Gratitude

A Holiday Memory

Written by: Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer, National Safe Place Network

It would be difficult for me to think about or discuss the holidays without remembering my paternal grandparents and the influence they had on my life. As my mother’s parents had passed before I was born, my only experiences with grandparents were from a couple who were courageous, hard working, simple and very different from each other.

My grandma can best be described as a gentle soul who wanted to take care of everyone. She spent much of her life in a rocking chair, staring out a window and waiting for one of her children or grandchildren to come through the field to the back door of the kitchen. Regardless of the time of day, there would be something cooking. Chocolate pies (using a recipe that allowed her to stack them 3 high) would be in the pie safe and she would already be taking home grown vegetables from the stove before you could stomp the red clay of Mississippi from your feet and crack the screen door. Her desire was to care for each of her children by meeting very basic needs: food, love and knowledge of the Bible.

My grandpa was at work when he wasn’t waiting for grandma to serve a meal. Although he insisted that I was too young to help in the picking of beans in a field near the farmhouse, my memories were of watching him, my grandma and the other members of my family clearing row after row of vegetables in efforts to complete the task before the sun rose above the magnolia trees at the house. Grandpa was a no nonsense man who collected treasures from the castoffs of others and stories of his neighbors with an equal sense of purpose and passion. Quick to temper, he was also quick to defend and to encourage each of his children to stand up and be accountable for their actions.

My love of my grandparents deepened as I grew older and while we lived many miles apart, there was a strong emotional tie. However, this was not always the case. Love was shadowed by uncertainty and insecurity.

To be clear, as a young child, I felt isolated and different from not only my grandparents but from almost all of my relatives on my father’s side of the family. I don’t recall how I became aware of the differences between us. I just remember incidences of not ‘fitting in” and feeling as if I was living a life filled with broken rules.

I had two first cousins – one 11 months older and one 10 months younger – and we would come together on Sunday afternoons. While the adults conversed about whatever matter was most important that week, grandma would prepare dinner and the children would play outside. I remember attempts to play house that were never quite successful because we could not agree on the contents of our desired home. At the age of 6, it seemed quite important to me that we have a television, a record player and other items that were in my home. My cousins’ views of a proper home were of a stove and table with dishes set for the entire family. While this difference seems trivial now, at the time, I became lost in why there was a difference at all and what the difference meant.

I became increasingly aware that the conversations I attempted to have were challenging and that few commonalities exited between my experience and theirs. Once my older sisters and brothers were able to explain the difference, I understood but was still unsure of myself and how my grandparents could accept me.

My grandparents and the rest of my father’s family were members of a fundamentalist Pentecostal church. In the way they practiced their spiritual beliefs, they could not watch television, they could not listen to popular music, women could not cut their hair, wear pants or make-up, etc.  Because my parents both came from previous marriages, neither were allowed to practice in the Pentecostal church in my home community, and therefore, my siblings and I were raised in a different church with different beliefs. I grew up knowing that the people I loved best in the world did not believe as I did and in my childish imaginings I wondered who was right and if I was “less than” because of these beliefs. I started looking for, and so easily saw, slight differences in the way that our branch of the family was treated. I became sure that these differences were proof of an insurmountable divide. This awareness brought hurt to my inexperienced heart. Was the look that I received from my grandma one of love or tolerance? Was she proud of me for what I knew and for the dreams that I had? Was it o.k. that I knew about Elvis and could do the twist? Would she be disappointed if she knew I wore shorts and played softball every weekend? Was it o.k. to be me?

Christmas was the time when we could all come together and exchange gifts and appreciate that another year had kept us well. My grandma’s care-taking and love of the holiday meant that the stove was always hot and oranges, apples and walnuts could be found on every sideboard. My grandpa’s stubbornness and final authority meant the Christmas “tree” was a small branch cut from a larger tree and decorated with a single string of lights and a star. To him, it was important that the tree be high enough on a table so that he could walk without running into it. So we would gather around the table and open presents. While every child has wishes, I knew that my wishes were different from what my grandparents would see as appropriate gifts. So, I would receive a purse or a scarf or mittens and I was always happy because it was the one time of year when my cousins and I were alike because we would all receive the exact same gift. It was at those times when it felt as though perhaps it was grandma’s way of saying that we were all the same in her eyes.

The year that I turned 10, the gifts yielded an unexpected surprise. We came into the room and as I walked around the large wood stove that covered a substantial part of the floor, I saw three large boxes. I knew immediately they were for my cousins and me and unless there was a pair of mittens for every day of the year, there was something unusual inside. Not knowing what my grandma would select that was so big, it seemed as if I were going to explode as we finished dinner and took turns opening packages. When it came our turn – my cousins and I, with no regard to waste of beautiful bows or paper, ripped into the packages. The room was quiet as I studied the pink on the package and examined the pictures on the outside. I remember feeling across the top of the package for sealing tape because for a split second, a thought crossed my mind that the box may have been one found by my grandpa and put to use by my grandma for the present. However, the box was sealed and as I looked at my cousins, I was pleased at their smiling faces as we realized that we had all received Barbie Dream Campers. Well, even if no one else understood, I knew we had received a mighty gift. Barbie and her large residential road warrior were very much a part of my dream world.

How did Grandma know? Did my parents say something? If so, why would she go along with it? I didn’t state the questions out loud. I just laughed and felt an immediate and lasting joy.

Looking back, the message that I took from the gift was simple. I was o.k. Even if I knew about different things and had different hopes and dreams for my life, I was just as important in my grandma’s eyes as the other members of my family.  What I wanted and hoped for and dreamed about was just as acceptable as what they longed for in their lives. Years later, my grandmother shared with me that she had gotten the gifts because she had been in a store and had heard a woman talking about how the camper would allow little girls to make believe and imagine traveling and seeing what was beyond their own door.

As we celebrate a season that is filled with different beliefs, hopes and expectations for the world, I am reminded it is these differences in points of view and experience that make our world brighter. My life is fulfilling not because I am the same as everyone else but because I am different and because I embrace the differences in others. The truth in giving lies with the acceptance and love that is shared with a greeting or a kind gesture that says my world is better because you are part of it.

My grandma passed away in 1997 and a few weeks later, her husband of more than 60 years followed. I still return to that place and travel through that field, toward her home place and imagine her rocking in her chair, looking out the window and waiting for us to return. Now, I know she was not only waiting for us but she was also imaging those places that existed outside her door, over the hill and just beyond her reach.

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Getting to Know Your NSPN Family: Being Thankful

Written by Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events, National Safe Place Network

Each month, we share a little something about your NSPN family as a way to help you get to know us better. Sometimes the posts include fun facts and sometimes the answers are pretty meaningful. This month, we asked the team, “What are you most thankful for?”

The answers are below—but before you take a look, we want to say on behalf of the entire team of National Safe Place Network, we are thankful for you. We are thankful for each and every person who believes in our vision of creating a world where all youth are safe—and supports our mission to ensure an effective system of response for youth in crisis through public and private partnerships at a local, state, and national level. We’re thankful for the time you spend with us, the time you dedicate to teach and learn from us, and all of the times you share us with people you know. Thank you for allowing us to meet your needs and be your network and for working with us—because, together we can.

“What are you most thankful for?”

  • Laurie Jackson, President/Chief Executive Officer: “My family and friends.”
  • Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer: “My family and the unique relationship I have with each member.”
  • Shauna Brooks, Principal Investigator: “My partner in life and love—Kimberly Brooks.”
  • April Carthorn, General Specialist: “I’m most thankful for my life experiences.”
  • Sherry Casey, Operations and Administration Manager: “My family.”
  • Zach Elmore, Operations Specialist: “The support of friends and family. I would not be where I am without them.”
  • Autumn Sandlin, Operations Specialist: “I try and be thankful for the good parts of my life. I graduated this year, and I’m thankful for my time interning at NSPN and their willingness to let me make this work my full-time job. My nephew is one of the best parts of my life, and I’m thankful for his curiosity and intuitiveness that he shares with me. My friends who show me support and love I might not know I need, as well as my mom and sister. And cute dog videos. Always cute dog videos.”
  • Kim Frierson, Training Specialist: “My beautiful bear and wonderful family and friends.”
  • Susan Harmon, Director of Safe Place National Operations: “I’m thankful for family and friends.”
  • Rachel Hurst, Development Associate: “My family, my faith, that I am healthy and whole, my dog Buddy.”
  • Hillary Ladig, Communications Coordinator: “My family and my health.”
  • Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events: “I’m fortunate and blessed to have a few good family members, but I was born with them. I don’t really know what it’s like without them—or their impact on my life. So, when I think about being thankful for something, I immediately connect it with something that I have personally developed true appreciation for. I’m most thankful for my job. I worked hard to earn the skills I have to do my job; I worked hard to get my job; and I work hard to keep my job. It’s something I have done on my own and I’m proud of what I do and the organization I work for. I continue to be thankful for my job on a daily basis because no one is indispensable. I also know what it’s like to work for a company that doesn’t have NSPN’s standards of ethics and dedication toward its members and mission.”
  • Eric Tadatada, Technical Assistance Specialist: “I’m most thankful for my wife.”

Learn more about your NSPN family at https://nspn.memberclicks.net/our-team.

 

A Heart In Pieces

Written by Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer, National Safe Place Network

I was in a local grocery store recently. As I entered the store, I was bombarded with signs that Valentine’s Day is once again upon us. Red roses with white bows. Balloons reaching for the sky. Bouquets of candy bars. Sweets for the sweet. As I wandered about the aisles, my mind drifted toward the hearts that will be broken on this day when love is celebrated.

Somewhere there is a young boy who will be taunted and shamed by other boys who notice the small valentine he has clutched in his mittens for the teacher. They will grab the delicate card he worked hard to make and they will stomp it into the snow as they call him names. He won’t shed a tear – at least not now. He has learned not to cry. He knows that showing he has a heart will only make things worse. The older boys will get bored and move on to other targets. He will pick up the pieces and carry on.

Somewhere there is a young girl who has loved being daddy’s secret valentine until the day his touches made her scared. They made her uncomfortable. They made her confused. Now, when daddy says “I love you”, she nods her head and prays that he will not want to come to her when mommy goes to work. On this day, she will think God must have been too busy and as her father leaves her room she cries her heart out – and then she will pick up the pieces and carry on.

Somewhere there is a young mother who has worked all afternoon to make sure the right meal is on the table. Her husband will come home and she will know the drinking began before he ever left work. Her efforts will be buried under criticisms of how the food tastes, how the house looks, how she has changed, and how she disappoints him. She has long ago stopped hoping for a card or a rose. She nods in agreement to every word with the hope that her gift on this day will not involve touches filled with rage and disgust. As she looks in the mirror that night, she thinks about how she will cover the new bruise. She will pick up the broken pieces of the mirror and carry on.

Somewhere there is a father who will lose his job today. He has been saving every penny to pay bills that have filled his mailbox since his heart attack last year. The company can no longer afford to insure him so it found other reasons to let him go. He sits in his truck in the parking lot and takes out the handful of singles in his wallet to see if he has enough to take his wife a small gift for Valentine’s Day. He knows he must have gas in the tank to look for new work so he heads home and knows the woman who sat by his side while he recovered will stand by his side through this new challenge. She has his heart and together, they will celebrate the gift of life and carry on.

Somewhere there is a family surrounding a young family member in a hospital bed. Each member of the family prays for a miracle that is getting harder and harder to believe in. Their hearts are breaking and they ask the questions – Why him? Why now? Why? If he passes on this day their memories will be forever connected to their love for him and the pieces of their spirits that will travel with him on his journey. They cannot imagine or trust in the strength they have to pick up the pieces and carry on.

Our world is full of people who celebrate Valentine’s Day as a day of love, romance and endless possibilities. Our world is also full of people who see every day, including this one, as another day of heartbreak, fear, worry, and loneliness. Youth care workers, domestic violence counselors, workforce advocates, and hospital personnel are just some of the many hearts that do important work every day. They commit themselves to helping lift up others in times of need. On this day of love, please take a moment to thank someone for the gifts they share with others and know that the heart they lift up may someday be yours.

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