Returning to where it all started

In a previous blog post, I wrote about the opportunity to return “home” after losing my Dad in June 2015. Here is part of it:

       Once back home in Norman, I dove into work and also into helping to plan the 50th anniversary of my grammar school.  One of my former teachers and I exchanged texts and emails on a daily basis trying to put together what we wanted to be a memorable, fun event.  As with most everything she does, she sets the bar high.  This was no different…and she met those very high expectations quite easily (well-done, Ardie Herring).  The evening was a success filled with alumni ranging graduates of the 1970’s to 2000’s and teachers, both current and former (including one we hadn’t seen in 27 years).  This short weekend “home” (to San Antonio) increased my pull even more to be there on a more permanent basis and I headed back to Norman this time with a determination to do whatever it took to move closer to family.  In late October, I received a text from that same former teacher I helped with the reunion (see how it pays off to keep in touch) about an opening at my old grammar school.  A week later, I interviewed with the committee and a few days after that, I accepted the job of Admissions Director.  Two weeks later, my house was ready to be put on the market and my Mom, middle sister and I drove two cars full of my things down to San Antonio.

I have now been on the job and back home 11 months and am so grateful for the opportunity. My days fly by and I am immersed in many different aspects of the school that gave so much to me a long time ago. People frequently ask me what it’s been like to now work for a school that I once attended. Invariably, I’ll smile and respond with this, “The experience has been really neat. I won’t lie-I do find it weird at times to be back here, on the other side. But I love that the reputation of this school is still strong. My hope is that the kids who come here have the same experience I do.”

Sure, I was one of those girls who “played school” in my room but did I picture myself getting a Masters degree in Higher Education in Oklahoma only to return to my grammar school to use it? Heck no. God has a funny way of planting new opportunities right smack in front of us when we least expect it. I went from working with 18-25 year-olds to working around 3 year-olds to 15 year-olds. My day starts with greeting kids and getting them out of the car to putting them back in the car in the afternoon. My favorite part of the day, as crazy as this sounds (and if you saw it in person, you’d understand the chaos), is when my co-worker and I supervise sibling care…the holding tank if you will. This is the area those kids who have a sibling in middle school wait with us until the bigger kids are dismissed. The grades range from PK3-4th grade. The little ones are adorable. They tell you about their day and are such little innocent sponges.  I love getting hugs from the first and second graders (I’m no longer the new person whom they don’t know-yay!!).

As I noted earlier, on tours, prospective parents enjoy hearing that I went to school at Holy Spirit. They ask what has changed, what brought me back here and if I would send my own kids here (if I had children). Without a doubt, the answer is yes. When I walk into classrooms and see the way our kidimg_4237s are behaving, the respect they have for adults when they walk into a room makes me very proud. Come to think of it, they make my job easy too.

So as I near my one year anniversary, I am simply grateful for having this opportunity.  Be ready for those unexpected moments-you never know what’s around the bend and are usually glad you turned the corner to find out

 

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There’s no place like HOME

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One year ago, I was sitting in the rehab wing of a nursing home, helping my Dad get settled in for his stay while he recovered from pneumonia.  As we were chatting, I remember looking up at the TV screen to see CNN covering the tornado damage that just hit Moore, Oklahoma.  Even as I looked at the debris on the ground and neighborhoods where houses once stood, I couldn’t comprehend the depth of it all.  My head was in San Antonio with my Dad but something began tugging at my heart.  That was my home of 7 years, Oklahoma.  Shortly after the news, I got a phone call from Coach Gasso, the head coach of Oklahoma Softball.  When I brought up the rain, she said “Rain?  How about the tornado?”  Once I heard first hand, all I wanted to do was go home.  Coach Gasso shared with me that the team’s academic advisor had lost her home in the storm and asked if the Diamond Club would be interested in helping her and her family.  Later that night, I set up a fundraising site for people to donate. 

A day later, I was headed to Austin, Texas for a conference.  As soon as I checked in at the registration table, they saw my Oklahoma shirt and said “We’re thinking of you guys.”  I smiled, tried not to choke up and said thanks.  After multiple introductions to conference attendees, I was frequently asked how everyone was doing.  It was really sweet.  On the opening day of the conference, they announced each state.  When it came to Oklahoma, there was a rousing round of applause and I put up my hand in acknowledgment. I almost teared up and definitely felt the outpouring of support.  I received another call from Coach Gasso that day.  She shared with me that one of the children that died was a huge Keilani Ricketts and OU Softball fan.  She was survived by her sister and parents.  With super regional play just days away, Coach wanted us to do something in recognition of the “Bring It” team and Game Time little league teams that coming weekend.  I basically told her we were on board for whatever she wanted.  Per her prodding, I got in touch with a friend who at the time, worked for Printing Services.  We arranged for a banner to be made welcoming the teams.  At one point in the conversation, Coach stopped and said, “Oh sorry, are you at the conference already?”  I told her it was fine and even replied, “Gosh, I’m tempted to get on I-35 and come home.”  Her response was simple “Do it.  I could really use your help.”  I was not in the right frame of mind to be at the conference and after letting my colleague know, I headed north getting into Norman a little after midnight. I drove all the way through on adrenaline, stopping only a few times to stretch my legs.  During the drive home, I kept thinking about the team and Coach Gasso.  Their priorities made me so proud to be affiliated with them.  

Due to anticipated rain, the first day of super regional play was postponed.  Instead, we welcomed the little league teams to the field, gathered around for a prayer with our players and just comforted each other the best we could.  In an effort to serve as a distraction, Coach Gasso invited the group of young girls to run the bases with the OU players and just let loose.  I peeked in on the team during this and smiled at not only the little ones having fun, but our players as well.  Anyone who watched Keilani Ricketts during college knows she is a pretty serious person and player.  The quiet yet determined player, who can throw a change-up and hit with a vengeance….was full of smiles as she held Casey Angle’s hand (sibling of Syndey Angle).  Casey became a fixture in the OU dugout throughout the rest of post-season play.  She was “one of the girls” and was welcomed with open arms by the team every time they saw her. 

As I think back to the day we won the national championship, I can’t help but smile. Yes, the plays, the pitches and the hits were unbelievable.  However, there is one memory that will stick out in my mind…seeing the team carry around the state of Oklahoma flag around the field after they won.  They did not win the championship for themselves, or for Coach Gasso….they won it for the state-the place they have called HOME during college.  They were playing for something MOORE than themselves.  Anyone who has watched the team play this year will notice the stickers on their helmets.  The HOME sticker was first placed on their helmets during the WCWS.  The other stickers represent Sydney Angle and the other lives that were lost.  I loved hearing Coach Gasso say that sticker was not going anywhere. 

Fast forward to today….one year has passed.  The lives that were lost will forever be remembered.  The house and businesses are being rebuilt.  Briarwood Elementary had its new dedication today.  There is hope and the community has come together once again.

You never know what kind of impact you will have as a person, a player or a team. The seniors from the 2013 team may not be playing anymore, but their legacy will live on forever.  Their talent and work ethic are intangible and sorely missed along with their unapologetic values.  They didn’t play for the individual glory or accolades…they played for their team, their school and in 2013, their state.  If you attend a game where OU is playing, pay attention to what the girls do after every single game: they pray.  They take the time to thank God for their health, their safety and the gifts he’s given them.  Win or lose, they “give the glory to God” as you’ll frequently hear Coach Gasso say.  What parent would not want their little girl to emulate that action?  

2013: A Year Unlike Any Other

For the state of Oklahoma, 2013 was full of life-changing events.  Some were exciting and some unbelievably devastating.   Throughout the course of the past 365 days, I have been to my home state of Texas at least 5 times, California twice and Florida once.  As much as I love to travel, the word “home” took on a whole new meaning to me.

This year was yet another reminder of how fast things can change, and that if we are not careful, we will lose the opportunity to spend just a few more minutes with the ones we love.   We all learned that lesson firsthand when we were surrounded by the destruction of the May 2013 tornado.  I was in Texas visiting my Dad who was recuperating from pneumonia.  As I watched the news on the screen, my head was with my Dad, but my heartstrings were being tugged toward Oklahoma.  It wasn’t until I was called by our softball coach who relayed just how bad it was that I began to fully comprehend the damage and reality of it all.  I was due to spend the weekend in Austin at a conference.  After sitting through a few workshops and thanking people for saying they were praying for the state of Oklahoma, I was simply going through the motions.  I ended up leaving early.  A day later, due to a weather delay, there were no Super Regionals.  Instead, we hosted the “Bring It” and “Game Time” teams from Moore, OK at the OU Softball field.  There was not a dry eye in the group after the team chaplain, Sarah Roberts, led us in a prayer.   Selfish as it may have been, I am glad I was there.  Watching our players wipe away tears and spend time with the young players made my heart swell with pride.

To let off some energy and take their minds off, Coach Gasso let the girls run around the bases and hang out more with the OU players. One girl who became especially close to the team was Casey Angle, the sibling of Sydney Angle, who died in the tornado.  Whenever she wasn’t playing, Casey could be seen in the OU dugout throughout the rest of Super Regionals and into the WCWS.

Weeks after the deadly tornadoes, the OU Softball Team was not only playing for their university and fans, they were playing for the whole state.  On June 4, 2013 there were tears of joy as the team ran around the Hall of Fame Field after winning it all, carrying the state of Oklahoma flag and signs that read HOME.

Tragedy continued to strike close to home.  In August, the OU Softball Family lost a devoted fan in Gene Fuzzell.  Our spring tailgates will not be the same without him.  Then in October, a dear friend’s husband passed away after a short but courageous battle with leukemia.  Karl Moyer was such a great man and is missed every day.

Life is funny-we begin the year with new resolutions and a new attitude about making positive changes in our lives.  We create a plan and expect everything to go according to schedule.  Perhaps just when we were getting too comfortable, God felt we needed to be woken up.

As I begin 2014, I am grateful for my faith.  Without it, I would not have been able to understand the challenges faced this past year. I am hopeful for what lies ahead.

Make the most of everyday.
Mary

The Holidays

Dear Readers,

For however big or small my “readership” is, I still was inspired to start off with that greeting.  Why, you ask?  Well, I just finished watching one of my favorite movies, The Note.  Great movie based on a book (with the same title) by Angela Hunt. Anyway, one of the characters is a newspaper columnist and she always started her column with “Dear Readers…” so I wanted to do the same.  Thank you, Peyton Magruder.

On Friday, I returned home to Oklahoma after spending the past week with my family in San Antonio, Texas.  As always, I enjoyed seeing my parents, sisters, niece, nephews and brother-in-law.  I also was able to see a friend of mine and her family who is like my second family.  I hadn’t seen them in a while so our visit was long overdue.  On Thanksgiving Day, my parents and I attended mass, though not at our normal parish.  The homily was so good that I felt like my mind was cleared from all the “chatter” as Ellen would say and I was just focused on the present and being in the moment.  Toward the end of his sermon, the priest said this: “If we’re not careful, Thanksgiving can be a superficial holiday.”   Because I didn’t have any paper or pen with me, I pulled out my Blackberry to type in the quote so I could tuck it away.  As much as we may want to deny it, our society’s attention does seem to be about rushing through the turkey, dressing and pie so we can rest up for Black Friday deals.  Sadly, stores are caving in and opening on Thanksgiving night.  Seriously, where are our priorities?  What happened to spending time together as a family, watching football games, relaxing and saying thanks for the blessings we have?

This holiday season, I will strive to not worry about getting “the perfect gift” for friends and family.  Instead, I will try to savor each and every day, remembering the “little things.” Earlier today, I had my first reminder.  While getting groceries, I passed an older lady who asked that I reach up and get a bottle of Pepsi for her.  I smiled and obliged and went on my way.  I ended up getting in line behind her and saw how she struggled to get out of her motorized wheelchair to pay her bill.  Funny how one simple encounter can change out perspective.  She helped me once again realize how I am sincerely grateful for the people who I have in my life…the friends and family that make my life feel so rich and full.  Spending time with family and friends this past week is the greatest “gift” and the only thing I need.  I hope we are all able to direct our priorities in the appropriate way.  Don’t stress about the shopping and gifts….the stores will always be there, but the people in our lives may not. 

Sincerely,
Grateful in Norman