When I was twelve years old, my dad lost the job he’d had for over twenty years. He was 52 years old. He was a nervous guy, and I inherited that trait from him. During those days, he worked on claiming the promises of scripture. He kept Isaiah 41:10 on a 3×5 card in his shirt pocket, from where he would regularly withdraw it, read it, and then try to say it without looking. He also kept that same verse taped to his bathroom mirror. I can still see his distinct scrawl as it stared back at me when I do the weekly cleaning:

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

He died suddenly in 2004 when I was only 26, but he did not waste those years. He didn’t know it, but he was preparing me for a multitude of sunless days. His testimony of constant toil, enduring love, and endless dependence upon Scripture has carried me through my life. The memories of his laugh, his trumpet playing (“Reveille”, anyone?), and his boyish orneriness still bring a smile to my face.

I remember how he had to start over with a new career. He began selling life insurance at 52 years old. I saw him study for the tests that insurance people have to pass. I saw his nerves, and then I saw that 3×5 card. I saw him fail at finding success in that career, pivot from that disappointment, and begin school for small engine repair at age 60. I saw him achieve his dream of working with his hands, getting all greasy and grimy, smiling from ear to ear! He could have quit, he wanted to quit, but he didn’t quit.

In 1958, when my dad was only 21 years old, he lost his dad suddenly to a heart attack. My grandmother Courtney, who was 50 found herself without an income. She started college at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway to become a teacher. To supplement her income in college, she worked in the evenings at a school for mentally disabled children. Part of her job was to clean the very tall windows of the building. This was hard work. But my dad was there – he showed up after his own job and cleaned them for her.

But that’s not all. My mother’s family is just as tenacious. My grandmother had her sixth child when she was 42 – that’s how old I am! That youngest child, my Uncle Gary, fell sixteen feet from a scaffold while building a barn on the family farm. He lost the use of his legs from the fall when he was in his twenties. In the hospital, the nurses came to him to say that the occupational therapist would be coming by to explain what careers were available for a paraplegic. He looked at her incredulously and said, “I’m farming!” And that’s what he’s done for over forty years. He’s used his upper body strength to climb a rope to get into the combine. He’s been stranded for hours in the rain, heat or cold when his tractor broke down or got stuck in the mud – in the days before cell phones! He has overcome physical obstacles that I cannot comprehend.

If Dad, Grandmother Courtney, Grandmother Leonard, and Uncle Gary didn’t quit, how can I? God saw them through tremendous challenges and heartaches. And God has not changed.

I am about to embark on a new and difficult journey: I’m 42 years old, and I’m a college freshman. I just completed my first classes this summer.I am majoring in Social Studies Education and I hope to find a job teaching after graduation.

Before you offer your concerned words of warning, don’t worry, I know it will be difficult. I know that working in public schools can be frustrating. My own mother was an elementary education teacher, a special ed teacher, and an elementary principal for my entire upbringing. She was “Arkansas Young Educator of Year” in the beginning of her career, and only soared to greater heights from there in the world of education.  I watched her put in countless hours, write lesson plans (or IEPs), and deal with parents. As a principal, I watched her juggle schedules, plan school lunch menus, look for substitute teachers (that could take a long time some mornings!), attend school board meetings, discipline students, go to band concerts after a long day, and so much more. I have a lot to live up to when it comes to following in her footsteps. I have learned from her that the best way to teach is to view it as a ministry, not a job. Teaching was her ministry, and she glorified God in a magnificent way through her service. What a blessing to have her counsel and support as I start down this road. What a joy to have a mother standing on the sidelines, cheering me on!

I’m so thankful that in my darkest hours, I have been held up by these men and women, whose ordinary lives had an extraordinary impact upon my own. When I am ready to give up, I need only to look to these true heroes that I knew quite well: Grandmother Courtney, Grandmother Leonard, Uncle Gary, and Mom and Dad. I know I will feel alone on this journey – I already have! But I am not alone. I have the Lord, and I have these courageous individuals who have gone on before me and blazed the trail. They have left breadcrumbs of encouragement on that trail. Their words echo down through their lives, “Don’t quit.” In a voice that sounds just like my dad’s, I hear, “You can do it, partner.” And then I see him pull out that marvelous 3×5 card: “Fear thou not, for I am with thee…”

I wanted to share the speech I gave at Mitchell’s graduation for two reasons: First, many friends and family couldn’t attend the ceremony due to COVID-19. Second, I shared my speech from Lauren’s graduation here three years ago. Why not keep the trend going?

When we started planning this occasion in January, long before the pandemic changed our lives, I didn’t want to speak at all. I felt like I made a fool of myself at Lauren’s graduation. My speech seemed to lack heart – maybe because I’d given it all during the eighteen years I’d raised her? Maybe because I was nervous? I don’t know. I just felt silly. But Mitchell specifically asked me to speak, and seeing as I did do all the work of educating him myself, I felt it would be anti-climactic if I didn’t do it. After it was over, I had the same sinking feeling that I had after Lauren’s speech. I’m pretty sure I made a fool of myself again. Here’s my speech, so you can be the judge. Also, if you’d like to leave a comment for him, I’ll be sure to pass it along! Thank you for visiting me today.

Mitchell’s Graduation, May 22, 2020, Bethel Baptist Church, Lawton, Oklahoma:

The young man with dark, wavy hair sat hunched at his kitchen table, trying to concentrate on some college homework. Suddenly, he heard his dad’s familiar whistle as he came up the sidewalk on his way home from work. The man at the table jumped up, went for the screen door, and pushed it open. He expected to see his dad coming up the porch steps on that warm autumn afternoon. Instead, there was only the sound of the wind blowing the dead leaves around the front yard. No dad. No whistling. Then he remembered, he was gone. Forever. It had been two weeks already. How had he forgotten?


Two weeks quickly became two years, then twenty. The memories of his father would linger for his lifetime. They would be so vivid, that, as we see in this example, that they seemed real. He would share these memories over and over with his youngest child, his eyes glistening with tears some thirty years after his dad had died.


My dad was the young man in that story, and I am his youngest child. As a ten-year-old girl, I was convinced that I could take away the sorrow my dad felt. I thought I could fill the void and make him smile. And, I think I did help… a little. But in the years since, I’ve learned the hard way that no one can fill the void that someone you love leaves behind. But, Mitchell, as I sat on the edge of the bed, feeling the waves of grief wash over me as I mourned the sudden death of my own “whistler”, my dad, you tried to bring comfort to my loneliness and sorrow. As a brand new two-year-old, you couldn’t talk, but you spoke nonetheless. You toddled over to where your dad kept his handkerchiefs, you opened the drawer, got one out and handed it to me. I was stunned. I said thank you through my tears, but you kept right on your way, as though you hadn’t just done something remarkable.


You did learn to talk, and as you grew, so did your volume. You started whistling – loudly. But I had a hard time complaining about it because I knew you wouldn’t live with me forever. One day, your whistling would be a memory, just like the one my dad shared with me. I decided not to be upset (but I did tell you to do it quieter!) Then you switched from whistling, to singing! Loudly.


And you always talked a lot. You bubbled over with interesting, little-known facts. You taught me a little about Opera, and a lot about Kristin Chenoweth, your favorite singer and Oklahoman. You introduced me to music such as “Fight Song”, “For Good”, “The Climb”, and more. Now, whenever those songs start playing in a store, or if I hear someone whistle, I can’t help but think of you.


People cautioned me that you would lose your joy, zest, and spirit as you became a teenager, but I’m happy they were wrong. Even today, you still happily share interesting facts that you glean from podcasts, or you begin playing a Broadway musical score on the piano. Loudly. But now, you not only brighten my days, but also the days of customers who need caffeine to start their day. Your smiling face is a bonus to help them along life’s way as you live the dream of being a barista!


I have no inspiring words to give you today on this great occasion. But, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a great British physician and preacher who died in 1981, said this to believers, and I think it is excellent advice:


“You are not an ordinary person! You are a Christian, you are born again, the Spirit of God is in you. But you are facing all these things in life as if you are still what you once were, an ordinary person…Go forward, He will be with you. You won’t know yourself; you will be amazed at yourself. So talk to yourself about this eternal, amazing love of God – the God Who ever looked upon us in spite of sin and planned the way of redemption and spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all.”


I would like to add that this is the God I serve, and the God of your father, your grandfathers, and your grandmothers. May you follow Him, and through Him, may you continue to do great things.

Thankful for our graduate!


Mitchell with Terry’s parents, Terry Sr. and Kathy Basham

My sister, Melanie, and her husband, Walter, with our graduate! So thankful they could come from NC to be with us.

My mom, Carolyn Courtney, with Mitchell

Mitchell with his “at home” siblings, Matt, Leslie, and Laci.

Mitchell with his great-grandma, Betty Basham.

He did it!

A literal sign of the times!

Mitchell’s senior table, which we set up at church.

Close-ups of his photos.

I made this video a year ago, but didn’t have the confidence to share it then. As I wind down my homeschooling journey, I thought I should share it. Maybe it will give you some organization or decoration ideas? If nothing else, it will be filed away now for my own memories. Thanks for watching!

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