Thursday, October 17, 2013

Theory 22: Dreams are necessary. Plans are pointless.

Ten years ago, when I was a branch manager for AmSouth Bank, I worked with a mortgage originator that I adored. I’ll call him “Peanut Butter” because every day around 2:00, I’d sneak out of my ground floor office to take the elevator up to the mortgage office break room, where we’d dip plastic spoons into a huge jar of peanut butter and commiserate about work.

One day, he announced, “Well, I resigned. I’m moving back to Indiana to be a farmer.”

I was disappointed because he was one of my best friends at work. He was successful, too, so I asked him why he was making this huge leap from the financial industry in Tennessee to farm life in Indiana. He explained, “When I was growing up, I had a dream. I wanted to work for my uncle on his huge Indiana farm right after I graduated from high school. I begged my parents to understand, but they wanted me to get a college degree. So, I did. Now, ten years later, I’m a successful college graduate and businessman. But, I’m not happy. I am going home to do what I always wanted to do. It’s taken me ten years to have the guts to try.”

One morning, many months later, I sat at my austere desk in the lobby of AmSouth, anticipating a long day of retail problem solving in pantyhose and high heels. I called Peanut Butter on his cell phone. He answered. I said, “Hey! It’s Bug! I am sitting here dreading the work day and thought of you. How are ya?”

He said, “Great!”

I asked, “What are you doing right now, this moment?”

He told me, “Actually, I am sitting on my tractor, just starting my work day.”

I laughingly said, “Well, I am looking at some grouchy tellers. What are you looking at?”

He answered, “Bug, I am watching the sun come up over a huge cornfield and it is spectacular.”

We talked about his new (old) dream life in Indiana. Before we hung up, I asked, “So, are you glad you made the move?”

He said, “Hell, yes. I am happy.”

I said, “I am jealous.”

Every time I hear Jason Aldean’s “Fly Over States” I think of my friend Peanut Butter.

Plans—like the ones his parents had for him—are a great idea but, to some degree, pointless because they are altered by human error, the free will of others, bad luck, accidents, and too often people (including me) don’t seek God’s will as they plan for the future. Plus, such plans often involve money, which comes and goes for most people, and is—to me—a carnal concept that can limit or liberate you if you let it, or depend on where you are unlucky/lucky enough to be born (as in The Sudan vs. The USA).

At Pigeon Forge Elementary School (PF), I was fortunate to have public, YES, public school teachers who openly discussed religion and encouraged me to dream. Heck, my third grade teacher read us a Bible story every morning and my 8th grade English teacher was also my Sunday school leader.  Shout out to Mrs. Trotter – new inductee to the Pigeon Forge Hall of Fame! I love you! Anyway, dreams need foundations and Mrs. Trotter, Mrs. Harrell, other lovingly Christian teachers, and my parents Delicious and Pooh inspired me in two ways:

  1. They lived Biblical principles of compassion, faith, forgiveness, and strength.
  2. They sparked my love of learning, writing, teaching, and taking risks.
I had a secret desire back then to become a writer like Judy Blume, Mark Twain, and Francine Pascal. I also had a more realistic plan: to make money. I told Delicious, “I want to wear a fancy suit, carry a briefcase, and meet my handsome husband for lunch.”

So, as I realistically planned to become a business woman, I secretly dreamed the impossible dream of becoming a published author.


In the fourth grade, I witnessed an impossible dream come true. It was fall, 1983. I was nine years old. Delicious, Pooh, and I were cruising back roads in Sevier County when Delicious spotted a sign at the corner of Douglas Dam Road and Rural Route 137 reading “Farm for Sale.”

She shouted, “Pooh! Go down that road. I want to see what’s for sale.”

Now, Delicious was a school teacher earning around $25,000 a year and Pooh was a Gatlinburg hotel desk clerk earning even less, but they shared a dream: to own a farm. That was a ridiculous dream because farm land near the Great Smoky Mountains is not cheap. Long story short, Pooh turned right and our lives changed forever. They had to “rent to own” for a bit, which meant they couldn’t sell our Pigeon Forge house, which meant we had to move into the 100-year-old farm house which was in ROUGH shape on a budget of pretty much zero dollars. HUD required some fixing up to secure the mortgage, so Pooh and Delicious did the best they could by putting down (no joke) indoor/outdoor carpet, hanging curtain “cabinet doors”, and installing a window unit air conditioner. We went old school with the décor. The washer and dryer shook the kitchen and a queen size bed filled the dining room. On moving day, Pooh and I were in heaven to have a house with such character surrounded by 72 acres to explore. Delicious was in a frigid state of shock. Literally. It was January and 7 degrees in that holler. My grandmama gave Delicious a tranquilizer. Mama lay on the sofa all day, moaning “What have we done?” while Big Booty J and the rest of us moved us into The Crippled Beagle Farm. Delicious doesn’t handle change very well.

The Crippled Beagle Farm was paradise for my unique daddy. He was an intellectual, Bohemian, spiritual, individualistic, inventive, emotional, resourceful, witty, fly-fishing, farming, and overall exceptional human being. He taught himself how to farm, fix stuff, do carpentry, and fly fish via Time Life books and the Sevier County Library. He barb wired the entire farm by hand and raised prize-winning tomatoes, pumpkins, and gourds. He wrote me sweet letters and in his wallet kept a love note some boy gave me that just cracked him up. He was uniquely masculine yet emotional and he worshipped Delicious and me. One day, he planted a hundred-foot row of flowers from the house all the way to the barn and penned a note to mama reading, “I planted these bulbs as a symbol of our love.”

The Crippled Beagle Farm
He often reminded us to recognize that an unlikely dream had indeed come true. Whenever Delicious expressed financial worries, he responded, “We’ll figure something out. I bet you never thought you’d live on a 72 acre farm in Sevier County, but you do.”

Pooh passed away in 1993, but in the 9 years he lived and loved on The Crippled Beagle Farm, he cultivated tangible testimony to faith in dreams and devoted love through now 30-year-old trees and flower beds he planted, the bridge he built for mama to cross to their garden, the back porch roof that keeps her dry as she carries in groceries, the swing that hangs in the barn, and even the sweet, hand-made grave signs that honor our beloved pets.  He lived his dream in our Appalachian home and our close bond as a family. On a dream, my parents built a foundation from which I could dream!

Pooh's bridge and flowers - for Delicious

So, I did. I dreamed of becoming a writer as I planned to become a business woman – the plan gave me relief, but the dream gave me happiness. I honored my secret desire by entering little essay contests through school and taking a creative writing course at UT. I secured a business degree and financially sound future. I helped my mother. I had my briefcase and my business lunches with a handsome husband. We started a family with little Sharky in 2002 and life was okay. But I had a plan—to have three children—so we started trying to conceive a second child. That second child morphed from simple plan to impossible dream. For two years, we endured miserable and unsuccessful infertility treatments.

Another farm dream intervened. The conversation with Peanut Butter.

The conversation with Peanut Butter in 2003 was a catalyst for me to reach out to Tall Child to discuss my becoming a housewife. Sharky was almost three years old by then and I was sad, frustrated, and depressed.  I thought shedding work stress could heal me/help me conceive. We both knew it was a big risk, financially, but I was up for it. I’d witnessed big risks and dreams come true before. And, I had faith and ridiculously detailed and humanly erred plans. So, I quit my job in 2004.

For the next four years, we exhausted our savings, our emotions, and my body as we worked our plan toward a second child. Then, finally, we converted the humanly limited action plan to a leap of faith. We abandoned modern medicine and fumbled our way through the domestic adoption process. Yes, there are deliberate steps in adoption, but only up to a point. Once you are “approved and waiting” you have little control and no idea of how the future will finally play out.

Some of you may ask, “What about Sharky all those years? Wasn’t he enough?” Oh, he was plenty. And, he was at the center of this dream. I wanted a sibling for him as much as I wanted a baby for me. I worship every freckle, every word, every breath of his existence. Go ahead and think I’m crazy when I tell you this, but one of my favorite things to do is put my ear to Sharky’s cheek as he crunches away on Apple Jacks. Try it, mamas.

So, with Sharky in tow, Tall Child and I gambled time, energy, and finances toward a sometimes seemingly impossible dream: to be chosen by complete strangers to raise their child. Special strangers did choose to trust us with something priceless. On May 13, 2010, Tall Child’s 47th birthday, our Gnome was born and Sharky became a brother. 

Brothers for life
Last year, compelled to help other women touched by crisis pregnancy, infertility, and adoption, I gave figurative birth to my other sometimes seemingly impossible dream: a published book. The book, titled The Eye of Adoption: The True Story of My Turbulent Wait for a Baby was made possible by the foundation that teachers, friends, my parents, and later social workers laid for me—a foundation made not of plans, but of education, faith, and dreams. Most of all, I was inspired by the love, risk, and sacrifice of two people I will appreciate beyond measure as long as I live—my Gnome’s birth parents.

As Tall Child likes to say, "Bottom line is this:"

Go ahead and make plans. Work toward your human goals. Happily anticipate change and failure and enlightenment along the way. In the meantime, don't sideline or sacrifice your dream. Take chances. Pray. TRY! An idea became a farm, a home. An idea became my family. Your idea is just as real, just as possible.

Readers, I know my last few posts have leaned toward sentiment and emotion, but November is National Adoption Awareness Month and on November 21 Gnome’s birth mother turns 25. As I anticipate a month colored by change and Thanksgiving, I can’t help but be reflective and grateful.  So, readers and friends, thank you for expressing your faith in me as a writer, even when I’m not funny! Mama, students, former and fellow teachers, thank you for encouraging me and forgiving my eccentricities. I love learning from all of you! I promise next week I'll be funny. So be sure to find me on Friday for Theory 23: God and prayer are most definitely in schools.

See you next post! Until then, think (and dream) outside the barn.

The Crippled Beagle Farm barn
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Also, visit or my website to read about my book, The Eye of Adoption, my short story, Field Day, and my collection of essays for parents and teachers, Parents, Stop and Think.

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Just thinking outside the barn...

Just thinking outside the barn...