Glimpses of Beauty

Friday night I went with a friend to hear another friend play in the Albuquerque Philharmonic Orchestra. These ladies are from the school community where we wear our “mom” hats or “teacher” hats. Beyond that context, we can be more than what our hats describe. For instance, this one mom is a violinist in her spare time when she is not saving lives as a doctor. (Then there is me whose hidden talent apparently is yelling at my children when not dancing with them in the kitchen to Uptown Funk.)

The concert was in a catholic church on the other side of town whose arched sanctuary did not disappoint in delivering great acoustics. It had been awhile since I heard live orchestral music. I am so glad I took the time to treat myself. To be honest, I am not often choosing to listen to classical music. When the local NPR station hits those hours of Performance Today between Morning Edition and Native American Calling, I am usually switching to my old school station to see how much of the “You Be Illin'” lyrics I accurately recall.

But hearing the instruments LIVE lifts me above the stiff, hard pews and carries me to sublime sweetness. For a moment I can allow my soul nourishment from all those things that leave me hungry. Enduring racism. Abject poverty. Educational inequalities. Childhood leukemia. Institutional injustice. Oppressive dictatorships. Death. Those things that lately have left me saying, “What the F, God?” It may sound sacrilegious, but if He is truly omniscient He already knows what I am thinking. And if He is truly unconditionally loving, I can come to Him as I am. Confused. Frustrated. Hurt. Angry. Grieved.

The music does not solve anything, give answers, or take away the hunger. Yet it gives in that moment a glimpse of true beauty that reminds me that suffering is not without redemption even in those instances that seem too far for redemption’s reach. Perhaps the coexistence is not strange but often inseparable. The composers who were able to create such art must have had their share of the varied human experience. Without the extended range of pain and joy, would they be able to produce such sounds that cause one to cry simply by listening? There is something in those moments of hunger that signify sacred, holy ground. A wanting. A need. And a hope of fulfillment. The Advent season. There are glimpses of beauty in the midst of hunger that satiate the soul in that moment to remind us that promised fulfillment is on its way. Until the day of full completion comes, I am thankful for those glimpses.

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So Very Santa Fe

Mike and I enjoyed another Fun Friday yesterday; we ventured to Santa Fe again. It is a close 45 minute drive and grants us the feeling of getting away. We were heading to one of many local coffee shops. (I love how when I enter “coffee shop” on Yelp the first pages are full of different independent cafes with nary a Starbucks in sight.) When we were almost to our destination, we passed a local business called Verde, advertising cold-pressed juices. We did a U-turn and found ourselves inside the simple, stark establishment making fresh organic assortments of raw vegetable and fruit juices. The friendly staff gave us a variety of samples, and honestly they all tasted delicious. We narrowed it down to two. Saving the Hydrating Sweetness to share with the boys, we split the Eastern Roots as soon as we got back in the car. No doubt my body was pleased with such a healthy breakfast. Our day was starting in true Santa Fe fashion.

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Delicious AND nutritious!

From there we headed to the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. It is the oldest and smallest non-profit independent museum in New Mexico. Did I mention free? We did make a suggested donation but love the accessibility. The current exhibit was a collection by Will Wilson, a Diné (Navajo) photographer. The kind volunteer at the entrance explained that these works were taken in the Four Corners area where uranium was mined during the time of the atomic bomb. Perhaps one of the most romantic things Mike does for me is willingly go to these types of artistic venues and genuinely look like he is enjoying them, too. (That or the way he thoughtfully opens the car door windows before polluting my air with his gaseous release. It’s a close call.) The Trading Post downstairs had quite a collection of artifacts for sale.

Allan Houser sculpture outside the museum entrance.

Sculpture by Allan Houser (Apache artist) outside the museum entrance.

We still had some time to kill so we wandered around the streets of downtown until we found ourselves sitting quietly inside the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. The sun was shining through the stained glass windows placing rainbows on the Corinthian columns and reminding us to reflect in the beauty of the simple things surrounding us.

Reflection

Reflections

We wandered back past the numerous galleries and shops and headed to where Mike had heard the best green chile cheeseburger was awaiting us: Santa Fe Bite. We split the giant burger which was indeed extremely tasty as well as the flavorful street tacos and a Santa Fe Nut Brown on draft. Despite the food coma that meal induced, we made it back to Albuquerque safely.

We continue to treasure these little Fun Friday dates; they are gifts that would be hard to give up. Money is nice, but time and relationships are priceless. We returned to our routine refreshed and ready for the Beckett boys who keep us entertained on the daily.

Ethan gifted Connor with an iPhone 20 (based on the size).

Ethan gifted Connor with an iPhone 20 (based on the size). I kind of like how it freezes time, always 2:25pm. If only…

Connor asked Ethan to download the Facebook app so here he is "downloading."

Connor asked Ethan to download the Facebook app, so here he is “downloading” it.

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Halloween Miracles

Apparently Christmas is not the only season for miracles. I am married to one of the most introverted men in the world and look what he agreed to wear with me to our friends’ Halloween party.

Just because we're introverts doesn't mean we don't have Spartan spirit!

Just because we’re introverts doesn’t mean we don’t have Spartan spirit!

In vain I tried to get him to learn some of the most memorable cheers Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri performed as these SNL characters, but I had already extended him far enough with the red polyester pants. In case it is not clear which child takes after which parent, Connor had the face punch from the Funky Cold Medina routine down.

Connor decided he really wanted to wear Ethan’s old ninja costume. I love how he views the older brother hand-me-downs as prized treasures instead of the used leftovers they truly are. One day he may no longer think it is the best thing to get Ethan’s old things; he may wonder why his brother always gets the new bikes/clothes/costumes/jackets/etc. Until then, I will glory in his innocent appreciation of the discarded.

Ethan finally decided that he wanted to be a Chicago Bears player this year. I wanted him to wear his Hester jersey and call it a day, but he asked his slacker mom to at least try to get him to look more like a real player by investing in a helmet. I ordered a generic Bears costume that fortunately arrived just in time for the school’s Spooky Story Night.

Another mom friend of mine told me how she had put their last name on her son’s NFL costume for a previous Halloween. It was a great idea but would require me to leap outside my comfort zone. On the day of Spooky Story Night I found myself once again inside Jo-Ann Fabrics. The last time I was in there was two years ago for The (epic) Quest for Critter. Talk about spooky. It’s not easy being a non-crafty mom in a Pinterest world, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do for the love of your offspring. After wandering aimlessly like the Israelites in the desert, I finally found iron-on letters. Just hours before my son would have to wear it, I pulled down my dusty iron and broke its once a year usage trend. Somehow I followed the directions and managed to be successful in ironing on Beckett AND the number 9. (Ethan had wanted to be number 96. Those numbers were large. After 7 letters, I was maxing out on my ironing ability so number 9 it was.) I have to say that I was feeling quite proud of my major accomplishment.

Ta-da!

Ta-da! He loved it and I love him. :)

After that crafty feat, I went to Spooky Story Night feeling like I could run a marathon, climb Mount Everest, balance the nation’s budget AND organize a future school cake walk again (well, maybe not the cake walk). Then 20 minutes later as I’m admiring all the cute costumes, I discover that a mom and her 2nd grader SEWED her ENTIRE costume from SCRATCH together. I just got schooled by a 2nd grader. I was back to getting comfortable in my slacker identity after 20 minutes of delusional thinking.

Still, I will say that I am glad I ventured outside my comfort zone and attempted what I would consider out-of-character for me. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be sewing the boys’ costumes from scratch next year. (Yeah, right.) Sometimes we find ourselves doing things out of the ordinary, and those times can be satisfying indeed.

Never would I have imagined myself cooking Korean food as much as I have since moving to Albuquerque, but given the limited choices here, I have. And it has turned out to be (mostly) a great new adventure. Ethan’s birthday is the week before Halloween and the night before my crafting extravaganza I found myself making him seaweed soup (miyuk guk), the traditional Korean birthday meal. The boys love mussels so I decided to use them for the soup’s protein. The guy at the seafood counter packed the 20 or so mussels on crushed ice inside a plastic bag. He instructed me not to close up the bag all the way or they would die. (Aren’t they going to die eventually?) I followed his instructions as I grabbed a few more items. The bagger at check out repeated those careful instructions and gently placed the high-maintenance mussels on top of my bag. As I loaded the rest of the low-class bagged items into my trunk, I placed that opened plastic bag of ice and Paris Hilton protein in the front seat next to me. Should I have buckled them up? Those 20 mussels were like my new children. I wondered if I should name them and ask them what they wanted to be for Halloween. Is this what the Duggars feel like? All it took was Connor to remind me that they are still what we planned to devour. Even after I said that I had kept them alive up to that point with the utmost care, he threw those bad boys inside the soup with gusto. “Now they’re dead!” as they started opening up. I felt somewhat conflicted and almost called the first one Wilbur.

I ironed 7 letters and 1 huge number for my son’s costume (I IRONED!!). I cook Korean food on a regular basis. I run regularly for fun (FUN!!). I go hiking with my family. My husband was a cheerleader for Halloween. MY HUSBAND WAS A CHEERLEADER FOR HALLOWEEN. People can always change. Miracles do happen.

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I Love Chicago, but Oh, How He Loves Us!

Thanks to a dear friend’s initiative and a stellar husband’s acquiescence, I was granted a girls’ weekend to Chicago to celebrate my aging process. Flying into my favorite city, I realized that the longer I live elsewhere, the more that our living there becomes a memory. In the short visit, I was immediately reminded of all the things I loved. When my friends asked me to pick where to eat knowing my love for food, I honestly said it did not matter to me. I just wanted to be with them. Talk about changing as a person! The various spots they chose (Batter & Berries, Wasabi, Avec, & Urban Belly) happily treated my taste buds even if at times there was an hour wait for it. Chicago may have countless delicious eating options including numerous BYOB choices, but it also has a long wait if you cannot make reservations. Is there even a place with an hour wait in Albuquerque? Even if that were so, at least there would be warm sunshine instead of cold drizzle while you stood outside hoping to win the lottery hear your party called.

I did choose one thing: afternoon tea at The Langham Hotel. The Langham was not around when we were Chicagoans but took over the bottom portion of the Mies van der Rohe building that formerly housed IBM. In a way, it was a belated celebration for two friends, one who finished her Ph.D. and and the other becoming an R.N. Knowing this, Joe, with whom I made the reservation, gave us complimentary champagne. When it comes to the best afternoon teas in the city, most people refer to The Drake and The Peninsula. This is a more hidden gem but equally delicious with impeccable service and a luxurious atmosphere.

Unfortunately I was only able to connect with a small handful of friends given the time constraints and lack of car, but those connections were so fulfilling. It is freeing to be with people whose love is unconditional. Some are so similar to you that all your filters can be completely and freely removed; others are so different that you know the power of that faith that binds you.

One night, my homegirls had dinner just like old times. It had been awhile since I had tears in my eyes from bellyaching laughter. In the same evening, the conversation that gave me the best abdominal workout ever also went real enough to have tears for other reasons. I appreciate friends who do not shy away from confrontation because they fear being uncomfortable or their desire to be liked is too strong. Rather, they love one another enough to say those hard words face-to-face. I personally think it is very rare, and I truly treasure those who will tell each other what they NEED to hear, not want they want to hear.

I loved being back at my Chicago church: hugging my former family of faith, seeing their growing children and new babies, and being deafened by my pastor shouting those words I may not want to hear but NEED to hear. (If you want to hear your kids say, “Mama, turn it down!” and be blessed, I suggest you watch his current series on the Ten Commandments here.)

What a difference two and a half years make! I was in the same exact church, singing the same exact song, crying the same exact ugly cry but feeling entirely different. Afterwards, when she could not help but notice my stoicism defeated by snot and tears, my dear friend asked, “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?” She was precisely right. Last time I was in that scenario, I could not sing the words to “How He Loves” because I was weeping over my husband being robbed of the ability to see the beauty of those words. I wrote about it then here. I wasn’t crying just because of flashbacks to the trauma of that time. I was also crying because I could now see the undeniable truth of those words even in the midst of that most difficult time: HOW HE LOVES US. He loves us enough to do not what we (think we) want but what we truly NEED.

We were forced to leave the city we loved with all its yummy food, beautiful architecture, and our deeply rooted community while our family was facing its most difficult time. It was traumatic. I was reminded of all that we had lost. Yet here we are in the peaceful, scenic, perpetually sunny city of Albuquerque where we are deepening in our appreciation of ALL that we have gained.

The boys and I were talking about what they learned at church here while I was gone. Connor dutifully recited the lesson that sometimes God stretches us to make us stronger. We talked about what “stretching” means. Although Ethan knew that it could mean experiencing difficulty, he did not think it made him stronger. He talked about how being sick was so hard. As a result he feels scared and anxious about getting sick. He prays daily that God will keep him from throwing up again EVER. “Ethan,” I told him, “I notice that when we pray every night for our friends who are fighting cancer that you not only ask God to heal them, but lately you have also added that He keep them from throwing up and feeling so sick while they get their medicine. Your prayers have become stronger for them. You understand what it feels like to be so sick and your compassion for them has grown.” He nodded as his definition of strength expanded.

How He loves us enough to stretch us. Though it may be difficult to see in that moment or even after the moment has passed, I know that God is trustworthy and that His enormous love undergirds us in every sweet and difficult time of our lives.

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School Projects = Parent Projects (Let’s Be Real)

Having a sick kid at home gives me the chance to catch up here. It is probably better than feeding parental paranoia that has me on the internet looking up Ebola, enteroviruses, and last night’s newest discovery, Periodic Fever Syndrome.

Connor’s first grade class celebrated the annual New Mexico state fair by holding different fair-related things in school. For example, one day the kids had to bring in something to exhibit (a favorite collection, a baked good, a craft, etc.). Connor at first wanted to bring in his bottle cap collection. However, seeing that all his caps were from Daddy’s cold brews, I gently suggested he choose something more kid-appropriate. He happily brought in one of many Lego creations.

The biggest project was that they had to make a state fair ride. The instructions were given at least a week or two in advance, but of course I found myself two days beforehand remembering that this massive project was due. In my defense, we had my entire side of the family visiting during that time. Connor had wanted to make something out of marshmallows but being an unprepared, slacker mom, I had none in the house. I put on my best MacGyver thinking cap (minus the mullet) and miraculously came up with an idea using materials we already had in the house. What do we have an endless supply of in the Beckett home (besides beer bottle caps)? Wine corks!

My sister-in-law who was one of the family visiting us during this time was a former national officer of the FFA (Future Farmers of America). State fairs are her thing, and my brother mentioned in passing that they made sure to participate in our state fair here the right way (all the things having to do with agriculture) versus the wrong way (rickety rides that can detract people from the true purpose). Oops. I guess the Beckett family had been doing it the wrong way. Somehow thinking of what to do with an abundance of wine corks and trying to focus on the agricultural aspect combined in my mullet-less MacGyver mind as …. a pony ride!

During this family visit, my Mom was here and performed reparative surgery on Connor’s precious stuffed dinosaur, Baby. Baby had 3 gaping holes that threatened to make him flat as a pancake if all the stuffing escaped. I found a neglected sewing kit in the dark recesses of my closet that I had used that one time I replaced a button back in the Victorian Age. The boys wisely suggested I let Grandma handle the sewing. In other words, they did not trust their beloved stuffed animal in Mama’s incapable hands. MacGyver Mama did remember that there were unused pins in that dusty kit whose likelihood to be used in their intended way had worse odds than the Cubs winning the World Series. What better way to save them from such a wasted fate than make them into pony legs!

Behold: a sewing kit in my house!

Behold: a sewing kit in my house!

Grandma performing sewing surgery on Baby.

Grandma performing surgery on Baby.

My Easter dinner fiasco of 2013 did leave me with a lifetime (for someone like me) supply of kitchen twine that would be perfect for connecting the ponies to the center cork stand. A random handful of paper clips and twisty ties helped make the heads and tails. The lid from a take out container was rescued from our recycling pile to be the top cover with the help of some red construction paper from our art scraps. Cardboard from a box from Costco would be the bottom. After piecing together one sample pony, I showed Connor. He was game, and we went for it. He put it together and was satisfied with his very homemade-looking project. It would never make it on Pinterest in a million years, but for this non-crafty mom, I felt like how MacGyver did after saving lives by diffusing a bomb with only a paper clip: miraculous!

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How does it work? “A guy screams go and they go.”

Our upcycled project somehow managed to make it to the exhibit time but then shortly after crumbled to the pile of scraps it was meant to be. Just like that our glorious (precarious) creation was demolished in a split second probably when someone sneezed in its general direction. It just made me glad that we did not spend two weeks poking toothpicks into marshmallows to make a magnificent structure worthy of the front page of Parenting magazine. I am also even more impressed with the kids whose fellow homemade-looking projects were truly their own.  The minds of some 6 and 7 year olds put my MacGyver mind to shame! In that sense, these projects are definitely worth the extreme anxiety attacks they induce in Mamas like me. Now we know why there is an endless supply of corks here: school project assignments!

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In New York

My brother had the superb idea to gift my mom with a trip to the U.S. Open for her 70th birthday. We grew up with tennis fanatics who cheered on the greats through decades of grand slams. My fond memories growing up include our family doubles matches, and my mom continues to play weekly with her tennis ladies. Because my brother and I married the most selfless spouses ever, we were able to join my parents on the trip while Peter’s wife Robin & my husband Mike stayed back with our kids. (We obviously married the most awesome spouses in the universe.)

Mike even let me go early to spend time with one of my dearest friends, Lisa. We spent the first day walking around the city. I loved just being in the big metropolis; it made me realize how much I miss the urban scene. Some may think the concrete jungle is a place where they could never live, but I was soaking in the city life with deep appreciation. I breathed in the constant activity, the wide diversity of people where every walk of life can feel they can fully be themselves in a city large enough to handle it, the extensive public transportation, the countless choices of restaurants and the reminder that your life is but one of millions.

We walked across the iconic Brooklyn bridge, a beautiful structure with picturesque views:
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We passed Lady Liberty in the distance. May we not forget her timeless words:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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Street dancers doing their thing:
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My 3rd cup of caffeine to combat the effects of a red-eye flight was from Blue Bottle Coffee. I loved these windows along the High Line park (former elevated tracks converted into public park space). I especially loved the iced coffee on tap.
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I miss impressive architecture like this Lower Manhattan building by Frank Gehry:
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We walked EVERYWHERE which was possible due to hidden parks like these whose soothing fountains and random violinists provided a welcome respite for our tired feet:
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After a full day of exploring the city, we headed back across the bridge and enjoyed this evening skyline view:
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My family arrived the next day and we met up near Broadway for dinner and a show, Motown the Musical. It was probably the most fun musical I have watched, and the highest review one could give it was that my dad did NOT fall asleep.
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Yes, we were dripping with sweat from the hot sun beating down on us during mid-day matches, but being at the U.S. Open to watch my mom’s favorite sport live and in person was a great experience. We got to see the top players in action: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Andy Murray, Jo-Wilifred Tsonga, Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka, and Victoria Azarenka. As amazing as it was to watch these athletes dance on the court, my favorite match was on the smaller court 17 with the unseeded American mixed doubles team. We wanted to cheer them on especially 18 y/o Taylor Townsend who hails from Chicago’s south side. It was such an intimate setting that I am pretty sure she heard me shout, “Chicago in the house!” :) The crowd was fully invested in this match, and one lady nearby spontaneously nicknamed our girl Tay-Dawn which caught on with other spectators in our enthusiastic audience. They won a close match, and my brother Peter caught one of their autographed tennis balls Donald Young hit into the crowd. Our fellow Tay-Dawn fans joked with him that he deserved it for cheering well but if he was done with it they would gladly take it from him now.
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Our family stayed near the tournament in the Flushing/Queens area which meant we were in little Asia. Not only were we surrounded by our peeps, but we also had a multitude of glorious food options none of us have in our own towns. We ate delicious Korean food twice. We had Chinese-Korean style food including this cold jellyfish salad with hundred year egg that I photographed for my husband who would have loved the availability of less common foods:
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We had a dim sum feast that started with these staples:
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We also had our fill of Asian style bakeries:
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The last day my parents left after breakfast, but Peter and I headed back to Manhattan. We would have liked to have met up with my friend Eddie who unfortunately was sick, but were glad to have followed his suggestion to eat at the quintessential New York deli, Katz. We had the famous pastrami and the Reuben. IMG_6148

We went to the World Trade Center and visited the new 9/11 Memorial Museum.
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In the midst of the hustle and bustle, I was able to see extended family (my cousin Bomyee) and precious folks I knew from college (Lisa), from St. Louis (Sunny), and from Chicago (Linda & Christine). Life has blessed me with so many treasured friendships over the cities and years, and it is always great to catch up in person. It made me even more thankful that my parents were able to do the same with their friend, Mrs. Jo, whom they have known since before I was born. As my friend Lisa and I were reflecting that we have known each other for 21 years of life’s ups and downs, my mom and Mrs. Jo have been sharing that bond for double the time. It was lovely listening to them reminisce and have Mrs. Jo tell Peter and me that there are very few people about whom she can say she feels completely comfortable with and my parents are among that cherished handful.

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Mom and Mrs. Jo catching up on the streets of Flushing, NY

Overall it was such a wonderful trip filled with the comforts of city life. It sounds strange to describe crowded, hot subways and tough attitudes as comforting but for me that is exactly what it was. My muscles were happily sore from so much walking around the easily accessible city. Every location has its advantages and disadvantages. It is a gift to be able to experience so many different places and adapt to appreciate all each has to offer. I will always LOVE the large city. New York definitely made me feel brand new. ;) Yet as I type this, I am enjoying the peaceful serenity of the Sandia Mountains. In some ways, I find the comforts of home while simultaneously homesick for what is lacking in every setting. Ultimately no matter where I am, I am thankful that home is truly where my 3 guys are and that God gives the grace to grow us all in whatever setting He has chosen for us in each season.

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“Mourn with Those Who Mourn”

A mother buried her son today;
No words can take that pain away.

Choir voices sang so sweet and strong,
Some preached a figurative call to arms.

All the while she rocked slightly to and fro,
To the quiet rhythms of a mother’s woe.

In their fold she didn’t ask to be
With Sybrina, Lucia, Wanda … Mamie.

In the world outside are raging divides,
Politics collide in hateful diatribes.

Helpless and scared to help most others know
Taboo topics discussed can bring healing, make whole.

Promises to Keep I read to my son
History retold and when Joe Louis won,

A moment treasured when I saw his spark
He gets it a little; it’s a good start.

My hope to fulfill the motherly call:
Raise sons who have understanding for all.

A mother buried her son today;
No words can take that pain away.

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