on her liver. The cancer had been growing rapidly. It was a blessing that she did not wait six months for another review. Because of the location of the tumor cells, Mary Pat would have to have chemotherapy. The tumor cells were close to arteries. The doctors had no way of knowing if the cancer had spread through her body. For safety precautions, twelve rounds of chemotherapy were ordered. It will eliminate the possibility of the cancer spreading. She didn’t have chemotherapy the first time, but this time she would the second round of cancer.

Everything was hectic and stressful. Mary Pat was in the hospital room alone. She wasn’t able to do anything for herself. Because of covid, nurses were pulled in every direction. It was no longer nurses being able to come in draw blood and examination. I know nurses do much more than drawing blood and checking on patients. I want to enforce that other duties of nurses outside of the norm were added to them. Because no one was able to sit with patients, the nurses were having to assist patients with positioning them in the bed, going to the bathrooms, walking down the hallway, and so many others things that were not typical nursing duties.

Mary Pat remembers one day she had to use the restroom. She waited 45 minutes for assistance, and no one came. She began to unhook herself. She said to herself. It was either her wetting the bed or unhooking herself. One of the nurses came in and asked her what she was doing. Gary had mixed emotions. He was upset that it took them that long to help her. He was sad that he wasn’t able to be with her as she was going through her healing. It was a tough six days of not being able to assist Mary Pat and sitting alone in the hotel room.

I asked Mary Pat how did she feel being alone in the room without Gary. She said that she thinks she was ok because of the pain medicine and being incoherent of what was going on. Her medicine had her very relaxed. She was only breathing five times a minute. It wasn’t good that her breathing was that low, but it was a good thing because she didn’t know what was really going on. While she was in the hospital room unaware of what was really going on, Gary was patiently waiting on news to see how Mary Pat was. It would be two days before she was coherent enough to call him. Gary laughs. He said she was talking mumbo jumbo, but he was ecstatic to hear her voice.

After being in the hospital for six days, they were able to go home. They recalled it as being similar to a carpool line at school. All the patients that were discharged were lining up in their wheelchairs and waiting on their rides to pull up. Just as the other times, her support system was there. Sherrie called Gary and told him to let her know when they were within thirty minutes away. When they pulled into their subdivision, there was a surprise waiting on them. Sherry and other friends lined up on their streets and had a parade for her. Chris, the owner of Absolute Clean, came and disinfected the entire house for her. With covid, it was a necessity for there not to be any germs for her healing. Friends and family made sure they were fed. They would sit the food on the table by the door. The home room parents surprised her at the Tupelo Country Club. All her students and parents presented her with a snack basket, rolls of quarters for her to have during her visits of chemotherapy for the vending machine, and an envelope of cash for her to use for her liking. The last day of school, the students and her parents lined up the neighborhood with signs telling her because of you I can do this now. It listed what the child learned from her. Mary Pat said she didn’t care at all about covid at that moment. She wanted to love on her babies.

On the last day of chemotherapy, Mary Pat’s friends and family were outside waiting on her.

Mary Pat had to wait six weeks past surgery before her chemotherapy would begin. In the first post, I discussed how teaching saved her life. Dr. Richard Arriola was the doctor that performed her biopsy after surgery and input her port. Mary Pat taught three of his children at Saltillo. She had to have twelve rounds of chemotherapy. It was once every two weeks. Due to covid, she had to go alone. It would start on Mondays with a four hour infusion. She had to wear a pump. It was in a 10 pound cross body bag. She would have to wear it for two days. The bag had its own place in the bed with them. It would keep her up for the days that she wore it. Once it was off (after 48 hours), Mary Pat’s body would crash. This lasted for six months. It was very tiring, but Mary Pat was determined to endure it to the end. Her goal was to make it to ring the bell. Ringing the bell is the significance of the patient letting everyone know the chemotherapy is complete.

This was one of her grandparents Christmas ornaments. Her mom gave it to her after chemotherapy to remind her to always rely on God.

After her chemotherapy, Mary Pat sought professional counseling. Her counselor told her you have gone through trauma. You have survived cancer twice. You have not been able to return to the classroom. As of today, she still hasn’t been able to return. She is waiting on the moment that she can. She lost her mother in law during her time of healing. She had surgery through an entire world pandemic. She was focused on ringing the bell and finishing the race, but she needs to take the moment to process it. That is what she is doing to this day.

The day Mary Pat rang the bell, her last round of chemotherapy

She is thankful for all the support she has had through her each and every experience. She is thankful for her friends, Sherry Rial and Julie Halbert, taking her to the beach to have moments of escape from reality. She is thankful for her children for loving her. Lastly, she is thankful for the love of her life for never leaving her side. When they said the vows of sickness and in health, their marriage was put to the test when she became sick. Gary never left her side.

Mary Pat and Sherry at the beach
Wedding day

The words of advice that Mary Pat would like to give to anyone that is reading today is to listen to your body. She doesn’t want them to wait until the last minute to have a colonoscopy. Don’t wait just your’e 50 if there are issues going on. She lets people know just because you have not had family history of cancer in your body it does not mean that you are not capable of getting it. If you have to have chemotherapy, there might be hard times. There will be times of wanting to give up and loose hope. She advises anyone to never give up.

Mary Pat going through a round of chemotherapy

Even though Mary Pat has endured a lot, Mary Pat feels that her experience has allowed her to become an advocate for colon cancer awareness. She came across a quote that she used to help her overcome. It says, ” you have been assigned this mountain to show others it can be moved.”

“Teaching saved my life”

Cancer, the word no one wants to hear. Can you imagine hearing it twice? This is exactly what happened to Mary Pat Hancock. There had been no family history of cancer in her family. It was very shocking for her to receive the news once, but it was more shocking to hear it a second time less than five years later after the first diagnosis. The word, alone, is something that will suck the breath out of you and make you want to give up. Where as many of us would have given up, Mary Pat told her doctors that she was willing to do whatever she needed to do in order to recover because she wanted to see her children grow older, and she wanted to grow older with the love of her life. Mary Pat was a fighter. She was determined not to give up. Here’s her story.

Their family 💛💛💛

For a few months, Mary Pat noticed blood in her stool. Sometimes, it was light pink, and other times it was bright red in her stool. There were days when she felt an urgency to go right then. All things were uncommon in her body. I’ve written in other blog post. It is very important to know what is going on with your body and notice when you have changes going on. When this happens, it is important to seek medical attention. By doing this, it can save your life as it did for Mary Pat.

Mary Pat assumed she had irritable bowel syndrome. I asked her if she had previous diagnosis or stomach issues the reason she thought it. She hadn’t, but she just wasn’t believing it to be cancer. With her assumption of it being irritable bowel syndrome, she did not put too much concern in it. She had an appointment coming up in a few months with her gynecologist for her annual yearly check up. Mary Pat decided she would bring it up to her gynecologist at that appointment because said who likes talking about stool or bowel movements. There are not a lot of people that do. For this reason, colon cancer is the second leading cause of deaths in the United States (http://www.coloncancercoalition.org). Colon cancer is a very treatable disease. The 5 year survival rate is 90% when there has been early detection. This is why it is important to have a colonoscopy and get a health screening (http://www.cancer.org). Unfortunately, many people do not talk about it. March is colon cancer awareness month. Mary Pat wants people to make the topic of colon issues a normal casual conversation.

During a talk with her sister, Jenny Filgo, who is a nurse, about what was going on, Jenny advised her to seek medical help. She told Mary Pat to not wait a few months until she went to see her gynecologist to discuss what was going on. She told Mary Pat that she needed to see a doctor ASAP. It could be more than irritable bowel syndrome. A few years prior, Gary thought he might have had colon cancer. He had some issues going on. His only ended up being hemorrhoids. He advised Mary Pat to seek help as well. By listening to Jenny and Gary, it helped saved her life.

I’m sure you’re wondering if listening to Jenny and Gary saved her life how did teaching save her life. Mary Pat has been a teacher for 23 years. Teaching is her passion. She is a teacher that treats all children the same. If your children were taught by her, your children are blessed. With Mary Pat giving her all to her profession and her babies, their parents gave it all back to her. Let me be clear. Mary Pat did not go to any office asking or requesting any specific doctor. As a believer of Christ, she felt that all the doctors and nurses were aligned by God to take care of her during her time of preparation, the process, and the healing and were all God sent. She’d taken care of their children or grandchildren. Now, it was their time to take care of her.

With the advising of her family, Mary Pat made an appointment to see what was going on with her body. Her first visit was with Dr. Stephen Amann. She taught his sons in second grade. She told him what her suspicions were. Dr. Amann told her he wanted to have her do a colonoscopy to make sure she was well. Mary Pat was 47 at the time. She was worried about insurance not paying for it because of her age. Usually, insurance does not pay for the first colonoscopy for patients until the person is 50 years old. Dr. Amann told Mary Pat not to worry about insurance at the moment. Regardless if they paid or not, she needed the colonoscopy because of the symptoms she was having.

After she woke up from her colonoscopy, Dr. Amann said you need to sit up. He said I need everyone take a deep breath. Something was there. This is cancer. We’ve set up an appointment with Dr David Gilliland. She taught his son in second grade. Dr. Amann said you are to head there now. Mary Pat and Gary did not have the time to process what had been told to her. They had to immediately leave from Dr. Amann’s office and drive to Dr. Gillialand’s office. Just as other cancer, there are stages. Mary Pat was in stage 2 colon cancer. If she waited until the age of 50, she could have been in stage 4 cancer or even died before then.

Dr Gilliland had another scheduled event prior to Mary Pat’s appointment. He set up the appointment for Mary Pat to have surgery a week later. True to nature, Mary Pat taught each day leading up to her surgery.

They’d called some friends to let them know what was going on. Gary called her best friend, Sherry, and her sister to come and be with Mary Pat as he went to pick up Hayden from school. They did not want him to hear the words “your mom has cancer” from someone else. Sherry left work, and Jenny did not go in that day. She told Mary Pat that she felt in her spirit to take off work that day because she felt she needed to be there for Mary Pat. The Hancocks had the greatest support system with friends and family, and they are very appreciative still til this day.

When she was diagnosed, she was teaching at Saltillo Elementary. These are the teachers that supported her.

Surgery was set for February 1, 2016. Two days later, Gary’s mom, Jo Ann Holloman, was diagnosed with colon cancer. Gary was being pulled from all directions trying to take care of his mom and his wife. Mary Pat told Gary to focus on his mom and taking her to doctor appointments. They relied on their friends and family to be there with Mary Pat while he took care of his mother. I’ll share more of Gary’s experience and journey in two weeks.

The removal of cancer in the colon surgery was successful. 18 inches of her colon was removed. The doctors were pleased and satisfied. They ran test, and it showed all the cancer had been removed. Her margins were clear. Mary Pat and Gary asked if she was going to have chemo or radiation even if it was only one round. With her test showing normal, statistically, it wasn’t a need. The reoccurrence rate was 2 out of 100. Therefore, there was no protocol for her to have it. She had to see Dr. Julian Hill, the oncologist, for follow up visits. At first, it was three months. It progressed to six, nine, and to yearly appointments. Scans and test were done to ensure no cancer has returned.

Things has gone well for three years. Mary Pat was scheduled for her 4 year appointment. For cancer patients, it is a victorious moment if the patient makes it to year 5 without the cancer reoccurring. Everything was well the previous years, Mary Pat was expecting the same thing. Why should year 4 be any different?

This is one of Mary Pat’s favorite quotes.

It is a day that Gary will never forget. Gary owns a roofing company. He and his business partner were on a roof. While he was working, he received a call from Nurse Nan Francis (Dr Hill’s nurse). Tupelo had a bad storm. Gary thought she was calling to have work done for her house. He would have given anything for that to have been the purpose of the call. Instead, Nurse Nan called Gary to let him know there was an issue with Mary Pat’s test. The office had run the test three times. His business partner said that Gary’s face turned whitish gray and told him that they needed to get off the roof. Nurse Nan informed Gary that Mary Pat’s tumor marker numbers were up and had never been in the previous years. Something was wrong, and they needed Mary Pat to come back in. Gary knew that Mary Pat was excited about her getting close to the 5 year marker. He asked Nurse Nan to allow him to be the one to tell her the news.

When he got home, Mary Pat was headed to Starkville to take Hayden something to MSU. He’d left something at the house over the weekend, and she was about to leave the home to take it to him. Gary had called Sherry to have support to deliver the news. He told Mary Pat to wait to go because Sherry was coming over. When Sherry came, she and Gary were acting strange. Mary Pat said what’s going on. Y’all are acting like someone called y’all and delivered bad news about my test. Gary began to cry. He said since you mentioned it. Yes. I got a call from Nan today. Your numbers are off. You have to have some more test. Mary Pat said I knew this was going to come back and get me. Gary reassured her that he would get through it this time just as they did the last time.

All the appointments and testing started back over again (blood work, sans, and CT scans). The doctors did not know where the cancer was in her body. With the numbers being so high, they knew it was there. October 2019, the doctors found a cyst on one of her ovaries. Everything else was clear. The doctors said if the ovaries are removed that it should put the tumor marker numbers back in line. This surgery would have to be done at UAB hospital in Birmingham because Mary Pat had to have a specialist for gynecology/oncology. Her surgery was set for December 26, 2019 to have the ovaries removed.

When the doctors went to remove both ovaries, only, one ovary was there. The doctors said it was probably from the colon surgery. Originally, the doctors wanted to perform her colon removal laparoscopically. Due to the location of the tumor, Mary Pat had to be cut from the top of her chest to her pubic bone. All her inside organs had to be removed and placed in sterile surgery bags during the surgery. The ovary removal surgery was successful. Compared to the eight night colon recovery stay in the hospital, this time was only overnight stay at UAB. Mary Pat was scheduled to come back in six weeks for a check up.

The bracelets say fearless and survivor.

Remember, the ovary removal was to reduce the tumor marker numbers and eliminate the possibility of cancer in her body. Instead her numbers were 5 points higher. The doctors relooked all the test and scans and were unable to find anything. They said your CT scans are all clear and gave her a clean bill of health. Mary Pat and Gary decided to celebrate with a few family and friends at Old Venice restaurant because they’d received the clean bill of health news.

They weren’t there 20 minutes when Mary Pat received a call from her guardian angel. He said hey. I know you’re out celebrating and having dinner with your friends. I heard you received news that you were all clear. Mary Pat, you’re not all clear. There’s a spot in your liver. I think the cancer is there………………………………………….

“The question is are you truly loving you”

When you see the smile that is on my face today, it is one that is genuine. The happiness and joy that I feel is not a facade or pretense for others. Do I have sad days? Yes, but do I truly love Carman? ABSOLUTELY YES!! The feeling of truly loving myself was a journey and a process that took me some years to finally achieve. Now that I have this feeling of self love, I will NEVER go back for anyone.

I have had people to inbox me and ask me how are you so happy. Some have said you are glowing. Do you have a new man in your life? I don’t have a new man in my life. I let them know that I love Carman for all that she is. Here is my story.

Valentine’s Day is the day of lovers. We celebrate this day and honor your boyfriend/girlfriend or your husband/wife. What if you are single? How do you handle this day? I can only speak for myself. Valentine’s Day used to be depressing for me. My divorce was final January 2013. For 21 years, I was used to receiving gifts on this day or though out the year. After my divorce, I would see my coworkers receiving their gifts, and I would be envious. In my mind (at the time), the open display of gifts represented love. I wanted someone to love me.

For many years after my divorce, I was full of emotions (anger, sadness, bitterness, depression, and unforgiveness). I couldn’t seem to shake it. I wore my infamous smile, but I was really a broken women.

In 2014, I became a member of Saving Station International Ministries. My former leaders saw the mental state I was in. They said you have to first forgive yourself and love yourself. After you do those things, you can heal. That was such a hard concept for me to accept. In order for me to be a better person, I knew I had to take heed to these instructions.

Lady Casey Bumpus would hold monthly women’s meetings. Each month, there would be different topics. Regardless of the topic, her platform and ministry is always gonna be about centered around love. The meetings were a safe place for any woman in attendance to pour out her heart and heal. She always had the best interest of the women (men as well) in her heart.

Lady Casey Bumpus would always ask thought provoking questions. During one our private conversations, she asked me do I love myself. Immediately, I said yes. She said Carman, do you truly love yourself. Again and quickly, I said yes. She said ok. If you do, why are you entertaining the relationship with John Doe? It was nothing but a pointless “situationship” as the young people say. Why are you still walking around with unforgiveness and bitterness in your heart? She said you have let yourself go (my physical appearance), and I had. If I wasn’t at work, I didn’t care how I looked. I neglected pampering myself as I did in the past. I had to admit that everything she was telling me was true. The words of wisdom that she spoke to me began to marinate in my spirit and sink in. It was a must for me to let all of that go (situationship and all the things that were holding me bound).

Another piece of advice she gave me was to get busy. I thought it was very clique. I said what does getting busy have to do what anything. I said lady. You are married. You do not understand. She said Carman. I haven’t always been married.There are things that you like to do. Focus on those things, and you will begin to see you for who you truly are. The love for yourself will come. I am a witness to the statement. If you truly get busy, it allows your mind less time to wonder on pointless things.

I began to focus on me in all areas of my life. I focused on my classes and FINALLY graduated. I started blogging last year. I purchased a camera and began accepting clients for pictures. I started back caring what I looked like when I went outside the house and not just for when I went to work. I traveled wherever I wanted. I made sure I kept my facials, pedicures, and manicures. I began wearing makeup. Lady Bumpus was the first person that had my makeup professionally done for me and tips and lesson in it. I absolutely love makeup. I don’t wear it as much now because of the masks. If I’m headed out on a night out of town, I’m beating my face. ☺️ If you knew me from days old, you will see the transition I’ve had. Simply, I started doing things that make me happy. Now, I have the concept that if it isn’t for my happiness, I am not doing it.

Even though I am not a member of SSIM anymore, I believe in giving credit where it is due. Thank you Lady Casey Bumpus for instilling the values, encouraging me, and empowering me to love myself. If you had not seen something in me, I would still be that broken and hurt women that is going in circles and letting life pass her by.

Now, when you see me, the smile is genuine. It is real. There is no man that is making me happy. It is self love. I can truly say that I am at a place in my life where I am happy within myself, and it is true happiness.

I ask that each of you reading this today to do one thing. Look in the mirror each day. Find something you love about yourself and speak it outloud. If you don’t love yourself first, who can you love? Remember, “to thine own self be true”. The question is do you truly love you?

“Your New Year might not always be January 1st.”

The US recognizes January 1 as the start of a new year. Most people take this time to reflect on things that happened throughout the previous year. Some of the thoughts are on the things they enjoyed, things they might do differently the upcoming year, memories of loved ones and friends that were lost during the previous year, and thankful to God to be alive. Often times, resolutions are made, and people are motivated and inspired on the promise of the upcoming year. 🥳🥳

As others, I celebrate January 1 as the beginning of a new calendar year, but it was February 27, 2018 that was the beginning of a new year for me (and hundreds of others). It was on this day that I began to start taking my health seriously. You might be wondering why February 27 and not January 1. February 27, 2018 was the day my cousin, Taylor, took her last breath on earth. Taylor was only 23 years old when she passed away because of a thyroid storm. It was a wakeup call to me and others who knew her to begin to take our thyroid/health issues seriously and to take our medicine each day. It was because of her death that I now live.

Taylor Denise McClain 09/20/1994-02/27/2018

I am not sure if you are aware of what thyroid glands are and what they do. Before my doctor was concerned about my glands growing, I had no clue what they were and what they do for the human body. The thyroid glands are located in the front of the throat and shaped like a butterfly. Some of the functions of the glands are the control of metabolism, release of certain hormones, and energy levels. Sometimes, things do not work as they should, and diseases are developed.http://www.myclevelandclinic.org.

This is one of my tattoos. The butterfly is the symbol often used for discussion about thyroids, and I had it done in pink, Taylor’s favorite color.

The two most common thyroid diseases are hyperthyroidism(Taylor’s diagnosis) and hypothyroidism (my diagnosis). Hyperthyroidism is when the body produces too much hormones. The heart beats faster than it should, weight loss occurs, and a person might experience nervousness. Hypothyroidism is when the body produces too little hormones. A person can gain weight even when he/she is not trying and might experience being cold all the time. Approximately, 10 millions Americans have these issues, and many may not even know. It commonly misdiagnosed http://www.endocrineweb.com.

I received my diagnosis in 2015. My doctor,Marcus Ueltshey, was concerned about my left gland constantly growing each time I’d see him. Due to the gland continuing to grow, my doctor and I decided it was best to have the gland removed . There would be a biopsy done to make sure there was no cancer. May 23, 2016, I went to have surgery at North Mississippi Medical Center. Dr Cauthen was the surgeon. He stated if the left gland was cancerous that I’d have to come back to have surgery again to remove the right one. He asked if I wanted to have both removed while I was under sedation. I agreed. On that day, I had a total thyrodectomy performed. Thankful to God that none were cancerous, but I was told by my doctor that I would have to take medicine for the rest of my life in order to regulate my levels. Taylor’s diagnosis was different. Tia, her mom, noticed Taylor’s eye bulging and wanted Taylor to get it seen about from her doctor. Taylor’s family doctor suspected thyroid issues and referred her to a specialist. Taylor had some health issues growing up. They assumed this would be another hurdle that Taylor would overcome. As any loving mother, Tia wanted to make sure everything was okay.

Taylor Denise McClain was born September 20, 1994. Tia said Taylor cried a lot as a baby. As she got older, her bubbly personality began to shine. It was only feasible that she would do something that would make bring a smile to others. In second grade, Taylor began cheering. She loved cheering with passion and joined a competitive cheer squad. As she got older, she would be a camp cheer coach to upcoming younger girls. She cheered from elementary, high school, and in college. Cheering was her life, and cheering gave her an outlet each time she overcome health obstacles that arose in her life.

In third grade, Taylor developed lymphedema. Lymphedema is the swelling of one or more extremities. It was only in one leg, but it caused her to wear a compression garment. Kids teased her, but Taylor did not let it stop her from doing what she loved. Taylor was not ashamed of the compression garment. When kids would stare, Tia told her to explain to them what it was. She let them know it didn’t make her any different from them.

Taylor and niece, Trinity

Sixth grade came, and Taylor had another health problem. She was diagnosed with scoliosis. Scoliosis is the abnormal curve of the spine. She had to wear a back brace for two years. You already know. Nope. It did not stop her from cheering. Even with severe back pain, Taylor endured the pain and cheered. It was her senior year of college when Taylor was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. She’d overcome lymphedema and scoliosis. Surely, she would beat this too.

Tia began to notice that Taylor’s eyes were bulging. After seeing the family doctor, she was referred to a specialist. She was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. The best way for him to describe it to her was to think of her heart beating over 100 miles an hour. The best way and most imperative way for her to overcome it was to take her medicine each day. If she takes her medicine, it would reduce the speed of the heartbeats. The specialist spoke the words that she never wanted to hear. He told her he wanted her to stop cheering for a moment because he wanted her body to get accustomed to the medicine in her body. When Taylor heard those words, she cried because something she loved was being taken away from her.

Later in the year, Taylor was’t feeling her best. She went to the doctor. When he ran the test, her thyroid levels were not as they should. He said Taylor. You have to take your medicine. Taylor thought the medicine was making her hair fall out. In actuality, it was the opposite. Since she wasn’t taking it, that was the reason she was experiencing the hair loss. Her hormone levels were not as they should be. Tia begged her to take her medicine each day. There was nothing that Tia could do but ask. Taylor was in another part of the state in college. Technically, she was considered an adult. All Tia could do and did do was pray that Taylor was following the doctor’s orders. Often times, Tia wonders if Taylor did not take the medicine as instructed because she feared it take away her capability of cheering.

Tia, TeNecia (sister), Taylor, Trinity (niece) and Dorian (brother)

February 24, 2018 would become the day Tia or any parent never wants to face. Taylor was home and should have been getting dressed for a cheer competition. Tia was preparing for work and noticed that Taylor was not getting dressed.Tia asked why she wasn’t. Taylor told her mom that she wasn’t feeling well. She said she told the cheer coach that she was gonna sit this one out. They assumed it was a winter cold and that all was well. Later that afternoon, Nick, Taylor’s fiancé, called Tia to inform her he was taking Taylor to the hospital. (Taylor and Nick were engaged on February 27, 2017. A year later, their lives would change.) Taylor was complaining about not being able to breathe. Tia told Nick that she’d meet them there. When Tia arrived, Taylor asked her to play gospel. She wanted something to ease her mind as the doctors ran several test to see what was going on.

Taylor and her fiancé, Nick

Taylor complained about being hot. Nick turned on the fan to attempt to cool her down. During the testing, things took a turn for the worst. Taylor’s body began to convulse, and she began to have seizures. Out of all the illnesses she’d endured, she had never had any seizures. Tia began to ask the doctors what was going on. Taylor was going in and out of consciousness. During one of the seizures, Taylor sat straight up. She made a confession to her mom. She said “Mom, I have not been taking my medicine.” Tia was in shock. She inquired as to how long it had been since she had gone without taking it. She told her mom that it has been a long time since she hadn’t taken it. Immediately, Taylor began to start having another seizure. Nick and Tia became frantic. Again, Taylor lost consciousness. She began to code blue. The doctors had them leave the room. Tia did not want to leave. She wanted answers to what was going on with her baby. Security came and asked her to please leave to allow the health team to do what they needed to do to save her. The only thing that keep replaying in Tia’s mind was the confession Taylor made. “Mom. I haven’t been taken my medicine. I don’t know. It’s been a long time.” Those words would be the last words Taylor spoke to her mother.

After a while, they were able to revive her, but they told Tia that the hospital did not have the necessary equipment to care for her, and she’d have to be transported to another hospital. Taylor was moved to another hospital approximately 15 minute away. When Taylor got to the the next hospital, she coded again. After reviving her, the doctors told Tia and Nick that Taylor’s heart was weak and would probably not live much longer. Despite the words of the doctor, Tia was praying and believing that Taylor would overcome this health issue as she had with everything else. Tia never left Taylor’s side. February 27, 2018 (exactly a year that Nick proposed), Taylor exhaled her last breath on this side of earth.

The definition of a cheerleader is a person that is enthusiastic or a verbal supporter of someone or something. Some characteristics of a cheerleader is someone that is hard working with good grades, patience, persistence, confidence, and physical strength. By the definition, Taylor was the ultimate example of a cheerleader.

I asked Tia what would she like to say about Taylor. She said even though Taylor was in pain and didn’t feel well. She never complained. She never brought it up. She wanted to make others happy. Regardless of us having a bad day or how we feel, we do not have to complain. We can keep pushing and keep going. She did not want Taylor’s death to be in vain. I can’t speak for other, but I can speak for myself. Taylor’s death will not be in vain. I, too, was one that did not take having to take my medication daily seriously. I would go days without taking it. I had been told the same thing as Taylor’s doctors told her. Carman, it is imperative that you take your medicine each day. After Taylor’s death, I am taking my medicine each day, and it is a priority.

Taylor Denise McClain was a loving fiancé, sister, daughter, niece, aunt, and student. In high school, she graduated the top 30% of her class. She was number 44 out of 300+ student in her high school. She was the life of the party. Even in grade school, her presence made an impact wherever she went. Tia didn’t know how much of an impact Taylor made on the lives of others. It wasn’t until the day of Taylor’s funeral that she realized how much of an impact Taylor had on the lives of classmates, teachers, friends, and family. On the day of her service, there were over 2500 people that came to show her respect. The pastor of the church said that he’d never had his church as full for a person that died so young. He said he could only imagine what it would have been if she’d lived longer.

High school senior night with aunt Tonya and mom,

Taylor, your death left a void here on earth, but you will forever be in our heart. We know you are looking down from heaven with your beautiful smile and cheering for us here on earth. We love you Taylor Denise McClain. May your soul Rest In Peace.

“I survived MY 2020”

December 31, 2019, I was sitting on my couch waiting in anticipation for the new year to begin. I don’t make resolutions, but I always vow to myself to grind a little harder and exceed my expectations from the year before. When the clock reached midnight, I yelled to myself Happy New Year. 🥳🥳 I was excited for what the new year would bring. I anticipated great things would happen, and it did. It brought some things that I welcomed with open arms, but it also brought heartache and pain that I wish I could rewind the clock back to December 31, 2019 and push pause forever.

This picture represents the excitement I had for the anticipation of the new year.

The year always begins celebrating my mother. Her birthday is January 9th. Celebrating birthdays are very important to me. I believe that each day we open our eyes is a blessing. If you know my mother, you know she is worthy of celebration. She is genuine and has a heart of gold. She will do what she can to help anyone in need and will do it without expecting anything in return.

Along came February. I experienced what would be my first heartache of the year. My brother, Maury, wanted my mom and I to get a new dog. It had been a few years since we’ve had one. June 2019, Maury brought this bushy white puppy to us. Immediately, I fell in love. We named him Patrick. Even though I’ve grown up with dogs and always had a love for them, he was my first fur baby. Every day, he would greet me at my truck when I pulled into the yard. We’d play in the yard for the longest time. He was always doing something silly or getting my mom upset because he was tearing things up. 🤣 When I was away from home, I was calling to check on him or to FaceTime to see him. I loved watching him grow.

Patrick only a few months old.

February 4 is a day I’ll never forget. I received a message from a neighbor. She said her mom saw what she believed to be Patrick lying on side of the road, and it appeared he was bleeding. I was at my part time and unable to leave. My heart was beating so fast. It seemed like the clock wasn’t moving fast enough. I needed to get home to see if it was my Patrick. Since I was at work, Tara said that she and her husband would go back to see if it was him. Sadly, it was. By the time they’d made it back, he’d crawled into the woods. Tara and Chris were so kind. They went into the dark woods to find exactly where he laid. Kindly, they left a marker by the entrance of the woods for me to find him when I got off work. By this time, he was weighing almost 70 pounds or more. I knew it would be difficult for me to pull him out alone. I called another neighbor to get assistance to help pull him out because I needed to take him to the vet. When I saw him, I was saddened. Patrick was bleeding and tangled in briar patch. Immediately, I ran to unravel him. His lower back and back legs were broken. We placed a tarp under his body to attempt to pull him out, but he would not allow us to move him. He was in pain. Each time we tried to move him, he’d attempt to bite my neighbor. My neighbor was afraid of being bitten. He said it was nothing he could do and went back to his home.

At this time, it was only Patrick and I in the woods. It was late, but didn’t want to leave him. It began to rain, and I had to leave. It rained extremely hard all night long. Normally, the rain puts me to sleep, but this time was different. All night, all I could think about was my baby in pain, in the rain, bleeding, and suffering all alone. The next morning, I went back into the woods to see if he’d let me move him. I was willing to do it all alone. I didn’t care if it took me all day long. He looked up at me. For a brief moment, there was happiness in his eyes when he saw me. I think to myself that he was thinking momma did not forget about me. The happiness was brief because he was almost lifeless. I talked to him and told him I loved him. He gave me his paw. My heart melted. My heart was broken. I was angry at whoever hit him. He was big dog. There was no way that he would not have been seen him. I made one of the hardest decisions ever in my life. I was criticized by some, but I hated to see him suffering. I left my house (I didn’t want to hear what was about to happen) and called my uncle. I had him to send him to dog heaven. 🥺🥺😭

Patrick NEVER let me take pictures alone. I just gave in. 😊 (May 14, 2019-February 5, 2020)

A few weeks later, things began to look up. I’d finished all courses and had a sufficient GPA to graduate from the University of Mississippi in August 2019. Unfortunately, I still had an outstanding balance. My diploma would not be mailed until the balance was paid in full. Two of my brothers, Juan and Jason, contributed towards the balance as a graduation present. I was thankful and appreciative for their help. Each month, I made payments until it was “0”. When I did, I received an email asking me to begin graduation process. You talk about excitement and overwhelmed with joy. It was a long time coming. The first person I went to see and tell was my grandmother. I told her I have some exciting news to share with you. She said what is it baby. I said it’s official. You are looking at graduate of the University of Mississippi. If you know me and my grandma, you know we were in the room balling our eyes out. She said I’m so proud of you Carman. I knew you could do it. You stuck it out and hung in there. We cried a little more. I was happy that I’d made her proud.

Little did I know, this visit would be close to the last one inside. The week of March 13, the world changed. The world experienced a pandemic. It would be called Covid-19 or the coronavirus. It was highly contagious and deadly. Health officials didn’t know how to combat it. It was something that not even my parents had experienced in their lifetime.

The entire world was shut down. Schools were closed. Students finished the semester virtually. My oldest daughter, Destinee, was graduating from the University of Mississippi in May. We were excited about her completing her undergraduate and becoming a teacher. Graduation were cancelled because CDC did not allow large gatherings. The graduation would later be done virtually. That was only one of the moments that was taken from us. Since large gatherings were banned, our family gatherings were banned. My parents have eight children, nineteen grandchildren, and in-laws. This meant there would be no Long sumner vacation for 2020. All sporting events were canceled. No games were played (from pee wee to professional). Restaurants closed, and some never reopened. Traveling was put on hold. No one was allowed to enter hospitals or nursing home unless you were an employee, patient, or resident. Funerals were graveside. Church service were moved to online. Gyms were closed. There would no concerts. CDC advised states to mandate the residents wear mask and practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet apart from the next person. I’m a hugger. This was hard and still hard for me. Any business that wasn’t considered “essential” was closed. The world was not and will not ever be the same.

Many jobs that physically closed had employees work from home if it was possible. I am employed at a bank and part time at a gas station. Both jobs were considered “essential” and never closed. A lot of people assume that banking is easy because we are inside a building, sitting in an office, or behind teller row. Studies show if you work in the financial industry that you are in one of the highest mentally stressful jobs. Add a pandemic on top of that. It’s even more stressful. A lot of people assumed the world was ending or that it would be another Great Depression. People were calling or coming in concerned about their accounts. We were taking customers by appointments only. Each day, my calendar remained full. It was hectic. The gas station was just as busy. Many people were laid off and were home. They drank and smoke more. Beer and tobacco sales increased meaning that I was constantly busy there too.

I am not complaining. I am thankful for jobs that supplies for me and my children needs. When the pandemic began, I was not physically able to see them. Not being able to see my children nor hug my grandmother at nursing home was the most depressing thing for me. If anyone knows me, you know that my family is everything it me. I was able to call and FaceTime my children and call my grandma. If we visited, we had to go around the back of the building where her room was and talk through the window. I was grateful for the calls and window visits to each, but those are not the same as physical seeing them or being able to put my around them. That was all I wanted to do, but the coronavirus stopped it all. My heart was aching. My weekly lunches with my son had stopped. My Saturday visits with my grandma were gone. Her health was declining. Eventually, she stopped answering calls. 😭😭 Mentally, I was crying inside, but I was smiling outside. I was a zombie. I was going through the motions and monotony of life just to make it through the day.

I had a moment earlier today and cried. I didn’t know that I had dried tears still on the left side my face from crying this morning. Outside, I was happy. This picture is a depiction of how I was going through life. Smiling yet hurting.

It was a few months before I was able to see my children in person. For me, it was like giving birth again. When you’re in delivery, you are excited about being able to finally see your child’s face for the first time. Just as I did each time I gave birth and saw their face, I cried. My heart was happy. It gave me strength to keep going. It was the push I needed.

Sadly, the next time I was able to hug my grandmother was at the hospital. I mentioned her health declining. In June, the nursing home called my aunts, uncles, and father. My grandmother was at the point of death. They had to decide if they would leave her at the nursing home or transfer her to the hospice floor at the hospital. If she remained at the nursing home, all we’d be able to do was look at her through the window from outside. Nursing home still were not allowing visitors to enter in. The decision was made to transfer her to the hospital. With her being at the hospital, we were able to visit and spend the night with her. I was finally able to physical hug her. Our family took turns spending the night. I had the privilege of being assigned two nights. Regardless of the night assignment, I was going to visit each day after work. Each day, her health was declining, and it hurt to see her lying in bed not being her jovial self.

When I would visit her each week, I had a ritual as I prepared to leave until the next visit.I’d say El (Her name is Elnora). I’m about to go. Don’t be in here trying to catch a man. She’d laughed and say stop that gal. You know the only man I need is Jesus. I’d say yes ma’am. I know. I’d bend down to hug her, kiss her, tell her I loved her, and to be sweet. Her response would always be” we love you too.” I would be so tickled at her saying we love you too because it was only her. My grandfather had been deceased since 1997. I never corrected her. I let her say what she wanted. She’d continue the goodbyes saying Carman come me when you have time. Baby. Grandma know you’re busy with those jobs and those kids. I’d say yes ma’am, but you know I’ll be back next week. Even though she was in the hospital, our ritual was still the same. The only difference was I said I’ll see you tomorrow instead of next week. I’ll never forget her last words to me. I said and did my usual ritual. This time there was no laugher behind my comment. Softly and the last thing she ever spoke to me was this. “You look pretty. Grandma loves you too.” 😭😭 I’ll never forget that moment. She never spoke to me again. Instead, she was in the bed moaning in pain. I would rub her arms and head. I’d talk to her hours. I felt in my heart she was listening. June 29, my grandma exhaled her last breath and went to be with Jesus. Knowing that she loved me and was in heaven was the only thing that gave me peace. 😭😭😭 I was breaking inside.

Elnora Townsend Long (October 18,1929-June 29, 2020)

In the midst of the pandemic, more chaos was still happening in the United States. There were police shooting and senseless murders from citizens on minorities. I’m sure you’ve heard of Breanna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery, but what about Carlos Carson or Jonathan Price? I had several Caucasian friends that reached out to me. They apologized for the senseless murders. We were supposed to meet and discuss on how to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, the meetings never happened. I know each person that reached out had good intentions. For them, life went on. For me, it couldn’t. I birthed three African American children. I used to worry only for my son. Now, I have to worry about my daughters getting murdered as well. Therefore, it is an issue that I can’t ever forget and just move on with life. Every day and every night, I pray that my children return back safely to their beds each night and open their eyes to see another day.

Life became overwhelming. I was as the point of a meltdown. I was not mentally stable. I was putting on the smile, but I was grieving. I’d lost both grandmothers exactly two weeks apart. Muh and I weren’t related by blood, but I loved her just the same. This year, I’d lost two aunts and an uncle, and people I’ve known for years( In December, I lost a cousin from Covid), I was stressed with both jobs. I was stressed because of how Covid changed the world and how it was affecting the changes in my life. Everything that had given me peace was paused temporarily or stopped (no gym, no movies, no concerts, no family trips, limited time with my kids). I was unable to sleep. Many nights, I cried myself to sleep.

My grandmothers 💛💛💛 that are now residing with Jesus

Let me rewind the clock for a moment. I have struggled with my weight for years. I gained a lot of weight after my divorce. A few years after that, my thyroids were removed as a health precaution. I don’t know if you know, but thyroids help regulate the body’s metabolism. Therefore, losing any weight is more difficult for me. In previous years, I’d say I wanted to lose weight, but I didn’t remain committed. Around October 2019, I’d taken charge of my health and was dedicated. Faithfully, I was going to the gym between three to five times a week. I began cooking for my mother and I. Cooking used to be my least favorite thing to do. I began to enjoy it and trying new recipes. I was seeing a doctor regarding my obesity. I was seeing a nutritionist to help me with healthy options. The deaths of Patrick, loved ones, and friends and all the other stress of life halted me. The gym reopened in June, but I’d lost my drive to go. Also, I no longer cooked either. I went to see my therapist. She said Carman. You’re depressed. You’re grieving. You’re hurt. You’ve gone through a lot. On top of those things, I had to hire a lawyer for some personal things. Here, I was thinking that I was just sad. In actuality, I was clinically depressed. I was going through a lot. She advised me to put me first and to take a step back from everything. She told me to take time off of work from both jobs and suggested I start taking anti-depression medicine. She said you know it’s not a sin. We laughed. I said I know. I’ve seen her for eight years. She’s helped me deal with a divorce, break ups, work issues (anything you can name) This was the first time that she’s ever advised me to take off work for a few weeks and to take medicine. I took her advice on both. I took off work for four weeks, and I saw a doctor that prescribed me antidepressants. I began taking them.

2020 was not all bad. I had a lot of bumps in the road, but I a had a lot of highs. I joined a new church in January, The Sycamore. I received my diploma from the University of Mississippi. I had some amazing photo shoots. I utilized the gifts that God gave me( blogging, doing professional photography, and creating my website. www.lovingallofcarman.com). I wrote about it in a previous blog if you missed it. If so, I’d love for you to go back and read it.

2020 took a lot out of me, but it still provided great blessings. I learned that it is ok to take a mental break and put myself first. 2021 is only two days away. I know that it will also have ups and down. I know through it all that I will survive. I will enjoy life and make the best out of every situation and opportunity. I look forward to celebrating and the anticipation of 2021 it as I did 2020. The only difference is that I won’t be on the couch this year. I’ll be bringing in the new year in another country. ☺️☺️☺️. With alllll of this being said, Happy New Year everyone. May God continue to bless us all. Let’s walk into the new year (2021) with great expectations and no extra baggage!!!!!!🥳🥳🥳

“I am thankful for my passion”

It’s Thanksgiving 2020. Thanksgiving is a day where we take time to reflect on what we are thankful. Some, if asked, will say good health, spending time with family, thankful for their children, and maybe their job. If you ask me, I would definitely agree with all these things. All those things are important to me as well. For this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for a few different things. I am thankful for my passions.

The definition of passion is an intense desire or enthusiasm. I’d even add, for me, passion is something that you would not mind doing even if you were paid or not because it brings you joy. It puts a smile on your face, and it brings you peace. This year, I began to focus on my passions and what brings me happiness.

I do not believe there are many people that would not say that 2020 has been an intense, interesting, or difficult year. It has been very trying for me. I never would have imagined that the entire world would be affected by one virus. There were deaths, massive layoffs and company closures. Ones that I’d never in my life imagined would ever close. It showed me that nothing is guaranteed. This was very eye opening for me.

I began to pray. During my prayer, God spoke to me. He said that He’d given me gifts that I should be using, and that I should be using what He’s given me. Honestly, I was fearful and afraid to step out and do it. I told God that I couldn’t. Each night that I resisted was a night of restless sleep. Finally, I told God that I would obey. I told Him that I would use what He’s given me.

I’ve always been passionate about writing. When I was younger, I would write poems. That was my first introduction of writing. In my teenage years, I wrote in a diary about my day and things that were going on in my life. As I got older, I would journal and write letters to God when I felt I couldn’t speak the things in my heart out loud.

One of my cousins, Chasity, encouraged me for years to blog. She said Carman. You have a story. You could help so many people. I never thought I would do it. I put it off for years. When I finally accepted my gift from God, I decided that I would write and started my blog. I created my website http://www.lovingallofcarman.com. The crazy and awesome thing is that God even gave me the topics to write about for my first six months after I submitted to Him. Writing is one of my outlets and therapeutic for me.

Whether you know me personally or we are friends on a social media, you know I ABSOLUTELY love pictures. I do not care where I am I feel that there is a moment that needs to be captured. Therefore, I am always snapping pictures(because I don’t take just one). You can say I’m the family or event photographer. ☺️

During my many conversations with God, my love for photography was the second thing He mentioned. I tried to talk myself and God out of it too. He wasn’t trying to hear it. ☺️ I said Tupelo is small. There are enough photographers here. The city doesn’t need anymore. God made me realize what I have is unique, and each person’s gift is unique. I can’t compare what I do to the next person. I need to focus on Carman and develop her. I was talking to my oldest brother, Juan, and mentioning my hesitation. Something he said to me was very profound. He asked me if I wanted God to take my gifts away. I knew I didn’t want it to happen. After much prayer (many sleepless nights), I told God that I would be obedient and do it.

Focusing on me is exactly what I did. I created my website for my blog, Loving all of Carman: mind, heart, body, and soul. I purchased a professional camera and began to accept clients. I created a business Facebook page for my photos that I’ve taken, Daffodil Photography. I would absolutely love to take pictures of you, your family, or a special event. I purchased a new computer to help me with everything. I invested in myself. My prayer is that God touches my mind to always write something that can help at least one person. I pray that God blessed my hands and my eyes when I am taking pictures. I pray my pictures captures moments that my clients will never forget. I pray that God allows me to be successful in the things that I do for my faith and trust is in Him.

Writing/blogging are my passions and my gifts. Whether you know it or not, you have a gift too. You might be saying I don’t have anything special. I can’t do anything. That is not true. According to James 1:17, every good and perfect gift comes from above. God has placed greatness inside of each of us. It is up to accept what He has given. I knew the things that God has placed inside of me. I was hesitant to put them to use. I am glad and thankful on this day that I was obedient to His will. I want you to seek deep inside and think of what is inside of you. As long as you have breath in your body, it is never too late to ever start, and it’s never too late to discover your passion.

“Breast cancer did not get the best of me”

This is the last week in this month of October. Therefore, it is the last week of breast cancer awareness month. If you’ve been following my blog, I’ve provided statistics and vital information for breast cancer. You learned how to detect it and things that could possibly help to reduce the chances of getting it. One week, I had the pleasure of interviewing my seven siblings and gave their perspective along with mine on how it was as a child to witness a parent go through the breast cancer process. For this last week, I wanted to dedicate it to my mother. My mom is a 15 year survivor of breast cancer. There was no better person than her to interview to end this breast cancer series.

My mother’s name is Zell Long. She is one that admired by many, and I count it a blessing for her to be to be the one God gave me as a mother. She has eight living children (miscarried one). If you know my mother, you know she is a woman of faith. She is a woman that can get a pray through to God. One my fraternal uncles jokingly calls her Jesus’s sister. He said if you ever need to get in touch with God all you have to do is call Zell. My siblings and I often joke about when we were sick growing up. Where as most kids get sick and miss school, it didn’t happen that way for you. Not JB and Homerzell’s kids!!!! If one of us woke up not feeling well, we’d go into our parents room and let them know. Of course, we’d hope that we’d be able to miss school and stay at Muh’s house for the entire day. No such luck!!!! Our mother would have us to get her bottle of prayer oil. She’d lay her hands on our heads and ask God to heal us. Within a matter of minutes, God would touch bodies, our sickness would be gone, and we’d be getting dressed for school. Such a bummer for kids that wanted to miss. It was a blessing for her. This same faith, her prayer, and her strength in God is what helped mom as she battled breast cancer.

My mother was born January 9, 1952. My mother is the baby of eighteen children. There were nine girls and nine boys born from Marsie and Gillie Jones. Out of the nine girls, three at the time had been diagnosed with breast cancer. (As of 2020, the last five girls born of Marsie and Gillie were diagnosed with breast cancer. One of my aunts succumbed to breast cancer in April of this year.) Considering her family’s history, my mom was always faithful in getting her yearly mammograms. I asked her did she ever think she would have breast cancer. She said it was always a possibility in the back of her mind that she might later end up getting it. The reason being was this. When she had mammograms, she would often have to go back because there would be an abnormality or irregularity on the mammogram. She’d have to go back to get a second mammogram. With all the irregular mammograms, the actual time of hearing the news of you have breast cancer wasn’t a surprise. Of course, it was not something she wanted, but the potential of having it was always there.

It was not a monthly self breast examination on how my mom discovered, but it was through the mammogram that the breast cancer was discovered. My mom could not remember the exact month she was diagnosed. She said it was somewhere between October-December 2005. This is why it is very important for women to get their annual mammogram and do the monthly breast self examinations. At the age of 40, doctors suggest this to be the age for women to start having yearly mammograms http://www.cancer.org. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you should speak to your doctor. You might be eligible to have one sooner. My first mammogram was at the age of 35 (due to my family’s history).

After the mammogram, mom’s faith kicked in. She said she told God that she has to believe Him. The mammogram and biopsy were showing different things. She said the mammogram showed the thickening in the one spot. Remember for her, this was not unusual, but biopsy showed positive for cancer and malignant. The decision had to be made to have the mastectomy (having the cancerous breast removed). She was fine having the mastectomy because it meant that the cancer would be removed from her body.

Going from it being a possibility to actually having breast cancer, mom had several thoughts running through her mind. What is going to happen next? Would it be a death sentence? Would this be the way my life ends, from cancer? God, I’m believing You for a miracle, but are You going to heal me on earth? If I die, what is going to happen to my children? If I have the mastectomy, what would my spouse at the time think of me because I’ll only have one breast?

Radiation or chemotherapy was never an option for her. The only option was having the mastectomy to remove the cancer. Mom did not have reconstructive breast surgery (to replace the breast that was removed). I have always wondered why she didn’t. She laughed, and she said she would never forget it. She said Dr. Buddy Williams said, “Zell, I can’t perform a reconstruction surgery. Your breast are too large, and I can’t make it the same size as the other.” I inquired and asked why didn’t she go smaller. Mom said it was not worth it. She said that it would require plastic surgery, and she did not want to endure having to go through surgery again. With the mastectomy, it was enough. She was very thankful the cancer did not spread by going into her glands and lymph nodes. Therefore, she was not worried about reconstruction. Instead, she would focus on her recovery by emptying the drainage tubes, enduring the pain, and allowing her body to heal. All of it was an indication of her body getting better.

I asked mom what were her thoughts after reading last week’s article from the view of her eight children while she went through her healing. Mom stated that she wasn’t aware how each of us felt, and it was an eye opener for her. She didn’t realize how it affected all eight of us differently. She personally told the oldest three (Juan, myself, and Jason) and thought that by our reactions that it would be easier to tell the younger ones. She allowed our father to tell the other five younger siblings. She wishes that she sat down with each us individually or gathered all eight of us at once to talk about it.

Lastly, I asked mom what advice would she give to a woman or man that might be dealing with breast cancer at this very moment. She said that having breast cancer changed her perspective on life. It made her realize her vulnerability. Here are her suggestions to the ones that might be dealing with it today. 1. Live life to the fullest every day. 2. Don’t have any regrets. Do what you want to do. 3. Don’t live a life of I wish I woulda, coulda, or shoulda because when you are dealing with cancer, there is no certainty. 4. Take it day by day. Some days, you’ll feel good. Some days, you won’t. Put your foot in front of the other. 5. Lastly, Have faith and pray.

“It’s ok to be a cheetah in the midst of snow leopards”

Today, I am honoring my grandmother. October 18th is her birthday. She would have been 91 years old. I wish we were together celebrating instead of me writing in remembrance of her. As long as I live, I promise to never let her name and legacy fade from my mind. I will always honor her and do my best to do things that would make her proud.

For those that do not know, my grandmother’s name is Elnora Townsend Long. She is my fraternal grandmother. My grandmother was one of the sweetest ladies you’d ever meet. She had the best personality, and she never met a stranger. 😊 She would talk and talk if you got her on the phone or if you went by to visit. My grandmother was nurturing. She always made sure you were fed if you came to see her. My grandmother was loving. She always made you felt welcome in her presence. She loved her family and loved being surrounded by my late grandfather, her children, grandchildren, and friends. My mom often calls me lil Elnora. She says I never meet a stranger and love to talk. I count it a privilege to have characteristics similar to my grandmother. Our characteristics make us who we are. We should never be ashamed of how we are programmed. My grandmother was never ashamed of who she was or ashamed of her walk with Christ.

The last years of her life, grandma lived in Reed house in the Traceway retirement home. When I’d go visit, she’d tell me what she’d told her housemates that week as they sat around the dinner table. She’d preach to them about something they’d done or said that she felt was wrong. I’d laugh. I’d say grandma. You can’t tell those people that. Quickly, she’d correct me. Baby, the Bible says….. She’d proceed to tell me what the Bible said. If you didn’t want to hear the truth or hear the word of God, you’d better not be around her. If you were near, she was gonna let you know.

I need to digress for a moment. This is a off topic, but it has a point in the end. In 2012, Tupelo had a tornado that devastated the city. BancorpSouth took part in the cleanup efforts. I’d asked my children to come assist. When they arrived, I introduced them to some people in upper management. I was my loud, typical self. The next day, my boss, at the time, came to me and said my cleanup efforts were no longer needed. Someone told my boss to tell me I was loud the day before (when I’d the introduction) and was an embarrassment to the bank. I told my boss that I was still going to come but would be reserved. Later that day, one of the upper management executive pulled me to the side. He asked what was wrong because I was not my normal self. I let him know what was said. He informed me I was not an embarrassment. If he had a problem with me, he’d let me know himself. He said it’s ok that my energy level is some days a 10, and theirs were a 5/6. Some days he was a 12, but it makes us who we are.

I’ve come to the realization that not everyone will like me. Every house mate my grandma had probably didn’t always like her. When they got tired of hearing her preach, they’d go to their room. It didn’t stop her from being who she was. It didn’t matter if they didn’t like it. She was not going to stop being Elnora. I know if my grandmother was still alive today that she’d still be doing everything she loved. She would still be true to herself, and she’d still be preaching to her housemates. She’d still make a call to tell you hello. She’d still ask how’s how’s those kids of yours doing. She’d still be whispering trying to tell me something she didn’t have any business telling me. She’d still be sitting in her wheelchair looking gorgeous with her jewelry on her neck, fingers, and wrist. She’d still be everything God ordained her to be.

My grandmother was special and unique in her own way. I absolutely loved that about her. I urge each of you to love yourselves and be true to what makes you you. It’s ok if you’re quiet or shy. It’s ok if you’re skinny or one with curves. It’s ok if you’re short or tall. It’s ok if you love spreading the gospel of Christ. It’s ok if you’re loud, like me, when you enter a room. Embrace who you are and live in it. It’s what makes you unique and special. Don’t ever be ashamed of who you are. It’s ok to be the cheetah in the room of snow leopards. ☺️