Category Archives: Gratitude

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:

 

001 (2)

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!

 

Advertisements

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…

 

 

 

 

My Perfect Roses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peace for the Living

I decided to spend last Thursday in quiet contemplation.  I wanted to take the day one minute at a time and just breathe.  I didn’t want to worry about anything; I just wanted to be introspective.  So that morning, I woke up slowly and took my time getting out of bed.  I had a leisurely breakfast that consisted of a Powerbar and a diet coke.  That certainly wasn’t an elegant or nutritious breakfast, of course, but I really didn’t care.  I was thinking much deeper thoughts.  I had to admit that I was sad, but not depressed.  I just felt an overall achiness throughout my spirit that stopped me from being energetic.  I finally got myself dressed and pushed myself to get on with my day.  I didn’t have anything on my schedule, but I needed to get out of the house for a while.  I planned just to run a few errands and then go back home.

My first stop was at Wal-mart to get my prescription filled.  After placing my order with the pharmacy technician, I took a seat on the small, iron bench by the pharmacy counter as I waited for my order to be filled.  As soon as I sat down, I suddenly heard a loud voice shouting from behind me.  “What do you mean you don’t have it!” a female voice yelled.  “No, you don’t understand.  I need Holy Basil.  Where is it?”

I tried not to pay attention, but I had nothing to distract me.  I didn’t have my book with me and I didn’t want to search for my phone at the bottom of my purse.  I told myself it was none of my business but as the woman continued screaming for the herbal supplement, I turned around for a quick glance.  My eyes focused on a short, dark haired, older woman in a large trench coat and a brown scarf which was wrapped around her head.  Her lined face was twisted into a hard scowl and her eyes blazed with anger.

Not wanting to catch her eye, I quickly turned back around in my seat.  I didn’t want to stare at the woman.  I didn’t want to listen to her but I couldn’t block out her voice as she continued to rage.  “I can’t believe you don’t have it.  You carry so many other herbal products.  Why don’t you have that one?  I know you have it somewhere.  It helps with stress.  And I have so much stress right now!”

Don’t we all, lady?  I thought rudely.  While I was getting anxious, the sales clerk answered in a calm voice.  “Ma’am, I’m sorry.  We just don’t carry that herb in stock…”

“It is called Holy Basil,” the woman repeated herself.  “It is a common herb used to manage stress.  I need it now.  I swear I just saw it here with the other vitamins and herbs last week.  I can’t believe you don’t have it now.  I know it has to be here.  Look again,” the woman ordered the clerk.

The sales clerk’s voice now began to rise in frustration as she stated, “Ma’am, I’ve already checked our stock twice.  We don’t have it.  I can try to order it for you….”

“But I needed it now,” the woman insisted.  “You just don’t get it!  I can’t handle my stress right now!  I read that Holy Basil should help.  You don’t know what my life is like.  I have my elderly parents living with me right now.  It is really stressful taking care of my mom and dad.”

I just shook my head hopelessly.  So this woman is stressed because she has her parents living with her.  God, what I won’t give to have my parents back with me again.  Both my parents had crossed over.  My father died of a brain aneurysm eighteen years ago.

And my mother…

Well, that very day was the seventh anniversary of my mother’s passing.  And here I was listening to a woman complain because she had to live with her parents.

I had been living with my mother right before she passed.  Mom had moved out to California from Kansas and lived in my studio apartment with me for the last nine months of her life.  Though small disagreements, like when was the best time to take out the trash, would flare up from time to time, we got along well and I’m very thankful now that we had those last few months together.  So now, I wanted to turn to the raging woman and say, “You don’t know how fortune you are.  You still have your parents.  Every single day, I miss just talking to my mother.”

And it is true.  No matter how successful you are, you still need your parents.  It’s hard to lose a parent no matter how old you are.  I’m fortunate that I had my parents through most of my adulthood, but that didn’t make it any easier when they passed.  Even as an adult, I felt no more prepared for their deaths than if I had been an orphaned child.

But now as I listened to the woman complain on the anniversary of my mother’s passing, I wanted to scream as I heard the woman’s voice continue in an anxious yell, “You just don’t understand.  I can’t handle the stress.”

And then the woman’s voice began to choke with tears.  “I have to take full care of my father while he is recovering from a major stroke.  He has to learn to walk again and he doesn’t talk at all.  And my mother, my mother has Alzheimer’s.  Her dementia is so bad,” the woman suddenly sobbed, “her dementia is so bad, she doesn’t even know who I am.”

Oh, my God, I sighed heavily and tears burned my eye as I listened to the woman’s sobs.  My father passed within two days of his brain aneurysm, and I only had to take care of my mother for five weeks after she had been diagnosed with colon cancer.  I was my mother’s only caregiver, and I was constantly worried and anxious.  How would I get Mom to all of her chemotherapy treatments and take care of all of her needs while working full time so I could continue to support us?  I really tried to take care of my mother to be best of my abilities…but I know that I probably angry and tired, too.  I’m surprised I hadn’t been standing in the middle of a Wal-mart somewhere screaming at the pharmacy clerk to find me something for stress.  I know that in just those five weeks that I had took care of my mother before her death, I wasn’t always patient and kind, either.

I was ashamed now that I had judged this woman so unfairly.  Her situation was none of my business in the first place, and therefore, it was beyond my judgment.  So why did I make it my problem?  Why did I take her behavior so personally?  Now, I realized it was true.  I never really know someone else’s situation or what they are suffering.  I can never really know what another person is going through.  Everyone is fighting a battle I know nothing about.

I wanted to get up from my seat and approach the woman.  I wanted to tell her how sorry I was.  But the woman was already walking away.  She had given up on finding the herb she thought she so badly needed when instead maybe she just needed someone to understand what she was going through.  I watched as the woman walked past me with her shoulders down and her head lowered.  But I didn’t approach her.  She was running past me so fast and my thought couldn’t seem to catch up with her.  So instead, I prayed for her and asked God to send his blessings to her family.  I also asked God to help me be more tolerant of other people’s emotions and outburst and to better understand other people’s situations.  I prayed that all of us would find some level of peace that day.

I had no doubt right then that Momma, along with God and His many angels, were smiling down on all of us.  And I smiled as I realized that there was no better way to honor the anniversary of my mother’s passing than to pray for another person seeking some a remedy for her home and family situation.  I miss and love you.  Rest in peace, Momma…

…And may God grant peace to all of us.

 

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!

A Special Messenger

In the past, I didn’t always talk or write about the odd occurrences that happened in my life.  I was always concerned that people would think that I was crazy or lying or “different.”  It used to embarrass me, but I don’t really worry about that any more.  I am proud that my life has always been somewhat unusual.  I like having strange things happen.  I love those “out of the blue” moments that make me wonder about life, miracles, and magic.  I have had incredible visions of angels who bring me messages and I have seen random ghosts drifting aimlessly beside me.  But the sudden, strange encounters I have with other people really inspire me.  I experienced another odd occurrence just last Saturday.

Up until that very moment, I hadn’t been feeling very comfortable or proud of myself.   I was feeling ashamed and frustrated.  I know I am not perfect and I certainly make my share of mistakes.  That doesn’t bother me.  I can always correct any errors I make and learn from the experience.  But there are times when it is difficult for me to forgive myself.  For instance, I can be snappish and disagreeable when I am physically not feeling well.  When I am tired or hungry, I admit that I am not the most pleasant person to be around.  I don’t like myself when I behave this way.  And sometimes I have a hard time forgiving myself for basically being human.

Last week, I was just feeling as if I didn’t fit in anywhere.  I felt like an absolute outcast.  I have always felt “different,” but for the last few days, I felt my situation more acutely.  My need to connect with other people was not being satisfied and my aloneness didn’t feel good this time.  I felt as if I was zigging while everyone else was zagging.  I was completely out of synch with the people around me.  I was continually saying the wrong things and being in the wrong place and feeling the wrong emotions and coming to all the wrong conclusions.  I don’t know if it was because of my personality or my attitude or my beliefs.  Instead of embracing my uniqueness like I normal do, this time I just felt lost and worthless.

So by last weekend, I was feeling down and depressed.  Maybe I was just overly exhausted.  My schedule can get crazy.  My main plan for this year was to take a hiatus from teaching and concentrate on writing full time.  But desperately needing health insurance, I took a job at a department store.  I work at the store early in the day, teach a few non-credit classes at the community college, and write late into the night.  I don’t know why but I am most creative at night and can be up until 2 or 3 am finishing up a single piece of work.  This schedule is mandatory but leaves me exhausted and cranky to people when I really want to connect.  It’s a vicious cycle that I know only I can break.  So Saturday, I decided to make a change in my attitude.  It actually wasn’t hard since the store was so busy that day.  It was the last weekend before Thanksgiving and the anticipation of the upcoming holiday made the day a little more exciting.

That afternoon, I was trying to complete my stocking work while assisting customers and mainly directing them around the store.  I suddenly noticed an older man wondering around lost in the middle of aisle 10 in the grocery department.  He had short, gray hair and a kind, clean-shaven face.  He wore tattered jeans and a brown leather jacket.

I approached the man and smiled at him.  “Sir, can I help you with something?”

He looked at me with a shy grin and said, “I just need to put this back and I can’t remember where I got it?”  He held out a box of Lean Cuisine to me.

“Oh, that’s fine,” I assured him.  “I’ll take care of it for you.”

I reached out my hand and took the box away from him.  That should have been the end of the encounter but then something strange happened.  The man told me thank you but he didn’t walk away.  He just stood there for a moment and stared at me.  His response caused me to behave in the same way.  I just stood awkwardly for a moment and stared back.  I was waiting to see if he had any other questions or problems.  But was fascinated by the fact that he didn’t move.  He didn’t make a single movement now.  His body stood mannequin still and straight, not a single muscle in his body moved a twitch.  He stood as if paralyzed in the moment.  His expression did not change, but his eyes began to glow.  I was captivated by his unusual eyes that slowly began to fade to a light gray and almost dissolved to a ghostly white.  An unusual spark began to glow behind his irises.  And then the man said to me, “Don’t worry, Jamie.  There are people just like you in heaven.”

My mouth fell open in surprise.  Why would he say that to me?  How could he possibly have known that I had been feeling like an outcast for the past several days?

Then the man turned and started to walk away.  I kind of made a fool of myself then because I suddenly giggled.  Yes, I actually giggled.  It was just a nervous reaction to his words.  Then the statement “God bless you” came tumbling out of my mouth.  I don’t know why I felt compelled to say this.  It just seemed like the appropriate response.  The man turned and looked at me again with his gray/white eyes and said, “And God has blessed you” before he walked behind one of the short, 3-foot wide fixtures that sat in the center of the main aisle.  As I thought about his words, I just stood there watching him as he walked behind the fixture….I waited…and waited…but he never came out the other side.  There was only one way in and out behind this fixture.  There was nowhere else for him to go.  He could only walk around the fixture.  Wondering about this, I walked over and peeked around the metal shelves of the fixture on the far side.  The man wasn’t there!  He wasn’t behind the fixture at all.  He was just gone!

I don’t know what had happened to the man, and sometimes, as I think over the situation, I wonder if he had even been human at all.  My mind sometimes pictures him as an angel, a messenger of God.  For he had brought me a message I needed to hear.  I know now that even if I am an outcast, God has not forsaken me.  I know now that even though I may struggle with my place on earth, there are people who cared about me in heaven.  I am never alone.  God and his many angels will always be with me and all people who believe.