People Like Us

Archive for the category “Inspirational”

Because of Helen


Helen Gabriel and her family literally changed the course of my life. That’s a pretty dramatic statement and not one I make flippantly. Still, I am sitting here on my couch today, thirty-five and a half years later, overwhelmed with love and gratitude for one of the most generous and loving families I know. They were led by their matriarch, Helen.

The Gabriels lived on a dairy farm just outside of Rockdale, in a large white farmhouse that was always filled with the sounds of conversation, laughter and the smell of home-cooking. There were six children in the family, all were older than I. Our families had become acquainted years earlier and had known each other for longer that I could remember. I suppose it should not have been a surprise that when the five of us had nowhere to go, had no money and were living in a single-cab truck, that we would reach out to the Gabriel family for help.

I was riding in the back of the truck in a fever-induced haze when I heard the crunch of gravel beneath our tires and felt the truck slow to a stop. I had developed a high fever while riding in back of the truck and was lying on soggy boxes while it rained that late August day. The next few days were a blur. Helen and her family welcomed us warmly, fed us and let us gave us a place to rest. A few days later I recovered from my illness after receiving lots of love and care from Helen. This sweet family offered us housing there on the dairy, in a 23-foot travel trailer located behind their home. I was so embarrassed to impose on them, but so thankful to be out of that truck. I loved visiting the dairy barn, watching the dairy process in a spotless barn that smelled of bleach, milk and of cows.

I began school in a nearby community and rode the bus home to the Gabriel’s house. When I got off the bus each day, I pretended that the large farm house was actually my home, too embarrassed to admit to my fellow bus riders that I actually lived in the trailer behind the house. Though I had typical teenage pride, I still loved the dairy and so appreciated our time there.

The first weekend at the Gabriel Dairy Farm, one of Helen’s daughters convinced me to go on a blind date with the cousin of her then boyfriend. It took a lot to convince me. Helen told me from the beginning that Mark was “as good as they come” and she was right. I finally agreed to go on that first date and was courted there at the Gabriel Dairy by the man I eventually married thirty years ago. A few months later, after meeting Mark, our family moved into a home in the area where we lived until I graduated from High School.

Through the years, I continued to visit with Helen and would see her around Rockdale on occasion. When I did happen to run into her, brilliant blue eyes would light up, her face would soften and I knew I could count on her to hug and kiss me and call me “baby”. She was excited about our wedding, the birth of our children, our careers and the purchase of our homes. She was one of the few constants in my life. Though I could go months and sometimes years without seeing or talking to her, when we did get to visit it was like we were never apart. She loved me, I knew and felt that and I loved her in return.

Last year, when Helen fell ill, I visited her a few times at the Dairy. We reminisced and talked about those tough early days. One day, I asked Helen about the day we showed up at her house unannounced.

“How in the world did you do it– a family of five led by adults with questionable decision-making skills, there unexpectedly on your doorstep when you had a full house already. I just don’t know if I would have opened my home like you did, I don’t know what I would have done.”

Helen smiled and shook her head. “Oh baby, you needed help and I had what you needed. That’s just all there is to it.”

How can it be that simple? There she lay, in pain, her face still glowing with that sweet smile, with such certainty.

“Helen, you completely changed my life, you know that right? I feel I can never repay you.”

“Oh baby, I just helped a little. You would have done the same thing.”

“I love you, Helen.”

“I love you too, baby.”

I remember clearly when Helen kissed my cheek and hugged me one last time.

She died on a Monday, April 10, 2017. The world lost such a bright light, but I know Heaven rejoiced. I believe that we are each a part of a master plan. I think God puts people in our lives at just the right time to guide us, encourage us and sometimes even to challenge us. Because of Helen, I knew the true meaning of compassion. Because of Helen, a prayer was answered and after years of attending numerous schools each year, I finally got to end my high school career in one city, one school. Because of Helen, I met and married the love of my life. Because of Helen, I got to know unconditional love for most of my adult years. Because of Helen, my life has been enriched and I look for opportunities to give back. Thank you God, for sweet Helen.



The Voices

I stood on a pedestal in front of a well-lit mirrored wall, staring at my reflection with disgust. I saw an overweight, middle-aged woman who looked really tired.  Those 12-hour work days in front of the computer and almost a year of wedding planning in my “spare” time had really taken a toll. We were nearing the wedding date and it was time for me to select a mother of the bride dress. My daughter really wanted me to wear something formal, sparkly and “fancy” and as a lover of fashion, I was of course happy to comply.

I struggled to find the right gown; most stores had either frumpy, matronly gowns or the “off to the club” variety, leaving little selection in the “simple-elegance-that-makes-me-look-like-a-super-model” category I hoped to find. I finally found a gown I wanted online and had come to this store to order it. After much discussion with the sales clerk, it seemed necessary to try on gowns of the same brand, to ensure the fit.

I lamented the fact that I never got around to losing all the weight I planned to lose for the wedding, the 20lbs I had managed to lose was not enough. Still, there I was staring at myself in the sequined, sleeveless gown listening to the words of the numerous influential figures in my life, a running dialogue in my head:

“You really need sleeves, I know you don’t want to show your arms”

 “Honey you know you can’t wear a straight skirt, we need to accept what looks best on us”

 “You have thunder thighs like your mama”

“You have such a pretty face, but…”

I was also hearing my own thoughts, which were not exactly encouraging either:

“You should have tried harder earlier and you would have lost the weight”

“Look at you, you are going to waddle down the aisle”

“Maybe you should just wear a plain black dress, at least you won’t be as noticeable”

“You will forever look pudgy in those wedding photos”.

“Your kids will be so embarrassed at how you look.”

It was a battle I felt I always lost. Even when I lost weight, it was never enough for me or for the owners of the voices. Worst yet would be when I was told that I “may just have to accept that I will just be big like the other women in my family” leaving me feeling angry and a little hopeless. The truth is, like all the rest of the overweight people in the world, I know better than anyone that I need to lose weight and nobody has to tell me or hint that I need to do so. Like most people, I also actually have a lot of knowledge about how to lose the weight. When it comes down to it, I know those with successful weight loss experiences have made a decision for themselves. I was struggling to make time for myself and that decision.

I was thinking about those voices, as I stood there staring at my reflection. I was sure that though the gown was a gorgeous teal color, I probably looked like a busted can of biscuits encased in sequins. The sales clerk had convinced me to try on the dress, though I was embarrassed to show my arms in a sleeveless dress and my hips in a straight skirt in front of everyone in the shop. I was so focused on those voices in my head, I was a bit startled when I realized that the clerk and customers in the store were staring at me and not because of how hideous I thought I looked.

They were actually admiring me in the dress.

One customer said:  “That is gorgeous on you, you have to get that one!” she was also really good at gasping and going on about how beautiful I was, making me want to take her home with me.

I immediately said “oh no, I have to have sleeves. My arms are terrible” and “no, I can’t wear a straight skirt”.

Both the clerk and the customer looked surprised. The clerk said “oh girl, that is NOT true. Seriously, your arms are just fine and you look great in that straight fit. It’s actually really slenderizing on you. I can’t imagine why you would think that about yourself!”

I was a 49 year-old woman, clinging to the positive words of strangers. I tried on several more gowns, the customers and clerk were my cheerleaders and fashion advisors. Within an hour or so, with the encouragement of my new-found friends, I had tried on many beautiful gowns-gowns I would previously would have never considered. I finally settled on the dress that I fell in love with and had originally come to the shop to order. It had sleeves and a full skirt. The voices had won, but I did and still do love the dress.

What I discovered that day went beyond my dress shopping. Like most women, I had been listening to and believing lies for most of my life. The people who profess to love us the most can often be our worst critics. They become that negative voice in our heads that deafens the positive voices. By the way, it takes a whole lot of positive words to overcome just one negative word from someone whose opinions we value. I also recognized that while there was truth in some of the dialogue in my head (I mean, it is true that I do not have the perfect figure) there were words of advice that were unnecessary and damaging. As a result, my own thoughts had become just as damaging.

This is less about the struggle with weight loss and a whole lot about how we make people feel about themselves. About learning to love yourself. The truth is, it is okay to be less than perfect. My mind knows this, but my heart struggles. I struggle with accepting who I am with imperfections and it is a daily battle for me.  I have since begun to examine my own criticisms of others. I pray my voice is not echoing out there in someone’s head, spewing negative words. I think we are all guilty of blurting out unsolicited opinions on occasion, unintentionally releasing poisonous thoughts in that person or about that person. I guess I hope we can all remember that we are all on a journey and for many of us self-love is often just out of reach. May we all speak words of affirmation and be a mirror that reflects the best in those around us.


Fat Like Your Mama


Mama loved to cook almost as much as she loved to eat. Her chicken-fried steak with gravy, smothered potatoes fried with onions, chicken and dumplings, Mississippi Mud Cake, Banana Pudding and every calorie-laden, heart-attack inducing dish you can imagine were the staples of my childhood. I always woke to the smell of breakfast cooking, even on those early pre-dawn mornings before school. She managed to make homemade biscuits and gravy for us on most mornings, her apron tied around her round midsection, before leaving for work as a cook in either a nursing home or school cafeteria. For Mama, feeding us was her way of showing her love for us.

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I almost drowned when I was six. We were staying at the King’s Motel, a 20-room motel in a small South Texas town with a terrain that was flat and lifeless for as far as the eye could see. It was one of those establishments that was located on the outskirts of town, almost like an afterthought. Twenty orange doors with black numbers were lined up in a neat row behind an on-site diner and small rectangular swimming pool.

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Watch Me, Mama

“Watch me Mama,” she calls

and I watch

as she performs great, acrobatic feats

her sunlit brown hair dances

around sparkling hazel eyes

in a face whose beauty

has only begun to bloom

I am watching

only I see the cherub she once was

with an angelic, toothless smile

chubby legs attempt those first steps

as she reaches for me–

“Are you watching, Mama?”

She leaps again and

with a bittersweet smile

I see the young woman

she will be–

Sweet-spirited, with a tender heart

and a fine mind to aid her

so much love to give

those blessed ones

she will share her life with

I am watching

every performance

Engraving these images

so that I will not

miss a thing.

Karen Muston, 2001

Journey’s End

My father’s ashes felt warm in my hands. This is what death feels like, I thought. I rolled the plastic over in my hand and wondered at how a man with such power in my life could be condensed to little more than a gallon-sized storage bag. I put the plastic bag back into the cardboard box and placed it on the floor in the back seat.

Flat, frozen land flashed past us on the way to the cemetery. It was a cold day in January and all the foliage had withered to brittle shades of brown. The shrill sound of a train whistle pierced the silence. “We should put his ashes in that train car over there,” my husband said with a smile. His large, calloused hand patted my leg, and his blue eyes twinkled in an attempt to make me smile. “After all, it would be fitting. He never did want to be in one place for very long.” I nodded and smiled ruefully. He was right, my father would travel no more.

I glanced back at the box that contained what was left of my father. I wanted to feel something besides the hollow tightening in the pit of my stomach.  I wished for home. My mind flashed involuntarily to my father’s sunken face, his gasping for air with lungs that betrayed him, gnarled hands clutching, and my betrayal in the end. I could smell death. I momentarily fought nausea. Cigarette ashes, that’s what he looked like now. How ironic, I thought. I can’t ever remember seeing him without a cigarette in his hand.


The Power of Words


People like us don’t go to college. At least that’s what Mama always told me.

Somewhere along the way, my parents became convinced of this lie. Neither of my parents wanted me to go to college, in fact, earning a high school diploma seemed optional in our home. Mama dropped out of high school in the eleventh-grade so that she could marry our father, who had dropped out of high school in the ninth-grade. Read more…

Choosing Greatness

622659_4385225348031_80577615_oEveryone has some of those memories that play in your mind like an action-packed movie, as real and as powerful as the day that they happened. Those are the memories worth writing about and, sometimes, those are the ones you try so very hard to bury under mundane everyday activities.

Our experiences shape who we are, and ultimately impact our expectations. I think it is safe to say that our outlook on life is born from our perception of our experiences. I believe we choose our perception and therefore, we ultimately choose our destiny. It is not that we can’t weep about what has happened to us, no, that is our right. However, we must allow the adversities we face to be the catalyst that catapults us into greatness, instead of being the weight that drags us down into a dark, hopeless abyss.

It is then, there in our darkest hour, that we become victors, not victims. Choose to overcome, choose to learn from what has happened, and choose to be happy.

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. ~Romans 8:37

Faith Walk

Cool mountain air rushed past our faces as we followed the narrow, rocky trail framed with green fern and smooth Aspen. We could hear the sound of rushing waters in the distance, and we knew our destination was near. Suddenly, the trail seemed to end at a small stream lined in dark rocks. The small cascade of water flowing smoothly over rocks almost didn’t even count as a waterfall. The scene was beautiful, but not the majestic flow we had all expected. We had driven well over an hour in rough, mountainous terrain before we had even begun to hike. The disappointment was palpable.

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