Stumbling Homeward

Every family has those childhood stories that get repeated. They are retold so often it’s hard to know what was real or imagined. You find yourself wondering if you actually remember the event or if you just witnessed a secondhand copy. Fortunately for me, some of our stories were backed up by an 8mm movie camera. The difference then, however, is that the movies didn’t have sound. We were left to speculate the contents of the dialogue.

There wasn’t much guessing needed in the film depicting my first trip to the beach as a  toddler.

I was sprawled out, face down in the sand, motionless. For some unknown reason my parents had purchased me a red ruffled bikini for the big beach event. I clearly did not have the body for the suit, but for once in my life that fact wasn’t the issue. All you see in the film is me, a red round ruffled bottom and a silent protest. Occasionally, I would look up to see if anyone noticed my unhappiness. The camera would shake  (I guess my Mom was laughing), I would look up at her with the most wounded look I could muster and then smack my face right back down in the sand. This fit continues while my older sister, Beth, runs circles around me, makes faces at the camera and frolicks off into the sunset… Typical… According to my parents, I hated the beach. It was one of my first trips away and the only words I  repeated over and over again was, “I wanna go home.” 

Quite a few years later, a film emerged of us at King’s Dominion Amusement Park. Beth and I are dressed alike in matching blue shirts and khaki pants. Somehow, the elastic waist pants (circa 1979) look much more stylish on her…but again, that is not the issue. We are standing in front of a ride called “The Octopus.” Once more, Beth is waving excitedly and I’m standing silent looking ill. The film was obviously taken right after we finished the ride. Grandmama Rebecca was our escort on this trip (no explanation needed). I did not want to ride anything scary, fast or upside down. Grandmama needed me to ride things with Beth, so she would convince me in line that every ride was like the monorail (somehow, ride names like “the octopus” didn’t clue me in that it might be a dangerous or daring experience). I was a sucker. The octopus was my breaking point. As soon as we jolted into motion, Beth claims that I hollered… “I wanna go home”…. so incredibly loud that they shut down the ride and allowed us to get off. I don’t remember much about that day, but based on the film and the look on my face…it must be true.

It’s funny how these memories jump back into your mind at the oddest times.

The other day, Tuck and I were home alone. He went out into the backyard to test fly one of his airplanes. I had warned him not to do that while Moses, our dog, was out in the yard…but who listens to me?!? A few minutes later, I heard a shrill yelp from the back. It was a combination of Tuck and Moses rolling in a tussle over the airplane. Moses won and shot off with the airplane between his teeth. Tuck fell to the ground dramatically and began to cry. He was already tired from a full day of activity, so I knew this last defeat was going to push him over the edge….and it did. He was a limp heap on the ground. It was a red ruffled bikini scene all over again. So… I scooped Tuck up, took the mauled airplane away from Moses and brought them both back inside. Tuck was still pitiful and crying. In between his tears, I heard him say, “I wanna go home.” The crazy thing was…we were sitting in our living room.


It’s a place I long to be… especially when the going gets tough. But, I’m not sure it’s just a location.

Here I sit in my house, wide awake in the middle of the night and I’m wishing for nothing more than home. I’m like Tuck in the living room, asking to go home. It’s a feeling, not a place. It’s a wish for something better; something to soothe your sorrow.

I once heard a sermon about heaven. The pastor explained that God placed a little piece of heaven inside each of us. It’s just enough to make us yearn for more. It’s just enough to make us expect and wish for something better. It’s a small enough sample to create a craving for home. It points us in the direction of Him. We are all homesick for heaven.

After this year, I hope God will not replay some of the memories for me on a silent 8mm film. I don’t need to see my red ruffled bottom in the air to know that I’ve pouted, kicked the dirt and pitched a fit about how unfair this year feels. I’m sinfully flawed for sure. But in the end, I hope He knows that we are all wanting to go home. Some of us stumble… or in my case…lie in the dirt,  but we all know that what He offers is so much better than even the best of what’s around.

God is home.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Clemson Reading Camp

I know…I know…the words “Clemson” and “reading” placed next to each other is an oxymoron…but this isn’t a misprint. And Chris…I knew you would need to be out of the country serving in a war zone for anything in our family to be associated with Clemson, but it isn’t a bad dream…Tucker is really attending a Clemson Reading Camp.

Tucker and Clemson actually have a long history. While we were living in NC, Tuck attended a preschool where his teacher was a Clemson graduate. To tease us as Gamecocks, the first color she taught Tucker was of course, ORANGE. It sounds harmless enough, but we endured about 2 years where every time you would ask Tuck, “What color is ________” his stock answer was ALWAYS…you guessed it, “orange.”  It absolutely drove Chris crazy, but Tuck thought orange was the most beautiful color ever created.

Fast forward a few years and now… Tuck is attending a Clemson Reading Camp.

I thought it would be great for our “reluctant academic” to get a jump-start on school and have a little phonics refresher in the form of a camp. The only option for something along those lines, just happened to be offered by Clemson University. I guess they are experienced in remedial teaching techniques (sorry, that one was for Chris!)


Tuck was thrilled to learn that he would be going straight from preschool into college (or at least that was his interpretation). I was thankful to have someone else take a shot at teaching Tuck. It was a win, win situation.

Or so I thought…

The first day of class, Tuck and I arrived early. I had packed his book bag with “fresh” magic markers, a new notebook and sharpened pencils. As a former teacher, I love buying new school supplies. It’s a rush of sorts. It also must be genetic because Tuck opened his new notebook and immediately sniffed the page (anybody else love the smell of fresh paper…or am I alone here?!?). School/Art supplies are something Tuck and I completely connect with and LOVE. He looked at me with his big brown eyes and said, “Mom, you even bought me new markers!!!”… We were off to a good start in terms of supplies. The class was another story.

The teacher walked in and immediately began singing and rhyming. Tuck looked up from his drawing with an annoyed expression. Apparently, her “noise”  had interrupted his artistic flow and vision….  I began to worry.

The teacher started a rhyming game. The goal was to say as many words that rhyme with the word, “bat.” All of the other kids started raising their hands and offered other words like….cat, hat, sat, mat, etc… I was excited because without prompting, Tucker raised his hand. I held my breath when she finally called on him. Tuck gave her his most serious look and said…..”owl”  


Obviously the teacher was as confused as I was based on her facial expression. Tuck picked up on it and offered an explanation, “It flies at night”

I’m not sure if the teacher got it. Tuck thought she hadn’t….so he gave another example, “possum”

Yes, that’s right….while the other kids were rhyming words with “bat”… Tucker was classifying nocturnal animals.

I have a feeling this is a taste of what our next school year will be like.  Help me, Jesus!

In all seriousness, please pray for Tucker and his new teacher. We really need someone who will appreciate his “unique take” on life and learning. He’s one of a kind and if he doesn’t learn to read soon…he may be going to Clemson for real!

Just kidding, Clemson friends…I couldn’t resist (it was another one for Chris!!)



Filed under Uncategorized

The View from Here

President Obama spent the day yesterday chatting it up with the women on the television show, “The View.”

While the President was on the curvy couch discussing Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson’s celebrity status, the Boy Scouts of America were gathered in Washington, D.C. for the 100th anniversary of the National Jamboree. It was a historic event.  It was a time to recognize young Americans for their service to our communities and our country. It was a time to inspire, motivate and elevate a positive cause that has an impact on future generations.

It’s not surprising that our President would decline an invitation to attend the Jamboree in trade for a gossip television show. He’s concerned about his popularity. The pesky war in Afghanistan and a major oil spill has really put a dent in his shiny image. He needed to save face fast. A celebrity appearance on the View was his window of opportunity. I’m sure it was an easy decision. In fact, Obama’s only decisive actions have centered on himself and his party’s politics. There has been little or no evidence of self-sacrifice, service or overt displays of patriotism from his administration. Those qualities are not in vogue in America. I guess that’s why he also skipped the Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington this year. It is an outdated custom…right?!? Plus, those folks in a cemetary are dead; they can’t vote anyway.

Ironically, during one of my husband’s combat missions in Afghanistan someone made the connection that every soldier present had been a Boy Scout. In fact, most of them had earned the highest honor and award of Eagle Scout. This is an unlikely coincidence. Their experiences as boys no doubt molded and shaped them into the men they are today. Service, sacrifice and love of country were lessons taught and carried into their adult lives. These soldiers deserve to be honored and their children waiting patiently at home should be recognized for their sacrifice and contribution to this country. It would be interesting to learn how many boys attending the Jamboree have a veteran in their immediate household. The  numbers would probably be staggering and much more meaningful than any political poll.

The President missed another opportunity on Thursday.

I guess Obama is thinking that he’ll get to swing by “that boy scout thing”  in another four years during his second term.  And the dead soldiers at Arlington…well, where are they going?!? They’ll definitely still be there, maybe on a Wednesday or a non-holiday weekend when his schedule is less full with parties, fundraisers or posing for a photo spread in GQ magazine.

Our Commander-in-Chief is a rock star. He’s offering America hope and change through the venues they worship and idolize. He’s feeding the beast.

Meanwhile, thousands upon thousand of secret documents are leaked on a website that prides itself in being a whistle blowing operation. The problem is… the whistle only blows in the direction of their agenda which is bent on taking down America and the military that was created to defend it. 

What is gained by releasing this information? Does anyone feel better or smarter? Who did it help?

It certainly didn’t help my husband serving in a war zone, his comrades or the Afghan people.

The weasel sitting anonymously behind his computer will get fifteen minutes of fame and probably a Wikipedia entry. So… it was worth it right?!?

The President’s response to the Wikileak was luke warm at best…. “This is nothing new.”

Unfortunately, he’s right.

There’s not much left that’s sacred in America. We live in a world where sin is a cliché.

I pray for the future of my children.

Which reminds me of this Bible verse:  “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good.
— 2 Timothy 3:1–3

Paul must have had a vision of this past week in the news. His words to Timothy are prophetic.


Filed under Uncategorized

A Birthday for Boots

 I missed Chris Neeley more than ever today.

As you age, birthdays become less about the gifts and more about the people who surround you.

Chris and I recognize that every moment and memory is a treasure. We have been given an opportunity to see things with fresh eyes. I don’t think we will ever view birthdays, holidays or even the everyday in the same light.  We have been given the gift of perspective. We can stand back and see how precious our time together is and not take it for granted. We can see when petty issues arise, call it just that and not get bogged down. We can drop to our knees, thank God for who He is and really mean it because we have subsisted on His sovereignty.

A year ago, I can’t say I understood what I know today.

Exactly one year ago, I was at Disney World with my family. Chris was insistent that I go to Disney World for the first time on my 38th birthday. He was “Clark Griswold” on a mission. He planned the family vacation of a lifetime and Lindsey Buckingham was singing “Holiday Road” as we pulled out of the driveway (not kidding). I was living what I thought was the ” American Dream.” It truly was a fantastic birthday in a magical kingdom.

I never imagined that my 39th birthday might not include Chris by my side.

We take so much for granted. We waste so much time analyzing motives, moods and miscommunications. It is all utterly and completely useless. What an awful misuse of the gifts we have been given!

When you travel down the pathless road I’m on… it’s not about where you are, but who you’re with that really matters. It all boils down to simple things.  As Chris Neeley says, “The enemy cannot compete against a giving heart”…and I might also add…the enemy is completely defeated by love.

My birthday wish is that you are surrounded by love and the ones you love. It’s the greatest gift of all.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized


Yesterday, I took Tuck and my nephew to our neighborhood pool. It was an experience and surprisingly, it  had nothing to do with the two little boys I had in tow.

You see, our neighborhood pool is rarely used. It’s odd if more than one family is present during the weekday. I have come to enjoy this “private” pool experience and will admit that the solitude has spoiled me to some extent. That’s why I was immediately rattled when I walked into the pool area and heard music blasting from the cabana. At first, I wondered if someone had reserved the area for a pool party and thought twice about turning towards home but… there didn’t seem to be a crowd. Instead, I found a “twenty something” fella dancing alone beside the pool. He was clearly enjoying his music, his cooler and the pool.  He had a fresh bottle of Hawaiian Tropic oil and was spraying himself generously as if he was about to enter a Muscle Milk contest. (This year I’m really making an attempt to focus on the positive)…So I will say this…thank goodness he chose to wear board shorts instead of a speedo for this special occasion (I’m also thinking … that fashion decision was made before he packed and opened his cooler…whew, good news!!!). Otherwise, I might need more UV eye protection than my sunglasses would offer.

Anyway… this scene was not lost on my little companions. My nephew leaned over and asked me, “Aunt Janie, is that what you call sunbathing?!?”…  I think our “new  friend’s” personal party was somewhat jarring for him. I doubt Nick has ever been to a public pool that didn’t involve a country club membership.  Tuck on the other hand… saw or I should say…heard… things from my point of view. He said, “I don’t know what he’s doing, but his music stinks.”

Yep, that’s right…Tuck could care less about the bad dancing, the orange tan or the abundant wine coolers. What he disliked the most about this guy was that he had terrible taste in music.  (Way to go little man….your mama has taught you well!!!).

Our macho nacho “friend” had obviously just downloaded Pink’s latest album to his Ipod. I say “just” downloaded because you could tell he was still learning most of the lyrics to his favorite songs. We were all painfully aware of this learning curve. I will also say…Pink is no Morrissey (i.e. the words to her songs are not deep and will usually repeat). In the case of his “most favorite” song on the Pink playlist…a chorus was bludgeoned into our brains that repeated the phrase…”This used to be a funhouse…”

Yes, my friend…the pool is no longer a “funhouse” either…at least when you have Pink and Pool Boy dancing around.

Now, don’t get  me wrong…I love music. I have quite an eclectic collection and I spend more than I’d like to admit on I-Tunes. It has been a hobby of sorts for me since I was a kid. BUT…I like “good” music and in my opinion, Pink doesn’t fall into that category.  So in honor of Pool Boy and Pink…I’ve decided to put together a summer playlist. These are the songs the kids and I listen to as we ride around in Big Red with the windows down cruising through town. They are the perfect summer anthemns….so grab a bottle coke and peanuts…roll down the windows in your car…and crank it up! It’s time to be a little rocknoxious and teach Pink a thing or two about music.


1.  “How You Like Me Now”  artist: The Heavy – album: The House that Dirt Built 

This is Tuck’s favorite song this summer. He sits in his car seat with his shades on and nods his head to the beat like a cool cat. I have to admit…this is a “cool cat” song. It makes you want to drive somewhere on an open highway….with James Brown.

2. “Tighten Up”  artist: The Black Keys – album: Brothers

There was a tie between this song and another one called “Next Girl” by this band. I love both of them, but “Tighten Up” has whistling at the beginning…and who can resist that?!?  Plus it’s a modern song that reminds me of something my parents might have listened to in the 60’s or 70’s.

3. “My Doorbell”  artist: The White Stripes – album: Get Behind Me Satan

This song makes me laugh. I really like the album title…it kind of sums up my year and trying to manage everything here at home.  It’s a song like black licorice….you either love it or hate it.

4. “I Turn My Camera On”  artist: Spoon – album: Gimme Some Fiction

This isn’t a new song, but I still like it. You can’t help but tap your foot and bob your head to this tune. It’s another driving song.

5. “Old Man” artist: The Wailin’ Jennys – album: 40 Days

I never cared for Neil Young or his Canadian arrogance…but I love this version of his song. The Wailin’ Jennys are an amazing group.

6.  “Ain’t No Grave”  artist: Crooked Still – album: Shaken by a Low Sound

This is my version of praise music. If Jesus was in a band…I think it would be a bluegrass one.  The lyrics to this song remind me… things won’t always be like this.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Fourth of July

Today our church dedicated it’s service to a patriotic theme and honored our veterans.

At one point, each branch of the military service was recognized and members of the church who had served in that branch were asked to stand when their song was played. When the Army flag entered the sanctuary and the theme song played, Tucker jumped to his feet and stood up. Immediately, someone  sitting close by tugged on his coat and told him to… “sit down”… in essence …that’s not for you, you’re just a kid…not a soldier.

In truth Tuck is not yet a man or a soldier,  but I disagree about whether or not he deserved to stand.

In my opinion, Tuck is serving. At six years old  he understands more about sacrifice than most adults ever will.  For him, a year without his father is an eternity. These are days he will never get back. He is serving his country. Today, Tucker Neeley deserved to stand.  Unfortunately, after he was “scolded” … he sat down and hid his face. He refused to get back up. Jordan looked over at me with tears rolling down her cheeks. We exchanged a knowing glance.

I can’t even describe the range of emotions that ran through me.  Mainly hurt for Tuck, but also genuine frustration that so few people truly understand what this year has been like for us. A lot of comparisons have been thrown out and I’m not arguing that life is not full of difficult circumstances, but serving during a war is a unique experience. There are no comparisons. Plain and simple.

Only the ones who have walked in our shoes can grasp the full weight and meaning behind the sacrifice that makes the 4th of July possible.

You have the right to sit because someone stood up.


Filed under Uncategorized

Stingrays Sting

In case you have ever wondered…an aptronym is a name aptly suited to its owner. 

Adam got it right when he named the stingray…whether he knew back in the Garden of Eden about aptronyms or not; stingrays sting…and I might add, they can really put a damper on your beach vacation.

Here’s the story:

Last week, I attempted to take the kids to the beach for a little vacation. If you are a parent and reading this…you already know…there is no such thing as a “vacation” with kids…especially at the beach. A friend once wisely noted …”A trip is when you take the kids (you still have all the responsibilities of parenting except you are in a different location; it’s just a change of scenery)….a vacation is when you leave the kids home and go somewhere with your spouse that includes a cabana boy bringing fruity drinks with an umbrella.” … I couldn’t agree more!!!

Anyway, back to the story…I was trying to have a little “trip” to the beach with the kids…

After loading an inordinate amount of “gear” (Boogie boards, buckets, shovels, umbrella, cooler, chairs, etc…) and slathering down each squirming kid with SPF 50 (In the 70’s my parents used baby oil…those were to good ole’ days)…I lugged a big honkin’ wagon filled with said “gear,”  a beach bag and two kids on each arm…for a “short” walk to the beach (my parents’ house is on the marsh side/third row).

Needless to say, by the time I reached the beach and assembled the “gear”… I needed some rest and relaxation.


Within moments of drilling and securing my umbrella to the center core of the Earth (I didn’t want it to blow away)….I look up and see Jordan… Actually…I heard her first ( I didn’t look right away because I was hoping it was some other hysterical kid screaming for her Mommy)….Not my luck.  I was “the Mommy” and everyone on the beach knew she was my genetic offspring as well.

I didn’t have on my glasses, but I could tell from her shrieks that something had gone terribly wrong.  Jordan does have a flair for the drama, but I soon realized that blood was shooting out of her foot. She was also yelling quite loudly…”SOMETHING BIT ME!!!”  (not a good beach quote)

Well, there you go… as soon as that announcement was made, there was a mass exodus of folks running out the water and screaming mothers corralling their little ones. It was like a scene from the movie “Jaws.”

Meanwhile, I am trying to ascertain what exactly bit her while making a mental note that we are miles and miles from the nearest hospital.  Okay, the panic button was pushed now! Step 1…get her off the beach to the house (not as easy as it sounds…no one helped me carry a 12-year-old 3 blocks back to the beach house while a terrified Tuck clinged to my tankini that was slowly dipping into a plumber’s fashion statement). Step 2…the house is locked (my parents went to run errands)…no house key = no car keys = no hospital. Step 3…find hidden key (again, not easy because the “hidden key for emergencies” location has changed (you’ve got to be kidding me!!!)… once again not a great scenario in an EMERGENCY). Step 4…get in house and find the first aid kit…leave Tuck to tend to Jordan downstairs…when I return, Tuck has miraculously found latex gloves and looks as if he is about to perform surgery. Jordan is hollering something along the lines of…”Don’t let him touch me!”  in between hyperventilating breaths (sibling distrust exists even in the most dire of circumstances). Step 5…call my parents on their cell phone to get home ASAP ( Thankfully, I upgraded them last week from a “bag phone”…whew, that was a close one!) Step 6…inspect the wound (I’m not a nurse for many reasons…blood has a lot to do with it). Step 7…I notice a blueish-green color with swelling is creeping up Jordan’s foot and shin. Step 8…pray to Jesus (should have done that first, but I was in a panic). Step 9…put ice on the foot (it’s swelling right?!?…remember, I’m not a nurse!!) Step 10….my parents return home, thank you Jesus!! Step 11, Mom and I put Jordan in the car and begin to drive in hopes of finding a doctor. Step 12…go to a “doctor’s care” type facility…carry Jordan in screaming, only to find that ALL the doctor’s have gone to lunch (seriously?!?)….Step 13, reload Jordan and attempt to find a REAL hospital. Step 14…found the ‘real” ER, carry Jordan wailing into the waiting room…everyone stares…nurses meet us in the lobby and whisk Jordan off in a wheel chair…one looks at me and says, “We’ve got it. We know exactly what’s wrong. We heard her in the back”…Step 15…I follow behind them in a daze listening to the nurses talk about how this is the 5th attack this month.  Step 16…learn that Jordan was attacked by a stingray and there is a “stinger” from the barb still in her foot that will need to be removed (Isn’t that what killed the Crocodile Hunter?!?). Step 17…Jordan’s foot is submerged in very “hot” water…she immediately stops yelling (apparently that is the initial treatment for a stingray wound…I used ice, the exact opposite of what she needed…motherhood guilt is setting in quickly). Step 18… they whisk Jordan off to X-ray. Step 19…the nurse comes to me for my insurance information…she sees that we are a military family and asks for my military I.D… I tell her my husband is in Afghanistan and she gives me a sympathetic look that is my breaking point…I launch into a really ugly cry…the cry I’ve been holding in ever since I heard Jordan’s first scream on the beach. It was all too much. Step 20…I dry it up before Jordan returns from X-ray. Step 21…I send Chris a text that we are in the ER with Jordan. Step 22…Chris calls. I hand Jordan the phone. She needs him right now. Chris is in a hospital in Afghanistan with a serious case of food poisoning, but he calls anyway…I love him!!! Step 23…My Mom ran across the street from the hospital to CVS and bought me a rather large bag of dark chocolate (unfortunately, in her haste she picked up the “sugar-free” version that causes diarrhea when eaten in excess…this is just not my day…. but, she did get Jordan some Kit Kats  (my family loves you with food). Step 24…The stinger is out, Jordan is calm and we are free to go with a series of serious antibiotics (severe pain aside, infection is the real kicker in a stingray wound).

Well, I guess you can say that this little family trip was “educational” if not a “get-away” from the ordinary. I’m a big fan of the “teachable” moment, but I really could have done without this experience.

Nonetheless, here’s the top 10 things of what I learned on my “trip” to the beach:

1. Stingrays sting! When you go in the ocean…do” the stingray shuffle” to keep them away or wear snake boots (which would be very attractive with a string bikini)

2. When a stingray strikes….hot water! (not ice, which intensifies the agony…who knew?!?)

3. A tankini does not offer adequate coverage of your backside in a medical emergency that involves 2 children.

4. Despite her petite appearance, Jordan is a very heavy 12-year-old. My new muscles from “boot camp” were helpful. You never know when you might need to dead lift 70 lbs on the fly.

5. No one should leave Tucker unattended with latex gloves and a medical kit. (This can also intensify the agony)

6. Chris Neeley will call us in a pinch…. even when he’s in the hospital himself, violently ill and hasn’t eaten for more than a week. He’s the consummate family man. We love that fella!

7. The kids and I are limiting ourselves to sprinklers and pools for the remainder of this blasted HOT summer.

8. You can eat at least 7 pieces of “sugar-free” dark chocolate candy before any negative side effects occur.

9.  The wagon, all our “gear” and my umbrella attached to the center of the Earth was still intact after several hours on the beach alone. Call me if you need to securely ground an umbrella against high winds, retreating crowds or general mayhem.

10. I need a REAL vacation!!!


Filed under Uncategorized