Monday, January 16, 2017

A Call to Action: My take on Hillbilly Elegy

I am an Appalachian.

My 37 years have been spent at around eight different addresses less than 1 mile apart.

I am proud of my heritage... proud to be from Breathitt County, where no man had to be drafted during WWI because we met our quota with volunteers.  (and yes, I knew that, even before I read this book)

Proud of my great-grandfather who was a school board member.

Proud of my other great-grandfather who was a school bus driver and mechanic, who was a well "witcher" with the best of them.

Proud of my grandparents who aspired for more for their children... and expected more.

Proud of my Christian heritage.

Yet Appalachia, and Eastern Kentucky, and Breathitt County also make me sad.

Sad for lost opportunities. Sad for a sense of pervasive hopelessness. Sad because we seem stuck...

As I finished Hillbilly Elegy, I had to look up the word elegy because I wasn't sure of it's exact meaning. According to, an elegy is a mournful lament or song, especially for a funeral or for the dead.

I can't help but think that Vance's title is double-sided. His memoir tells his story of "upward mobility", two generations away from these Eastern Kentucky mountains, and a large part is dedicated to his Mamaw and Papaw, who are both deceased. I'm sure his elegy was for them... two of the most influential people in his life.

My elegy, though, is for our region.

Many have said we are dead.

Many of us act as though we are dead.

The statistics don't lie. We have higher rates for drug addictions. More of our children are being raised by grandparents, in single parent homes, or in foster homes. We have high rates of unemployment and high rates of poverty and high rates of nearly every health problem known to mankind.

As an adult, I mourn that this beautiful region I love is fast fading away.

I mourn that traditions such as family and loyalty seem to be vanishing.

I am discouraged that a sense of entitlement seems to pervade just as the sense of hopelessness... because too many have been reared on the notion that hard work isn't possible and the next handout will fix it all.

We are jaded. We are tired. We are overwhelmed with all the bad...

and as our young people graduate high school and move off or shoot up and overdose, we throw our hands up and shake our heads and wonder what the solution is.

Why won't someone fix it?

The thing about Hillbilly Elegy is... it could have been written by anybody that I know. Maybe not the beautiful prose or the grammatical correctness... but the storyline.

My grandpa and grandma moved to Michigan so he could find work in the steel mill and make a better life for his family. Brothers and sisters and nephews and nieces followed, and their house overflowed. He worked long, hard hours so that he could put food on the table. They had three kids and lived in Michigan until family duty called them home.

My grandpa was the smartest man I ever knew, and never had a college degree. Each of his kids went on to graduate college. All four of his grandchildren graduated college. It was expected of us.

Expectations are paramount to making changes.

On the flip side, Vance talks about those in his family who struggled... who continued the cycle. We can tell those stories here, too. I know several people who LIVE those stories. People who see financial stability as the ultimate goal, who work hard but struggle with shaking the mentality that they are poor, that they are hopeless.

This book is a hard read, namely because it doesn't offer solutions. In Eastern Kentucky, we sometimes get mad at outsiders who "look down" upon us... and Vance got some heat for that, because he didn't actually grow up in Jackson... but the way I look at, your home isn't necessarily your address. I don't live at Hollybush Farm, but there's not a place on earth where I feel more at home at than sitting gazing out over the pond. And his premise that you can move a family out of the holler but you can't always take the holler out of the family was a very interesting point.

We are all products of how we grew up. There's always been a nature versus nurture debate, and I think it is a little of both, but we learn what we see and what we hear.

What makes this book even harder to read is because Vance places the ball in our court. He cites numerous support systems he had growing up, and then talks about how he would have surely fallen through the cracks without these.

So many of our kids in Eastern Kentucky don't have those support systems. One line that really struck me: "I don't know what the answer is, precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better." 

What can I do to make things better?

This is a question I'll be pondering over the next few days.  I'd like to think that I am part of the solution. I'd like to think that the way I treat others, that the kids I come in contact with who may not have strong support systems, know that there is a way out of the hopelessness.

I'm not sure I convey that message loudly enough.

We are not less than because we are Appalachian. We come from hearty stock. Our heritage has been one of self-sufficiency. We have allowed ourselves to become crippled...

or paralyzed, maybe, because it seems as though we can't recover.

I don't know the economic answers or the solutions to our drug problems or our health problems.

I do know that the solution to hopelessness is hope, and I can offer that.

I can offer a helping hand. I can open my eyes to the people who are trying their darndest to act like they don't need anything. I can care when it seems as if nobody else does. I can love someone where they are, regardless of their social status or the number of times they have gone off the wagon and chose to use again.

I can be the change... and you can, too. It has to come from within.

One small act of kindness... one affirmation of worth.

These build upon each other.

We are worth saving. Our young people, our communities, our storied pasts...

they are worth saving.

Thank you, J.D. Vance, for putting into words a call to action for our area.

May we all be a little bit more brave and step up to the plate.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Some Ramblings on Sports... and other things...

I love football, y'all. 

Especially when the Steelers when big, like they did yesterday.

Which, by the way, I had to follow on my ESPN app on my phone, because we had more important sports action going on in the Bates house...

Will made his debut as a basketball player. He won (they don't keep score) because he "made it" when he shot the ball.

If you've never seen a youth basketball game with kids aged 5 and under you've missed a real treat.

My goal to laugh more this year?

Yep.  I belly laughed several times.

The kids roll around on the floor. They have no idea which basket at which they are supposed to be shooting. They wave at Mom and Dad and run into the bleachers and run off the court at will.

But they have fun...

which is what sports is all about.

Well, not always about fun. And there's never anything fun about losing, even though it builds character. And I'm NOT  a believer in the trophy generation... I think you should earn every stinking trophy you get. No participation trophies.

I can safely say that because I've lost a lot over the years. I never was an athlete... but I tried. Somehow my Dad convinced me to play tee-ball. I had a lot of fun spinning circles in the outfield, and picking dandelions, and chasing butterflies... which may have been why the other team's coach was so mad when I made the game-winning run in the end of the season tournament game.

Only because I somehow miraculously managed to get on base, and the next guy hit a homerun, but still...

I have always remembered the impassioned way that coach behaved after that game.... and it wasn't pretty, y'all.  And sometimes I behave that way.  And I shouldn't.

I also remember a parent from another team during my ponytail league years. This was where you actually had to hit a pitch, and I think we should have realized that if I could barely hit a ball OFF A TEE I probably wasn't going to be a pro at hitting a ball that came sailing through the air at me (thank God it was slow pitch!!) but I'm a slow learner so I actually played a couple of seasons.  (And my Mom and Dad PAID for it.  With money.  Paid for this punishment.)

I was a member of the team and the dug out was a nice place to gossip. I also learned lots of cheers, like "I see a hole out there..." although I never saw said hole because. 1. I was almost blind and 2. I had no hopes of the ball ever making it that far...

Anyway...I digress. One day I took my turn to bat, with a girl I considered a pretty good friend pitching. (I don't know if we were actually friends at that time... but we were friends in 7th grade. I even spent the night at her house a couple of times... and reflected on these words...)

So I'm up there at bat. The sun is beating down and I'm probably sweating and my glasses are probably sliding down my nose. And this parent, as I clutch the bat and swipe my feet in the dirt at home plate, yells, "Don't worry about your pitch. She's not going to hit it anyway. And if she does, you can throw her out at first."

Yep.  I heard it. I don't remember if I hit it or not, but I do know my Mom was blazing mad.

We never know what our words can do. They stick with others... good and bad.

I didn't need that dad telling me I wasn't too good at softball. I knew it. I had no ideals of pursuing a college scholarship in the sport... but I enjoyed being a part of a team. Looking back on it now, it's funny... but it wasn't then.

What you say to your kids... to other kids... they internalize it. Some of them can shake it off, but others take it to the bones.

We're told in the Bible that our words can either bring death or life. Now I'm not saying that those words killed my softball career.  I pretty much had already dug that grave and was getting ready to attend to the burial myself... but the point is, if I had truly loved softball, those words might have hurt me immeasurably.

We have to walk a fine line with our kids. They need criticism. They need to understand they aren't always going to be the best at everything, and sometimes a good ride on the bench helps them see that picture a little clearer... but we never have the right to criticize another kid.  Especially loud... in public.

This is the height of basketball season, an intense time at our house. (And I realize I've covered the gamut of sports in this post, except maybe bowling, and I apologize for skipping around).

As I watched Will run up and down that court Sunday, pure joy on his face, I started thinking about how we don't always let kids be kids. Youth sports are about teaching kids to compete fairly, being good sports, and learning to love the game.

If you're going to play, you have to love the game.

I'm glad that I got a little glimpse of the heart of a game... in those little ones who truly love it.

In parents who may have been keeping the score in their head, but cheered for both teams when they made a basket.

See, you can support your team in a way that doesn't demoralize the other team... and most importantly, that doesn't demoralize your teammates.

If you're a student athlete reading this, remember why you started... unless it's because your parents made you. (If that's the case, that's a whole other post).

Think about the love of the game you had, the exhilaration you felt when you first held that ball in your hand, when you first slipped on that uniform, when you first ran on a court.

Hold onto that. That feeling can never be replicated, but it can guide you every other night.

And parents, think about how proud you were that first time your kid made a shot. You work hard, too... driving them to and from practices and games. It's hard work, being a sports parent... but you'll only have that for a little while, and then it will be gone. Cherish it. Let them know you're proud of them, and support their teammates and coaches, even if you don't agree with every call made.

Because sometimes, the magic ends. The lights go out in the gym and you've laced up your last set of tennis shoes as a player, and you'll find yourself sitting in the stands with crazy people like me, and you'll hear a parent say something like that parent said about me and you'll shake your head because...

only you know what it's like to be on that free throw line with the game on the line.

But we know what's it's like to cheer as it bounces in. 

Ah... the joy of sports.

One of my favorite things in the world...

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Meet Ellie!

I am not an animal person.

Not cats. Not dogs. Not fish. Not gerbils.

But Caleb somehow decided that he wanted to be a dog person.

He's obsessed over it for months.

When we asked what he wanted for Christmas... that was it.

Even over a new computer, y'all...

So after much pleading, cajoling, and begging, and a lot of research from Caleb, we broke down and decided he could get a dog.

I've seen him excited about a lot of things... but I don't know that I've ever seen him this excited.

Meet Ellie. She's kind of cute. She does pretty good on car rides, just wanting to snuggle, and she didn't even get sick.

We've yet to determine potty training status, but I'm crossing my fingers it will go well...

because Caleb is over the moon.

And surprisingly, I'm pretty smitten, too. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Five Minute Friday: Connect

Sometimes I sit in the bleachers of the gym and feel like I'm all alone.

The crowd will be cheering. Wallace will be yelling. The girls hustling on the floor...

but I still am in a daze.

Sometimes I feel like I'm on the outside looking in.

I know I'm an introvert, and I'm ok with that.

And being the coach's wife, I often separate myself. I'll sit by myself because let's face it, Wallace isn't always the most popular guy. And that's ok...

Because every parent is doing his/her job by loving their kid, which means that sometimes, they may be mad at the bully who is the coach... even if he's giving that kid tough love.

Understanding this doesn't mean I want to hear what they have to say about it, though...

One of my goals this year was to be intentional about friendship. I don't know that I would call myself a good friend. A lot of that goes back to being an introvert... I don't always know what to say and to be honest sometimes people exhaust me...

But I'm reminded about how in Hebrews we are told to forsake not the assembling of ourselves together, and while I know that is talking about the church, I can't help but think maybe God meant friends, too.

After all, one of the highest compliments He paid someone was to say they were a friend of God...

And to be a friend, one has to show Himself friendly... and I know that sometimes I may seem stand-offish. It's not because I mean to. I genuinely care about other people and want to be liked, for the most part.

I just have trouble making a connection.

I don't know what to say. I'm horrible at making small talk. I spend my time thinking about what I should say next.

I have thousands of friends on facebook... but still sometimes feel like I don't have anyone with whom to talk. I think that's a problem with social media in general... we connect, but it's shallow.

So, tonight I'm thinking of how I can make a real-life connection this coming week. Somehow, I'm going to go out of my way to make it a point to show myself friendly to one real-life person.

To connect with them...

And then to try to connect them with the Father because of His light in me.

*Linking up with Kate Montaug and Five Minute Fridays, where we write for five minutes, unedited, on a single prompt. This week, the word was connect... and I may or may not have cheated and written for a little bit longer...

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Throwback Thursday

Night before last I was staying at my Grandma's house. I wasn't able to get on the treadmill, and since one of my new year's goals is to get 10,000 steps a day, I decided to walk in the house.

Not my favorite way to exercise. So I circled the kitchen table and walked between the bathroom and the living room, and then decided to venture upstairs.

The upstairs of my Grandma's Bert's house used to be our hiding place. Brandon and I spent many hours up there, playing detective, investigating murders. The collection of books Grandma kept from her teaching always kept me occupied, and the small desk under the window gave me the perfect view of my favorite climbing tree.

It was always piled high with old toys and picture albums and other treasures that have absolutely no value other than sentiment.

That night, it did not disappoint.

Stowed away in the bookshelf, there was a stack of old movies. Two piqued my curiosity. One was an old family movie. Another had "David Kyle" written on it. David Kyle is Wallace's assistant coach and his family were close friends with my Uncle Dennis. I thought it might have been some good stuff to show after ball practice one day.

What I discovered was four hours of cartoons, probably taped to occupy David Kyle as Carol worked at the office.

That got me thinking of all of the great cartoons when I was little... like He-Man and She-Ra. The Smurfs, of course. The Snorkels. Pound Puppies. My Little Pony. Rainbow Brite. Care Bears. Strawberry Shortcake.  And some show that I can't remember the name of that had a dog dressed as a cheerleader with a D on the sweater and a moose. (I can remember that because I had the playset and I loved it).

So that got me thinking of some of the things I loved as a kid.

1. I loved books. Obviously.
Sweet Valley High. The Babysitters Club. Fear Street. I collected them and read them voraciously, then read them again.

2. A Cabbage Patch General Hospital playset that I had. I don't remember if it had figures or what, but I do vaguely remember playing with it in the living room at my Grandma Bert's house.

3. Singing. Loudly. With a wooden microphone or a hairbrush in front of my mirror.

4. My caboodle. I didn't even like makeup but I sure liked that thing. Mine was peach and was full of Bonnie Bell lip smackers lip gloss.

5. The telephone my cousin Jennifer had that was clear, showing the insides of the phone, which were made of neon parts. It lit up when it rang, too.

6. Garbage Pail Kids... and the stickers. Everywhere. On all of my folders and notebooks.

7. Colorforms.  You know... the clingy things that you could rearrange over and over until they lost their cling.

8. New Kids on the Block.  As in I really loved them.

9. Going to Pizza Hut and feeding quarters into the juke box to listen to Bon Jovi, Poison, and Guns n Roses.

10. Mint chocolate chip ice cream from the ice cream store in North Jackson Plaza. I don't remember the name, nor do I remember how long it was there, but I do remember walking over from Dad's office and making the purchase.

11. Icees from the Dime Store.

12. Running down the ramp at Rose Bros. and walking down the steps into the basement at Martins' Department Store.

13. Also running down the ramp at Maloney's.

14. Playing Wheel of Fortune and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago on my computer at home.

Sometimes it's good to look back on a simpler time.  Funny, though, when you're a kid or a teenager, you can't wait to grow up... and then you get there and realize it really wasn't so bad.

So, what's some of your favorites growing up?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

His Word Will Not Go Out Void

I set my alarm for 420 AM, and y'all...

I rolled out of bed.

I am not a morning person, but this morning I felt compelled to get out of bed.

Even though I don't always manage "quiet time" first thing in the morning.

Ok, let's be honest.

I rarely ever manage "quiet time" in the morning. The snooze button is too inviting.

This morning, though, was different.

I heard it as I walked from my car to the building yesterday at work, and again as I walked back to the car that evening. I couldn't make out the words, only the inflection coming from the speakers, but I knew...

Once you get into His Word, It gets into you, and It settles in you and settles you.

Even though I couldn't understand the words, I knew it was good.

Because He is good, and His Word is one long love letter to us.

So I drove through the rain with Klove on this morning, chugging my Diet Coke because have I mentioned I'm not a morning person?

And as I read from Isaiah 52, knowing that in counties across the state of Kentucky there were other people who very well may be reading that very same chapter at exactly the same time, something about this verse hit me in the feels. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!"

In this passage, the bearer of good news is considered beautiful. The publisher of peace is beautiful.

Not always so in today's world of gossip and he said/she said.

And just read these words slowly... "upon the mountains are the feet".

The feet... meaning that good news was spread by word of mouth. Oh, sure, they had scrolls... but only priests could read those.

(Let's pause and let me mourn not being able to read... because if I was a woman in Biblical times, I'd have some very different hobbies. Ok... let's not go there).

So the good news of salvation came by people going from town to town... like Jesus. And the disciples. Hence the great commission...

Which is still alive and well today.  And as I read, I felt a part of that great commission. Kind of like that song, "In the highways and the hedges"... because God's Word is powerful. Speaking God's Word is powerful.  A group of Christians agreeing together is powerful...

As I sat there and listened to the other people read, it moved me. It was beautiful.

Too often we get distracted as we sit in our padded pews on Sunday mornings with our Iphones. I'm just as guilty as the next person. And while I have consciously made myself stop making my to do list during church (a habit I will admit that I have had in the past), I still find myself with my mind wandering...

When was the last time I just sat and really soaked in His Word?

Because it is beautiful.

I started thinking of Nehemiah. In this book, the captives are returning to rebuild their city. They've been in a foreign land and are thirsty for the Word of God. They've not been blessed with it wherever they've been. So Ezra the priest stood to read the Word.

He read from morning until midday...

And the people that listened to him were attentive the whole time.

Standing up.

Y'all.  Let's be honest. Sometimes I'm ready to sit down after a verse...

but they stood there and listened. No fidgeting. No talking to each other. Obviously, no facebook on their cell phone.

And they wept.

As Ezra read those beautiful words, the people who heard them wept.

He tells them not to mourn... and perhaps they were mourning time lost. Opportunities lost. It's easy to do...

but as I sat there this morning listening to those words being read over that microphone, those with the long, unpronounceable names and the years old promises, I understood why they might have wept.

Because when your heart is full of wonder... you can't help but weep.

It comes in you... and then, because it fills you, it spills out of you.

Into your husband or wife. Your kids. Your community. The grouchy person who nearly runs you over with a shopping cart at Walmart.

And His Word doesn't return void... It accomplishes the purpose God has for it.

So, beautiful people, wherever you are... spread that good news. Jesus loves you. Jesus saves. He is the Word made flesh that came to dwell among us and His Spirit is in us...

Let's start acting like it.

And all the people, even the one typing this who is preaching to herself, said Amen...

Monday, January 2, 2017

Tough as They Come: A Review

Some books just hit you in the gut.

You know, give you the feels?

This book by SSG Travis Mills is one of them that does just that.

SSG Mills gives us encouragement by sharing his story of becoming one of only five surviving quadruple amputee injuries, and he tells it with grace, dignity, and honor... fitting of someone who bravely served his country.

SSG Mills was injured during his third deployment to Afghanistan. In this book, he describes his recovery period, including how he determined in his heart to not give up.

The book is well-written, and while the topic is a difficult one, the reader is captured by the perseverance demonstrated by SSG Mills.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who may feel like they are facing something which they can't overcome, or someone who feels like they are ready to give up. His humor and grit shine through and I was encouraged by his story. SSG Mills truly is tough as they come, and he encourages readers to face whatever difficulty they may have with the same courage.

This book can be purchased at Amazon:

I received a free copy of this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review, which I am now providing.