Dementia, media literacy, Reading, Social media, Writing

Student projects revealed

We are officially in finals week here at Tech. Crunch time is upon students and faculty members, who are busy grading, averaging, and even preparing for next quarter.

My copy editing students, as you may recall, worked on a project with Ruston Nursing Home. The students went out in pairs to interview residents at the facility and produced lengthy feature articles highlighting their assigned resident.

The students were a little anxious about the project – not only because it was a large portion of their final grade, but also because they were unaccustomed to having to interview individuals with dementia or other memory problems. Not all of the residents had those issues, of course, but many did.

The stories – y’all. I was blown away.

Here are just a few snippets I had:

“Like sisters do, they had arguments, but (name removed) made it clear that she loved her sister when she cried over not being able to see or talk to her again. When she tried to talk about her other siblings, her words got lost and jumbled because of her health issues combined with her overwhelming emotions.” 

“’He’s just a nice man; it’s as simple as that,’ she said. ‘He’s going to find me wherever I am, every day. And when I find him, I’m going to go over there and shake his hand, kiss him on his forehead and ask him how he’s doing. And he’ll say, “I’m doing beautiful.” And I’ll say, “You better be, because I love you.”’”

“She wouldn’t let the residents forget that it was her birthday, either. Her birthday request? Black-painted nails and a pack of cigarettes.”

They told stories – they told stories of individuals born in the 1920s, individuals who are in the nursing home because of physical injury, because of mental injury. They told the stories about babies being born, about marriages, about divorces, about careers and opportunities passed, about death and loss. These are real people they interviewed, real joy and sorrow they recorded, and real stories they told. This is the job of a journalist.

I did ask them about the project, if they liked it or didn’t like it, and they said they enjoyed it. They said they enjoyed talking with their resident and having the opportunity to flex their writing muscles with a lengthy paper instead of a shorter article, which they usually write.

I am proud of these students. They worked hard, they spent several hours talking with their residents, and they produced great work. This was a great class. They were smart and creative, but, then again, most of my students are.

So now, as we finish up the fall, I’m also preparing for winter – social media, media law, and introduction to mass media. And it’s going to be amazing.

For students wanting to prepare for one of these three classes, read/watch:
MV5BNzI2NDA3MTA4OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjA5MzkzMDI@._V1_UY268_CR110,0,182,268_AL_“Freedom for the Thought that We Hate” by Anthony Lewis (Media Law)
“Content Analysis in Mass Communication” by Lombard, Snyder-Duch, and Bracken (Intro to Mass Media)
“Making a Murderer” – Netflix documentary (Media Law and Social Media)
“Nosedive,” “Black Mirror” Episode, Season 3, Episode 1 – Netflix (Social Media)

See you this winter!


Dementia, Jesus, Writing

Happy birthday, Dad

My father passed away in 2016 due to dementia complications. His birthday is the day before mine this week, and in honor of his legacy every year, for his birthday, I share my testimony in Christ.

Me and my dad when I graduated with my master’s degree in 2008

First, let me say this – I believe a testimony should be a constantly evolving process. I want to be able to look back at certain times in my life and say, without a doubt, “Ah, that’s how God moved in my life.” I want to be able to say next year that I am closer to God than I am this year. I never want my testimony to always be about something that happened five or ten years ago. While I do believe it’s beneficial to see how God has moved throughout my life, during these particular writing occasions, in honor of my dad, I want to offer a testimony of how God has moved in my life more recently. I could tell you the story of my salvation, but it is fairly straightforward. One day, I might delve into its depths a little more, but I don’t feel called to that right now. I want to tell you how God has pushed me in the last few months.

When I look back this year, I see a visible change in emerging from my comfort zone. I spent about the first six months in a comfortable lull – everything was going well, everyone I knew was happy, and I just continued on a stagnant path. I didn’t see it as stagnant – my prayer life didn’t generally include anyone who was seriously ill or who had gone through a tragedy, which was a pleasant change from the norm, and I was enjoying the calmness that comes with a lack of overwhelming trials.

That changed in the summer when a dear friend challenged my ideas of stability and normalcy and rocked my perspective on my life and our church. Yes, everything was fine, but was fine the limit I had set for myself in terms of achievement? Did I want to stay fine or did I want to go further? Didn’t I want to be in movement to mirror Jesus more? Why stay in my comfort zone when there was so much need in my community – whether or not I was seeing it?

For a week or two, I fought with these ideas. I was angry, I was confused, and I was unsure of myself. I had been praying and reading my Bible regularly. Why had God not told me these things if I needed to push beyond my comfort zone? Why didn’t He reveal Himself to me?

He did – through my friend.

I rediscovered my walk with Christ as more than something just for me and my family and more for the world around us – neighbors, friends, Sunday School classmates. Suddenly, I saw that my comfort zone had become a clutch – a clutch to keep me from pushing myself.

I do like my comfy life. I’m the girl whose favorite evening includes pjs at 7 p.m., Netflix, and a good, warm drink. And while none of that is bad, I do need to remember that I have been called to stretch myself out of my introverted comfort zone.

If I don’t engage, how am I helping anyone? I’m not even helping my family. My girls need to see me out in the community, serving and leading – and following Jesus.




Dementia, media literacy, Social media, Writing

Telling your stories

I’ve got to brag on my students a bit.

300x300I am an assistant professor at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston. In my time here, I have taught all sorts of classes in communication and journalism: media law, feature writing, social media, public relations, introduction to mass media, intro to journalism, civic journalism – and that is not a comprehensive list. Every class, even those I’ve taught dozens of times, is always a new challenge because communication – and journalism in particular – is continually changing. It’s fascinating and fast-paced, and no two days are the same. I love my job. I really do. It’s not perfect, but I love teaching and researching my favorite subject: how people communicate.

This fall, one of the classes I’m teaching is copy editing. In a nutshell, the goal for copy editing is to teach students to think like editors for newspapers, magazines, broadcasting, public relations, advertising, online media, etc. They work with words, transitions, quotes, interviewing skills, and learning how to treat the AP Stylebook with the reverence it deserves. We talk about meaning and content in articles, how to work with writers, how to write headlines and cutlines, and how to handle ethical and legal issues. It’s a big, tough class – but it is so much fun.

This quarter, my students have partnered up with residents at Ruston Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. They are to write feature stories about their resident – the story topic really is up to them. Maybe their resident fought in WWII and they can focus on that. Maybe their assigned resident loved volunteering, maybe the resident raised a large family. The story isn’t meant to be biographical; it would be quite a feat to write someone’s biography in a single article. But the goal of this project was to capture a snapshot of that person, something that they found as relevant to other readers.

Everyone has a story. Every day, you have a story. My story today is that I got my teeth cleaned and I had no cavities. It sounds like no big deal, but there is a story behind it. Not that I want to go down a rabbit hole here, but the point I’m trying to make is that everyone has a story to tell – every day. Every day.

My students are to find that story.

I’m so excited about this project. SO excited. And part of it comes from my own story, with my dad dealing with Parkinson’s. I want these students to see these residents and talk to them. My dad loved talking to people, and even when he was unable to talk, he loved people to visit. I hope this project, small as it is, will instill in my students a love to hear people’s stories and to want to visit everyone, even people who grew up in a completely different generation. Sometimes age gaps and illnesses can be intimidating. I don’t want that to be the case.

Many of the students went yesterday to visit their resident for the first time. I can’t wait to hear later today about those experiences. What a fantastic journey they’re about to take, to talk to a stranger and find out about a life.

This is why I love my job.


Helping those who help

My dad suffered from dementia for three years. During that time, I watched my mom slowly transform from just a wife to a wife and a caregiver. In case you’re wondering, that’s a crappy position to be in.

As my dad worsened, my mom, who was still working as an elementary school teacher at the time, had to hire someone to stay with my dad during the day while she worked. The caregiver had to arrive at 6:30 a.m. so my mom could make it to school in time, and then she would rush home for the caregiver to leave at 4 p.m. She had to carefully schedule all of her errands, such as medicine pick up, getting gas, and getting groceries, because, toward the end, Dad had to have 24/7 care.

I’ve had friends and other family members who have dealt with similar issues, whether it be caring for an ailing parent or other family member or dealing with personal longsuffering. And, while I personally haven’t been a caregiver, I have seen basic needs that we all could meet.

Just show up. There’s an insightful book by the same name that documents two friends as one of them suffered and eventually died from cancer. And the point of that book was simply just to show up. Just go for a visit. Call. Text. Especially for someone who is dealing with long-term suffering, it is a blessing to realize you haven’t been forgotten. That your loved one hasn’t been forgotten. And when you show up…

Mind your manners. Read this article. No, seriously, go right now and read it. Because I can’t sum it up better.

Bring food. Maybe it’s because I really like to eat, but some of the sweetest moments in dealing with Dad’s dementia was when I would have really hard, long days and friends would bring over dinner to me and my family. They wouldn’t even give me an option other than, “What time do you want dinner?” That was such a blessing during days when I had driven two hours or three hours to spend all day at the hospital with him.

Offer something specific. “Just Show Up” mentions this, but don’t be vague with your offers to help. Yes, it’s nice to say, “Whatever you need, let me know,” but it’s a lot easier if you are specific with what you can help with. “I’ll babysit your kids tomorrow so you can go to the grocery store.” OR “I’ll pick up your groceries for you.” Sometimes the caregiver can’t think of what he or she needs or feels awkward asking for things such as childcare or groceries. So spell it out yourself. And always…

Pray. I can’t make a list of needs without including this, because we all need to pray. Continually. Throughout our day. In the shower. In the car. As our kids are running around the house with popsicles (or is that just mine?). Pray daily for those who are suffering, who you may not see regularly because they can’t come to church or go shopping or work anymore. Keep praying.

If you have any suggestions, too, please share!


An introduction to illness

I always have an internal struggle about talking about my struggles with the disease that eventually took my father’s life. Do I actually want to put this out in the open? Do I actually want people to read this? After that debate rages, then the more important question – how do I write about it? How can I address this still painful subject? How do I dredge up old memories that I would rather not? And why on God’s green earth would I even do it?

I write about it because it’s part of my history, part of my testimony, part of my identity. I continually remind people about it because if part of my story can offer encouragement or hope, I have succeeded with my goal.

First, though, let’s start at the beginning – or maybe at the end.

My father died April 23, 2016, due to complications from dementia. I was seven months pregnant with The Engineer at the time; The Artist was three.

My dad was a rock for my family. He was funny, he loved jokes, and he loved Jesus. Kyle once said, “You remember how Job was tested by God, but his faith was refined? And remember despite how bad it got, Job praised God? I bet God is saying to Satan right now, ‘You see my servant down there? See how he praises Me through all of this? He is a good and faithful man.’”

And that ended up being so true. Even when he was so sick, even when he knew something was wrong and he wasn’t sure what was wrong – he had his faith in God.

Somewhere in the spring of 2012, we noticed something was wrong. We couldn’t pinpoint it, but something was wrong. He was sleepwalking at times. When he would sleepwalk, he wouldn’t know where he was or who was around him. Tests were performed. SO MANY TESTS. Blood tests. Sleep tests. Scans. X-rays. Go to this doctor, see this specialist.

We ended up at a neurologist who practices three hours away from my parents’ house. He diagnosed Dad with Parkinson’s – but a more mental part of Parkinson’s, as Dad didn’t have tremors. So we went with that diagnosis for about a year, but nothing seemed to be getting better. He was tired all the time. He felt bad. “I just feel so tired,” he’d say over and over. His voice was so soft.

Nothing got better. Things only got worse.

We ended up seeing a Parkinson’s specialist, who also worked three hours away from my parents’ home. We went through several diagnoses over a three-year time period, but the last diagnosis ended up being dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s.

Two years after we noticed something was wrong, we started dealing with more noticeable symptoms: paranoia, lack of judgment, and balance problems. As the disease progressed, it only worsened his motor skills and speaking ability.

Several years ago, a friend of mine asked me why a good God would let her father die, and, in the moment, I couldn’t answer her. Not only did I feel that any platitude I could say would be ineffective, but how could I possibly comfort her during such a loss? Nothing I said would bring her father back. And I refuse to state empty words.

It’s not wrong to question why God allows some things to happen. We’re made to wonder, to have a natural curiosity. When bad things happen to good people, we want answers. The problem is we expect answers.

Sometimes answers don’t come. Can I explain why my friend’s father died? No. Can I explain why my own father died? No.

But I’m not focusing on the why. I focus on the how.

How do I show love to others?

How do I get through this?

How do I display my faith while dealing with this?

How do I give God glory in the bad times as well as the good?

None of these answers come easy. Showing love and affection is probably the easiest one, because I have easy answers for that (cards, phone calls, taking my really cute kid over for visits, etc.). But the others are a little trickier to navigate. These are almost daily questions I ask myself. But I do stand strong on a few facts:

God loves me, and He loves my family. He has not forgotten us.

I didn’t blame God for this illness. I still do not hold any negativity toward God. I don’t understand it, and it still hurts me to the core, but we don’t live in a world with sunshine and roses all the time. We live in a world where bad things happen all the time.

God will sustain me. When my girls slowly learned to walk (and, yes, it was precious), they both were terrified of letting go of my hands. Just like they squeezed my hands as they learned to walk, God still is holding on to me. I’m not alone, and He’s helping me walk.

I see the blessings. Isn’t it crazy to see blessings in the midst of hurricanes? It seems so to me. The wind may be howling, the rain may be pouring, but I can see bright raindrops on spring flowers.

I don’t have all the answers. And that’s ok. I’m going to live abundantly through the storm.