Boogie Shoes and Boat Paddles

Today we’re hosting a little Throwback Tuesday on the blog (I know that’s not really a thing; work with me, friend…). With an article I wrote for She Magazine six years ago…for their Celebrate Your Age issue.

I think it’s my favorite.

Lots of life has happened since then. Not all of it pleasant. By the time you’ve lived forty-two years on this spinning ball, there’s bound to have been some trips around the sun that have left you dizzy, dusty, and flat on your butt.

At least, that’s been the case for me.

I could definitely add more stops to this piece…and maybe I will at some point….but as for now, I can still echo its closing sentiments. Six years later.

boat paddles

All of this talk about age has me headed for the hills to reflect and ponder and ruminate and cogitate (one can never have too many synonyms, huh?). I’m going to my reflection place – my mental destination for reflecting. It’s a lot like my happy place. Well, truth be told, they are the same place; I am just reflective AND happy there. I digress.

As the wind tousles my hair (the ceiling fan greatly assists this effect) and the noonday brilliance knocks the chill off the breeze, the sun stands behind me and my back is perfectly warmed – compelling goose bumps to stand at attention on my arms.

The sky is cloudless, revealing a rich blue that is rarely replicated in nature.

There is no noise.

No fear.

No other people.

I am the population of my happy place.

The lake perfectly mirrors the flourishing hills that surround it. The dock is rocked ever so gently by the movement of the still water. It is a place of solitude. It’s here that I can revisit the shores of my past and stake my claim to my current season.

I remember.

I launch and paddle intermittently – gliding more than working. I steer in a general direction – unable to see my first stop. It is across the lake – the farthest distance from the dock, but time is easy here – smooth and fluid and painless.

I hear it before I see it and excitement bubbles in my tummy. It’s my fifth or sixth birthday, and I am dancing like nobody’s business.

A campground borders the seam of the land and the lake, and festivities are well underway. I am sixteen minutes shy of sharing my birthday with Independence Day, so the camp residents are in full celebration.

I’m pretty sure that I know the party isn’t for me, but it feels like good times all the same.

The band cranks up, and my insides get the jitters. At the encouragement of my family, I go out to dance with an aunt or some cousins. And if the party wasn’t for me before I started dancing, it is after those folks see my moves. They cheer and clap for me, and I dance in my bare feet for hours, unwilling to stop – covered in dust and sweat. It was my first dance.

I slip back into the boat with dirt creases in my elbows and knees and paddle to my next stop. Once I make land and tie up, I find myself bedecked in cap and gown, preparing to speak at my high school graduation – a few weeks before my eighteenth birthday. It is indeed a time for reflection and anticipation.

As I articulate in my speech, I have observed a remarkable phenomenon at work within my class. The tumultuous times of adolescence have bowed and submitted to the fear of the future; drama is deflated and uncertain days lie ahead.

I am blinded by the beam of the stadium lights, and the echo of my voice makes my delivery awkwardly timed, but I savor the memory. It was my time to be heard.


I find the gown a little too cumbersome for paddling and the tassel from the cap keeps tickling my nose, so I stow them away under my seat. While studying the soft ripples of my interruptions, I quickly arrive at my twenty-fourth birthday.

I’m seated for dinner at a swanky restaurant – feeling quite out of place and anxious – enjoying the experience and loathing it all at once. I unceasingly ask Chris about silverware and etiquette and how to order, for Pete’s sake. At this restaurant – on this day – dessert comes with a proposal on the side. Oh my, it was my turn to be loved.

With some bling on my finger, I stroke on. I lose my bearings a few times – so distracted by the ring and how the sun catches its many surfaces.

One more memory on the itinerary, and it should be just around this bend, tucked behind some brush along the sandy shore.

It’s me and my two girls. We’re lying in a hospital bed welcoming the newest member of our family. I wrap my arms around them both – the three year-old and the newborn – and I try to convey the most complex of emotions through my squeeze – reassurance, confidence, unconditional love. I was almost thirty-two. And it was time for me to give on a whole new level.

A little sleep-deprived after that stop, I’m done visiting. I’m ready to return to the dock, plant in a comfy chair and plug my ears with some tunes. I make quick strokes across the lake and see my destination up ahead.

I step out of the boat onto the dock and unexpectedly look straight down the barrel of my thirty-sixth birthday.

No fear here.

I reach around and disarm it.

I am not afraid.

My past makes me passionate about tomorrow. I want to dance ‘til my body gives up. I want to be heard. I want to love and be loved like crazy. I want to rise continually to the challenge of giving on a whole new level. It’s a glorious day to be me, and I say – bring it on!

[Images: Thomas and Dianne Jones]

I was banana pudding…

As long as Tenacious Grace exists as a ministry, we will never receive a gift that means more to me than the one I received this week. When I pulled the tissue paper from the weighty black and white bag, I discovered a leather covered book. The tears in my eyes beat the message to my brain.

My grandmother’s Bible.

With her pen and highlighters still tucked in the front pocket. I wish you could have met her; she was just about the sassiest little woman to ever love Jesus. So this week’s post is dedicated to her; it’s a piece I originally wrote for She Magazine just weeks after she passed away.  Allow me to introduce you to Winnie Mae.

It was prom night in Sumter, and the neighbor girl was preparing for her grand departure. Her dress fit flawlessly; her nails were precisely polished, and she smiled delicately in the photos snapped by her parents. My mom, Aunt Shelby, and Grandma peered with nosy interest from their darkened bedroom window.

It was dusk as the couple paraded to the car, so the sneaky, spying trio had a clear view of the fanfare. Their covert observation was proceeding as planned.

That is…..until devilment got the better of my mother.

She knew full well that the curtain in their room easily dismounted and often fell unprovoked. My mom yelled the neighbor’s name as her chivalrous date was opening the car door. My mom and aunt hit the deck, flipped the light switch, dislodged the curtain in all the commotion, and left Grandma standing in the naked window, completely illuminated and exposed by the bright overhead light, as the neighbor’s gaze followed the sound of her name.

“Becky would get me coming and going,” she would chuckle as she often recounted their misadventures.

After retelling the prom night debacle she would usually, in her mock exasperation – fighting the urge to just get plum tickled – tell about how my mom would narrate scary stories to her five younger siblings. My mom would speak in a whispered tone and embellish her tale with spooky details as she concocted one scary story after the next. My Grandma would laugh and confess Mama’s stories scared her as much as they did her children.

Grandma and PaPa were married fifty-five years and parented six children: four daughters and two sons (Whew!). She was most complete when surrounded by her children, and she would often say that it took all of them to make her happy.

She was always petite but possessed a strength that I still cannot wrap my brain around.

And her house was always a place where people gathered; I mean people besides her family. There were always grandchildren running to and fro, sons and daughters bickering, people bringing or retrieving cars my PaPa repaired, childhood friends stopping in, extended family members paying a visit, sometimes unusual pets hanging out in the back yard (a pig, a horse, and ducks), but always a dog named Tiny with nails tapping across the floor as he/she scampered through the house (the name was always passed down to his/her successor).

The smell of steak and gravy invited whoever turned the knob on the back door, so there was always a house full at eating time. Kids parked it on the floor, and the adults packed out the living room and kitchen for Sunday lunch. Laughter and comfort food were always on the menu.

Grandma had a specialty (or two or three) for each family member, so there was a special scoop of lovin’ on Sunday if Grandma fixed your favorite.

I was banana pudding.

She was in the restaurant business for many years; in fact, at one time she was part-owner of the now vacant Mama’s Kitchen on Lafayette Street in Sumter. Her gracious hospitality made her the star of that place.

Somehow she made this amazing connection between feeding someone’s hunger and feeding someone’s heart. Her customers left with a satisfaction that comes from more than a full stomach. She knew their stories, how they liked their coffee and their eggs, and she loved them.

In fact, after Thanksgiving in 1984 a regular commented to her, “Winnie Mae, I didn’t have Thanksgiving dinner this year since Mama’s Kitchen wasn’t open.”

Well, that would not do.

She announced to her children that she could not enjoy Christmas at home with her family, knowing that others were alone and hungry. So we all, even me at eleven years-old, suited up and served 300 free meals on Christmas Day that year, and she also organized and delivered 66 fruit baskets to individuals who were homebound.

Later in life, she and PaPa met up with Jesus, and He took it all to a new level. She began to love people in His Name.

That lady had the most audacious faith I have ever seen. I have witnessed her write a tithe check when she absolutely did not know whether they had enough money to pay their bills or buy their medicine. She had a heart for underdogs and people who were hurting, and she would fervently pray for innumerable people and their situations on a daily basis.

She called me the morning of the Ocean Isle beach house fire in October 2007, so we could pray together for the families of the seven college students who died.

She encouraged through cards she mailed, and she was a student of His Word. She could not get enough of Him. She was ordained as a minister in her church, and it was a joy to hear her speak before the congregation she loved. What a blessing to have witnessed her passion and devotion!

My final visit with her I sat at the foot of her recliner and talked with her as my then three year-old sang “Jesus Loves Me” in the background. I welled up with tears even then, realizing the beauty of the moment. I, however, did not realize it would be my last.

To many people she was Winnie Mae, but to me she was Grandma Springs. She was a five-year breast cancer survivor battling emphysema. Rather unexpectedly, she received complete healing at the hands of her Father on August 30, 2008.

She lived large and her absence has left a hole the size of the Grand Canyon. I will think of her and only seconds later remember that she is not just a phone call away. I can still hear her voice speaking common phrases – like how she referred to PaPa as Shug (short for Sugar).

Shortly after her passing, I awoke from the sweetest dream where I laughed with her again. It left me feeling as though I had been given one more visit until my own time comes. This is mourning with hope.

We cannot help but grieve our own loss, but we also cannot help celebrating her life. Her laughter was infectious. Her love was deep and broad. Her influence was far-reaching.

So as her family we can know that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

We can praise Him for her freedom to run if she takes a notion to.

Ours is a mourning with hope.

We praise Him.

We celebrate her.

[Feature Image: jbstafford]

What My 13yo Wants You to Know About Life

I don’t know how to mama an adolescent. The thought of it kind of makes my stomach hurt. Really bad. Because it’s not the same.

It’s not the same as when they stuck Honey Smacks up their noses or insulted slow grandmas in grocery stores.


Those were the days.

Now I mom a young lady who is witty, saucy (Sarcasm is one of our family values), and brilliant. My girl is brave and real. I am watching her ford the headwaters of anxiety, stress, responsibility, hormones, decision-making, independence, and I am ever trying to determine where my mom sphere ends and her space to flourish begins.

That property line is pretty fluid at this time, but I am trying my best to be mindful of it.

To respect it.

Even when that means I sit in my recliner in the dark of morning, head bowed, tears fresh, and pray. While I sit on my hands, purse my lips to detain my words, and allow her to learn difficult lessons. Only because I believe that’s part of my job in preparing her to walk in the fullness of all that God intends for Carson Lane Cawthon to be.

And she’s doing it beautifully.

So while I am thick in another writing project (HINT), my girl’s gonna take the helm here…

Be still.

The thing about still is….I don’t especially like it. I’m a mover. I get bored easily. I like to be challenged. I’m a D personality. I’m driven. I’m somewhat of a perfectionist. Still is not my jam. Nor is it how my generation operates.

In our world today, we don’t have to be “searched out.” No one is looking for us in the Yellow Pages. On any given day, my agenda can be found full of to-do’s and appointments written with an array of colorful pens. It is easier than ever for our lives to become “I was supposed to be there 10 minutes ago” and “If one more person gets between me and Starbucks, I may just lose it.”

The results are less than great.

Anxiety can take over and we might as well schedule worry into our Google calendars. This is not God’s best.

We are not pursuing our callings, using our gifts, and experiencing what God has created for us as well as He intended. The Bible has something to say about this.

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.” Exodus 14:13-14

blue chair rest area

He says, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

These words ring true in my life through panic attacks, stress, and fear. I felt like I couldn’t trust God with my circumstances because of difficult times in the past. But, I learned when fighting my own battles, I always lost.

Even today the Lord presses us to show that we trust Him enough to let Him fight for us. Oddly, it takes faith to be still. And let God handle our storms. However, still does not always look like not moving. Sometimes still is a state of mind. Sometimes still is just taking a breath amid hectic circumstances and trusting that the Lord will deliver us from Egypt.

Dad in Intensive Care Unit. Breathe.

Moving to a new city. Breathe.

Starting a new school. Breathe.

Play response due. Breathe.

I haven’t always gotten it right, but I have experienced the power of this trust in small increments just enough to understand that it could change my life. Still is a radical form of trust that I want. And the world needs.

What would happen if we all found peace even when “the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” or when “nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall“?

What if we believed that “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress”?

A steadfast Psalm 46 type of trust could start a movement in our world.

Just because we were still.

Guest post by Carson CawthonCarsonHeadshot

You may also enjoy reading Madness I Say and rewinding to a post about my Carson when she had just completed first grade, I Get a Kick Out of That Girl…

[Feature images: Barta IV and Tim Lenz]

Humans of SC Take NYC

The Cawthon quad recently took on the Big Apple for our family vacation….



Upon arrival, we caught a cab to Brooklyn. “I driving one week only,” he says. #fab



To his credit, he found our brownstone in Stuyvesant Heights on the first try.

We rented a flat in a residential area of Brooklyn and loved it! It was less expensive and gave us a commuter’s experience for the week. The subway was four blocks away and had us in Manhattan in twelve minutes.


After reading Fresh Wind, Fresh Fireattending a Sunday service at the Brooklyn Tabernacle was my number one must-do.

Holding hands across the aisles singing “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” Stop it.

On Day One, I also lost my driver’s license. Because I have a knack for losing really important things. It’s a gift. We had a friend overnight my passport, so I could board a plane at the end of our adventures. #lovely


On our first full day in the city we visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum

Steel column and crossbeam cross found in the rubble

The Last Column from the World Trade Center South Tower


With delish cannoli and tiramisu to follow in Little Italy.

Afterwards we landed a pretty dreamy ride on the…

Which is free and the best way to see the Statue of Liberty.



Much to my chagrin, the eldest Woman-Child thought the Statue of Liberty was in Central Park. Glad we settled that. #OhMy


After a monstrous day of it, we hoofed it back to Brooklyn across the Brooklyn Bridge (also free) with quite the view of the city.

Next up was the American Museum of Natural History

where we most enjoyed finding the exhibits featured in the Night at the Museum trilogy.

We then spent the evening on Broadway.



The girls snagged autographs and pics with the cast at the stage door after the show (free). Here Sharpie is twinning with Caroline Bowman, aka Elphaba in Wicked. We all geeked out pretty hard that Matt Shingledecker, cast in the role of Fiyero, hails from the great state of South Carolina…a Charlestonian.

The next day we noshed on dogs at Yankee stadium, rooted for another local fella

(Brett Gardner #11),

made a super brief appearance on the Jumbotron, and belted “New York, New York” after the Yankees stomped the Phillies.

Eldest continued her education as she made peace with the fact that the Yankees game featured neither an intermission nor a half-time. #Bless



We took the subway to Grand Central Station and hit Fifth Avenue on the way to…

Times Square.

On the next day, we fed our brains a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s important to know that you could never ever “do” the whole museum. Even if you lived there. To call it vast grossly minimizes it. Folks who live in NYC have access to so much knowledge and so many experiences.

Being the simpletons we are, I reserved us four kids audio tours, and it was perfect. While I loved seeing real pieces of work by Degas, Van Gogh, and Picasso; the Junior Fry could not have cared less. During the week, if she caught an unpleasant attitude, I threatened to take her back to a museum. #QualityParenting


We then took in a little sunset view of the Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock. I would possibly not recommend trying to catch sunset because so many people go up and just wait, allowing them to catch day shots, dusk shots, and night shots within an hour’s time. It was super crowded.


On our final day, we hung out on the High Line (free), which is an old elevated railway track turned into a park. Highly, highly (pun intended) recommend!




We then happened upon a pop-up gallery in Chelsea where we met famed street artist, Mr. Brainwash.


As it turns out, he’s really great at taking group selfies too.  The title image is a piece of his work, and it wasn’t until we were home and did some research that we learned he’s a pretty interesting cat.

In parting, here are a few other nuggets for you…

  • There’s a lot of beautiful in NYC.
  • So apparently lichee is a fruit. Who knew?
  • New Yorkers are super nice. We did not have one rude encounter during our visit. In fact, a young fella offered me a seat on the subway. I was pleased until I read the posted etiquette that suggested seats be offered to the elderly, pregnant, or disabled. Of course, I was no longer flattered. :-/
  • I cared not for the communal tables in some tiny restaurants.
  • NYC is a city in order. To boast a population of 8 million people, it runs like a well-oiled machine.
  • One of my mama goals for the week was to teach my offspring not to walk four deep on the sidewalk. We small towners are accustomed to space, so we’ll spread the whole fam across the path. Not sure I succeeded.
  • Take the subway; it’s the fastest and cheapest way to travel in a super congested city. Carson used the Embark app which told us which trains to take and which stops to exit. We did not hop one wrong train during our visit. We traveled it as late as 11:30 pm and walked the four blocks to our apartment in complete safety. And, to be honest, I was tickled that our subway experience was complete when we witnessed a  fat rat scavenging along the track. 😉
  • NYC is a city of performers. On our late night walk from the subway station we fell in behind a student drum-line who was headed home in our direction. Despite the time, they played all the way, and we felt like members of a midnight parade. There are just few things I love more than the collaboration of a drum-line. And on the way to Yankee stadium, we experienced this subway show (if you watched the video I posted on Instagram and Facebook, this is a different one)…


But after a week in The City that Never Sleeps, this introvert who naps as a hobby is way spent on interaction and still short on slumber. I’m tapping out…

The Beholder

I am not a woman who creates beautiful things, but I sincerely applaud and even turn a shade of green at the acknowledgement of those of you who are. In brainstorming for this post, I wanted to share the process of something beautiful I have created, but I honestly stared blankly into an empty portfolio. I could only think of one handsome apple pie I baked and the time – long ago – when Carson said, “Mama, I wish I could color as good as you” – the crowning compliment of my artistic ventures. Oh yeah, I did paint our cat’s water bowl and a soap dish in our bathroom (which is really meant to be a sushi dish). And I can strategically place tissue paper in a gift bag or basket and make it look adequate. That’s it, I’m afraid.

So, I confess. I cannot take a twig, a scrap of ribbon, a feather, a plum, a few fern fronds, and a piece of bubblegum and make a glorious centerpiece. I do not prepare meals that are aesthetically appealing. I am at a loss when it comes to decorating. I cannot sew. I am inept at arranging flowers. I do not grow beautiful things and have, therefore, relinquished that duty to my husband, who is much better at it than I am. I am unable to make a pleasant sound with my voice or any other instrument under the sun. I am not crafty, and I do not smock (is that even a real verb?). I am dangerous with a hot glue gun but not in a creative sense, and I cannot work magic with a spool of ribbon. I do not tie well-formed bows, not on a gift or a dress. Back in the day I seriously stopped buying dresses for my daughters that required me to tie a bow. Those two long strips of fabric on the sides of a dress taunted me and dared me to put my deficiency on display on the backsides of my darlings, and I refused and instituted my own personal boycott.

Furthermore, I have spent my life surrounded by women who are beauty engineers: my Nana, my mom, my stepmother, my aunt, my mother-in-law, great friends. They can work miracles with paint and pastries and photographs and flowers and baskets and bows, and they are generous enough to bail me out when my life has required something beautiful from me (creative art projects for school, home improvement projects, gifts, entertaining, etc…).

Lest I need therapy before I finish writing this, I have discovered my role here. I am a beholder. My life is richer because of the beauty that surrounds me – whether it’s lyrics and a beat that so precisely articulate my heart or candlelight or a Clemson sunset or the furious flapping of a hummingbird or the funky paintings hanging on the walls of a coffeehouse. I see it on the face of a smiling child, in the patterns and stitches of a quilt made by my Nana, in the lush wildness of an uninterrupted forest, and in a poignant photograph of people I don’t even know. My experience with beauty often shocks my system and causes me to catch my breath and stare; I am hungry to live in that state of wonder and awe regarding the beauty and complexity around me. I am content to be a beholder.

But I am more. I am the daughter of the Creator of beautiful things. All beauty and truth find their origin in Him, and He whispers that I am more. I am an object of beauty – not because of my appearance or my intelligence or even my goodness or kindness – simply because I’m His. Like any proud father, He gushes that He is “enthralled by [my] beauty” (Psalm 45:11) and yours. And I think that’s just beautiful…