Category Archives: beliefs

Clouds and Miracles

“Mary!  Mary!”  I screamed eagerly as I pushed the front door open a little further and glanced into the living room.  The shrill sound of my voice caused my sister-in-law to run across the hardwood floor towards me.  My animated cries had disturbed her.  A look of anxiety began to crease her pretty face.  At first, I didn’t say anything more to her.  I wanted the moment to be a surprise, but I didn’t want Mary to worry.  So now, I smiled and said, “You have to see this!  Come on!”  I stepped back onto the porch as Mary followed me outside.  As she stood beside me, I started to babble eagerly.  “I just came outside to get something out of my car,” I told her as I gently pulled her over to the first step off the porch.  “And I stepped over here, looked up…”  I paused now for dramatic effect before I said, “And I saw that!”  I pointed down the street and up into the sky.

“Oh, my gosh,” Mary whispered as the anxious look on her face now transformed into a look of pure grace.

“I know,” I whispered.  “Isn’t it amazing?!”  And then we both stood quietly for a moment and contemplated the sight in front of us as we wrapped an arm around each other.

A few minutes earlier, when I had walked out of the house, I had stepped down off the porch, turned, and found myself staring at a large cloud.  That was it.  That’s all it was.  Just a cloud…and, of course, I have seen an endless number of clouds over all the years of my life.  But this one was very different.  This cloud was huge; it had to have been several hundred feet tall from the ground up.  Yes, from the ground up!  The cloud wasn’t up in the sky.  The base of it looked as if it was sitting down on the earth.  In fact, it appeared as if the cloud had come to rest at the end of our residential street and then fluffed up into the air like a giant mushroom.  The cloud was pure, new-snow white as it shined like candle wax against the dusky evening sky.  But there was another aspect about the natural wonder that had me intrigued.  At the very top of the cloud that soared up over the steeple of the small Lutheran church at the end of the street was an image of a heavenly being.  Within the fluffy folds of the cloud, I could see the full, feathery wings and the haloed head of an angel.

As my sister-in-law and I stared at the cloud, we both caught our breath as a golden light suddenly shined out from the cloud.  Though the dusky evening sky was clear, an electrical storm was taking place in the center of the cloud.  The sudden bright lightening contained within the cloud caused the angel to glow internally with a spiritual light.

After a few minutes, my sister-in-law walked back into the house.  I stayed outside on the steps for a few awhile as I stared at the cloud and watched the miraculous lightening strikes in quiet contemplation.  Over the next couple of minutes, the cloud slowly began to collapse and sink within itself.  But even though the cloud eventually dissolved into the darkening night sky I still continued to feel blessed and at peace.  I believed I had witnessed a heavenly phenomenon.  And I knew I would always carry within me the hope and glory of the golden angel cloud even when I am experiencing my own days of collapsing into darkness.

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Float

I have to admit that I have a strange relationship with water.  Maybe it’s because I am not a strong swimmer.  Okay, to be honest, I’m not a swimmer at all.  However, over the last few years, I have found myself exploring various bodies of water.  There was the journey across the channel from England to Belguim and then to France, the cruise around Lake Mead, the voyage down the Colorado River, the expedition to view glaciers in Alaska, the whale watching adventure in Hawaii (which unfortunately, didn’t produce a single view of the large mammals), and even the gentle drift around the lake on a duck boat in Branson, Missouri.

So even though I have experienced a variety of watery journeys, I have to admit that I still feel a tense anxiety starting in my chest and rising up in my throat every time I board a boat.  Stress grips my heart and tightens my rib cage.  I find myself holding my breath as the boat begins to pull away from the dock. I silently begin to pray, “God, please, don’t let this boat sink.  Please, don’t let me fall overboard.  Please, I can’t swim and this lake (or ocean or sea or creek) is so deep…please, God, please, don’t let this boat go down…please…”

And then, I sigh an audible “…aaahhhh….” as the boat settles into the water and begins to roll back and forth on the waves.  At that moment, an amazing sense of peace and gratitude overwhelms me.  Like second nature, my soul just gives over to the need to be part of something larger than myself.  I look out at the water and feel amazed by the vastness of the universe.  My anxiety always gives way to the most luxurious feeling of peace once I find myself sailing along with the currents.  As the saying goes, “When I stop struggling, I float.”

So that’s why on August 30th, 2017, I was filled with both excitement and anxiety as I stood in front of the Hotel Pacific in Cairns, Australia.  I was waiting for the tour bus that was going to take me to the port where I would be getting on a boat that would be carrying me out to the Great Barrier Reef.  Though I was already praying for a safe journey, I still couldn’t shake the exhilaration that was pounding through me.  I was about to experience one of the best attractions in Australia.  After ten minutes of prayer and stress, I was finally aboard the Western Winds bus, which was expertly driven by a friendly, older man who looked like the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island.  The heavyset, incredibly kind man had gray wispy strands of hair straining around the sides of his head.  His blue captain’s hat tilting to the left and his crooked smile leaning to the right may not have inspired a lot of confidence, but felt immensely welcomed and respected by this driver as I settled into a seat near the front of the bus.

The drive to the harbor was going to take about an hour with a few stops along the way to pick up additional passengers.  I thought that this would be a great time to catch up on my journal entries. I held my pen over a blank sheet of paper, but I couldn’t concentrate.  I just wanted to stare out the window and see as much of Australia as I possibly could through the large, slightly grimy, thick windows.  I wanted to climb every tree, smell every flower, and count every blade of grass.  I had even stared at all of the hotels and tried to count all of the doors and windows as I tried to commit everything I saw to memory.  But, of course, the bus was moving too fast to experience Australia in this way, so instead I was content for a few minutes to relax back in my seat and watch the two lovely bees buzzing around the front window on the opposite side of the bus.

Finally, we arrived at the pier and the bus driver, who would be traveling to the reef with us, pointed in the direction of the dock where our boat was waiting.  I was glad he was there to direct us; the harbor was full of a multitude of ships of various styles and colors.

Once aboard, crewmembers greeted the passengers in the cabin with coffee, tea, cookies, and an interesting presentation on coral and sea life by a marine biologist.  Twenty minutes later, as the boat revved up and started to move out into the ocean, I once more started to pray, “God, please, don’t let this boat sink…”

But within a few short minutes, the sense of awe overcame me and I started to relax as the boat rocked back and forth on the water.  Aaaaahhhh.  I couldn’t help the deep sigh of serenity that escaped my lips as the boat moved further away from the dock.  With the majority of the other tourists, I climbed the white metal stairway to the top of the boat.  My sudden sense of peace had compelled me to sit where I could observe the water, the sun, the fluffy clouds, the pure blue sky, and the other boats that sailed along beside us.

I settled down on one of the red vinyl benches that bordered the top tier of the boat.  I closed my eyes and let my body relax with the swaying of the ship as I breathed in the smooth, warm air….at first.

Within a few minutes, however, my eyes popped open and I sat up straight.  The strong currents were pushing the boat sideways and the wind was blowing so hard that the red canopy covering the boat began to snap loudly as it flapped up and down.  I put my hands down on the bench to grip the edge of my seat.  I felt my body beginning to roll as the boat rocked violently back and forth.  I glanced at all of the people sitting on the other benches around me.  Though everyone seemed to be gripping onto their seats or trying to push the widely blown hair out of their faces, I grew concerned that I was going to embarrass myself by getting sick.  I had never been on a wilder ride out on the water.  I was now mentally kicking myself for not accepting one of the seasick pills that the crewmembers had passed around before the ship left the dock.  I’m not a believer in taking any sort of pills unless absolutely necessary and I had never gotten sick on a boat before.  Anxiety and stress, yes, but never physically sick.

I decided then that my best course of action would be to go downstairs to the cabin and see if I could still get one of those little blue pills.  I pushed myself up from the bench and started to walk across the white wooden planks that made up the floor of the upper tier of the boat.  Oh, my gosh…what was happening!?  I couldn’t get my footing with the crazy rocking of the ship.  I hadn’t had any of the wine or champagne that the crew had offered earlier and yet I couldn’t walk a straight line no matter how hard I tried!  And I did try hard.

My goal was to walk over to the steps leading down to the galley.  However, as I tried to walk towards the stairs, I moved my legs straight and yet found myself high stepping to the left!  I tried to walk to the right and got my legs all tangled up and almost tripped myself.  I straightened my legs and found myself suddenly lurching to the left again.  I was suddenly aware, even with the noise of the wind whipping through the canopy, the flags, and various clothing items, that no one was talking or laughing anymore.  Everyone had suddenly grown still as they watched me walking (?) rubber legged across the upper deck.  Oh, my gosh, was my only thought now, these people must think I’m stinkin’ drunk.  I tried to force myself to straighten my back and hips and walk forward, but I was still all wobbly legged and continued moving right in order to go left!  I swear I was walking like a drunken sailor back from a three-day leave!  I struggled to get my footing and found myself sliding backwards two steps for every one-step I moved forward.

Finally, a young man  wearing a yellow t-shirt and multi-colored, striped shorts stood up and took a few steps towards me.  He started to reach out his right hand to grab my arm, but he was too late.  I tumbled away from him just as he made a grab for me.  The man tried one more time, but we missed each other again as he stumbled in one direction and my body was thrown the opposite way.  At that point, the man basically gave up as he threw up his arms and backed away, leaving me completely to my own devices.  Trying to regain some sense of balance, we both walked wide-legged towards the stairs as the ship rolled back and forth.

And then…success!  I did it!  I got to the steps first but I don’t think the man had put up much of a fight.  I suddenly realized that he had let me win so I would go down the stairs first and avoid falling on top of him if I fell.  So, now I was anxious to prove that his assessment of my awkward movements was completely wrong.  I was determined to get down the stairs without a stumble.  I gripped the white metal railing and carefully lowered myself down one-step at a time as the man followed cautiously behind me.

I now walked across the lower deck and entered the galley.  It wasn’t until I was on the carpeted floors of the cabin that I was finally able to walk straight.  Thankfully, the crewmembers had placed numerous little blister packets of the seasick pills in a large, plastic, blue bowl on a wooden counter by the door.  I still grabbed two of the packets and placed them in the pocket of my jeans as one of the male attendants reminded me that the pills only really work if taken before leaving port.  Oh, well…I would save them for the journey back.

After leaving the galley, I decided not to even try going back to the upper deck.  Instead, I carefully edged my way across the lower level and sat down on a bench.  Now, I felt more relaxed and calm as I sat by myself watching the tall waves as they splashed up against the boat.

About 30 minutes later, I was amazed to see a tall lighthouse situated on a small island come into view and the boat slowly began to drift to a gentle stop.  Our ship didn’t dock on the island.  Instead, like all of the other boats in the area, our vessel dropped anchor and we continued to bop up and down on the waves, the island still 100 feet away from us.  To get to the island, all passengers were transferred on to large sailboats.  Now, maybe from sheer relieve that I had survived the journey to the Great Barrier Reef, I joyfully and gracefully stepped across the gap between the two boats and settled myself into a seat.  I was now on a glass bottom boat and eagerly leaned forward to view the reef as the marine biologist pointed out various varieties of coral, fish, turtles, and clams.  I was so fascinated by the view that I completely forgot for a moment that I was still on a boat that was rocking with the currents.  I felt as if I was peering into an alien world, an advanced civilization that I could only see from the outside looking in.  I really wanted to be a part of that world but decided not to go scuba diving.  Again, I am not a strong swimmer (okay, honestly, once again, I’m not a swimmer at all!) and was afraid I would hold back the group that would be following along on a guided tour led by the biologist.

Instead, I carefully exited the boat and sunk my feet into the warm deep sand of the island.  I roamed around by myself for a while as I waded in the cool Pacific water, took long deep breaths, played in the sand, and snapped a lot of pictures, filling up a single memory card.  I probably overdid it with the pictures , but the scene was far too beautiful to trust it just to my memory.  I didn’t trust my jumbled and scattered brain to take it all in or remember the amazing sights.  After a while of roaming aimlessly and purposely, I sat with one of my fellow passengers in the shade and discussed our various travels.  The elderly gentleman was from Sydney, and joyfully informed me of all of the main attractions I had to visit when I explored that area of Australia the following week.

After a tour around the island with the marine biologist, the passengers and crew explored the lighthouse and the small grave that held the remains of the first woman to be the caretaker of the lighthouse.   I stood for a few moments over the grave and imagined what life must have been like for this woman, who had lived in solitude while her husband was away on the continent for the majority of their lives.  She had lived on this island, fighting the elements, surviving alone while making sure the lighthouse would always be bright to save the many ships from harm.  So many years ago, what had life been like for this strong, courageous woman?

All too soon, the sailboat arrived to take my group back to our boat.  Once again, everyone was settled into the gallery with cups of tea or coffee and cookies.  I sat in a booth with the elderly Sydney man and his wife as we talked about our homes and travels and waited for the boat to rev up again and carry us back to port.  Not taking any chances, I covertly swallowed one of the seasick pills and prepared myself for the journey.  I was hoping that the ride back would be much smoother.  We would be going with the currents this time since we were traveling in the opposite direction now, right?  But then, the Sydney man informed me.  “The journey to and from the island is always rough because we never go with the currents.  The distance between the dock and the island is always going across the currents.”  I just smiled and nodded as if I had expected this, but in my head, I had started to pray again.  “Oh, God, please, don’t let this ship sink…”

After a few minutes, I decided to be courageous and step outside onto the lower deck.  I took a seat on one of the benches as a middle-aged couple settled into seats to the right of me.  And this time, as the ship moved across the water, I couldn’t stop laughing!  Instead of rocking back and forth on this journey, the boat was literally bouncing up off the water!  The waves were so high that our ship would sail up into the air and then flop back down onto the water with a loud smack.  I had to jump up and change my seat several times as heavy waves splashed up over the white railings of the boat and flooded the lower deck.  A few times, I clung to my seat as the boat sunk down below the surface of the waves and then shot straight up in the air again.  Many times, my hands lost their grip on the edge of the seat and my body was basically airborne, with my little skinny legs kicking helplessly in the air, as I flew up over the deck and then smacked back down on my bottom on the bench again.

I don’t know if it was the seasick pills or just the joy of being alive, but I didn’t feel afraid.  Instead the wild ride exhilarated me.  I had never experienced anything like this before and I was excited by the whole adventure.  As a gigantic wave once again chased me out of my seat, I crookedly walked across the deck and stood on the other side as one of the female crew members walked out of the galley.  The young woman stood for a moment and brushed her long, blond hair back out of her face before she suddenly said, “Look!  Look at the whales!”  She pointed excitedly out at the ocean.  I turned quickly just as two large glorious whales leaped out of the water, their white and silver bodies glistening in the sun before they flopped back down into the ocean.   Their movement caused our boat to roll violently to the right side, but I didn’t care.  Oh, my gosh…there were large whales right in front of my eyes!  I carefully crossed the deck again and gripped hold of a thick metal white pole just as the two whales shot straight up out of the water again and this time a small baby whale jumped with the them!  I laughed out loud as I suddenly realized that the boat had been rocking and flying into the air because of the whales frolicking so closely to us.  The whales had been circling around us ever since we had left the island.  Now, all of the passengers were crowded out on the deck as the whales continued to cavort around us and follow our boat back into port.

After a few more minutes, our ship pulled up to the dock and all of the passengers carefully disembarked as we tried to now walk on solid ground with our legs still rubbery and wobbly.  Everyone  settled back on the bus again as our lovely driver drove back to our various hotels.  I was exhausted but also feeling very alive as I rested my head against the cool glass of the window by my seat.  I was so pleased now to have had such an amazing adventure on the ocean today.  I thought of the fear and stress I had felt as  I get on the boat and it all seemed so silly now.  I love the water!  Once again, the excitement, the beauty, and the basic joy of being alive had overcome my stress and fear.  And that’s exactly the way life should be…

 

 

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions

I really enjoy going to the gym.  Working out is not only something I do to physically stay in shape, but regular exercise keeps me in good mental shape as well.  For the last twenty years, going to the gym has been a great stress reliever for me.  During this time of year, however, my exercise routine can be more stressful than relaxing.  Most days, I usually have to wait to go to the gym until after work.  (Honestly, I don’t want to get up at 4 am just to exercise—don’t judge me!)  Now, I typically get to the gym around 6:15 pm when the parking lot is full.  (It always surprises me how many people who go to the gym fight to get a parking space right in front of the door.  This seems somewhat counterproductive.)  By the time I get to the gym, I have to park on the far side of the lot and walk in the dark and the cold to the entrance.  When I walk into the warm steaminess of the gym, it is already crowded with people sweating, grunting, and, sometimes, complaining.  (Okay, that’s usually me!)  My regular workout routine is continually interrupted.  I can’t exercises on the machines I need or I have to wait in line for a cycle.  I also tend to be a bit of a klutz.  I have dropped weights on my feet, tripped over benches, and rolled off the treadmill with a gym-full of people watching me.

But all of these situations don’t discourage me from working out.  First, I need to be thankful for being healthy and strong, even on days when my workout has been disturbed.  Besides, and I hate to be so negative, but this is the simple truth: this jam-packed gym situation doesn’t last long.  Most of the people who joined the gym around the first of the year are there because they have made resolutions to lose weight and get in shape.  In the twenty or so years I have been working out, the gym always gets crowded around the beginning of January but is empty again by the time spring blooms.

It’s sad that so many people don’t fulfill their New Year’s resolutions, but I don’t blame them.  I don’t think weight goals go unresolved because people are weak or lazy.  They aren’t quitters.  This is a situation that can happen to anyone no matter what his or her resolution may have been.  People set big goals for themselves every year.  It can be hard, though, to break old habits and start new routines, especially when life gets in the way.  So many times, good intentions are put aside due to family emergencies, work demands, and monetary troubles.

And, honestly, I know that I am no better.  I may have made a solid commitment to the gym, but I struggle when I set arbitrary goals.  I know that I will only disappoint myself in the end.  I stopped making resolutions when I realized that a lot of goals I was setting were based on what I thought other people wanted from me.  Or what other people thought I needed to be.  That was probably why I couldn’t commit to any resolution.

And as I looked around the gym today, I wondered if that was the reason most people were here.  Were they actually here based on their own desire to be healthy or were they at the gym trying to lose weight based on society standards?  How many people are motivated to go to the gym because they have been bullied or teased about the way they look?  Were they concerned about their health or did they feel unloved because of their bodies?  Is that why they can’t commit?

Maybe this just isn’t a good time to join a gym.  That’s another strange thing about setting goals.  Timing is everything.  Maybe people leave the gym in the spring because it just isn’t a good time to achieve that particular weight loss goal.  And that’s okay, because time is an illusion anyway.  Time is a man-made tool so what does it matter if people accomplish a goal in one year or ten?

So no there is just one promise I commit to every year.  Each year, I try to spend more time with God.  I believe that if I pray more, if I concentrate on my faith more, than all other aspects of my life will fall into place.  I don’t worry about breaking this resolution, because every year, my faith has just grown stronger and I find myself praying more now than I have ever before.  It’s amazing how much easier this particular “goal” gets every year.

So now, I wish everyone the best in fulfilling any goals they may have set and hope that no one feels bad if they aren’t 100% perfect.  Just pray, believe, keep trying, do the things you enjoy, and above all, just resolve to love yourself no matter what the outcome…there’s always next year…or the next life…or whenever the time is right!

August 21, 2017

I had asked my family and friends not to have any celebrations on Monday, August 21, 2017.  Because everyone had listened to me and honored my request, I woke up that morning suddenly realizing that it was now completely up to me to make it a great day.  So to begin with, I decided to take myself out to breakfast.  I quickly got up and dressed and left my home.

As I drove to the local Taco Bell (okay, yes…I’m a fast food/diner kind of girl!), I was abruptly stopped by a traffic light on State Avenue.  As I waited for the light to change, a sudden movement to my right caught my attention.  I now focused on a large, chunky, young boy walking down the street.  The boy was about 13- or 14-years-old and dressed in blue jeans with a black t-shirt.  The long bangs of his black, curly hair brushed against the silver wire frames of his glasses.  A tattered, brown backpack was strapped across his broad shoulders.  I watched as the young teen pumped his right arm wildly into the air.  I couldn’t hear any music, but the punching of the boy’s fist and the quick banging of his head gave the impression that he was listening to rock or heavy metal music.  Oh, my gosh, I thought, this was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen!  This young boy was dancing down the sidewalk next to the busy avenue without any care of who was watching or what anyone might think!  I knew then that that kid had a lot more courage than I ever had.  And I prayed that someday I would be that free, too.

I carried the image of the boy in my mind as I parked my car and walked across the lot to the entrance of Taco Bell.  Suddenly, the glass door pushed open and a middle-aged man in a torn white t-shirt and glasses walked out.  His sparse dark strands of hair were tousled across the bald areas of his head as he stepped to the side and held the door open for me.  “Thank you,” I told him to which he quickly responded, “You’re welcome.”  Then he enthusiastically shouted, “God bless you!  God bless you!”  I stopped for a moment and smiled.  I don’t know who the man was or what special powers he may possess but I suddenly felt immensely blessed as I ate my breakfast and contemplated the rest of my day.

And the day just kept getting better.  I returned home to find that the neighbors across the street from our house were out in their front yard.  The three-year-old son was joyfully running around the lawn with his hands raised up in the air as his voice emitted loud shrieks.  The child would run up to his father and then spin around.  He would walk slowly away while screaming, “Monster!  Monster!”  That was the father’s cue to chase after the boy who ran around the yard in wild circles.  Finally, the man grabbed the child and threw him up in the air as both father and son giggled loudly.  Then, the boy was placed on the ground and the whole sequence would start all over again.  I covertly watched the neighbors play for a few minutes before climbing out of my car and walking inside the house.

I spent the majority of the afternoon cleaning my room and tossing away my old files of class notes, bank statements, and receipts.  Today, I felt a compelling need to clean out the old and anticipate the new.  I compulsively worked on this project until it suddenly became too dark to see what I was doing.  I didn’t turn on any lights.  Instead, I got up from my desk and walked into the living room.  I opened the front door and looked outside.  The sky was growing steadily darker and the streetlights all began to glow.  I stepped out onto the porch and looked at all of the neighbors who were standing in their front yards looking up at the sky with plastic and cardboard glasses strapped to their faces.  I didn’t look up.  I knew not to stare at the sun without protection.  I didn’t purchase any glasses and I hadn’t planned to participate in watching the moon cross in front of the sun.  I just wanted to experience the sudden darkness creeping over the Midwest and witness the changes it created in nature.

I just sat on the front porch in the dusk and listened to the crickets beginning to chirp at the early night, even though it was only 1:08 pm on Monday afternoon.  A solid peace overcame me as I contemplated my fascination with the dark heavens.  Some of my best memories are the moments of seeing shooting or falling stars.  I always felt a solid thrill race through me at this phenomenon.  I have seen many shooting stars over the years and they have never failed to elicit an unusual excitement within me.  It’s the unexpectedness of the heavens suddenly moving and displaying an immense, living essence that thrills me.

And that’s how I wanted to experience the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017.  I didn’t want to pay for glasses and “plan” to watch.  I wanted the eclipse to ease over me, taking me by surprise as it engulfed me in its unusual occurrence.  I wanted the eclipse to unexpectedly thrill me as if I had just seen a thousand shooting stars.

So, now, I sat in the darkness while taking deep breaths and contemplating the universe.

And then, something unusual happened.  After sitting in the darkness for a few minutes, there was a sudden snap as if a switch had been flicked and light suddenly began to shoot through the black afternoon.  The darkness had been gradual but the light seemed quick.

It made me think of the days when I would sink into a deep depression, an emotion that had the power to weigh me down and pull me under.  The feeling would come over me slowly until I felt trapped and could not find a way back out.  And then, when least expected, hope suddenly surges through me and immediately pushes me back to life in one swift breathless movement.  That’s what the eclipse was like for me.

I sat for a few more minutes as sunlight continued to chase away the night before I finally got up from the front porch and walked back inside the house.  And not a moment too soon.  Suddenly, with the eclipse passed, thunder echoed through the sky and a hard rain fell to the ground.  As lightning sliced the gray clouds, I walked back to my room with our three small dogs running along behind me.  The dogs made me laugh as they tripped over each other as they raced into my room and under the bed.  They pushed and shoved at each other as they battled for safety from the clashing storm.  I snuggled and played with the dogs for a while before shooing them back out of the room.  Only Starburst refused to leave.  She made me feel unconditionally loved as she cuddled up on my lap as I worked at the computer for the rest of the afternoon.

Later that day, dinner consisted of Chinese food and cake with my brother, Tony, and sister-in-law, Mary, when they came home for work.  As we easily talked and laughed together, I couldn’t help contemplating what a great day this had been.  And I realized then that as I get older I didn’t need big celebrations or expensive presents or huge crowds of people around me.  I just need peaceful moments, times that enhance my spirit and enliven my soul.  Without a doubt, this day, Monday, August 21, 2017, was one of the best birthdays I have ever had.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Perfect Roses

Last Sunday, my thoughts were just as drab and boring as the world I had been walking through.  I felt trapped as I made my way down the main aisle of the backroom of my workplace.  I was surrounded on all sides by dull, concrete floors, light gray steel beams, and plain brown cardboard boxes.  But then just like in the Wizard of Oz when black and white scenes suddenly blossom into brilliant color, I noticed something crimson red shining just to my left side.  I turned around and gasped as I caught my breath.

“Oh, those are beautiful!”  I sighed as I came to a complete dreamlike stop.  I suddenly forgot why I had been in such a hurry as I focused on the long stem roses that were lying in a blue basket.  The black handle of the square basket was resting across Bernard’s left arm.

“Do you want a rose?” the assistant manager asked me.

“Really,” I smiled.  “I can have one?”

“Of course, you can,” he answered as he offered the basket out to me.  I thanked him profusely and grabbed the stem of a large blooming red rose.  I pulled the luscious flower from the basket and held it up to my face to breath in the delicious scent of the petals.  “Okay,” Bernard said after I had been completely intoxicated with the sweet aroma.  “You have to let me take your picture now.”

That’s when I noticed that Bernard was holding a digital camera in his opposite hand.  I’ve always been very uncomfortable in front of cameras.  So, now, I shook my head.  “No, thanks,” I told him.  “I’ll have to give you the rose back.”  I started to place the beautiful, perfect creation back into the basket.  Refusing the picture was actually a graceful way out for me because I had suddenly realized that the roses actually had a special purpose.  The flowers were for Mommas.  I had completely forgotten through the course of my busy workday that it was Mother’s Day.  I don’t have children of my own and my mother had passed on seven years ago.  So, of course, I don’t really have a reason or a right to celebrate Mother’s Day and, honestly, it is a holiday that makes me really sad.  I sighed wistfully as I placed the rose back into the basket.

“No, it’s okay,” Bernard told me.  “You can have a rose.  Go ahead and keep it…and I won’t force you to have your picture taken either.”

I just shook my head no and slowly began to back away.  I didn’t deserve the flower.  “Thank you, Bernard,” I told him.  “I do appreciate it but I’m not a mother.  I don’t have any children.  These roses should go to mothers today.

Bernard just laughed then and said, “It doesn’t matter.  You can have a rose, too, if it makes you happy.  Come on.  Take one.”  He held the basket out to me again.

I couldn’t stop smiling now as I grabbed hold of the stem of the flower I had just returned and pulled it back out of the basket.  “Thank you,” I told him.

“That’s fine,” Bernard answered.  “Just enjoy it.

And I did.  Holding the rose and running my fingers over the red, feather soft petals made my day a little brighter.  I was really missing my mother and the rose made me think of her.  I thought about the rose bush my mother had planted and carefully nurtured in the corner of our backyard when I was a child.  But then, thinking about my mother who had sacrificed so much for me, I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty.  I wondered if I had taken a rose away from a woman who was much more deserving than I could ever be.  Did I just steal a rose from one of the many gracious women who went through the pain of childbirth and suffered sleepless nights taking care of sick children?

Honestly, I would have loved to have been one of those women.  But certain life situations and health problems such as ovarian cysts and uterine tumors prevented me from feeling worthy of a rose.  But I also had to admit that the flower and Bernard’s kindness, the way he included me in this simple tribute, made me smile and brightened my day.

A week later, Sunday, May 20, 2017, I was back at work and having a rather bad day.  I kept repeating to myself New Age affirmations to help me make it through my work hours.  “A good or bad day is just my perception.”  “I can use my power of positive thinking to make this a better day.”  But nothing seemed to help.  I spent the day struggling with even the most minor tasks.  I just couldn’t seem to adjust to the stress of the day and my frustration was pushing me to the point of tears.

As I struggled to pull myself together that afternoon, I suddenly heard someone calling out to me.  I turned around to see  Charles standing behind me.  “Here, this is for you, Jamie,” he said as he held out his hand to me.  “Take this and hold onto it until your day becomes better.”  I stared down at the small, red rose resting in his palm, and my heart suddenly filled with hope and gratitude.  I was so touched by Charles’s sweet gesture.  “Thank you so much,” I answered.  “That’s so sweet of you.”   I reached out and took the rose from his hand.  As Charles walked away , I pinned the rose to my shirt and immediately began to feel much better.  What an amazing blessing that gift was!  And now, after all of the positive thinking I tried to force on myself, that simple rose made me feel so much better.

I thought now about both roses I had received over the last two Sundays and I realized something.  Though I regret not being a mother, though I am ashamed of myself for not handling my frustration better, people still cared about me.  I don’t have to be anything in particular or do anything special for people to think of me.  I had no reason to feel inadequate or ashamed or lacking in my life.  I don’t have to have a great job or a lot of money.  Instead, all I had to do was be kind and have a good heart and there will always be people to support and help me.

My coworker’s kindnesses reminded me of the love Jesus Christ holds for all of us.  He knows our regrets and our failings and yet He continues to love and support us anyway.  He continues to help us grow strong and beautiful and blossom into special spirits….just like my beautiful perfect roses.  I am so blessed!

Thank you so much, Bernard and Charles, for your kindness…and my roses!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pennies from Heaven

When my mother was a small child, she always carried coins in her black-and-white saddle shoes for safekeeping.   It became a habit that she continued into her adulthood.  My mother always placed pennies in her shoes before putting them on her feet.  “It brings me good luck,” she would say whenever I questioned her about it.

I never could figure out how Mom’s ritual brought her good fortune, especially when her old shoes had numerous holes.  But my mother truly believed in her superstition and, I guess, there were a few times when it was a true blessing.  When I was a child, I remember watching my mother scrape spare change together from the bottom of her purse to pay for the weekly groceries.  If she was still a few cents short, Mom, standing right there in the check-out line, would step out of her shoes and pick out the coins that she had placed there for providence.  She would hand the coins to the cashier, and then, with her head held high, she would step back into her shoes, gather together her groceries and children and proudly walk out of the store.  Yeah, there were times when those pennies brought her real luck and good fortune.

Though I never put pennies in my shoes, there was another coin tradition Mom taught me that I completely embraced.  Mom believed in “pennies from heaven.”  Every time she randomly found a coin on the ground, Mom would tell me that an angel was watching over her.  Whenever angels are near they leave gifts of coins and feathers.  I have always had a great belief in angels and continually looked for spare change whenever I needed a boost of faith.  I rarely found the reassurance I was looking for.

Well, that was until my mother passed away on March 16 of 2010.  After that day, coins suddenly seemed to appear around me at the most random times and in the most unusual places.  From the very first penny I found after Mom passed, I truly believed it was a sign from heaven that she was still looking out for me.  And whenever I found more valuable coins I felt doubly blessed.  Whenever I find pennies, I always think of Mom and her ritual even though I keep the coins I find in a special glass vase and never in my sneakers.

For some reason, I’m not sure why, I suddenly thought of Mom and the spare change she kept in her shoes while I was at work on Easter Sunday.  I didn’t consciously concentrate on the memory.  It just came and went as a passing thought.

But that afternoon, my right shoes suddenly felt a little funny.  I took a few steps and felt a strange pressure at the bottom of my right toe.  I shook my foot trying to shake away the feeling.  It didn’t help.  Every step I took caused a small achy pressure into my toes.  I tried hard to ignore it.  I was at work and didn’t want to be bothered by something so trivial.  I knew there was something in my shoe but didn’t know what it was.  Finally, when the pressure was too annoying, I took off my right shoe, held it up over my left hand, and shook my sneaker.  To my surprise, a nickel fell out of my shoe and came to rest  in the center of my palm.

I stared at the coin in surprise.  I don’t know how the nickel suddenly got into my shoe that Sunday afternoon.  What an amazing Easter gift.  I whispered a quiet thank you to my mom and my many angels for always looking out for me.  Even though I had to work on this holiday, it was, without a doubt, the best, most blessed Easter I had  ever had.

Highway Lessons

Last Sunday, February 19, was my day off from work.  I had been looking forward to it even though I didn’t have anything planned.  But that’s the way I usually enjoy my days off.  I don’t like having a full schedule or having any place in particular that I need to be.  So, that morning, I woke up slowly and got dressed.  Then I spent an hour or so lingering over a cup of coffee and a mystery novel.  I reveled in the feeling of just lazing around for a while before going to the gym.  I spent an hour exercising my legs and doing some cardio.  I was relaxed and at peace….

Well, at least, until I was driving home after my work out.  I felt a little anxious while I was on the highway.  I was eager to get back home.  I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish that afternoon.  I needed to clean my house and work on my novel.  I needed to file my taxes and pay bills.  I wasn’t feeling stressed; I was just motivated to get on with my day.  I took a deep breath and told myself to calm down.  I smiled as I listened to my stereo and watched the highway unfold in front of me.  The drive home was peaceful…

Until it wasn’t any more.

Wait!  What’s this?  What’s happening?

I came around a bend in the highway and suddenly found that traffic had slowed down before coming to a complete stop.  All three lanes of the northbound 435 were blocked by stranded cars.  I suddenly found myself waiting in a long line of traffic in the far right lane.  I was still too far away to know what was causing the traffic jam, but the cars directly in front of me suddenly began to veer over to the left to get into the middle lane.  I quickly swerved over, too, before traffic could build up too heavily behind me.  Once more, I found myself sitting in the middle of traffic as I watched two police cars, a fire truck, and an ambulance, all with sirens blaring, speeding by on the shoulder of the highway.

After a few moments, traffic slowly began to move forward; however, the cars in my lane were once more merging to the left and pushing into the fast lane.  I looked in my rearview mirror and noticed a small gap opening up in the left lane.  A large black SUV was still a few feet away.  I began to maneuver to the left when the SUV suddenly sped forward and closed the gap, shutting me out.  I was a little shocked that the man behind the wheel would not allow me the opportunity to merge.  I glared at him for a moment before pulling back into the middle lane and creeping forward a few feet.  Again, I noticed a gap in the left lane and started to ease over, just to be once more cut off by a woman in a small red Toyota Camry.  I shook my head and then tried again to get in the left lane.  The cars in front of me had already merged over to the left.  Why was I finding it so difficult to get a break in the heavy traffic?  Over and over again, five, six, seven times, vehicles zoomed forward without giving me a break.  I was trapped behind police cars and fire trucks that were now parked directly in front of me in the middle lane.  I was stuck; there was no room for me to move forward.  I had no choice; I had to merge but just couldn’t seem to find a kind-hearted person to have pity on me and allow me a break.

Even though I didn’t know what the problem was, I knew this was a dangerous situation.  I just had to be patient and not cause any further problems.  I reminded myself that someone would be kind enough to give me a break sooner or later.  I told myself to be kind to other people.  I needed to allow other drivers the opportunity to get through the backed up traffic.  So as I waited for a break to merge to the left, I stopped and allowed a few cars from the far right lane in front of me.  That probably wasn’t the best idea.  I was stuck even deeper in the middle of traffic now.  Again, I took another deep breath.  Be cool!  I told myself.  Don’t make a bad situation worse.

But I was still sitting in the middle of traffic with my blinker clicking and a little green arrow flashing on my dashboard.  I kept inching over to the left only to find my front bumper in danger of being knocked off by speeding cars that were pushing around me and not allowing me access to the fast lane.  Feeling trapped and beginning to think I was going to be in this position for the rest of the day, I now began to get agitated and irritated.  My patience had started to run very thin.  Why was this happening?  I wondered.  Why are all of these people being so rude?  I have to admit then I was getting really impatient and angry.  How is this fair?  I was tired of just sitting on the highway being pushed around by the other drivers.  And I admit I used a few words I hadn’t said in a very long time.  I cussed and swore and said things I would never want to repeat….I’m still surprised that I said them in the first place.  But I was just so aggravated with everyone at this point.  I finally realized that if I wanted to get anywhere that afternoon I would have to be aggressive and demanding.  I finally realized that I would just have to push my way into the left lane.  I stared into the side mirror until I noticed another small gap in the line of traffic.  I took a deep breath and quickly swung my car over to the left.  I just prayed that the person who was driving in the fast lane would stop, especially since I was straddling both lanes.  Then as traffic moved forward, I quickly pulled into the left lane, drove past the fire truck and ambulance….

…And suddenly, my breath caught in my throat.

Now, that I had driven around the fire truck, I could see the situation clearly.  A massive car wreck had taken place just moments earlier.  Two cars were sitting on the left shoulder of the highway and a third car was halfway in a ditch on the right.  I couldn’t see any damage to these cars, but I wasn’t really paying that much attention to them.  Instead, my eyes and mind became focused on a fourth car that was in the right hand lane.  The car was upside down and the roof and windows no longer exited.  The car was lying completely flat.  Oh, my gosh, seeing the way the car was situated, I couldn’t imagine that the driver and passengers had survived.  There was no way anyone in that black, muddy car could have lived through this wreck.  The top of the car was smashed flat down on the highway.

Tears burned in my eyes and I felt myself gasping for breath.  I started saying quick prayers for all the souls involved in this wreck.  But I couldn’t stop on the highway.  I needed to keep moving and that was alright because I just wanted to get away now.  I quickly drove down the highway and away from the damage.  I was really ashamed of myself.  How could I have gotten so upset at the other drivers for not letting me switch lanes?  Why couldn’t I have just remained calm and patient?  People lost their lives just now on this highway and here I was getting upset because I thought people were being rude to me.

The other drivers actually weren’t being rude, I realized now.  It wasn’t anything personal.  Everyone was just stressed and frustrated and just wanted to get on their way.  I had been so bad today.  I had cursed the cars zooming past me and completely forgotten that there were real, vulnerable people inside those other vehicles.  Instead of getting irritated, I should have just said prayers for everyone to be protected and to arrive safely at their destination.  The awful sight of the smashed, overturned car was a perfect reminder that we are all so fragile and need to be treated with kindness, dignity, and respect.  We are all only human and so quickly because of one outrageous, silly mistake, life can be gone so quickly

As I drove down the highway, I continued to pray for the people involved in the wreck and for all of the other drivers around me.  I asked that God protect everyone traveling on the highway that day.  I apologized to God for getting so upset and angry.  I then told God that I was just so tired of all of the hatefulness, the death, and the destruction that seemed to be so prominent in the world today.  Make it stop, God, please.

And just then, I drove around a bend and there, by the side of the highway, was a field full of bright beautiful flowers.  Colorful spring flowers were lining the side of the highway on this cold February day.  And there was a small sign right in front that read “Wildflowers in Bloom.”  I smiled then and drove the rest of the way home with a joyful heart and the world suddenly at peace.