Inspiration, Parenting toddlers, Rock climbing

The rock collection that we inherited.

Several weeks ago, my late husband David’s cousin called to say that she found a box in their garage labeled “bowl of rocks…. Butterworth.” She had been in the process of moving some things out of the garage when she stumbled upon this treasure. She laughed as she asked me, “Do you think your son Andy would want these?” I replied with excitement, “Of course he would like them, he loves rocks!” I explained to her that David’s Aunts,  known in our family as the “Weaver Aunts” because they were his mother Maud Weaver Butterworth’s sisters,  had given him several bowls of stones from around the world already.  Getting this call long after they had passed away was most unexpected.

Andy’s interests in rocks began when he was a toddler. Whenever we visited the three Aunts’ home, a home that was far more formal than our own, Andy would make his way to a beautiful mahogany book case with glass doors that were always locked. He would persuade one of them to get the tiny key and unlock the case so that he could begin his examination of its contents. As Andy pulled out the rocks one by one, the stories of faraway travels attached to each one would follow. The rocks taught Andy about places like Australia, Hawaii, New Zealand, Russia, Norway, England, Scotland, and Canada.

Our journeys in life are meant to be shared through the stories and collections that we pass along to one another. As a young mother with very inquisitive boys, I marveled at how a collection of rocks could capture their attention for such great lengths of time. I also appreciated the fact that the Aunts allowed the boys to examine the many valuables scattered throughout their home which was a lot like a museum. Those rocks shaped Andy’s love of geography, travel, environmental science, geology, national parks, and climbing…rocks!

When I received the box and opened it, I found a paper adhered to the bottom of one of the rocks in the bowl that said, “Bering Sea, July 1975.” I recalled seeing this rock some 25 years ago in Andy’s tiny hand as we sat listening to the Aunts tell us about their visit to Alaska. We watched with great interest their slideshow of Alaska not long after that. I wonder what would have happened if Andy had not been so interested in the contents encased in the Mahogany cabinet with glass doors. I am so grateful for the lessons he received from opening those doors. The development of Andy’s passion for the great outdoors was an amazing outcome of those visits. He now works in the natural world nearly every day as a field guide in Utah surrounded by some much larger rocks! The old rock collection that we inherited, while small, is wonderful, and the Rocky Mountain collection he works with today is vast but no more valuable than that “bowl of rocks…Butterworth”.

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Grief, Inspiration, Life, Moving forward one step at a time

I’m all about the color blue!

While my husband David and I were in our wooing stages of getting to know each other, he sent me a card that had a crayon box on the outside. Inside the card a blue crayon drawing said, “Color me blue when I’m without you.” Whenever I see a crayon box, I remember those words. Time spent together was never long enough and times apart seemed like forever.

That card pops into my head whenever I’m having a rough day since he died. Rainy, cloudy, and cold days can really stir up the color blue……. color me blue when I’m without you…it will soon be 15 years and that’s an ocean full of blue! A whole blue sky with no puffy white clouds kind of blue. Blue-footed Booby bird kind of blue for keeping one foot in front of the other after his death.

But, life goes on and we learn to color other shades of blue. Turquoise blue to give you hope on winter days. Steel blue for standing tall at funerals. Tiffany blue for falling in love with someone else. Superman blue for seeing your sons become strong men.

Color me blue when I’m without you! What if I had known how much blue there would be in my life? I’m all about the color blue!

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Blogging, Inspiration

Warmth in our hearts

The winter winds gave us another burst of cold air just as spring arrived this week in Virginia. Just as the golden buttercups beckoned to me, it became necessary to bundle up in my down jacket to gather them in mason jars where they could shine brightly indoors. The yellow ruffles encasing their trumpet faces seemed to smile in spite of winter’s final attempts to squelch their grandeur. I grinned in response to their golden glow knowing that the warmth we feel in our hearts is not determined by the winds that surely find their way to us either.

The ushering in of spring in spite of the bleak gray skies and cold winds of winter reminded me of a celebration of marriage that I attended in January. As the days drew closer to Kelly and Steve’s big day, the meteorologists’ forecast included the dreaded words of “wintry mix” and “blizzard!” Knowing my fear of driving in snow, sleet, and freezing rain, I decided this was now a destination wedding, which required staying in Smithfield, Virginia for 3 days.

Attending a wedding is always cause for merry making, and being snowed in with 200 others sharing in this “wintry mix” of merriment created much excitement and new ways of bonding. The details of the weekend were beautifully planned and implemented by their friends and family while the weather made maddening attempts to dampen our spirits with snow, sleet, rain, and even flooding.

Trying to describe the joys of being gathered together under such extreme weather conditions is hard. A concert dedicated to honor them given by their singer/songwriter friends on the night before their wedding best exemplified this happiness and the connections to one another that we cherish. There was a synergy of hope and abiding love that was given not only to Kelly and Steve but also to each of us who huddled nearby. The musicians filled our hearts, minds, and spirits to overflowing that snowy night. As we left the venue, one of the songs kept rolling around in my mind. This original tune by Karl Werne helped me preserve these memories and inspirations of this destination wedding during the blizzard entitled, “How much love?” The words, which spoke to me from this song, were: “How much love can one heart take? Let’s find it out!” The discovery of the abundance of love that can fill one’s heart was an unexpected gift to us all.

When I returned home after the wedding, the record snowfall of 18 inches greeted me as I tried to turn into my driveway. This required several hours of shoveling between my son and me. The main roads had been cleared but my neighborhood was a winter wonderland of snow-covered homes with icicles draping from the gutters. We were able to make a small enough path at the edge of the driveway where my car could sit until the snow started to melt.

The next morning as I bundled up and began walking my dogs, my neighbor was also walking her dog and said to me, “You’re the first person I’ve seen since we’ve been snowed in!” I paused for a moment as I pondered that thought and wondered how many people I had seen during the blizzard. I’m thinking at least 200 if not more in my mind, but I decided this would be too much to share given the tundra surrounding us. After chatting to her for a few more minutes, my dogs tugged their leads and we parted ways. I found myself singing, “How much love can one heart take? Let’s find it out! Let’s find it out!” The warmth in our hearts is not determined by the winter winds that surely will blow!

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adolescent depression, Blogging, Grief, Inspiration, Moving forward one step at a time, Parenting during grief

Moving hearts one step at a time!

Finding hearts!My husband David wore tennis shoes most of the time. His favorite shoes were his white leather Converse Chuck Taylor high tops with red and blue trim. He wore them to business meetings, work, church, basketball games, and even to his weekly shopping trip to Costco. One day someone asked him, “Why do you always wear your basketball shoes?” He smiled and said, “They remind me to keep moving forward by taking one step at a time.” The woman who asked this question had a puzzled look on her face. Sensing her confusion David explained, “Sometimes it’s hard to get going at all, but when I look at these shoes I’m reminded to put one foot in front of the other and walk.”

Several months later, David wore those infamous Chuck Taylors to play a game of scrimmage on the basketball court with our son Andy at his school. After blocking a shot, he collapsed onto the floor in front of Andy and the other boys. The stillness of this moment traumatized Andy and these young men as they scrambled to get help for David. Although the details are blurry, the memories of witnessing someone suffering a heart attack cannot be easily erased. While waiting for the doctors to tell us more about his condition, I thought about David’s conversation of putting one foot in front of the other. How would I even move one foot if the unthinkable were to occur? Upon learning that the heart attack killed him instantly, we sank into the depths of despair that sent my sons and me in different directions to find solace for our brokenness.

Instead of putting one foot in front of another and walking, I spent most of my time waiting for the other shoe to drop! The trauma of losing someone suddenly, and knowing that Andy couldn’t forget watching his Dad die changed my role as a mother. The more I tried to console him, the more he pulled away. The darkness that engulfed him pointed me towards finding a doctor who could treat depression. Unfortunately it’s difficult to find the right approach or therapy for an adolescent who faces this disease. While the doctors and I sought to strike a balance between counseling and prescriptions for easing his pain, Andy began to look for answers on his own. Much to my surprise, he found remedies in cabinets and closets right in our home. Our lives became very entangled and complicated as we looked for ways to manage our suffering and grief. It seemed like our family was drifting apart instead of moving closer to heal.

Somehow we managed to keep moving forward against many obstacles during those years. There were times when one step forward really took us two steps backward. Time became our friend and constant companion no matter where our feet landed. The people who reached out to help us gave us signs of hope whether we went sideways, backwards, upside down, or forward. Thinking back to David’s words, I longed for a way to avoid taking one step at a time. I wanted our pain to be relieved instantly. Yet, there were no short cuts to our recovery. Each step took us places that would change our outlook on life forever.

During one of Andy’s recent trips home, he asked me to walk with him around the campus of St. Christopher’s School. It seemed like we had the grounds to ourselves, as it was a cloudy and damp Sunday morning. We wove our way towards the new Field House and gym, which was completed after David died. I could feel my body tense as we stopped to peer inside at the newly designed space. I confessed to Andy that even though it had been 13 years since his death, I experienced anxiety whenever I approached this area of the campus. He said, “Mom this is probably where he played basketball the day he died.” Tears spilled down my cheeks as I took in that he had estimated the approximate place where his father had died. He told me that he found comfort in coming here and standing with me in this space.

I felt goose bumps as we turned towards an outdoor basketball court where two basketballs were nestled together on the sidelines.  Andy started to shoot baskets, and I began to rebound for him. So much had changed, but our love for David and one another had remained solid.

Walking further across the soggy grass, we happened to see Charlie Stillwell, the Head Master of St. Christopher’s School, walking his puppy under the tall pines near the cafeteria. It was incredible that we saw him after so many years had passed. After catching up on school news and our families, we talked about our eternal gratitude for his kindness that helped us through some of the most difficult times of our lives. He and the larger community of St. Christopher’s School had given our family guidance, love, support, and stability in extraordinary ways. While looking for a new home after selling ours, Charlie and other colleagues arranged for us to live in a home on campus until we could find a place to call our own. In addition, he helped Andy transition back to campus after leaving for a year spent at another school.  Andy, his brother Ben, and I were fortunate to make friends here that stood beside us over the days, months, and now years since losing David.

As we departed, we heard the flapping of wings and snapping of branches overhead. We peered upward to see a large red-tailed hawk take flight and circle above us. In that moment, I realized that we had come full circle in our healing by taking one step at a time. We walked back to our car in silence knowing that our hearts would always hold the tender memories of David who taught us to remember to move forward one step at a time.



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Blogging, Creative, Grief, Inspiration

Choosing Creativity takes Courage!

I decided to lift up clumps of velvety green moss growing around the roots of the pine trees providing shade on a steamy afternoon with my sister. I was making carpet for the playhouse we were making during our breaks while working at our large logged barn for flu-curing tobacco. The bright “Kermit the Frog” color added cheer to our earthy living room made from branches, twigs, tobacco sticks, potato shaped rocks, and old boards that we found scattered around the dusty road and area surrounding the barn. As we worked, I was constantly thinking of ways to add to our elaborate home under the pines. My mind drifted from the heat and harsh conditions and inspired me to keep going in spite of working long hours as a little girl.

Growing up on a tobacco farm in a place called Clover gave me the perfect setting for my imagination to wander wildly. Climbing apple trees and pretending to fly planes, digging holes to make swimming pools, putting on plays behind sheets draped over the swing set, crawling underneath the quilting table and grabbing pieces of chalk to draw with, dressing up our cats and strolling them as our babies in the old cane stroller in our attic, collecting clay from the creek to make an assortment of items, playing dress-up with the old clothes found in my Grannie’s trunk, or adding more squares of fuzzy moss to our playhouse could occupy me for countless hours.

As I grew older and recognized that more and more was being demanded of me in helping run the tobacco farm, I began to study harder in school to make certain that I would never work that hard physically again. While getting my grades up and juggling my working schedule, I placed my playfulness on hold until I was enrolled in college. My flair for creativity shifted to writing college essays. For me, an education meant freedom from farming. I would be the first person in my family to go to college. My father had quit school in eighth grade to make certain his family kept their family farm in spite of his dad’s failing health. His strong work ethics had been instilled in me and led to my academic success.

While striving to be successful, I began to listen to others’ voices more than mine. This desire to please others would ultimately leave me feeling less than capable to choose a career path where my natural gifts for creativity would flourish. In spite of a strong desire to be a professional singer, I became an elementary school teacher. Teaching first graders was good for me because I could make up lesson plans and decorate the classroom using my vivid imagination and artistic tendencies. Seeing children struggle with learning led me to becoming a school counselor for a few years.

My priorities shifted when faced with colon cancer at forty-one. Sitting still for 16 chemotherapy treatments gave me the impetus to journal. I realized that choosing to live fully meant being myself. The little girl who found soft velvety green moss emerged with her strong voice and creative ideas once again. My passion for helping others and vision for inspiration pushed me into faithful actions towards ministry.

Finding my sweet inner creative child was a gift that quickly faded. Just as I was learning to play again, my husband died while playing basketball with our younger son and other boys at school. The irony of this life-changing event threw me into a depression. While the pile of grief books began to resemble the self-help section at a bookstore, I wondered if I should write a book sharing stories drawn from this tragedy.

Thirteen years later while flying home from Montana, the woman seated in front of me turned around and said, “You should write a book.” I was stunned to hear her say the very words that had been rolling around in my head like a hamster on a wheel since losing my husband. During the long flight, she had heard me sharing stories that can’t be made up with the passenger seated by me. In introducing herself to me, she handed me her business card.

Upon arriving home, I decided to do a Google search on Laura Munson, the author named on that card. My heart raced as I wrote her a note inquiring about the Haven Writing Retreats she leads in Whitefish, Montana. Two months later I boarded a plane heading to Montana seeking the keys to writing that book. Under the tall pines draped in snow, the soft green velvety moss emerged on a sunny afternoon and a little girl found her courage to share her stories. Listening to one’s heart opens the doors to creativity!


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Grief, Inspiration, Life

Seeing hearts instills hope!

Standing at a lake with my friend Vonnie on the day of her Dad’s funeral, we heard birds flying overhead. We were surprised to see two swans making a soft landing towards the far shoreline and swimming towards each other. As they drew closer to one another with their heads tucked down, they nuzzled neck-to-neck which formed a perfect heart in their embrace. The beauty of this moment gave us the courage to acknowledge our pain, but more importantly to remember the abiding love that remains forever etched in our hearts! Seeing hearts instills hope!

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Blogging, Inspiration, Life

What makes me feel strong?

18 years ago, I learned I had colon cancer. I felt stronger knowing that others were thinking of me and praying for my complete recovery and wholeness from this disease. Even when I was too sick to meditate or pray, I could feel the warmth of their loving thoughts wash over me. I was introduced to an Episcopal priest named Rufus Womble who changed the way I prayed for my own recovery and reshaped my spiritual practices for life! I am so grateful for the time I spent with him, and the lessons he shared with me.

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Surviving the Funeral Home

Going to the funeral home to see if my husband’s body was prepared for our family visitation was one of the hardest moments of my life. Since I was overcome with anxiety and dread, my husband’s best friend, Holt, insisted on driving. It was raining which only added to the dreariness of the day.

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Susan Butterworth. HeartHeels. Taking up my Mat feature image

Taking up my mat and walking again!

I want to dedicate this post to my sons Ben and Andy who have shown great courage in living with hope in spite of losing their father thirteen years ago to a massive heart attack during a basketball game at their school during a scrimmage with other boys. Watching them rise up and walk again has inspired me to share pieces of this incredible journey with others. While the road has been rocky, it has also given us new ways to keep on going!

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Backyard Party Setting

Mothering Love in One Another

This day when we celebrate our mothers, I am grateful for the lessons in love that my mother taught me.  Although my mother died 14 years ago, her compassion for others lives deep within me.  There have been times since her death that I’ve been paralyzed by the sadness of losing her.  Seeing people seek the perfect gift for their mothers melts those tears that I think have been neatly tucked away.  As I wipe away the salty tears with my hands, I recall the greatest gift of love given to me by my mother is always with me.  Remembering her unconditional love enables me to reach out to others in like manner.  The courage that it takes to live fully again after loss takes time, but the treasures of giving ourselves over to loving others will far surpass any gift we seek to purchase in a market or store.

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