Category Archives: challenges

Help Is On the Way!

“Friskie!  Cowboy!  Starburst!”  I hollered as I stood at the back door.  “Come on, dogs.  Let’s go!”

Friskie and Cowboy responded immediately.  Both dogs came running quickly across the backyard.  I laughed as I watched their small bodies leaping and gliding across the grass.  After running around in circles a few more times as they chased after each other, the Dachshund and the mutt bounded up the five wooden steps and into the dining room through the open back door.  I laughed as I pulled my legs out of the way so I wouldn’t block their progress.

All right, now where is Starburst?  I wondered as I looked around the backyard.  “Starburst!”  I hollered.  “Come on, girl.  I gotta leave for class.  Get yourself in this house.  Come on.”  I don’t know why I always try to reason with the dogs.  Somewhere in my muddled brain, I knew Starburst couldn’t understand what I was saying, but I didn’t care.  I still tend to talk to our three dogs as if they are rowdy, little kids.  And I was desperate now that they understand me.  I had to get all the dogs inside because I needed to be at the community college in just a few minutes.  The dogs were never left outside when there was no one home.

“Star!  Starry!  Starbutt!”  I ran through all of our little Shih Tzu’s known nicknames, but there was still no response.  I took a deep breath and fought back a flood of emotions.  First, I felt frustrated.  “Come on, girl!  I need to get going!”  When there was still no response, I began to get a little nervous.  God, what if the dog got out of the fenced backyard somehow?  Did someone leave the gate open?  What if someone took the dog out of our backyard?  Do people actually dognap?  Okay, maybe that is a little extreme, but I couldn’t stand the thought of something happening to our adorable, blond and brown, furry pet.

Taking a deep breath, I started to step away from the back door.  “Star!”  And suddenly, there she was!  I laughed as I watched the small dog running towards the house from the far back fence.  She was racing across the back yard with her long fur flying back, and her little tongue lolling out of her mouth.  “Come on, girl!”  I cheered her on.

But then, to my surprise, Starburst suddenly came to a complete stop.  “It’s okay, Star, get in the house,” I shouted.  But she wasn’t moving.  Star had been running excitedly towards the house but had come to a screeching halt when she suddenly found a branch from our large oak tree lying on the ground and blocking her way to the door.  She stood quietly still for just a moment as she stared helplessly at the branch.  “You can do it,” I told her as I remained by the back door.  “Come on, girl, just jump over it.”

But Star just stood there as she contemplated the obstacle that had appeared in her path.  Slowly, she stuck out one of her long, thin paws and pushed at the branch.  She swatted cautiously at a few of the spindly twigs that were sticking crookedly up from the long piece of wood.  As the branch rocked away and then rolled back towards Star again, the dog jumped and barked at the attacking limb.  I started to laugh, before saying, “Jump over it, Star.”  But the little dog hesitated at she swatted again at the branch.

“Then go around it,” I tried to tell her.  “Star, if you can’t jump over the branch, you can walk around it.  It’s not that big.”  There it was again.  I was trying to reason with an animal who couldn’t possibly even contemplate my thoughts.  But still, that didn’t stop the words tumbling out of my mouth.  “Come on, Star, just go around it.”

I watched as Starburst walked towards the branch and then jumped back.  Her little body leaped forward again as she barked at the unyielding limb.  Then she jumped back, pranced around on her long legs, and took a hesitant leap forward.  However, her movement was so awkward, she still landed on the wrong side of the branch.  Starburst still found her passage to the house blocked.  She reached out her paw one last time, pushed at the branch and then did something that I had to admit I had done on several occasions.

She just finally gave up.

Instead of fighting against the branch any longer, she just took a deep breath and then keeled over onto her right side.  She just lay there, motionless and helpless, against the branch.

“Star, oh my gosh, girl,” I sighed as I now left the doorway.  I walked across the yard, stepped over the branch and stood over the prone Shih Tzu.  I reached down and picked up the dog’s furry little body.  I placed her four paws on the ground and then said, “Like this Star.”  Then I raised her up high enough to jump over the branch and placed her on the other side.  As soon as her little feet hit the ground, Star was off and running again as if nothing had happened.  She ran towards the house with her little rear swishing back and forth and her tail wagging proudly.  As I followed the dog towards the house and stepped inside, I suddenly had a moment’s realization.  I couldn’t stop remembering the times when I had given up just because some small obstacle had suddenly blocked my path.  Yes, I would reach out occasionally and try to push the obstacle out of my way.  I would just bat at the problem a few times before finally giving up in tears and frustration.  How many times have I thrown myself down on the ground just like Starburst did?

But now, I also realized that there was one difference between Starburst and me.  The dog had gratefully and gladly accepted my help.  She didn’t resist the assistance I had given her and then once the situation was corrected she had just merrily continued on her way.

Oh, my gosh, how many times have I resisted help from other people out of a silly sense of pride?  How many times has my ego made me respond, “Oh, I’m fine, that’s okay, thanks” whenever someone had offered to help me move the obstacles away?  And how many times, when someone did help me, did I refuse to show sincere gratitude because I thought accepting help was a sign of weakness.  I refused help so I would not have to feel obligate to anyone without realizing that allowing others to help is a gift we give to each other.  It is a chance to feel needed and connected to another soul.

Now, I walked into the house and looked at all three dogs already cuddled together in their large bed as they slept peacefully.  Yeah, I suddenly realized I didn’t need to be strong all the time.  I could be vulnerable.  I could accept help.  I could be sincerely appreciative.

I leaned down and carefully ran my hand over the dogs as I patted each one in turn.  Such great lessons I have learned from animals…and ones I will never forget.

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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!

Katie

Katie had the biggest eyes I had ever seen.  But maybe that was because the world was still so fresh and new to her.  She was only 18 when she left her family home for the first time to attend the University of Hull in Kingston-Upon-Hull, England.  Her love and compassion were so great, she still felt connected to her family and fiancé even though they were now a hundred miles away.  Katie didn’t seem stressed by the change in her life, though.  Instead, she seemed endlessly excited to face every new challenge with a bright smile and a determined fearlessness normally inherent in most young people.

Though she was embracing a new life with strength and determination, Katie was still not ready to give up some of her young girl ways.  She moved into her student house with a suitcase full of clothes, books, and a menagerie of cuddly friends.  A trunkload of furry, stuffed animals lived underneath a large array of photos of family and friends that were tacked up in random order on her yellow bedroom wall.  The glassy-eyed bunnies, dogs, and ducks sat on her narrow hard bed all year and sometimes Katie would tuck them snugly under her heavy quilt before leaving for classes in the morning.  Her long dark hair would be wrapped up in a high bun or bouncing in curls down her back as she ran for the bus or walked in the cool English wind to campus.  Katie was studying fashion and set design for the theater.  She loved going to the cinema and enjoyed live theater.  She was a talented actress who loved music and had no fear of a dance floor.

I thought I knew Katie very well.  We were roommates at the University of Hull.  I was the exchange student from America.  I was the older, weird foreigner that Katie randomly got stuck with during her first year.  Katie, however, didn’t seem to mind.  She embraced me as a member of her family.  I was her older, gypsy sister from the very first day we meet.  I remember Katie’s excitement in meeting her “first, real live American!”  I remember the warmth and kindness she extended to me the night it was my turn to cook the student meal for my house and I burnt the food so badly we all went to bed hungry that night.  Katie had wrapped her arms around me and hugged me close as I cried from embarrassment, shame, and guilt for starving everyone.  Though Katie and I would go shopping and to the cinema together, though we would relax together over endless cups of tea, though we would lie in our separate beds, together in the dark, talking into the night, there were times when Katie would be the bratty kid sister to my worldly older sibling mindset.  At times, I would push her away while demanding my space.  I would become annoyed when she would read my newspaper directly over my right shoulder.  I would complain when she opened my mail before I got home or wanted to hang out with my dates and me.  I cringed when she went through my luggage and criticized my fashion sense or lack thereof.

Katie always seemed to understand, though, when I became frustrated.  She would slowly and sorrowfully back away from me.  But  then like most younger sisters, she would be right by my side again the next morning; she would once more laugh, play, and lift me up whenever I felt like I was falling down.  For that year, we were family, at times close and loving; at others annoyed and upset with each other.  But sisters all the same.

A year later, Katie and I hugged good-bye as we shared whispered promises to stay in touch and write often.  Katie would be continuing her studies at the University of Hull, while I returned to the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, America.

But the years sped so quickly by and life got in the way, and Katie and I started to travel in separate directions.  Over the years, we lost touch, which is something I continue to regret.

I thought of Katie over the years and wondered if she married her fiancé and what kind of wedding they had.  I wondered how many children Katie raised or if she had decided to dedicate her life to the arts.  Knowing Katie’s exuberant personality, she probably was superwoman, putting tremendous effort into motherhood and career and was exceptional at both.

Now, after many months of escaping from my thoughts, Katie’s sweet smile, big eyes, long hair, and enthusiastic personality have been on mind since Monday, May 22, 2017.  Around 4 pm that day, I learned that there had once more been a suicide bomber who killed himself along with 22 innocent young people.  Over 100 people were injured and fifty-nine of those people were in the hospital.  The bombing occurred directly after an Arianna Grande concert in Manchester, England.

Katie and her family lived in Manchester, England.

I don’t know yet if Katie and her family are safe.  I don’t know if she was even at the concert.  I wish now more than ever that I had never lost contact with her.

I am older now and so much wiser and I’m beginning to realize a few things.  Over the years, I have regretted the things that I didn’t do more than the things I did.  But I mainly regret the moments when I could have loved another person or maintained a friendship, but didn’t make the effort.  Regretting people is so much harder than regretting events.  Do you ever get the opportunity to say I love you again?  I can change events.  I can alter the course of my life.  But I can’t always go back and rewrite relationships especially when I don’t even know where to find that particular person again.

It’s been hard to hear about the terrorist attacks over the last few years.  Europe (France, Belgium, London) holds incredibly special memories for me, and I suffer horrible heartaches when all of the beautiful places I have loved so much have been destroyed.  But this time, I intimately know someone whose hometown was attacked by terrorism and my heart has been completely broken.

I think about Katie now and pray that she and her family are safe.  And I really pray that it is not too late to say something so incredibly simply.

I’m so grateful, Katie, that you were my special, sweet roommate for my year in England.  Thank you.

I miss you, Katie.

I love you.

Prayers for Manchester

No Angel

For the last 25 years, I have celebrated a minimalist Christmas.  I don’t set up a Christmas tree.  I don’t put out any decorations.  I buy a few presents, but don’t expect any in return.  I don’t watch any Christmas specials.  I don’t set up my native scene.  My small plaster figurines of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the angels are safely wrapped up and tucked away in storage.  I usually spend every Christmas alone.

I wasn’t raised this way.  My mother loved Christmas.  It was one of the few holidays she continued to celebrate even after her children were grown.  Mom always decorated a Christmas tree using ornaments she had collected throughout the years.  Most of the decorations consisted of cotton ball snowmen, clothes pin reindeers, and clay handprints Mom’s children made in elementary school.  Mom always loved these awkward, lopsided, misshapen ornaments the most.  Every year, Mom also set up a native scene, though she always had to stop my sisters and me from playing with the Jesus figure as if he was our very own baby doll.  She would put vines of holly around every door and trays of candy on every table.  Mom always said that Christmas is a time for miracles.  That idea is the only tradition of Christmas that I carry with me from my childhood.

While so many people celebrate the holiday with the traditional tinsel and glimmer, Christmas for me is always a time of quiet reflection.  I always spend Christmas day in prayer, meditation, contemplation, and silent worship of Christ.  I want this one special day to be 100% God-focused.  I don’t want presents, or trees, or wreaths to distract me from my communion with Christ.  Even though I celebrate a modest holiday, it is continually filled with peace and elation.  The feeling is so blissful, I always pledge every Christmas that I will make this joy last all year long.  I’m always determined that I will continue to hold Jesus in my soul.  I want to get to know Christ more; I want to carry him within my heart and not let minor things of this world bother me and cause me to lose my focus.  I want to maintain Christmas joy for the rest of the year.

Unfortunately, this year, I didn’t even make it a week….

Christmas was on Sunday, December 25th, of course.  For the next few days, I was happy, and peaceful.  I felt grateful and blessed.  All my good intentions, however, crashed down around me by Thursday, December 29.  Yes, Thursday…just four days later!

That morning, I woke up at 2:30 to get to work by 4.  I started the day off well.  I said my daily prayers before I walked out the door.  The drive to work in the morning darkness was enchanting and thought-provoking.  I thought about life and God and everything in the universe.  Twice that morning, on two separate occasions, two of my co-workers talked about God with me.  To my surprise, they just randomly began to discuss God’s graciousness, his goodness, and his love for all of his children.  Their conversation made me smile.  Their words just enhanced the bliss I was already feeling.

A little later that morning, the computer I was using suddenly froze.  I tried everything I could think of to get the computer running again.  I turned it off and on; I punched control-alt-delete several times.  All the quick fixes I could think of failed me.  The computer remained frozen on a bright blue background with the computer logo flashing across the screen.  I told myself not to panic.  I took a deep breath and remembered that Archangel Michael was the angel to call on to fix appliances.  So I placed both of my hands on the monitor and started to pray:’

“Archangel Michael, please help me.  I have a lot of work I need to complete and the computer won’t work.  I need your help to fix my computer so I can finish my assignments.”

Suddenly, I heard a beep and saw a flash out of the corner of my eye.  In the midst of my prayer, the computer came flickering back to life.  I thanked Archangel Michael for us assistance and was able to get all of my work done on time.

So, the day was going well with many opportunities to remain God-focused even during my hectic working day.

So why did I suddenly lose my faith that afternoon?

I had been working hard.  I had multiple assignments and was doing my best to complete additional jobs for a few people who had called in sick.  I thought I had followed all assignments correctly.  I thought I was doing very well and remained in a state of grace…for a while…

Only when I believed I was being unfairly criticized by my supervisor for a miscommunication did my faith and my peace desert me.  When I felt unnecessarily attacked in front of my peers, my focus suddenly shifted away from God.  I had given into my ego.  I had given into my fears.  Why didn’t I just continue to trust in God and know that this moment would pass, too?  Why didn’t I remind myself that God still loved me and he would not forsake me even when I felt humiliated and disrespected?  Instead of just nodding my head and correcting the situation, I argued back that the directions I had been given were not clear.  I demonstrated to my supervisor that I had done the work according to her plan.  I continued defending myself by reminding her that I had checked in an hour ago to explain what I was doing with the assignment and my supervisor had told me I was correct.

But as I argued my point, I didn’t feel vindicated or victorious.  I felt horrified, sad, and embarrassed by my behavior.  I was ashamed of myself for not just letting the perceived injustice go.  I responded to the stress of the moment with more stress.  I responded to negativity with negativity.  I made a bad situation worse.

For just that moment that Thursday afternoon after Christmas, I had slipped away from God.  I remind myself that I am only human; I am by no means an angel.  I am here on earth now to learn and to grow and to change and to better my soul the same way I must do in every lifetime.  I just have to accept that there will be times when I will fall from grace, and I must keep the faith that God is still there for me even in those moments.  I have to remember that God will always be by my side even when I am far from perfect.

I still feel angry with myself now that, for a brief moment, I lost sight of what was really important in this world.  Now, I search for God once more.  I open my heart and my soul again to accept Lord Jesus Christ.  And I must remember even when I have my bad moments, I am still one of God’s children.  I am one of his lesser angels…and he still loves me all the same…He will guide me to heaven even in those moments when I do not think I am worth the effort.  He has come to save my soul from my own ego and insecurities….

In Christ, I am continually reborn….

And maybe, just maybe, that is the true meaning of Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vibrant Red

It all started with a very simple comment.  A co-work looked at me the other day and asked, “When are you going to dye your hair again?”

I was a little surprised by her question.  It was true that I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to my hair lately.  Life has been so busy that I really hadn’t given a lot of thought to my style or color.  Over the last several weeks, I have just been washing my hair in the evenings and then giving it a few quick strokes with a brush before rushing off to work in the morning.  I don’t fuss with my hair for the rest of the day.  This is fine for me.  I have never been an “every hair in place” kind of girl.  I like my hair wild.  I admit though that sometimes it looks a little too wild, a little too untamed.  I don’t think I’m lazy.  I just have more important concerns than the color or cut of my hair.

Yet, I felt myself cringe a little as I looked at my coworker.  Her hair is always creatively styled and her makeup always looks professionally applied.

I hesitated for just a moment before answering her question.  Unfortunately, my reply wasn’t very motivating.  “I don’t know,” I answered.  “I’ll take care of it when I have more time.”

“Well, it doesn’t look bad right now,” she assured me, “but your color is kind of faded.  Your hair is the color of a peach.  I always picture you as a vibrant redhead.”

Her words made me smile. A vibrant redhead.  I had experimented with that color in the past.  I loved it, even though, I reluctantly admit, that years ago, it also made me very uncomfortable.

When I was born, I was completely bald; there was not a single strand of hair on my smooth, tiny head.  As I grew into a toddler, I had just a few wisps of pale blond hair.  My mother always loved to tell the story that when I was three years old, she had pulled the few strands of my hair up to the top of my head and secured them there with a small plastic barrette.  While we were at the grocery store, a man kept staring at me before walking over to the basket I was sitting in and looking down at the top of my head.  “Oh, she does have hair,” the man said to my mother then.  “I thought you had just stuck that clip straight down into the top of that poor baby’s head.”  Mom always thought that was adorable.  The story though haunted and embarrassed me for most of my life until I finally learned to laugh at myself.

But awkward comments were to be expected.  My childhood hair was always very fine and pure platinum blond.  I was very different from my both sisters who had thick hair.  My oldest sister was a dark brunette, while my other sister was a redhead.  We looked like a rainbow when we stood side by side.  The full light spectrum was always reflected off our hair whenever we were together.  I was the lightest, the palest everywhere we went; I was the one who always seemed to fade into the background.  Being a very shy child, I didn’t mind.  I rather liked it that way.

As I grew older, my hair darkened, until one day, when I was about 15, a neighborhood fried commented to me, “You’re going red!  Oh my gosh, you have red hair now!”

I was horrified!  I didn’t want to have red hair!  Red hair was so rare where I was growing up that my sister was continually teased about her coloring.  She was always noticed and the center of attention at any gathering.  I didn’t want that.  I wanted to stay pale and blonde and wallflower-y alone.  But I couldn’t fight it at the time.  Against my will, my platinum blond coloring continued to darken to auburn.

After a few years, as I slowly gained more confidence, I grew into my hair and I was proud of the color.  I wasn’t vain about my appearance.  There was still too much about my body that I hated.  I wasn’t thin; my long feet turned out awkwardly.  But I started to appreciate my red hair color which made me look much different from other people….in a good way.  I liked the idea that my hair was uniquely my own.

My hair wouldn’t stop changing color, though.  It went from a pale blond to a light red to a dark red until gentle gray strands began to shoot out all over my head.  I started to get gray hair at an early age.  I was only 26 when the first few gray strands appeared.  I must have inherited this trait from my maternal grandmother.  Grandma Edie was completely gray by the time she was 27.

Okay, I may have slowly learned to enjoy my red hair but I wasn’t so appreciative of the gray, even if it was premature.  It just made me feel old and I cried every time I was asked at a fast food restaurant if I wanted the senior discount.

It was time to dye my hair.

At first, I decided to relive my childhood and dyed my hair platinum blond like Marilyn Monroe.  But I’m not Marilyn and the color just once more made me look pale and washed out.  My life had changed; I had changed, and I was no longer accepting the wallflower position.  Red is the color of my soul.  But just like figuring out the dosage of prescription drugs, it took several experiments with different products, mixtures, and timing to get the right tint of red that made me feel the most comfortable.  Some reds were just too brassy for me; others made me look like a large carrot; a few dyes turned me into a pumpkin head.  I even tried burgundy once and really liked it until I realized it had faded to pink.  Yes, that’s right, I walked around with pink hair for several weeks before I finally took the time to dye it again.

Several shades later, I finally found the hue I liked the best and thought was the most flattering for my features.  I loved being strawberry blond.  It wasn’t too dark for me and the red shined brightly out in the sun.

This was the shade I had been using when my coworker made her comment to me.  The problem wasn’t with the dye but with the fact that I just hadn’t taken the time to touch it up again.  My gray roots were beginning to show, but I still didn’t really care.  It was true, though.  I was a peach with rotting, gray areas.  I decided to freshen myself up and started shopping through hair dyes that afternoon.  I reached for the box containing my usual strawberry blond formula but then stopped.  A vibrant red?  I had tried that before and many people made comments that my hair was a spark, a fire, a beacon, a siren.  But…vibrant red…Yeah!  That’s me!  Feeling adventurous and frivolous, I bought the red dye and hurried home before I could change my mind.

That afternoon, I mixed up the color and quickly applied it to my hair.  I wasn’t very careful with it.  I wanted to hurry up with the processes.  I’m not girly-girl enough to spend a lot of time on my hair.  I really didn’t want to mess with it.  I put the dye on and waited half an hour before rinsing it off.  I wrapped a towel around my head and squeezed out any additional water.  I took off the towel and didn’t really pay much attention to the color.  My hair is usually dark when it’s wet…no big deal.  I was sure it would be much lighter once it was dry.

Um…wrong!

About an hour later, I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror.  “Oh, my God, what have I done!?”  My hair was certainly vibrant red, the color of blood, Midwest harvest summer sunsets, cherries, Mars, and measles.  I was horrified…it was horrible.

Too make the situation worse, my sister-in-law, Mary, was very nice as she complimented me on the new hair color…but then kindly pointed out there was a big problem.  Because I had been in such a hurry to complete the process, I hadn’t realized that I had missed applying the mixture to a large chunk of hair in the back of my head.  Peachy strands stuck noticeable out through the red.  I was shocked as I stood with my back to the bathroom mirror holding up a hand mirror in order to stare at the back of my head.  But there was nothing I could do about it now.  I didn’t have any of dye left.  And besides, it was late.  I needed to get some sleep for work the next day.  I went to bed knowing I had no way to fix the situation.  I spent most of the night telling myself all kinds of things: My color doesn’t matter.  I am not my hair.  I cannot be defined by the way I look.  Who cares what other people think or say?  Other peoples’ opinions shouldn’t matter to me.  It’s only hair, just dead protein.  I can change it again.  I could cut it all off and it would grow back again.  No big deal.

But it was no use.  I have to admit that I, who never really fussed over my hair, felt stupid and ugly.  Maybe I was upset because this was absolute proof to me that I am completely klutzy with hair and make-up.  I would never be beautiful.  I can handle that actually.  I know I am a good person.  But I didn’t know if I was ready to face the awkward comments from people concerning the way I looked.  I didn’t know how to respond.  I didn’t know what excuse I could give.  What was I going to do?

The next morning, I walked into work with the collar of my coat pulled up over the back of my head.  I ran down the back hallway to my locker and yanked it open.  I suddenly sighed with relief as I discovered the answer to my dilemma.  I had forgotten that yesterday my supervisor had handed out Santa hats to everyone.  I never liked wearing the hats which usually were too big for me and put a lot of static into my fine hair.  But now, I grabbed the hat and plucked it down onto my head.  The peachy patch in the back of my head was now covered.  I couldn’t tuck all of my hair underneath the hat so I allowed bright red strands to hang around my face and shoulders.

But then, something really unusual happened.  It was so strange, I still don’t quite understand it.  Almost everyone who saw me that day complimented me on the way I look.  I heard endless comments of “Wow!  Love the hair!”  “  That’s a great red!”  “  What a beautiful shade!”

Now, of course, I didn’t let anyone see the peach patch in the back of my head, which could have easily changed everyone’s opinion.  I also admit that I wasn’t very gracious about the compliments.  I was so taken by surprise by everyone’s comments that I responded by saying, “Th…Thank you…?  I really don’t like it myself.”  Or I said, “Thanks…I’m trying to get used to it myself.” Why did I respond that way?  Why couldn’t I have just said “Thank you” and walked away?  But never feeling very secure with my looks, I felt so ugly and unsure of myself that compliments were hard to accept. I felt the need to apologize for who I was and what I had done.  I had to keep insisting to everyone that I was unattractive.

That evening I bought more hair dye and corrected the error I had made the day before when I colored all but the back of my head.

Now, my hair was completely vibrantly red…and I smiled as I looked at it.  It suddenly felt so right!  Yeah, maybe it was attractive.  Yeah, maybe I did look good.  As I brushed out my hair, I had thought about the compliments I had received that day.  I realized then that opinions didn’t matter.  No one’s thoughts about another person were important.  And hair is such a trivial matter.  But what I responded to now was everyone’s kindness when I was feeling so low and unsure of myself.  I smiled as I thought of everyone’s loving, positive reactions when I was feeling so ugly.  That’s all that really seemed to matter.

So now my hair remains a bright red.  I always loved red but was always worried about people laughing at me or teasing me.  I realized now that the reason I wasn’t comfortable with Mars red was because I was afraid of other people’s opinions.  Even now, there are strangers who walk by me and groan, “God, that’s BRIGHT red!”  Or they call me “beacon.”  But it doesn’t matter now, because I feel good.  It’s funny how I love bright red hair when I love myself.  I need to trust myself and know what I like and not worry about other people’s thoughts.  Hair doesn’t define the person I am inside.  I know who I am so what matters what happens to my body?  I know what my flaws are…I know where my scars are…but it’s strange how they don’t matter if I don’t focus on them.  I am very happy with my hair if I don’t give it too much attention.

I’ll keep my hair red for now.  It is uniquely and personally me.  It defines who I am and is part of my journey.  Maybe someday, I’ll change it again but right now I feel happy.  Besides, I am not my hair…I could dye it purple if that’s the way I feel.

Um….someday…

I smile as I think now of my coworker.  She was right…

I am a vibrant red!

Compassion

I needed a break.  I felt absolutely exhausted today.  Though I have been working hard all week, I didn’t feel physically tired.  No, I was instead emotionally stressed and overwhelmed.  The events of the past 72 hours have been difficult for everyone.  Because of the fallout from the election of November 8, 2016, I just felt the need to escape from all of the hatred and anger, the chaos and noise, the endless arguments and rhetoric.  Though I had kept myself personally out of the fray, the constant barrage of angry Facebook posts, disturbing news images, and self-righteous online articles has proven somewhat upsetting to my inner sense of peace and balance.  I wanted to be alone; I wanted to place my feet up and escape into a good book.  I decided to spend an hour or two this afternoon just relaxing in a fast food restaurant with a cup of tea and my own peaceful thoughts.  I had the foolish notion that I would be hidden and safe here away from all the turmoil of the outside world.  I was wrong.

I had had just a few minutes of peace before my attention was suddenly captured by an older man who walked directly in front of me.  I watched as the man slowly moved over to a table in the middle of the room.  The short, heavy-set man was dressed in gray slacks and a yellow plaid shirt.  Upon his gray, balding head were thick, wire-framed glasses, and a halo.  Though I have never had to wear one of these contraptions myself, I am familiar with halos.  I have had several friends who have had to use them.  Basically, a halo is a medical device designed to hold a patient’s head straight after a neck or spine injury.  It is constructed of short, steel rods that rise up from the patient’s shoulders and connect to a round piece of metal that surrounds the head.  The halo is secured in place by several small screws that are placed through the metal and directly into the patient’s skull.  The apparatus is lightweight but can be a little awkward for some patients who struggle with balance and stability.

I smiled at the man and said a silent prayer for him as he carefully sat down on a tall, brown stool next to a high, white table.  Though I found the man fascinating, I didn’t want to stare at him, of course, so I turned my attention back to my book.  After a moment, though, I looked up again when I heard him holler out, “Ketchup.  I want ketchup for my fries.”  His comment made me smile because he sounded just like a little boy.  I don’t know if it was his demeanor, his tone, or his words that made him sound so young.  I just grinned, though, as the man jumped up and down in his seat for a moment in happy anticipation of his meal.

A few minutes later, a thin, middle-aged woman with dark, shoulder-length hair and black-framed glasses walked over and sat down across from the man in the halo.  She placed a tray of food down on the table between them and the two began to eat their meal.

I returned to reading my book and enjoying my peace of mind when all of a sudden I heard the woman yell.  “Goddamn it!”  I looked up in surprise at the sound of the woman’s deep, strained voice as she pushed the angry words out through gritted teeth.  “Goddamn it!  Watch what you’re doing!”  The woman then sighed heavily as she threw the food she was holding down on the table.  “Look at you!  You have ketchup all over yourself now.”  The woman shouted as she got up from her seat and walked around the table.  She grabbed a napkin and started swiping at the man’s shirt.  “Goddamn it!” she snarled again.  “Look at this mess!”

I was horrified by her words and actions as she furiously swiped at the man’s sticky, stained shirt with the tattered, paper napkin.  I had no idea what the relationship was between the man and woman, but that didn’t matter.  I didn’t care if they were father and daughter or husband and wife.  What mattered was the way they related to each other and I was shocked as I heard the woman talk to the man as if he was a ten-year-old child.  How could she treat another human being like that, especially a person who was already dealing with a medical condition?  This woman actually had some nerve to…

And then suddenly she turned around and looked at me…

And I was surprised to see in her dark eyes a reflection of pain and heartache.

Our eyes met for just the briefest of moments before she looked away.  She quickly walked back over to her chair and sat down.  She looked at me one last time and I surprised myself by smiling at her.  She stared at me for a moment as an agonized look clouded her face before she looked away.  Though I hadn’t been happy with the way she had treated the man in the halo, when I looked into the woman’s eyes, I suddenly understood.

This wasn’t an evil woman.  This wasn’t a cruel woman.  This was a woman who must have been struggling to take care of this man for a very long time.  Oh, my God, she must be so tired!  Her stress and exhaustion must be completely overwhelming her.

And haven’t we all been guilty of doing the very same thing?  Haven’t we all screamed and yelled and cursed and been sarcastic and impatient and hateful when we have been tired or hungry or overwhelmed?  What possible right did I have to hate or criticize this woman when I have behaved the very same way at times myself?

If I witnessed the man being horribly abused, I would have definitely intervened.  But what I had witnessed was a kind woman caring for a sickly man and having a momentary loss of composure.  I don’t know this woman; I don’t know the situation.  But I do know I saw hurt, and pain, and exhaustion within the woman’s dark eyes during her sudden outburst.  A singular moment of being human, a flash of angry emotion, could not erase all of the time and effort and sacrifices she must be making on a daily basis for another human being.

Hoping I hadn’t embarrassed the woman, I turned my attention back to my book but I couldn’t focus on the words that were floating around on the page.  Instead, I prayed, “Dear God, thank you so much for letting me be compassionate in this moment.  Thank you for allowing me to understand this situation instead of being disrespectful and jumping to awful conclusions about this woman’s life and intentions.  Please let this man heal and please give this woman the strength and courage to take care of her family and help this man’s medical needs with a kind heart.”

As I finished my prayers, the couple stood up from their table and threw away their trash.  Slowly, they made their way to the exit door.  As the woman pushed and held the door open for the man, she looked back at me one more time.  I smiled at her and she smiled back at me with a shake of her head before stepping outside and letting the door close softly behind her.

I wanted to go back to my book then but I couldn’t focus.  Instead, I just sat my book aside and thought about the times I had misjudged and been unnecessarily critical of someone else’s life.  It is really true: you never really know what another person has been through.  You never really know the path another person is forced to walk and the cross he or she must carry.

And maybe even with all of the turmoil from the election, we can learn to really see each other, to understand what another soul may be suffering.  Maybe the only think that can make a difference now, while facing an unsure future, is how we treat each other, how we can show understanding, support, and love to each other.  Maybe in our own way we can learn to show compassion in such hard times.  It starts with us.  We have to make the difference.  It starts with our own understanding and ends with unconditional love.  It’s the only way we can maintain our humanity amidst such incredible chaos.

Alaska

Yugen

  1. Important concept in traditional Japanese aesthetics. “Dim,” “Deep,” or “Mysterious”
  2. Awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses too deep and mysterious for words.

In 1996, Jon Krakauer, the author of Into Thin Air, published an amazing, thoughtful book entitled Into the Wild.  This book tells the true story of Christopher Johnson McCandless who, after graduating from college, spurned his former affluent life and the bright, comfortable future ahead of him.  Motivated by books he read by Jack London and John Muir, McCandless dedicated himself to a personal vision quest that began in the western and southwestern regions of America.  Changing his name to Alexander Supertramp, McCandless gave his savings of  $25,000 to charity, abandoned all his possessions, left his car in the Mojave Desert, and burned all of his cash to ensure that nothing would hold him back from his journey.  Looking for his own personal paradise on this earth, McCandless even threw away all of his maps and traveled only by his intuition.  In April 1992, McCandless hitchhiked into Alaska and walked into the vast cold wilderness north of Mount McKinley.  For a while, McCandless found shelter in an abandoned old school bus.  Four months later, however, his body was found by a moose hunter.

No one knows what ultimately motivated McCandless’s careless journey.  Questions still remain about a young man’s need to walk away from a rich and promising future to live homeless and starving  in the barren wildness of Alaska.  Some people claim that McCandless had a death wish and a need for self-destruction.    Others just dismiss McCandless’s actions as foolish and innocently reckless.

Well, I guess I am foolish and reckless too….

I don’t claim to know what was in McCandless’s head or why he choose his particular lifestyle, but there is a core element inside of me that feels so connected to his story.  In response to Krakauer’s consistent questions in the book about McCandless’s journey, I think I understand.

There are so many of us on this earth who don’t always feel that we belong in a world that overwhelms us with violent, materialistic, opportunistic situations.  Some of us who struggle to cope, do not medicate ourselves from the stress with alcohol, food, cigarettes, sex, gambling, or prescription drugs, but we do experience a deep and compelling lust all the same.  Wanderlust and the need to move, to travel, to create a universe of our own existence is a hunger that is rarely satisfied.

Restless, never able to settle down, I constantly look for opportunities to escape my existence.  I have no intention of doing this through self-harm.  I just have a relentless need to be lost.  When I travel, I rarely call or text anyone.  I love driving alone down deserted highways  without a single person knowing where I am in that exact moment.  I enjoy the solitude, the drifting away from my reality.  This has been my lifestyle for the last thirty years.

In July, 2016, I finally had the opportunity to realize a lifelong dream.  I spent time this summer exploring Alaska.  This was an amazing turning point for me.  I had made a vow to myself that I would drive through every state in America.  Alaska was the last state I needed to visit in order to satisfy this goal.  However, I refused to celebrate this accomplishment.  I didn’t post notices about it on Facebook.  I didn’t write blogs about my experience.  I just didn’t feel the need.

While I was in Alaska, I felt inspired to go completely off the grid.  I wanted desperately to be lost.  I wanted to cut off all communication to my former life.  I didn’t call or text anyone.  I only posted a few pictures on Facebook when I felt overwhelmed by the incredible scenery of glaciers, waterfalls, mountains, and animals.  But I only posted about 20 of the 350 photos I took.  I haven’t posted any more pictures or information about Alaska since I returned to Kansas.  There is a deep part of me that just needs to keep it quiet and hidden.  To experience so much of God’s amazing wilderness was so profound and awe-inspiring there was no way of putting it into words.  Even the beautiful pictures I have seem bleak when compared to the Alaskan landscape itself.  To this day, two months later, I have no desire to tell people about all of the amazing things that happened to me in Alaska.

However…

I think constantly of running away again to the “last frontier.”  I want to hide in her vast beauty and get lost in her majestic environment.  I want to run with her wilderness and dissolve into her endless splendor.

My life’s purpose was  redefined in Alaska.  I came into contact with who God intended me to be.  I was never meant to have the things of an ordinary life.  I was not meant to have a great job, or a wonderful marriage, or an incredible home.  My only life’s purpose is to grow closer to God.  To know him by his world, by the beauty that surrounds me.  I don’t have to be anything…in Alaska, I can just be…

I don’t care about success, or a home, or money.  Just knowing in my heart and soul that I can move and explore and witness God’s glory is enough for me in this lifetime.

I don’t know Christopher McCandless’s motivation for his journey.

I didn’t travel from this life as far as Christopher did.

But there are times I really wish I had followed him.