Category Archives: Blessings

Mind/Body Connection

Our Shih Tzu, Starburst, has an underbite.  Whenever she smiles, her bottom teeth prominently show.  This is what the dog looks like when she is happy:

 

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It makes me laugh to see her smile because, sometimes, I worry that she suffers from depression and anxiety.  There are days when she is completely listless.  She won’t get out of her bed.  Some days, she becomes impatient, angry, and demanding; other days, she is very quiet and remains distant and aloof.

Lately, however, Starburst has been very happy.  She jumps around excitedly whenever I walk in the front door.  She runs around in circles and then stops right in front of me.  She smiles while her tail wags so hard and fast her little backside bounces off the floor.  Then she runs down the hallway and tumbles over with her bottom flipping up over her head.  She prances back into the living room and jumps excitedly up onto the couch and begs for attention until I rub behind her ears.  “Hey, little Fur Face,” I’ll tease her.  But she doesn’t mind my name calling.  She’ll roll over onto her back and wait for her belly to be rubbed.  I usually avoid doing this, though.  Starburst has a very sensitive spot on the right side of her body.  If I accidentally brush over this area, she’ll sit up with a shriek and nip at my hand.  I’ve learned the hard way not to be persuaded to rub her belly, even though she looks up at me with her big, brown puppy dog eyes.  I’ll just shake my head at her, walk into my bedroom, and close the door behind me.

Starburst isn’t finished playing, though.  Her favorite game is “Ding Dong Ditch.”  She likes to scratch at my door while I’m working.  I try to ignore her, but she keeps knocking until I finally get up from my chair and open the door.  I look down the hallway and see the dog’s furry backside bouncing up and down as she runs back to the living room.  I follow her only to find that she has jumped into her small, round bed and pretends to be asleep.

I go back into my bedroom and a few minutes later, the scratching begins again.  I open the door, and Starburst is once more running back to her bed.  She jumps onto the mattress and once more pretends to sleep.  “Stop now, Starburst,” I’ll tell her.  “Your not funny.”

But the situation happens again.  I hear scratching at my door.  I see a small dog racing down the hallway.  I see her little body jerk into bed.  She lays her head down and once more closes her eyes.  This time, however, I just laugh at her.  I walk over and  pick her up. I cuddle her close and carry her back into the bedroom with me where she will fall asleep on my lap while I work on my novel or my poetry book.  Sometimes, she’ll crawl underneath my bed where she snores and sniffs loudly as she enjoys her dreams.

There were some late nights when Starburst would visit my bedroom and become very agitated.  I don’t know what it was, but something inside my closet upset her.  She would stand stiff and straight in the middle of my room, staring intently and growling at something in the corner of my closet.  There were some nights that she really freaked me out, too.  Did she see…or sense…something that I couldn’t comprehend?

But last night, she was suddenly over her fear.  As soon as she entered my bedroom, she went over to the closet and climbed in through the open wooden door.  She then quickly created a small nest out of my shoes and promptly fell asleep.  There was no growling or barking, no fear or agitation.  She snored peacefully. And I slept much easier that night, too.

Starburst is also learning to have better manners and not be so impatient.  Before, whenever she was hungry or thirsty, she would stand in the kitchen with her bowl in her mouth.  She would fling the bowl, hitting me in the ankles with it, whenever I walked into the room.  Oh, yes, I got the message: she needed food or water!

Starburst no longer behaves this way now, though.  The other night, I walked into the kitchen to wash the dishes.  I didn’t notice that her bowl was empty.  Instead of throwing it at me, I suddenly heard a small cough.  Seriously, the dog just started to emit dainty, little coughs.  Ahha! Ahha!  She sounded just like Ben Stiller in Zoolander when he thought he had the black lung.  But she got my attention, and I filled her bowl.  She looked up at me with a grateful smile, sipped slowly, and then gracefully walked out of the kitchen with her tail held high.  She hadn’t been anxious or angry.  She was courteous and kind.  This made me very happy.

Starburst had had some health issues over the last few months.  She had been suffering from digestive illnesses, and her right eye had become infected making it difficult for her to see.  Mary, my sister-in-law, had taken Starburst to a series of vet appointments that include a few shots and several rounds of medication.  The loving efforts of my sister-in-law and the doctor really has made a difference.

Starburst is returning to good health, and her personality has been affected in very positive ways. She is a perfect example of the mind/body connection.  It is true for every living thing.  When we are in good health, we are loving and kind.  When we feel good about ourselves and practice love, our phsyical bodies heal.  I smile now as Starburst comes into my room.  And as she cuddles up on my lap and falls asleep, I wish good health and loving blessings on everyone of God’s precious creatures.  God Bless You and Good Health!

 

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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.

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…

 

 

 

 

Money Well Spent

Dang, I sighed dramatically under my breath as I stood outside the Hotel Pacific in the early morning darkness.  I had been standing outside on the tiled front steps in the cool morning air since 4:45 am.  The private driver who would be taking me to the airport for my flight to Alice Springs was scheduled to pick me up around 5.  In my rush to shower, dress, and pack, I had completely forgotten to grab my two bottles of water and packages of cookies that I had placed in the small refrigerator in my room the night before.  I didn’t even think about the water and snacks until I was already standing outside and a large, white van was coming up the long, curved driveway towards me.  I told myself it wasn’t a big deal, but I had been carefully watching my cash ever since I had arrived in Australia a week ago.  I still had ten days left on this adventure and I didn’t want to run out of money.  Although most places accepted credit cards, I needed to use cash to buy simple things like drinks and snacks.  I also needed tip money to offer to all of the various employees at different establishments to thank them for their wonderful service.

As far as cash was concerned, I had followed the advice of my travel agent.  When I had asked Ken how much money I should bring with me to Australia, he had suggested, “Just take about a hundred to a hundred and fifty dollars with you for drinks and tips, and then charge everything else.”  His reasoning was very valid.  According to Ken, people make the mistake of exchanging hundreds of dollars and don’t realize the high fees they have to pay.  If people don’t use all of the money in Australia, they have to pay another fee to change the cash back to American dollars.  Plus, Ken told me that a lot of people call the travel agency to complain that they still have Australian dollars when they return to America, and the travelers usually get upset when the agency can’t do anything to help them get the full value of their money.  “Besides,” Ken had continued, “cash can be lost or stolen, and it’s gone.  Your credit cards can be easily canceled and replaced.”

Ken’s financial recommendation had made perfectly good sense to me, so I decided to exchange just 160 American dollars for Australian cash at the Los Angeles airport before I caught my flight to Brisbane.  At the time, I had felt secure about following Ken’s advice but now going into the second week of my expedition, I wasn’t as confident.  I really felt that I had to watch every dollar (American and Australian) for the rest of my journey.  So leaving behind the bottles of water at 2 dollars each and packages of cookies for 3 dollars each seemed like a really big deal to me.

Everyone in Cairnes, Australia, had been so incredibly sweet and friendly that I was sure the hotel staff would let me back into my room if I told them that I had forgotten something.  But now, it was too late.  The driver had stopped the van directly in front of me and was climbing out from behind the wheel.  As the man walked over to me, I whispered a good morning and was surprised to receive only a rushed and hushed grunt in reply.  I decided not to say anything more as I settled into the back seat and fastened my seat belt.  The driver quickly stowed my luggage into the back compartment of the van, and effectively slammed the door before walking around to the driver’s seat and climbing in behind the wheel.  He silently started the engine and drove away from the hotel.

As the man maneuvered the van onto the highway, I quickly reached into my purse and pulled out a five-dollar bill.  I wanted to make sure I was ready to tip the driver as soon as we arrived at the airport.  I knew it was customary to tip my private drivers but I had made an embarrassingly bad mistake on my first day in Australia.  On August 26th, I had arrived in Brisbane, which was my first stop in Australia before I traveled onto Cairnes, Alice Springs, and Sydney.  I felt like I was in a movie as I walked off the plane, and there was my driver holding up an ipad with my name flashing across the screen.  That driver had been incredibly polite and informative as he drove me around the city to the Hotel Meridian.  As we wove in and out of traffic, the man told me about his trips to America and pointed out all of the amazing Brisbane sites.  The drive was enjoyable and comfortable until we arrived at the hotel.  The driver had stopped the car, opened my door, and then pulled my suitcase out of the trunk.  Then he stood on the sidewalk with me for a few minutes as he pointed out the different shops and restaurants that were located close to the hotel.  It suddenly dawned on me that he was waiting for a tip, but I had one small problem.  I had received only 20-dollar bills when I exchanged money in LA and then had walked right off the plane and into the waiting car with my driver when I had arrived in Brisbane.  I had no available change on me to tip the driver and I didn’t think it was polite to ask for money back on a tip.  So, I just awkwardly stood on the sidewalk outside the Hotel Meridian and responded with “Wow,” and “That’s great” as my private driver kindly continued to act as my personal tour guide, too.  Finally, he must have realized that there was no tip forthcoming and yet he continued to behave kindly towards me.  He shook my hand and wished me a great trip while I profusely thanked him for his kindness…but I still felt terrible!  The man had been so nice to me, and I had stiffed him on a tip.  I swore then that I would never allow that situation to happen again.  I told myself that I would kindly give to the drivers and all of the people who were helping to make my Australian journey a once in a lifetime experience.

And now, here I was on my way to the airport for my early morning flight contemplating whether I should give my current driver any money.  I didn’t want to be inconsiderate and yet at the same time, the man was somewhat rude as he continued to drive in silence and blatantly ignored me.  Of course, I wasn’t upset about the initial service.  The man had only been hired by my travel agent to get me to the airport and that was exactly what he was doing.  I was grateful for his assistance, so he did deserve the tip in that regard.  However, I just wasn’t sure at this point how to approach the man.  He wasn’t friendly.  He really didn’t seem to want anything to do with me.  Would it be awkward for both of us if I tried to give him a tip?  I had kept the five-dollar bill gripped in my hand as I contemplated the issue on the drive to the airport.  I had finally made up my mind that when we arrived at our destination, I would say a polite thank you, but not push the issue any further.

I was just about to shove the money back into my overstuffed bag when the van suddenly came to an abrupt stop.  I leaned forward and gazed out the large, clean window.  After a tense journey, we had arrived at the domestic flight terminal of the Cairnes airport.  The driver exited the vehicle, walked around the side of the van, and swung open the door by my seat.  Then, as I unhooked my seat belt and climbed out, the driver walked around to the back of the van, and retrieved my luggage for me.  He walked towards me and placed the suitcase down by my feet.  I said, “Thank you” as the driver nodded his head but didn’t say a word.

And then, before I realized what was happening, and without thought, I raised my right arm and held out my hand.  And suddenly the man’s hand was brushing against mine as I pushed the five-dollar bill towards him.  I hadn’t planned to do this, but for some reason, in the moment, I felt a sudden need and urgency to give him the tip.

Then, the driver stared directly into my eyes as he held onto the cash and, by chance, my hand as well.  I suddenly felt as if, in the pale darkness, I could clearly see him.  He was an older man, probably in his mid-60s.  He was very tall and so thin that his crisp, white, button-down shirt and black slacks seemed too big for his slight build.  The driver had a skinny, white mustache that lined his upper lip.  Both of his hands suddenly wrapped around my fingers as I stared into his eyes and noticed the deep, sad lines that were etched into the rough skin of his face.  I noticed the thin, gray wisp of hair that rested across his forehead.  Then I suddenly saw into this man’s soul as he said to me in the softest of voices, “Oh, no, you don’t really need to do this.”

“No, please,” I answered, “it’s okay.  Please, take it.  I want you to have it.”

And suddenly, as the day was slowly beginning to brighten with the sunrise, I could see the tears coming into the man’s eyes as he whispered to me, “Are you sure?  Are you sure you want to give this to me?”

And of that moment, I was absolutely positive about the situation.  “Yes,” I honestly told him, “I really want you to have the money.”

“Thank you,” he whispered as he gave my hand a gentle squeeze and tears started to careen in crooked lines down his face, “Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome,” I answered.  “Thank you for the ride.”

He smiled at me then as he wished me a good flight.  He let go of my hand and I watched as he walked around the van and got back into the driver’s seat.  As he drove away from the curb, I grabbed the handle of my suitcase and walked into the terminal with my mind and heart full of gratitude.  I was so thankful to be in Australia.  I was so happy to be going to see Ayer’s Rock.  I was so grateful to the driver who got me to the airport on time.  And I was so thankful that I had followed my heart and gave the man the five dollars.  I don’t really know what had prompted me to offer the tip to the driver.  I usually tended to shy away from people who are difficult or intimidating.  But there was something about this man that even in his quiet irritation was good and kind.

I thought of the way the man had held my hand with tears gleaming in his eyes as he accepted such a small, simple token of my gratitude.  It was five dollars…just five dollars…and yet it had made such a big difference to another person.  For some reason, that small gesture had completely changed the man’s attitude.  I guess it is true that no one ever knows the private battles other people are facing.  We never really know what another person is going through.  It’s sad sometimes that we just always respond to the current moment.  We get angry if we think someone has been rude to us.  We forget that sometimes people are rude because they have just lost a job or a loved one; maybe they haven’t had a chance to sleep, or eat, or they haven’t been feeling well.  Our minds sometimes don’t always stretch to think about what another person is going through.  If we all could just touch one person in some small way when the opportunity arises, especially when we have the chance to offer hope to someone who may be suffering in some way we don’t understand, what a great world this would be.

This man was a good soul and maybe he was just having a bad morning.  That doesn’t make him a bad person.  In my mind, I know, my silent driver deserved to be treated with respect regardless of his initial attitude.  Hopefully, my simple gesture of gratitude had helped turn his day around.  It amazing how we have the power to affect each other in a good and blessed way just by being kind.

After checking in at the counter and receiving my boarding pass, I walked over to the food court to buy breakfast and some coffee.  I no longer worried about spending money.  I felt so blessed as I thought about the man and the five dollars I had given him.  As I sipped my coffee, I smiled.  That tip was the best five dollars I had ever spent.

 

 

The Perfect Holiday Gifts!

I really wasn’t trying to be difficult.  I wasn’t trying to be argumentative.  I wasn’t trying to cause stress or anxiety.  Instead, I was being completely honest.  Whenever anyone asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I always gave the same truthful answer.

“Nothing,” I always said to all of my friends and family members whenever they asked about Christmas presents.  There honestly wasn’t anything I wanted.  I already had everything I needed to be happy.  I have good food, clean water, safe shelter.  I have books and music.  I have clothes, a job, a car.  I have my five senses—and, many times, a sixth.  According to a lot of people, I have an overabundance of emotions…and they are probably right!  I consistently laugh, cry, and love without boundaries.  I have family, even though I may get on everyone’s nerves sometimes.  I live with three dogs who love me, and a cat that is still on the fence but is slowly getting used to me.  I have friends who may not always be in my life but are always there for me when needed.  I have freedom for adventure and travel.

What more could I possibly want, especially on the holiest day of the year?

As I have gotten older, the traditions of Christmas have changed for me.  For the past several years, I haven’t decorated trees, or put up wreaths and holly, or accepted presents.  I usually like to spend Christmas alone in meditation.  Some people find this unusual but for me it is the best way to honor the Savior without the distraction and stress that usually comes with the holiday.  I enjoy simple pleasures.

For example, I woke up at around 2 am on Christmas morning.  I climbed out of bed and walked into the living room.  I had a strong desire to look out of the big picture window and stare at the dark night sky and gaze at the stars.  But instead of darkness and stars, I find a night white with quietly falling snow.  I sat snuggled up in a blanket on the living room couch as I leaned towards the window and watched the snowflakes magically dancing across the front lawn.  I prayed, meditated, and sang songs Christmas carols to myself.  My mind also kept swirling around the events of the day.  The afternoon of Christmas Eve, 2017, was spent going out to lunch with my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew.  The day was full of laughter as my brother and nephew tried to “out-funny” each other.  I tried to compete with them, too, but I couldn’t keep up with their quick wits and sly one-liners.  I’m usually laughing too hard at their comedic challenge to think of anything funny to say.  But that’s okay, because I have since become one of the best laughers around.  This afternoon was no different; the event ended again with my brother mockingly yelling to his son, “You’re grounded for being funnier than I am.”  And again, I found myself laughing joyfully before I finally got up from the couch and went back to bed to snuggle warmly and contentedly under the covers.

When I awoke again on Christmas morning, I carefully drove my car across the dusting of snow on the side streets to the local Quiktrip.  I parked in a narrow space at the far end of the small lot.  I grabbed my purse and climbed out of my vehicle.  As I walked toward s the entrance, I noticed a young woman holding the door open for several people who walked into the convenient store.  Her back was towards me so all I could see was her long, dark blond hair that flowed over the collar and down the back of her black and white checked winter coat.  I approached the woman and circled around in front of her to get to the door.  I reached out my hand to take the door from her, but she pulled back away from me before swinging her hand towards the entrance.

“No, please, go ahead,” the woman said to me as I now saw her sweet face and beautiful, big smile.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” I said to her.  But then I stopped and smiled at her as something my brother, Tony, always said to me.  Whenever I refused gifts or tried to be defiantly independent, Tony would tell me, “Don’t deny other people the right to be good to you.”  So, now, I smiled at this young woman and realized that she was giving me a gift.  Kindness, the willingness to do simple things for other people, is a dying art lately.  So, now, I looked at this woman and said, “That’s very sweet of you.  Thank you so much.”

As I walked through the door the woman held open for me, she happily shouted out, “Merry Christmas.”

“Thank you.  You, too,” I said back as I stepped into the warmth of the crowded store.  I couldn’t help laughing as I looked around at the other patrons.  Everyone was wrapped up in a heavy coat to ward off the winter chill.  And yet, underneath the coats, everyone was wearing cozy, colorful, flannel pajamas or tattered, comfortable sweats.  I have found my people, I thought with a laugh.  I, too, had just slipped on an old jacket over my sweats before leaving the house.  I love people best at their natural quirkiness.  I love people who are just as comfortable walking around in nightwear as they are in business suits.  And, of course, today was a day like no other as everyone politely dodged around each other as they whispered, “Excuse me,” “No, you first,” and “Merry Christmas.”  I listened to the joyful, happy voices as I paid for my coffee and walked back out to my car.

I spent the rest of Christmas day in quiet contemplation.  I was feeling blissful and at peace, just the way Christmas is supposed to be.

So, see, there wasn’t anything I needed for Christmas.  But I had received the best gifts of all: laughter, kindness, peace…and once again, I had received from God and the Savior the perfect Christmas holiday!

 

 

 

The Climb

 

I carefully raised the paper towel up off of my foot and peeked underneath.  Damn!  The wounds on the top of my right foot were still bleeding.  I had similar marks on my left, but they did not seem as deep and, thankfully, were not bleeding.  I pushed the towel back down again over my foot with the hope that direct pressure would stop the blood flow.  It didn’t help.  Blood continued to flow from the cuts.  While tending to my feet, I cursed myself for doing something so stupid.  In the weeks leading up to this adventure, I had envisioned myself walking on sunny beaches and kicking off my shoes to dig my toes into warm sand.  With this image in mind, I had bought a new pair of flip-flops to specifically wear on my vacation in Australia.

However, there was one problem.  I didn’t even try on the shoes before leaving America.  And, now, the pink plastic straps on the top of the flip-flops had pulled so tightly that before I had realized it my feet were cut deep enough to bleed.  I knew that this certainly was not a medical emergency and I would heal in time without any scars.  However, I was concerned because of an event that was scheduled for the next day.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect since tomorrow’s activity had been suggested by my travel agent, Ken.

When I originally discussed my Australian trip with the agent, Ken asked me what events I was interested in and what I wanted to see.  Of course, I mentioned the most obvious tourist sites.  I wanted to see the Australian Zoo.  I wanted to tour the Sydney Opera House.  I wanted to visit Ayer’s Rock.

Ken had a lot of other great ideas: camel rides into the outback to see the sunset, hiking the gorge into Kata Jyata…and, hey, what about the Sydney Bridge Climb?

I had never heard of the bridge climb before and Ken was more than happy to enlighten me.  He had participated in this activity several times and was very enthusiastic about the climb up the Harbor Bridge.  “Sure,” I told him, “sign me up.”

Hhhmmm….I should have done a little research.

The Sydney Bridge Climb consists of 1332 steps up 445 feet above the Sydney Harbor.  From the top of the bridge, there is a full 360 degree view of Sydney, Australia.

But right then, speaking with Ken, I thought it sounded like a great adventure.

But now, here I was sitting in my hotel room the night before the bridge climb carefully wiping away blood from the cuts on the top of my feet.  When the bleeding began to ease, I covered the wounds with the only medicinal product I had with me.  I smeared Vaseline over the top of my feet and prayed that I would be healed and ready for the bridge climb the next day.

The morning of the climb, I woke up and looked immediately at my feet.  The Vaseline had served as a temporary seal over the cuts and the bleeding had stopped.  Now, completely excited, I quickly showered, dressed, and walked out of my hotel.  Once outside, I looked over the map I had picked up the day before at the tourist information center.  The attendants at the center had been nice enough to sketch out the route I needed to walk to get to the office of the Sydney Bridge Climb.  I sighed and then balanced myself carefully as I alternately rotated my ankles around in circles.  Though my feet felt slightly achy, I was ready for the long walk, which would give me the chance to take a good long look at the city of Sydney.

I walked around Darling Harbor to Bathurst Street and then strolled confidently down George Street.  I tried not to look like a tourist but I couldn’t help staring wide -eyed and snapping pictures as I walked passed amazing cathedrals and government buildings.  I walked passed malls, a large 3-story book store, and high priced specialty shops.  I walked passed crowds of people hurriedly walking down the street or sitting comfortably in small cafes.  I marveled at the old artistic architecture that prominently stood out against the strong backdrop of modern skyscrapers.

Then, I quickly climbed the two concrete staircases that lead up to the overpass of Cumberland Street where the Bridge Climb Office was located.  I easily find the office but there was one problem.  I was several hours early.  I honestly didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t want to be late, so I had left the hotel at 10 am in order to get to the right location in time for my 2:15 pm appointment.

I sighed and told myself there was no problem.  I at least knew where the office was now and could relax with a quick lunch and a cup of tea before the climb started.  I turned around, walked back down the two staircases and strolled back down the busy streets as I searched for a comfortable place to rest.  I kept telling myself that I needed to sit down and relax somewhere.  I had been walking for over an hour on wounded feet that would soon be climbing 1332 steps into the air.

But I just kept walking.  There was too much to see to settle down in any one place.  Most people who know me would tell you that’s how I live my life, too!  But finally, when my feet began to protest by throbbing heatedly, I entered a small coffee shop and relaxed with a sandwich and hot tea before starting on my way back to Cumberland Street.

When I left the café, however, I still had an hour before my climb, so I decided to go down to the harbor for a while and take a few pictures of the ferries, the ships, the bridges, the people, the water, and the seagulls.  I quickly fell into step with a small group of people who were moving towards the harbor.  I felt happy and relaxed as I stepped down off a curb and, then suddenly, to my totally surprise, my right foot slipped out from under me and…

Wait!  What?!  I’m falling!?  I’M FALLING!

And before another thought could go through my head, I found myself sprawled on the ground after landing heavily on my right hip.  A sharp pain speared down my right leg and my right wrist throbbed from trying to stupidly use my right hand to break my fall.  I sat on the ground for a moment until a group of four elderly citizens kindly stopped to help me up off the ground.

“Are you alright?!”  I nodded my head yes as I forced a smile though tears that stung my eyes.

“Are you hurt?”  I coughed out a no as I assured them I didn’t break my leg or wrist.

“Do you have everything? Did you drop your wallet?”  I assured them that it didn’t matter because I didn’t have any money anyway.  This made them laugh which helped ease the tension.

I sincerely thanked this group of kind seniors as they gave me one more quick brush off and then slowly walked away.

I took a deep breath and steadied myself against the pain in my right hip before walking down to the harbor.  I felt better when I was by the water, even though my right hip and leg continued to throb.  I stood very still for a moment as I realized that in half an hour, oh my gosh, I would be climbing 1332 steps!

I took several deep breaths and walked away from the harbor.  I walked stiffly down the street and stood at the bottom of the concrete staircases leading up to Cumberland Street.  I took a deep breath and forced my aching body up the steps.  As I half walked and half limped into the Bridge Climb office, I hoped that a bright smile on my face would disguise the dull pain I was experiencing in my hip, my wrist, and my feet.

I walked up to the reception desk and spoke to a young woman who sat at the computer.  The woman was friendly with a bright, happy smile and a warm, welcoming demeanor.

“Hi,” I said, “I’m Jamie Zunick.  I’m scheduled for the bridge climb at 2:15.”

The woman looked at her computer screen for a moment and then stated, “Oh, yes, Jamie.  I see your reservation right here.  First, I need you to read and respond to this statement.”

The woman handed me a small laminated paper and I quickly read that I was to report any health problems I was currently experiencing.  Hhhmmm…

The card read, “Do you currently have…” which was followed by a double list of health problems.  I read through the conditions quickly and then handed the paper back to the woman.

“I don’t see clumsiness listed here, so I guess I’m okay,” I told her.

The woman looked at me for a moment and then gleefully laughed out loud.

She thought I was joking.

Then the clerk handed me a ticket and told me to enjoy my climb.  As instructed, I turned to the right and pulled myself up the stairs to wait with several other people for the 2:15 pm climb.

Then, right at the appointed moment, there was a sudden flurry of activity.  The climbers were asked to fill out health forms, permission slips, and emergency contact information sheets.  We watched a video on bridge safety and were given breathalyzers.  We were issued jumpsuits to pull on over our clothing and ushered into changing rooms.  We placed our personal items in lockers and walked through a metal detector.  Our tour guide, Leah, got us all situated in our security belts and cables.  She then placed radios, earphones, cables, hats, and jackets on our bodies.  Leah gave us final instructions and guided us up and down the stimulation ladders to practice safety climbing.

And somewhere, within all of this activity, my right hip and leg stopped throbbing.  My right wrist could easily rotate.  My feet no longer hurt.  Somewhere in the excitement of the moment, the adventure had grown bigger than the pain.

Then, with Leah enthusiastically guiding us, my team of eight tourists were walking through the tunnel that lead from the building to the bridge itself.  With that first step out onto the steel beams of the bridge, my heart began to exhilarate.  But it was a fast beating that pumped not just blood but life and energy to all areas of my body and spirit.

I followed immediately behind Leah when the other members in our group suggested I go first.  How did that happen!?  It wasn’t like I asked to be in that position!  But now, I was thrilled to be the first in my group to find myself on the bridge as I listened to Leah describe the history and construction of the structure.  Leah was incredibly knowledgeable about the bridge and I was thrilled to hear her stories.  Listen to the guide’s information, I eagerly followed along behind her wanting more of everything.  More information, more knowledge, more steps, more adventure, more thrill, more life.  We climbed a series of metal staircases and ladders.  And then we were stepping onto the arch of the bridge.  Even with the wind whipping viciously around us as we climbed, I didn’t feel any fear.  I usually experience anxiety in different situations.  Panic attacks run in my family, especially among the females.

But here, right now, as I climbed, I not only let go of pain, but of fear, too.  Though I was tethered to the bridge by a hook connected to a steel cable, I had never felt so free.

And then, there I was at the summit.  I stood beside the Australian flag and knew I had found my “happy place.”  I was in heaven 445 feet up above Sydney, Australia.  I stood there at the summit as the wind pushed against my body, rocking me furiously back and forth.  I stood there looking down 360 degrees around beautiful Sydney.  I stared down at the harbor, down at the city, down at the Sydney Opera House, down at the highway, down at the cars and trains that rumbled below us on the very bridge where we stood up in the sky.  This had to be heaven because there was no pain, no fear, no anxiety, no depression, no worries…all of those things that hold me back while I am on earth.

And I realized then that that is the heart of Australia, the heart of Sydney, the heart of all people, the heart of the earth…and maybe, just maybe, the very heart of me.

We bleed, we hurt, we cry…

And then we brush off the dust and the dirt and the tears…

And we climb 445 feet up a damn bridge!    I climbed it!

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.