Faith-Based Alternatives to Trick-or-Treating

By Rachel Sircy

I believe I mentioned in my last post (the one about gluten-free trick or treating) that my family and I don’t actually celebrate Halloween. I’ve never made a big deal about this before because I honestly didn’t know anyone outside of my own church who abstained from Halloween celebrations. Last week, however, I was talking to the mom of my daughter’s school friend who asked me if I had any good ideas for Halloween alternatives for small children. This was the first time since I’d moved to Columbia that anyone had asked me that question, and it made me realize that perhaps there are many of us out there who would like something to do with our kids on October 31st that doesn’t involve traditional Halloween celebrations.

pumpkin

If you look online, there are tons of ideas for Christian alternatives to Halloween celebrations for parents to do with their kids at home. I read several blogs, each with some great basic ideas that any family can make their own. You can throw a fall-themed costume party for your children on October 31st and include fun games with candy prizes. One blog suggested doing a treasure hunt (similar to an Easter Egg hunt, I guess) and fill objects with candy. These activities can be religiously themed and designed to teach a faith-filled lesson. One of my favorite ideas was using pumpkin carving to teach a lesson about receiving the Holy Spirit: cleaning out the pumpkin is analogous to what Jesus does to us when we repent and the light that we put inside the pumpkin can represent what happens when Christ puts His Spirit in us. Other sites suggested doing a kid-friendly movie marathon at home, involving popcorn, candy and letting your kids watch fun movies until they fall asleep. These parties can be family-only celebrations or involve neighbors and friends. If you have the luxury of getting out of town, one blogger mom suggested taking your kids on a small weekend trip. Getting out of the house may be a good idea if you’re opposed to handing out candy to trick-or-treaters (personally, I hate telling little kids “no,” so if I stay home, I always plan on handing out some candy. If you’re trying to build your Halloween alternative into a neighborhood party, it might not be a bad idea to hand out candy and spread the word for next year’s party!).

And don’t forget, many area churches put on Halloween alternatives in the form of Fall Festivals or “Hallelujah Nights.” A few I saw online that might be worth looking up near Columbia are Redbank Baptist Church’s Fall Festival night; Family Worship Center’s Hallelujah Night, and Harvest Collaborator’s Hallelujah Praise Night. If your church is having a fall festival or Halloween alternative night, you can feel free to share it in the comments.

Happy holiday alternatives, everyone! 

Summer Road Trip Series: Part VII “You Have Arrived at Your Final Destination”

By Marianna Boyce

Our departure from Sedona took place on a beautiful, sunny day—quite a contrast from the turbulent weather we experienced the previous night. After driving 2,100 westward miles from the Palmetto State of South Carolina, it was time to turn south toward the U.S.- Mexico border. Phoenix and Tucson stood in the way of our anticipated destination.

The thriving metropolis of Phoenix covers about 519 square miles, making it physically one of the largest cities in the United States of America. The layout is incredible and easily navigated, but there’s no gentle transition when exiting this urban complex. One moment, the view is grandiose, architecturally interesting buildings. The next, it’s back to a vast, inhospitable desert. The abrupt contrast is startling. We were suddenly left with nothing to see but swirling dust devils in the distance as we continued our remaining three-hour sprint to the finish line.

Sierra Vista, our ultimate destination, lies seventy-five miles south of Tucson and about twenty miles north of Mexico. This little dot on the map was our prime location goal for one reason only: our precious family lived there.

Tiffany is my bonus daughter (I’m just not fond of the term, stepdaughter). She married Bill, an Army Major at the time, now a Lieutenant Colonel. In 2015, Bill received orders to report to Fort Huachuca (pronounced wah-CHOO-kah) for a two-year stint.

image 4Abby, Emma, and Avery are our precious granddaughters. We also have a beautiful Belgian Malinois (pronounced mal-un-WAH.) grand-puppy named Leo.

As we turned onto their street, the gorgeous mountain range behind their house majestically stood in the distance. Situated on the opposite side of the mountainous terrain lies Mexico.

Little Avery is three. When she spotted us entering their driveway, she rushed outside immediately. Her arms flailing with excitement, along with her pretty blonde hair bobbing up and down as she sprinted toward us, was a wonderful sight to see. Many amazing landmarks we’d seen on our road trip were extraordinary, but this little princess took the prize. This family reunion was sheer bliss.

After a tasty spaghetti supper, we enjoyed each other’s company as we caught up on everything going on in our lives. The girls were thrilled to have an extended bedtime that night.

The following day, we ate lunch in a small town about twenty miles northeast of Sierra Vista. You may have heard of it…

image 3Tombstone is pegged as “The Town Too Tough to Die.” About 450,000 tourists visit each year. Its dusty streets are lined with rustic buildings and landmarks from the 1880s. The infamous gunfight at the OK Corral is re-enacted daily. It’s quite a surreal experience wandering the streets where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday roamed—two of Arizona’s most popular “ghosts of North America.”

We spent one more night in Sierra Vista before embarking on our journey back to South Carolina. The most exciting news was all our girls were traveling back to the Palmetto State for a two-week stay. Bill remained in Arizona with Leo.

Tiffany drove her garnet-colored Explorer packed with enough stuff for a three-month vacation. Cody was in his comfort zone driving my light sage-colored Lincoln MKZ, so we let him drive. He’d passed the test a few nights earlier after driving in the monsoon weather from Flagstaff to Sedona.

I traveled with Tiffany, Abby, and Avery. Gerry and Emma rode with Cody. It was the perfect setup separating Abby and Emma. They were nine and seven at the time, so sibling rivalry was intense.

A year had passed since Tiffany had been home, so she was anxious to get there as quickly as possible. There would be no cool stops along this route, but the fun was just getting started.

Our travels took us about 1,050 miles that day, a little more than halfway. The decision to stop for the night on the outskirts of Houston was a good call. We were all exhausted, but I was one proud GiGi. We heard no complaints from any of the girls.

We departed the western edge of Houston early the following morning with the potential of being home by midnight. We had 1,000 more miles to go, but our aggressive plan just wasn’t meant to be. After an extended traffic delay, our plan simply fell apart. The back of an overturned poultry truck was on fire blocking all lanes on I-10. The driver was fine, but I’m sorry to report that many of the chickens didn’t make it.

image 1We exited the great state of Texas at mile-marker 880 later than we’d expected, and only traveled 400 additional miles after our long delay. Our sibling drivers, Tiffany and Cody, were both exhausted. Tensions mounted, but they merely needed to rest, stretch, and relax. Abby and Emma weren’t the only rivals in the bunch.

We stopped to eat supper in Slidell, Louisiana. We should’ve found a great Cajun restaurant, but Southern homecookin’ at Cracker Barrel is what we chose.

There was no need to push the envelope, so I devised a new plan. As I ate my chicken fried steak, rice and gravy, and fried okra, I made what my bonus daughter calls, a “Mama Bear” move. There was a newly built Hampton Inn and Suites directly across the road, so I asked Tiffany to book two rooms for us, and she did.

image 5The heated, salt-water swimming pool was calling our name. We basically all stepped into a nice, long, Epsom salt bath. This place was perfect, and exactly what “Mama Bear” ordered. Everyone loved each other again.

The following morning, June 16, 2016, was a Thursday I’ll not soon forget. Eight more hours would officially end our remarkable road trip. Unknown to me, at the end of this time span, I would begin my next journey deep into a dark, unfamiliar place that I often refer to as my alternate universe.

We quickly left Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia in our dust. We crossed the South Carolina state line about 3:00 p.m. About thirty miles from home, Avery began crying uncontrollably. She told me her tummy was hurting, so I cautiously removed her from the car seat and held her tightly in my arms. I know I shouldn’t have, but I did it anyway. Any great GiGi would’ve done the same.

As I silently prayed for her, a tingling sensation started in my feet. I thought they were asleep, just as Avery now was. As we got closer to home, a perplexing coldness began to overwhelm them. Trying not to disturb her as she slept, I haphazardly tossed my sweater over my feet. An odd gesture, given South Carolina in mid-June, is usually a hot, humid, 100-degrees.

Tiffany drove to her Mom’s house where they’d be staying for the next several days. She hadn’t seen her in a year, so it was reasonable for them to spend time together before heading back to Arizona in two short weeks. I jumped in the car with Gerry and Cody anticipating the arrival at our final destination. Bill selflessly planned to fly to the Palmetto State and drive back with them so they wouldn’t have to travel cross-country alone. I know—he’s great, right?

Four-thousand, six-hundred, and fourteen miles after our journey began, Gerry, Cody, and I pulled into our driveway and opened the garage door—home sweet home!

As soon as my feet touched the ground, the intense cold sensation in them immediately changed to insanely hot. It was as though a high fever spiked, but only in my feet. I stopped dead in my tracks not knowing exactly how to react. I’d never felt that type of pain.

My new journey had officially begun.

image 2I told my husband I couldn’t walk on my own, so he assisted as I hobbled along beside him. I literally watched my feet and ankles swell beyond recognition. Gerry instructed me to sit, relax, and prop up my throbbing, fiery-hot feet. I was horrified at the time, but we actually had a good chuckle about it later in the evening. In our infinite wisdom, we thought riding in the car for an extended period contributed to this unfortunate event. Were we ever wrong!

I am; however, thankful my symptoms stayed at bay until our arrival home. Leaving my driveway eight days earlier, I didn’t realize a life-altering illness was lurking inside my body. Stepping out of my car ignited a chain of events that maniacally unfolded and completely unraveled life as I knew it. Not only was coping with extraordinary pain physically debilitating, but it was also mentally grueling. I didn’t recognize myself after two short weeks.

My 2016 summer road trip served as the catalyst that ushered me from my normal life into an alternate universe. I straddled two worlds on a mission to control them both. Horrible symptoms relating to rheumatoid arthritis ruled my life for an extended period, but I was determined not to go down without a fight. I had a great life. I wasn’t willing to give it up to this vicious disease.

All our circumstances differ, but one thing is constant for everyone: change. Life adjustments are constantly transforming our lives. Many changes are subtle and can easily be absorbed with our fighting human spirit, but as in my case, significant negative transitions create utter chaos.

As I conclude my lengthy road trip series, I want to express my gratitude for those who chose to ride along with me. Enjoy your ride in life. What you don’t enjoy—endure. Remember who’s in control of it all. Come what may, God is good, all the time.

A Sweet Boy Named Wyatt

By Tina Michelle Cameron

wyatt outdoor pictureThis will probably be the hardest blog I have written to date. It is part two of a blog from earlier this month which was about September being Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. You see, I want to tell you about a sweet boy named Wyatt. It is easy to talk about Wyatt; it brings a smile to my face and warms my heart to think about him, but with the smiles, also comes tears. Wyatt Edward Brown was born on October 28th, 2014 to the most amazing parents I have ever met – Ashley and Eric Brown. If you follow my blog or are friends with me on Facebook, then you know that I am a nurse at Lexington Medical Center on the oncology unit. This is where I met Wyatt’s mom, Ashley, as she is also an oncology nurse. Ashley and I became friends while working together which is how I got to know this beautiful little boy.

Sweet Wyatt, as I always affectionately called him, was kind, sweet, funny, smart, and so loveable and loved. He loved superheroes (the Hulk was his favorite), cheering on the Clemson Tigers, playing with his action figures, watching his favorite video, The Hulk vs. Batman, and spending time with his amazing family. He was smart having already learned to read and work an iPad like a grownup at age two.

wyatt and mimi adn gigiWyatt was the strongest and toughest little boy that I had the pleasure of getting to know and love. He would light up a room with his smile and gave the sweetest hugs and kisses. Some of my favorite memories of Wyatt were playing with his toys or just watching cartoons. Another favorite is when they would FaceTime me from Texas or call me during a football game to just say “Go Tigers!” (To mess with me because I am a diehard Crimson Tide fan).

Wyatt was diagnosed at three-months-old with Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft tissue cancer. He had surgery followed by 399 days of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He went into remission, but then, unfortunately, relapsed – which led to more treatment, radiation, and an extensive surgery at M.D. Anderson in Houston, Texas. Eric and Ashley had to relocate there for three months for his surgery and treatment. This is where they met the incredible Melissa Bellinger who started the A Shelter for Cancer Families organization that provides housing and support to families affected by cancer in the Texas area.

bracelet team wyattAshley and Eric created a Facebook page (TeamWyatt) to keep family and friends updated on Wyatt’s condition. His page has 5,477 followers from all across the world. It is filled with messages of love, support, and prayers showing beautiful pictures of sweet Wyatt and his family. T-shirts, decals, and matching bracelets with the words “No One Fights Alone” were made to show support for Wyatt and his fight. Unfortunately, he passed away on April 28th, 2017.

Just a week after Wyatt passed, and despite their unimaginable loss, his parents held an event to honor Wyatt and raise money for A Shelter for Cancer Families. I was honored to volunteer with the organization and Wyatt’s family, and we raised $10,000 in one evening.

This amazing little boy endured surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments like a champ. He never complained. Wyatt will never be forgotten and will forever be loved by his beautiful family. Despite his life being so tragically cut short at two and a half years old, his parents and family gave him a lifetime of love and adventures in that short time. I know that he is watching over them and his new little sister Emma Ray Hope from Heaven and will forever be their guardian angel.

family picI will always love Ashley and Eric for allowing me to become an honorary member of their family and the time I spent with sweet Wyatt. Ashley, I love you like a sister, a close friend, and the daughter that I never had. Thank you both for sharing your most precious Wyatt with me and the world. To Wyatt, we will continue to fight for more funding and for a cure. You will always be my superhero.  I will always love you and hold you in my heart forever.

#teamwyattforever #noonefightsalone #superhero #hulk #sweetwyatt #ashelterforcancerfamilies

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

by Tina Michelle Cameron

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Gold is the color representing childhood cancer. How I wish that neither of these would exist. Cancer shouldn’t exist—for anyone – adults or children. This statement is coming from a woman who worked for 25 years as an adult oncology nurse. I would love to have to find a different field of nursing to work in – this would mean, cancer doesn’t exist. But, unfortunately, this is not the case.

Image 2Many people think childhood cancer is rare. But, each day in the United States, 43 families will hear the words parents should never hear: “your child has cancer.” It is the number one disease killer of children in the U.S. and the second leading cause of death (after accidents) in children ages 5-14. This means that every two minutes a child is diagnosed with cancer. This is an average of 300,000 kids worldwide being diagnosed each year—does this sound rare to you? This is unacceptable. Something must change. We need to demand more for these precious, innocent children.

I have listed the seven most common types of pediatric cancers. Leukemia is the number one cancer in children followed by Rhabdomyosarcoma, Wilms’ Tumor, Neuroblastoma, Lymphoma, Retinoblastoma, and Brain/Spinal Cord Tumors.

According to the Coalition Against Childhood Cancer (CAC2)* in 2014, of the $4.9 billion budget of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), only four percent went to research for childhood cancers. So, exactly how much is 4%– 4% of a dozen donuts is half a donut; 4% of an 8-hour night of sleep is 19.2 minutes and 4% of a $50,000 salary is $2,000.

Image 3Are you shocked? Has your mouth fallen open yet after reading that? Mine too. Were you also aware that since 1980, there have only been 3 new drugs approved for pediatric cancer treatment? In addition, only 4 new drugs approved for both pediatric and adult cancer treatment. These children are receiving adult-strength dosages to treat their cancers. The NCI needs to put childhood cancers as a higher priority as well as pharmaceutical companies. Many adult cancers receive private funding, this is not the case for pediatric cancers.

Parents are terrified of losing their child to this horrible disease, but must also still deal with life—work, other children at home, financial worries, as well as watching their child be sick with nausea/vomiting, pain, diarrhea, mouth sores, hair loss and other side effects from their treatments. Children that survive cancer often face lifelong problems from their treatments. These problems can range from breathing problems and difficulty walking to sight, hearing and heart issues. Many of these children can become traumatized from everything they go through. So, even though the treatments are over, their journey is still not over. They will have the fear of it returning.

Image 1Parents should not worry about losing their job, their home, their car or getting behind on bills because of the financial burden that cancer treatments cost. Many parents must create a GoFundMe page, so they can stay with their child in the hospital or be with them for their lengthy treatments. This should not be. We as a nation need to stand up for these children and do better. We need to ensure more research funding goes to these children. They deserve more than 4%.

*Credit for cancer statistics given to Coalition Against Childhood Cancer and the National Cancer Institute.

Role Models…

By Shannon Boatwright

We’ve recently celebrated Mother’s Day and I’ve just started a grad class.

These two things got me thinking…

For Mother’s Day, I had the privilege of enjoying a whirlwind of a weekend full of special time with family. I consider my greatest accomplishment ever, that of being a mother. My two incredible children never cease to amaze me and the fact that I carried them, survived giving birth to them and get the honor of helping raise them, well, it seriously blows my mind.shannon

The day after Mother’s Day I began a grad class on the nature and needs of gifted students. One of my first assignments was to take a quiz about Distinguishing Myths from Realities concerning the nature and needs of gifted students. It was definitely an eye opening little quiz.

So between celebrating Mother’s Day and then reading this grad class material, it got me really thinking about the role models in my life. Within the quiz, one of the statements that I had to choose whether I thought it was a myth or reality, stated, “Primetime, commercial television offers inadequate and inappropriate role models for gifted children.” In the response for why this is a reality, it is stated, “Reality: Only 9% of all the new programming during the past decade has had one or more children in the starring or title role, despite that over 17% of the nation’s population is under 13 years of age. Gifted children are also highly underrepresented and typically depicted as social misfits (Ableman, 1992).”

Interesting indeed and definitely thought provoking. Today’s primetime television is definitely VERY different from the days when I grew up watching television. I feel like there were WAY more positive role models on television back when I was growing up.

But instead of battling my way through a discussion on this topic of the current lack of role models on television, I’d like to focus on what this topic stirred in me. This issue, along with Mother’s Day, made me think about all the amazing female role models I have in my life. When I stop and really think about it, I recognize how truly blessed I am to have so many strong, super and spectacular female role models in my life. Ranging from the incredible women in my family, to close friends, to colleagues, to mentors, even iconic leaders, actors and other famous female warriors who inspire me.download

In an age when equality is still a prevalent issue, having positive female role models should be a very important part of your life. We need positive examples that lead the way and inspire us ladies. As a mother, I know I make it a goal that my children see me being a good person, doing extraordinary things, contributing to society, bettering myself and making a positive difference in others’ lives. Like the pride I have in my own mother for being such a strong force of a woman, having a beautiful teacher’s heart and for sharing her awesome talents with others, I want my own children to be proud of my accomplishments and what I do with my own talents and strengths. My prayer is that they’ll be inspired and admire. I could write a book about all the outstanding, female role models in my life and I am ever grateful to be blessed with so many super women to have been influenced and inspired by throughout my lifetime.we can do it

Take a moment to think of all the positive female role models in your life. What have you learned from them? How have they inspired you? Then ask yourself, how am I a role model to others? As intelligent, incredible and strong women, we owe it to ourselves and to those we love, to be a shining light for others.

My Baby Boy

by Tina Michelle Cameron

On November 30, 1994, I had a scheduled c-section to deliver my second little boy. Well, there was nothing little about him. His name is Hunter Samuel Stout. He was two weeks early and weighed in at 9 lbs. and 15 oz., 22 inches long and 14 ½ inch head and chest. He had to be rushed to the Special Care Nursery because of a low blood sugar and the umbilical cord being wrapped around his neck. He was by far the largest baby in there! He was beautiful and perfect.

IMG_20181129_222114There are certain days that stand out when I think of him. One is the day I picked him and his older brother Corey up from daycare, and he started crying in the backseat. He was 4 or 5-years-old and was sitting in his car seat behind me, and I asked him what was wrong. He cried, “I don’t want to leave you when I go off to college.” How sweet was he?

Growing up he played soccer, and I was his assistant coach for several seasons. He looks just like me, however, he towers over me at about 6’3”. He loves to rest his elbow on top of my head when I stand next to him (I am 5’5 1/2”).

Hunter is smart and funny and loves music, movies and football. He is a diehard Tennessee Vols fan (I am from Knoxville). He is now 24 years old and has his undergrad degree from Winthrop University where he majored in history. He is also an alumnus of the Pike Fraternity. He is completing his first year of grad school at The Citadel in Charleston. He is getting his Master of Art in Teaching. His goal is to be a high school social studies teacher and eventually earn his Ph.D. to teach at the university level. He also has a part-time job at Groucho’s Deli as a server.

I love this kid more than he will ever know, and even though we may not always get along because we are both stubborn and just alike, I am so proud of the young man he has become and so proud that he wants to make a difference in a kid’s life. I cannot wait to see what his future holds for him.Screenshot_20190403-050746_Facebook

How to Stop a Bully

By Shannon Boatwright

Author/Speaker Brooks Gibbs explains bullying in the most simplistic terms: Dominance behavior.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oKjW1OIjuw)

October is national bullying prevention month. Because I teach middle school drama, I feel it is imperative that I allow time for serious discussion about the issue of bullying.  My students know that I feel very strongly about the topic of bullying –  I have zero tolerance for it.  ZERO.

I make it very clear to my students that I am here for them and that they can come to me at any time if they ever see, hear of or experience anything having to do with bullying. They know they can count on me to have their backs.

Stop BullyingIt’s amazing to me that our society as a whole has all these different missions to “stomp out bullying” and as a whole, we as a society overall are of course against bullying…  YET IT STILL HAPPENS. And it happens all the time! On the website StopBullying.com you can click on the link below to see all the latest statistics on the percentage of bullying that takes place.

https://www.stopbullying.gov/media/facts/index.html

It’s a lot. It’s sickening. It enrages me. To think that humans can be so cruel to one another just blows my mind. And it’s not just with kids, bullying happens among all ages. Jerks are EVERYWHERE. And yes, their cruelty comes from somewhere – whether from a place of jealousy, insecurity, personal hurt, or plain ole ignorance. Either way, though it can be forgiven, it is inexcusable.

I do not take a lot of time showing dramatic videos of stories about bullies and victims, because I feel my time is better spent teaching my students how to stop a bully, how to build their confidence and belief in themselves. Like Brooks Gibbs says, the key word is SELF – building self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence. One of the many benefits of drama involves building those three priceless attributes, as well as empathy. Teaching these kids the ultra-importance of building their strength in self and engaging in empathy is truly a lifelong skill that will make them a better person, not to mention benefit them for the rest of their life.

Happiness Is An Inside JobThe tools that Brooks Gibbs shares are incredible, because indeed when it comes to bullying it’s about power, it’s about dominance and how one reacts to a bully can make or break a situation. Do not give a bully the power. Keep all the power for yourself! Your power will be grounded in your own self-confidence, self-worth and self-esteem. As a teacher, my goal is to build a strong self in these kids. I want them to have the power of believing in themselves, knowing that their happiness is not rooted in what anyone else thinks of them and knowing that the ability to put themselves into someone else’s shoes can be a wonderful tool that creates in them a stronger, well-rounded human.

It is an unfortunate reality that bullies will always exist. Heck, in this day and age especially, with our current state of leadership, the ridiculousness of social media, the sad state of our schools, there are all too many bullies trying to dominate others. So those of us who actually have the sense to recognize this negative behavior and not engage and participate in it, especially need the skills to stop a bully. Whether you have children in your family or not and no matter what your age, I guarantee you will benefit from watching the video link shared above. Brooks Gibbs really hits the nail on the head with this topic and I am ever appreciative that I have the resource of his video to share with my students, my own children, my family, my friends and my blog readers.