Category Archives: Light

Pennies from Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

Beautiful Belgium

 

Several years ago, as I was packing to travel through the southern part of America, my mother asked me what was my hurry to leave Kansas again.  I had lived in New Mexico, Tennessee, and California.  I had traveled extensively throughout America, driving cross-country on many occasions.  I had lived in England and traveled throughout Europe, Thailand, and Malaysia.

I thought my answer to Mom’s question was very honest and logical.  “Because, Mom, there are so many great things to see in this world.  God’s created so many wonderful landscapes and it’s also amazing to see what people have accomplished.  But, you know, there are always wars and disasters.  What if we run out of time?  What if we don’t get to experience all of the many wonders of the world before they are all destroyed by man or nature?”

Before I had finished my heartfelt statement, Mom was already packed and waiting in the car for me.  We would travel throughout America together and I’m so happy now that we had those special moments.  My mother entered heaven six years ago…and most of the beautiful world has been destroyed…not by nature or God, but by the will of man.

I was heartbroken last November when terrorist turned romantic, enchanting Paris into a battle zone.  Now, today, my heart is again splitting in two as I read the news reports about the suicide bomb attacks on the airport and train in Brussels, Belgium.  At least, 30 people were killed and many were injured.

My prayers today are with the people of Belgium.  I had been in that lovely country at a very innocent time.  When I was traveling the world, there was no fear of terrorist attacks.  I was in Belgium at a time when the country was joyful and peaceful.  I did not visit Brussels, unfortunately.  I was in the lovely, enchanted city of Bruges, just sixty miles northwest of Brussels.  Bruges is a place everyone should take the time to see someday, if there is still the opportunity now.  It is a fairy-tale, charmed city that still maintains its centuries-old architecture.  Most of the structures have been standing since medieval times (around the thirteenth century).  Visiting Bruges is like stepping back in time.   I am grateful I had the opportunity to experience this amazing city.

I had been living in England for just a month when the college I was attending arranged a trip to Bruges, Belgium, for all foreign students.  We would be taking an overnight cruise on a Thursday and returning the following Sunday.  Though the trip sounded enticing, several of my American friends debated if they should miss classes to go on the trip that was scheduled to leave on Thursday afternoon, November 26, 1992.  They didn’t want to miss classes on Thursday and Friday.  I thought I had the perfect solution.  “But Thursday is Thanksgiving,” I stated.  “You won’t be missing classes.”

“Um, Jamie,” the other American students informed me.  “They don’t have Thanksgiving in England!”

Oops!  My mistake!  Of course, I knew that.  I had just forgotten where I was for a moment.  But I decided not to feel stupid.  And I absolutely refused to feel guilty for skipping classes.  Though I always believed school was important, I absolutely was not going to miss the trip to Bruges!  I had come to England for the experience, not just the education.  I wanted to see all that I could see.  Any opportunity that presented itself to visit other countries, I’d be damned if I was going to pass it up!  This would be my first trip to Europe and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  Unfortunately, now, that world is slipping away.  I’m so pleased I decided to go on the cruise.  I didn’t give my classes a second thought.  I didn’t know if I would get another opportunity like this.

I had never been on a cruise before and loved being on the boat, even though, through another small bout of idiocy, I almost missed it.  I had taken a taxi to the port early and arrived before any of my fellow American classmates or our faculty advisor, Tom, had appeared.  I had been worried about missing the boat so I was content to arrive almost an hour early to meet up with everyone.

Slowly, my fellow travelers began to drift in until there were about thirty students sitting with Tom in the lobby waiting for the call announcing that we could board our ship.  However, before we could get on the boat we had to fill out an immigration card.  Card…what card?  Oh, yes, that thick, little, yellow card we were given by the university when we signed up for the trip and I had just thrown away in the port lobby trash can while I was waiting to board because I didn’t think it was important.  Now, I suddenly realized I wasn’t going to be able to get on the boat without it!

I wasn’t alone in my error this time, however.  Most of the American students did not have their cards either much to the annoyance of the small customs officer guarding the gate.  The officer was a short, skinny man with sparse gray hair, a loud voice, and a total lack of patience.  He appeared to become even more aggravated and annoyed with each of the students who tried to pass through his gate without the appropriate documents.  Explaining that the yellow cards had to be completely filled out before we could board, the officer loudly pronounced each student “Idiot” or “Moron” as he handed out additional cards and pens.

Suddenly, it was my turn at the customs desk and I was added to officer’s “moron” list.  I took the card and the pen he handed me and ran over to a little bench against the side wall to fill out the document.  I put down all of the necessary information: my name, where I was from, what country I was traveling to, and when I expected to return.  I noticed that my fellow classmates had now boarded the boat and I was the last one left.  I hurriedly applied my signature to the card and ran back to the gate.  The officer snatched the card out of my hand and said, “You finally finished.  You’re leaving the country.  Good, we can all celebrate now that you’re gone.”

And all of a sudden, out of my mouth came the words, “Funny.  That’s what they said when I left America, too.”

The customs officer suddenly stopped and stared at me for a moment…and then laughed out loud.  He smiled at me so beautifully, wished me a great trip, and told me he hoped I traveled safely.  He stamped my card, handed it back to me with a squeeze of my hand, and pointed out which direction I needed to go next.  He walked me to the gate with an arm across my shoulders before telling me good-bye and returning to his desk.  It was so strange to me that just those few words that popped right out of my mouth made the officer so kind and warm.  It was a great start to the trip to Bruges, Belgium.

It got even better, too.  We were traveling over night and one of the first things we did upon boarding the ship was enter the dining room for supper.  My gosh, I have never seen so much food in my life!  All kinds of food was lined up on every available counter space and steam table on the far side of the large room.  The food was endless.  People were lined up everywhere, grabbing first, second, and third platefuls of fish, chicken, steak, potatoes, vegetables, and rich, creamy deserts.  The counters were never empty regardless of how much food the passengers seized.  I imagined that all of the food could probably have feed hundreds of families for the next five years.  As starving students, I don’t know if that fact occurred to us at the time as we continued to go back to the buffet tables for additional nibbles of the entrees.  The food was there and we continued to indulge, our stomachs almost as deep and endless as the North Sea we were crossing.

About ten pm that night, while many of my fellow students were at the on-board bar, disco, or movie theater, I stood out on the deck and looked out into complete, never-ending darkness.  Every now and then, I would see a small ripple of water, but I couldn’t believe how lost I was in the total blackness.  There were no lights at all from the sky or the sea.  I was just drifting away, alone, with no one or nothing to hold me down.  I stood for a long time sailing away in the darkness, contemplating what would happen if I fell over the side of the boat.  Now, this was very different.  I wasn’t contemplating suicide, but I was being seduced by the nothingness and silence of everything around me.  I just fantasized slipping into that darkness and letting myself drift peacefully away, floating into eternity.  Finally, exhausted from the day, I breathed deeply into the blackness a few more times before finally going off to bed and letting the gentle currents rock me into a deep sleep.

The next morning, I woke up early and went for a morning run around the ship before meeting up with my classmates, Melissa and Sheilah.  We walked around the ship singing “My Girl” at the top of our lungs.  I was just so in the moment, feeling the sea breeze against my skin and the rocking of the ship under my feet, that I sang out loud in full voice, something I don’t usually do with other people around.  I didn’t care who heard me that day.  I was happy, carefree, and at peace.

After a few hours, we finally docked at the Belgium port and prepared to leave the ship.  Most of us from Hull University got off the ship easily but had a long wait on the bus that was going to take us to our hotel.  I couldn’t imagine what was taking so long for us to leave.  Everyone grew more concerned as Tom left the bus several times to run back to the docked ship.  After forty-five minutes, we were finally given some information.  One person from our group was missing.  The absentee had been found but there was another problem.  He was too drunk to get off the ship.  He had partied so much the night before, that officials were working relentlessly and furiously that morning trying to revive him.

For many of the students, this was one of their first moments of freedom, away from home, family, and school, and they took full advantage of it.  It certainly didn’t help to be on a ship that had several bars, restaurants, movie theaters, discos, gyms, and food and drink everywhere.  It was a boat full of temptation everywhere a person turned.  Many people were enticed to indulge without limitations.

It was finally decided to leave the student behind and once he sobered up, he would join us in Bruges.  He finally came stumbling out of a taxi in front of the hotel late in the afternoon.  At least, he did make it and had the opportunity to see such a glorious city.

…And glorious it was!  I fell in love with Bruges.  It continues to be one of the most fascinating places I have ever been.  I watched a Christmas holiday parade that proudly presented Saint Nicholas riding into town on a donkey.  I took endless pictures of the unusual architecture and brick twisted streets.  I’m fascinated with architecture and have countless photos of buildings and city views.  I actually explored the city on my own.  Everyone else opted to party at night and sleep the day away. I was just the opposite.  I explored the city continuously during the day, walking through the gorgeous courtyards, dancing down the cobbled streets, daydreaming by the river, and fantasizing about being a princess in the thirteenth century.  I went to bed early every night, so I could wake up to enjoy the sun rising over beautiful Belgium.

On the very last day of our time in this great country, I actually took on the role of tour guide for several late-night-partying students.  I showed them the many highlights of the town before getting on the bus to head back to the docks.  Several people later told me how much they regretted not experiencing more of this beautiful city.  I have no regrets at all.  I took full advantage of exploring Bruges on the limited time I had there.

It was a rough journey back to England on the ship, though.  On the way to Belgium, the cruise had been very smooth and comfortable.  “That’s because we are fighting the currents,” Tom informed me when I expressed my surprise at the rough rocking and tossing of the ship this time.  That made sense.  I could understand that but then he continued, “I’m really surprised we got to go at all.  Last year, the crew forgot to shut the doors in the bottom of one of their passenger ships.  The bottom filled with water and the whole boat capsized.  Hundreds of people drowned.”  Way more information than I needed.  I went to bed that night, agonizing and praying over every bump and wave.  I was relieved when we finally made it back to England the next morning.

But that scare did not stop me from believing that my time in Bruges, Belgium, was one of the most magical adventures of my life.  Gorgeous, amazing, wonderful Belgium…my heart is breaking for you now.  I pray for your recovery and I’m saddened for all of the people who never got to experience your majestic, enchanted atmosphere in the past.  Visiting your amazing country has been one of my best memories.  God bless Belgium and all of her people.

 

 

 

Peaceful Days

Tuesday, March 14, 2016, was a great day!  Oh, I didn’t do anything special. I wasn’t on some romantic adventure or wandering off to exotic faraway places.  I wasn’t hang gliding or zip lining or skydiving.  Tuesday was quiet, but it was still a great day.

I woke up around 9:00 am.  That is sleeping late for me.  I used to wake up around seven every morning.  But for the last six months, I had been working early morning hours.  My workday starts at 4 am.  So, staying in bed until 9:00 is a luxury.  I stretched, stumbled out of bed, and quickly dressed.  I left my room and walked through the quiet house.  By now, my sister-in-law, Mary, was gone for the day.  My brother, Tony, was already hard at work.  Over the past few weeks, Tony has been diligently working in the backyard every day.  He has been clearing away all of the brush and saplings that have collected and overgrown the fence line.  A few days ago, I asked Tony why he was cutting all of the young trees away.  He responded that there were too many of them.  As I listened to him explain the situation to me, I was suddenly fascinated with the strength and determination inherent in all forces of nature.  Tony told me that he didn’t plant any of the trees.  The saplings were from acorns that had been blown by the wind or were dropped by the numerous squirrels running throughout the yard.  The acorns had taken hold and grown roots deep into the soil which caused areas of the ground to buckle and cave.

“And look at this, Jamie,” Tony exclaimed as he pointed to several of the trees that were growing near the chain link fence.  The trees were growing so full and strong that their trunks had grown around the fence; the saplings had made the metal a part of their overall existence.  Metal had become embedded and absorbed by the wood.  As the trees grew, they had started lifting the fence with the steel poles up out of the ground.  Tony and Mary were concerned about the gaps at the bottom of the fence that were growing big enough for their three little dogs to slide through.  I was amazed when Tony showed me this phenomenon.  I guess nothing is stronger than every living thing’s natural inherent force to live, grow, and thrive.

I was amazed by the sight but still expressed some regret.  “It is too bad, though, that the trees can’t just grow free.  It’s sad that you have to cut them down.”

“Yeah,” Tony laughed, “now where are all of the little fairies going to live?”

I should have never told my brother that I believe in all magical and mystical things.  I didn’t mean it quite that literally but he is forever teasing me now about fairies, pixies, and unicorns running through the backyard.

Now, Tuesday morning, I smiled as I stood by the back door and watched Tony working so hard to clear away the yard.  I have always hated yard work.  I don’t like working under the hot sun or the feel of pulling weeds out of the ground.  But now, thinking about the information Tony shared with me, I slipped on my shoes and walked out the back door.  Before long, I was working side by side with my brother clearing away all of the brush that could create a dangerous fire hazard.  As we worked together, Tony and I shared stories, laughed, and teased.  As I worked, I watched the three little dogs running around the yard and digging up holes.  Every now and then, I would drop my gardening tools and chase them around in our own crazy, made up version of tag.  The dogs didn’t always play fair, but that’s okay; it was only a game.  The laughter and the playing made the work fun and enjoyable, and to my surprise, I suddenly found that I enjoyed yard work.  I loved the feel of the damp soil in my hands and the solid ground beneath my feet.  I loved working with the gardening tools and felt as if I was sculpting a more peaceful, danger -free environment.  I loved being outside and breathing the fresh air and for once I didn’t mind at all feeling the sun beating against my skin.

Tony and I worked together on the yard for several hours and had cleared away one small section before finally coming to a stop.  I felt flushed with the excitement of hard work and accomplishment.

After cleaning up and putting away the equipment, Tony and I grabbed a quick lunch together before he cleaned up and left for his job.  In a peaceful frame of mind, I spent the rest of the day, cleaning and organizing, writing, and pampering the dogs, who continued to demand my attention.  Once again, the dogs cuddled with me as we heard a bit of lazy thunder rolling around outside.  A few cool raindrops hit the house and front porch.  Little Starburst especially seemed anxious about the weather.  While the other two dogs began to relax on their own, Starburst stayed right with me.  She sat by my chair as I worked on the computer and refused to leave my side.  I didn’t mind.  I love bonding with the dogs and I’m always happy when they feel the need for my company.

Starburst was having an additional problem though.  I noticed it when she finally got up and walked across the hardwood floor in the family room

“Starburst, what’s going on?”  I asked her as if I really believed she would answer me.  “You sound like your tap dancing.”  Seriously, as she walked across the floor there was a continuous tap, tap, tap sound.  I easily picked her small furry body up into my arms and looked at her paws.  She had been out digging a small hole in the backyard earlier that morning and a tiny stone had gotten tangled up in the long hair around her right paw.  I tried desperately to snatch the stone away from her, but she continually jerked away from me.  Finally, I just cradled Starburst on my lap as I worked at the computer and waited for my sister-in-law to come home.  Together, Mary and I cut the stone away from Starburst’s paw and, once more, the dog was quietly trooping around the house.  I smiled as I watched her run and play with the other dogs.  It really felt good to take care of another living creature even in a very small way.

After a pleasant conversation with Mary and working on my latest writing project, I finally settled down into bed.  It had been such a pleasant day.  I didn’t do anything special.  I didn’t leave the house.  But I could not ignore the sense of peace and contentment that filled me.  And maybe that’s what counting blessings is really all about.  It’s enjoying those peaceful quiet moments in life.  It’s the ability to sit patiently and feel fulfilled.  I don’t always have days like this.  Many times, I am impatient for something to happen!  But now, I need to remember in my most anxious moments, that true contentment comes from the inside.  The ability to find bliss in quiet moments is a great gift.  I will probably never find happiness outside myself if I am not at peace first.  Just allowing life to happen without any preconceived notions is when I am always the happiest.

I fell into a contented sleep that night with my favorite Bible quote (Psalm 46:10) running through my head:

Be still and know that I am God (King James Bible)

Cease striving and know that I am God (New American Standard Bible)

Be still…something I rarely am but something I need to do more in my life.  I look forward to more quiet and happy days.  Be still… quiet days are filled with deep meaning and endless blessings …

 

Lessons from the Storm

Thunder!

I abruptly stopped typing on my computer keyboard when I suddenly heard the distant boom just outside my window.  The rumble wasn’t a loud clamor, but a quiet growl that seemed to echo all around me.  The weak roll of thunder still made me smile, though.  Of course, I considered the ever-changing and tumultuous weather patterns of the Midwest before I decided to return to Kansas last August.  Thunderstorms were one of the main things I missed while I was living for the last eleven years in the deserts of Southern California.

I love thunderstorms.  I love the feeling of being safe and warm inside while thunder clashes, lightening radiates, and rain cascades around my home.  I love witnessing the powerful effects of a storm that makes me realize the universe is even bigger than what I normally perceive.  Then, once the skies clear, I can smile at the approaching sunshine and realize that no storm last forever.  God’s great hope will always shine through the darkest and most violent times.  And then, when the storm…

A louder blast of thunder interrupted my thoughts, but it was the sudden howl and bark of our three dogs that made me jump.  Oh, my gosh, I had forgotten to consider how the dogs might react to this flash thunderstorm.  I hadn’t had a pet in nearly twenty years.  Moving into my brother and sister-in-law’s house last year had made me somewhat responsible for Tony and Mary’s three small, yippee, hyper, and anxious dogs when my family…my human family…was not at home.  I didn’t really mind; the dogs and I had bonded over the last several months.  I found great joy at times cuddling with the three mutts who always seemed to be starved for attention even though they usually dictate the happenings of the household.

I looked away from my computer and turned around in my chair.  Now, all three dogs were lined up, side by side, in the doorway to my room.  The dogs huddled closely together as they looked at me with huge, frightened, dark eyes.

“Doggies,” I started to say, using my pet name for the animals, “it’s okay!  It’s just thun…”

Suddenly an even louder boom rattled the windows, shook the house, and set the three dogs off as if they just heard the gunfire that signified the start of a race.  The three dogs jumped and banged into each other as they all started to run in different directions.  Frisky, the youngest and smallest of the three, ran directly under my bed.  Starburst and Cowboy, who are Frisky’s parents, ran in opposite circles for a moment before they both ended up hiding underneath my computer desk.  They huddled together as far back against the wall as they could get.

“Come out, doggies,” I called to all three of the animals.  I got down on my hands and knees and raised the blanket and sheets on my bed.  “Frisky, come on, sweetie,” I cooed as I tried to coax the little brown and white fur ball out of her hidden place.  “It’s okay, sweetheart, it’s only a storm.  I promise you’re safe.”  But Frisky did not believe me.  Two dark, wide eyes glowed back at me as the next burst of thunder propelled the dog back further into the shadowy areas.  I reached my hand under the bed and tried to touch the small, frightened animal.  But Frisky kept moving further back until she was now squished under the far side of the bed.  I found myself now lying flat out on the floor and crawling along on my belly as I tried to squeeze under the box springs.  My left arm reached out to grab the dog, but I just couldn’t reach her.  Finally, I gave up hoping Frisky would eventually crawl out on her own once the storm was over.  However, all it took was another, even closer slap of thunder to send Frisky racing out from under the bed in a furry, blurry blob to now join her mother and father under my desk.  Maybe, Frisky thought there was safety in numbers….or maybe, like all of us do, she just wanted to feel the loving warmth of her parents while she was so afraid.  Now, all three dogs again resorted to climbing on top and over each other as they searched for warmth and safety.

I just smiled now as I watched the dogs slowly beginning to calm back down.  I decided that I would just let the dogs stay under my desk if it helped ease their anxiety.  I sat back down in front of my computer and started to work again.  I couldn’t help but smile as the rain hit the windows and I rubbed my feet playfully against the soft fur of the three dogs clustered under my desk.  The dogs playfully began to roll over to allow my feet to pet their bellies and backsides.  We were all happy now and together…soon, however, there would be just a little too much togetherness.

The next clap of thunder sent all three dogs barking, howling, and running again.  This time the dogs began to claw at my legs as they tried to jump into my lap all at the same time.

“Doggies, doggies, settle down.  It’s okay.  You’re safe.”  But once more, the dogs refused to believe that the storm raging outside would not hurt them.  The dogs continued to push their way up onto my lap.  Looking down into the big eyes and furry faces, I couldn’t resist.  I leaned down and, one by one, helped each dog make the leap onto my lap.  There wasn’t a whole lot of room.  I had two of the dogs, Starburst and Cowboy, resting against each leg, and Frisky cuddled up directly on my lap.  I was just grateful in that moment that they were small dogs.  I don’t know how I would have managed if the dogs were Pit Bulls or Great Danes.  The dogs were lying on top of each other but for once, they didn’t seem to mind.  Usually, the dogs are fighting each other for attention.  I can never pet one without the other dogs knocking each other out of the way and placing their small, furry bodies underneath my outstretched hands.  I have heard the dogs growl and seen them nip at each other if they think one is being favored over the other two.  There have been a few times when my fingers have gotten caught between their tiny teeth as they wrestled violently for the top position of attention.

But today, as the rain hit against the window and the thunder continued to roll, the dogs didn’t seem to mind sharing the small space or me.  To my absolute surprise, the dogs even began to raise their furry paws and pat each other lovingly on the back or head.  They licked at each other’s faces as if trying to soothe worried brows.  The dogs tried lovingly to reassure each other that they were all safely together.  The comforting touches between the animals lightened the tension and soon all three dogs were breathing a little easier as they closed their eyes and began to doze.

I had to stop working on the computer then.  The dogs hampered my ability to correctly type up my thoughts.  But it didn’t matter, I smiled as I realized.  It had been a long time since I had taken care of another living creature during a raging storm.  I enjoyed this moment of feeling and delivering comfort and ease.  I delighted in the warmth of the dogs’ bodies as they cradled themselves around me.  I spent several minutes just relaxing, feeling warm and safe and, surprisingly, very present.  My own anxiety about my work, my writing, my life, and my world slowly dissolved as I stayed right in the moment.  I just sat there listening to the dogs breathing and feeling the weight of their small bodies.  I idly pet the dogs as I let my mind wander.  After a while, the storm began to ease.  The thunder and lightning stopped.  The rain became nothing more than a soft drizzle.

And I have never before experienced a more peaceful, sunnier glow after a storm….

The Faith of a Child

Sunday afternoon, I decided I needed to be free of all distractions.  Over the last month or two, I had fallen behind in my work.  With my cross-country move, starting my new job, and completing my novel, I had taken time away from writing my blog, my poetry, my journal, and my short stories.  I wanted to get back to writing again on a set schedule so no aspect of my work would suffer.  In order to do that, I needed to leave the house.  Facebook, laundry, cell phone, and TV are just a few of the culprits that can distract me from getting my creative endeavors accomplished.  With this thought in mind, I decided to head up to the local Wendy’s restaurant.  I was determined that I was going to sit in the restaurant for at least two hours, sipping cups of iced tea and writing several pages in my notebook.

About an hour into my work, I was making good progress.  I felt focused and thought I could work through the rest of the afternoon.  I had written two poems and had started scribbling ideas down for a new short story.  For a brief moment, I became stuck on a particular aspect of my narrative and glanced up and away from my notebook.  I had meant to look away for just a moment…but it was a moment that broke my concentration and suddenly I could no longer focus.

My mind had wandered over to the next table about ten feet away from me where a family of four had sat down to enjoy their dinner.  The parents were sitting with their backs to me, so I could not see their faces.  The two beautiful young children, however, were facing towards so I could see them two clearly.  The girl was around the age of seven with bright eyes and straight, long blond hair that was pulled by blue ribbons away from her smooth, round face.  The little boy appeared to be much younger as he sat forward on the bench of the booth.  His small feet did not even reach the floor.  Like a typical 5-year-old, he swung and kicked his legs joyfully as he ate his meal.  Both children were incredibly well-behaved and radiated a glow of good health and the happy inner light of youthful joy.

I smiled at the children before turning my attention back to my notebook.  I was reading over the ideas I had scribbled down when I suddenly heard a small sound.  I glanced up and realized the little boy was now speaking in an enthusiastic, sweet voice that bridged the distance between our two tables.  I tried not to listen.  I didn’t want to eavesdrop but his words kept getting my attention.

“Mom,” the child said, “remember what I told you was going to happen in 45 years?”

Though I could not see the mother’s face, I noticed that her body suddenly grew tense.  Her movements seemed to be on pause for a moment as she stared at her son.  I didn’t hear her response because she spoke in a soft whisper.  I could only hear a few mumbled sounds but her voice was too low to make out any words.

“Mom,” the child said again, “I told you before what was going to happen in 45 years.”

Now, the mother cleared her throat and answered, “In 45 years, I’m going to be 79.  And you are going to be 50….”

But the young child was not satisfied with this answer.  “No, Momma,” he protested.  “Don’t you remember what I told you?  When you and I die…”

Now the mother began to frantically whisper again.  The tone of her voice was kind, but her body continued to be tense as she spoke quickly to the boy.  She tried to explain to the child how they would both age over the coming years.

“No, momma,” the boy interrupted her.  Though he spoke in a steady voice, the volume had increased as he tried to get his mother to understand.  “Remember, I told you when we are going to die.”  Then the child must have suddenly become aware his mother’s agitation.  He said, “It’s okay, Momma.  You don’t have to be afraid.”

Again, the mother spoke but her voice was too soft to hear.  Her hands began to idly pick at the food still lying on the paper wrappers in front of her.

The child responded, “Momma, you don’t have to be afraid.  I won’t let you be afraid.  It’s okay, Momma.  Heaven is wonderful!”

Again, the woman stiffened as she listened to her small son.  “Remember, Momma.  Heaven is beautiful!  Do you remember what’s going to happen to us when we get to heaven?”  The child then began to laugh.  “Don’t you remember, Momma, what it’s like in heaven?  I remember, Momma….”

Both the young girl and the father said nothing as the child talked.  The family now sat in stunned silence as the child talk about the glories of heaven.  He spoke about the love of God and a complete absence of fear and worry.

Finally, the family stood up from the table and began to walk to the exit.  Halfway across the restaurant to the door, the mother suddenly stopped, looked down at her son, and then engulfed her tiny prophet in a deep, loving embrace.  Slowly, they pulled apart and the mother gripped her son’s hand as they walked out of the door together.

I sat still for a moment as I contemplated what I just heard.  The phrase “A child will lead them” entered my mind.  Children are born into this world knowing all about heaven, the universe, past lives, and healing secrets.  Children can see angels and departed loved ones, and they understand God’s mercy in ways adults can no longer even contemplate.  It’s so sad that we lose the ability to truly know God and witness the glory of his universe as we grow older.  We lose the fascination of childhood.  We lose the possibility of the impossible.  We give up as we grow up.  We let go of faith, and hope, and miracles just so we can exist in a world that is fleeting at best.

I want to know the glory of God and the universe as I did when I was a child.  I want to be that five-year-old again who has no doubt about heaven and believes in all possibilities.  I want to be that child who saw angels and felt the presence of God in all things.  I thought about the bible verse from Matthew 18: 2-4:

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Now, I smiled and put away my notebooks.  It suddenly didn’t matter how much work I could accomplish.  All my anxieties had disappeared.  I just had the sweetest of distractions and didn’t want to let go yet of the joy and happiness I was suddenly feeling.  I got up from my table and walked up to the front counter.  I bought myself chocolate ice cream which I hadn’t eaten in years.  I went back to my table and sat down slowly.  I tilted back in my seat and put my feet up on the opposite chair.  I sat for several minutes, enjoying the sweet taste of the ice cream as I watched the pink and orange glow of the sunset.  Life is not a distraction.  Yes, indeed, there is nothing to fear.  Heaven is wonderful!

 

 

Alone for Christmas

“Christmas is a time when you should just feel good.  Christmas is a good time,” my fourteen-year-old nephew stated as he gazed at the twinkling lights on the tree set up in the family room of my brother’s home.

Mike’s pronouncement of Christmas was very simple, and yet he had said so much in just those two sentences.  I knew exactly what he had meant.  He wasn’t referring to a “good time” in the sense of lots of presents or a big party.  We had, instead, been discussing the importance of Christmas and the actual purpose.  Mike couldn’t understand how anyone could be depressed and upset at this time of year.  My nephew, however, still believed in the starry-eyed wonderment of miracles and magic at Christmas.  It’s a shame that so many adults lose that enchantment as they grow older.

I tried to explain the situation to him.  “Well, Mike, for a lot of people, it’s difficult if they are all alone.  People can become very depressed when they feel isolated.  We need to bond with other people.  When there is something special happening like Christmas, and someone cannot share it with another person, it can be very upsetting.”

“But it is still Christmas,” Mike insisted.  “What does it matter if you’re with other people or all alone?  It’s all about how you feel about Christmas, right?  It’s all about making Christmas special no matter where you are, right?  What else really matters?”

I smiled at my nephew, but didn’t say anything more.  I no longer wanted to talk about depression or anxiety over the holidays.  Instead, I wanted Mike to enjoy the magic of Christmas as he experienced it now at the age of fourteen.  I didn’t want negative talk to destroy his ideal of Christmas now or in the future.  As I also looked at all of the twinkling lights that made the small room seem like a charmed fairyland, I prayed that Mike would never lose his sense of wonder.  Life can beat that out of people very quickly…and Christmas, for so many souls, can be the worst time, especially if they are all alone…but, then again, I had to admit, Mike was definitely on to something.

Over the past several years, I have spent Christmas by myself.  I had moved a thousand miles away from my family home in Kansas City, Kansas.  I have spent solo Christmases in England, Tennessee, New Mexico, and California.  A few times, a lot of my gracious, good friends in many of these locations would invite me into their homes for Christmas dinners.  Though sometimes the situation could be a little awkward when friends had big family gatherings that included trading presents and family memories, I was always grateful for the invitations.  However, as I grew older, the invitations were no longer offered.  Many of my friends had grown up, moved away, married, and had their own families now.  As we all moved ahead with our lives, invitations to Christmas gatherings ceased.  I was for several years, completely on my own over the holidays.  What was I going to do?

As the season began to unfold, I would stress over what activities I could do to make my lonely Christmas bearable.  I could spend the day watching movies; I could go out of town…or just for a walk around the block; I could see what restaurants might be open (even though I felt guilty knowing other people had to work on Christmas Day); I could have the luxury of reading uninterrupted for hours; I could volunteer at shelters…My mind raced for days, loaded down with thoughts about Christmas.

And then on the day of my first Christmas alone, I woke up slowly after a good sleep…and prayed.  I thanked God for this day.  I counted my blessings.  I prayed for the health of my family.  I asked that all people were joyous…and then I smiled and I laughed as a sense of pure peace flooded over me.  I realized then that it didn’t matter how I spent Christmas.  I had been blessed with even having another Christmas….and suddenly that seemed like the best gift I could have ever received.

I laid in bed and stretched and thought of some of my friends who had asked me how I was going to spend the holiday.  I had answered, “I don’t know.  I think I’ll read, watch movies, go for a walk, volunteer…I don’t know…I guess it will be a day of surprises.”

Some of my friends would look at me with envy and make statements like, “Oh…I want to have your Christmas…we have to spend the day at my in-laws’ home…and I can’t stand them!”

So on that Christmas morning, I stretched and felt really good that I had a day of peace.  Pure, real peace…the peace of a thousand angels.  And then I realized, I was not alone.  I would never be alone on Christmas.  For this was the day that Jesus came to his people, to save us from sin, to love and protect us, to guide us through our lives, to give us hope and faith and love.  I spent the next several days in a happy glow.  I felt connected to all people.  I could feel their hearts and share in their love and kindness.

I may have been by myself, but how could I have ever felt alone on Christmas?

So now this year, I listened to my nephew talk about Christmas.  “Aunt Jamie, it’s really not a holiday,” he declared.  “It’s how you feel in your own mind.  I still don’t understand how people can feel sad at Christmas.”

“Neither do I, Mike,” I said, ending the conversation, “I guess no one can really understands if they have never felt alone on Christmas Day.”  The feelings of depression during Christmas are something I can’t explain, for I have never been alone.

This year, after nearly twenty years, I am spending Christmas with family.  Together, we have put up a tree, decorated the house, watched Christmas shows on TV, viewed plaza Christmas lights, and listened to Christmas music.  It’s so enjoyable to be with family at this time of year…but it was also a beautiful day when I was alone.

After all, as my 14-year-old nephew said, “Christmas is in your heart.  It’s a state of mind.”

So wise, Mike, so very wise!