Have you ever been somewhere and suddenly felt as if you were seeing the people around you from a new, more enlightened perspective? Have you ever had one of those "Aha" moments that Oprah loves to describe?
This Saturday, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of clarity and deep appreciation for the life my family and I have experienced in Cassville over the last 20 years. As I get ready to attempt to describe this experience to you, I realize that this moment occurred almost 20 years from the exact date that I moved to Cassville to join my husband, Mike. He had been living in Cassville for six months and I was travelling back and forth to Columbia finishing up my final semester of college. In December of 1986, I had just completed my final exams, earned my bachelor of journalism degree from MU and moved to Cassville full-time to be with my husband.
As a native of St. Louis, I must admit that there were times when I questioned why I had agreed to try out smalltown life. I missed the shopping and the culture and the excitement of living in an urban area, and I missed my friends and felt as if I might be missing out on exciting career opportunities. To fill my days, I substitute taught and eventually went to work for the Cassville Democrat. Soon I found myself expecting my first child and was blessed to have the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom. My life unfolded from there, and before I knew it, my sons were in school, Mike and I had purchased a weekly newspaper and we were involved in our church, school activities and various civic organizations. All thoughts of leaving Cassville had vanished as Mike and I went about the business of raising our sons.
After offering you the condensed version of our first years in Cassville, let's fast forward to last Saturday, Dec. 9. I found myself arriving at the Cassville United Methodist Church to cover the fourth annual Tinsel Tea, an event I had somehow missed for the past three years. I quickly began taking pictures of the beautifully decorated tables and stopped to talk to a few of the women who helped organize the event. Soon the guests arrived and the tea began. I stood at the back of the room and continued to take photographs when suddenly I found myself looking through the lens at the various women seated around the tables.
I saw Ruby Reese, a woman who has encouraged me in my role as newspaper editor with kind words and handwritten cards of support. I can't tell you how many times I would be feeling discouraged and one of her notes would appear in the mail. She is a woman whom I greatly admire and someone I would love to emulate. I saw Jo Anne Ellis, a dear family friend, who has been an extended part of the Schlichtman family for decades. Jo Anne is another classy lady who never ceases to amaze me with her endless energy and positive outlook on life. I saw Leslie Reed, Janet Mills and Asha Patel, the mothers of three of my sons' closest friends. I was overcome with gratitude for the way they had raised their boys and the love they had shown my own children over the years. I saw teachers and administrators, fellow parents and community volunteers who I had served side by side with on various projects and committees. I saw women who had attended a wedding shower for me on one of my first visits to Cassville and women who had sent cards and gifts after the births of Nick and Ryan. There were others who I know have prayed for me and my family during some of life's struggles, and I in turn have had the privilege of praying for them.
Tears welled up in my eyes as I realized how much I had grown to love the close-knit community of Cassville. I could never have imagined when I first moved here the relationships and bonds of friendships that would develop over the next 20 years.
As I drove home from the Tinsel Tea, I spoke aloud to God, thanking Him for His wisdom, His guidance and His patience with me. I asked Him to forgive me for ever wishing I was elsewhere and not grasping the gifts and opportunities He had placed right in front of me. I thanked God for all the people who had stood by me over the years, who made my life richer. I now realize that God had a plan for bringing me to Cassville, and part of that plan involved building relationships, growing my faith in Him and creating a safe and supportive environment for my children to grow up in.
During this holiday season, I encourage you to take inventory of the people God has placed in your life. Is there some way you could encourage one of your neighbors or co-workers? Is there someone who needs a helping hand or a kind smile? Is there a person you need to thank for their love and support? Don't get so busy planning for the future that you forget to pay attention to the little things today. In life, it's often those small kindnesses that end up mattering most in the lives of others. I know they matter to me.