Category Archives: Motivation

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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

Alaska

Yugen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However…

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

History Lesson

In the end, it is not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.–Abraham Lincoln

I have always found history fascinating.  I enjoy watching documentaries, reading textbooks, visiting historical sites, and looking at old, black-and-white photographs.  I don’t really know why I am fascinated with the past.  Maybe I just like the idea that there was life before I was born and there will be life after I leave.  History reminds me that time is never ending.  Maybe I like the idea that everything we say and do now will become the memories we turn to in the future for guidance or comfort.  Maybe our history is proof that our time hasn’t been wasted, and maybe, just maybe, there was a purpose to our collective lives and consciousness.  History demonstrates a solid cause and effect that can be mapped out as life progresses and our drama continues to unfold.  History reminds us who we are, where we came from, and the connection we all share to life.

So, if I truly honor past events that have created life as we know it today, why, every year, do I always dread August 21?  I don’t enjoy celebrating my birthday for several different reasons.  I don’t always like all of the attention.  Sometimes, I prefer to go unnoticed.  I also don’t feel comfortable accepting presents.  I don’t want people to spend their money on me when I know they may be financially struggling.  Or maybe…

Okay, to be honest…

I hate celebrating my birthday because I don’t like turning a year older.

There I said it.  I hate getting older.  It bothers me because I don’t see myself the way other people have started to view me.  In my heart, in my soul, I still see myself as a spritely, physically strong, highly capable, intelligent, attractive, young woman.

I’m amazed how many people disagree with me.

I was horrified the first time I was offered a senior discount at the movies.  But…but…I’m a young woman!  Why would I be offered the discount?  My brother, Tony, tried to calm my anxiety.  “Jamie, every person who works in retail or fast food thinks anybody over 30 is a senior.”  His explanation didn’t help.  How did I possibly go from being carded to being offered senior discounts?  What happened to the in-between years?

And I almost went over the edge when I received my first offer to become an AARP member.  I stared at the letter and magazine in abstract horror before I manically shoved both pieces of literature into the paper shredder.

I cringed in terror when I tripped the other day at work and one of my colleagues stated, “You have to be careful.  At your age, you could have fallen and broken your hip.”  I was shocked when I was informed by personnel at the school where I was teaching that my health insurance was going up by twenty dollars a month because I had crossed over into the “older age” category.  I’m always surprised when websites and applications ask my birth year and I have to scroll further down now to find the date.  And just how is it possible that people born in the year 2000 are getting their driver’s licenses now?  Why am I looking at the younger generation and saying things like, “Well, when I was growing up, we were taught to show respect…”  Isn’t that what my grandmother used to say?

I have tried desperately through the years to prove to other people that I am still a young woman.  I buy skin products like anti-wrinkle creams believing that each “magic elixir” holds the secret to eternal youth.  I put in hair extensions and dyed all the gray out of my hair.  Each gray strand reminded me of each day ticking off my life.  I go to the gym constantly and try to convince myself that I am in better shape now then when I was a teenager….if only my knees would stop popping.  I exercise and stimulate my mind by reading, writing, and studying…well…history!  Why do other people so quickly point out and joke about my gray hairs, the lines on my face, my momentary memory losses, and my thin, frail body?

For these reasons, I have let several years pass by without celebrating my birthday.  I didn’t plan on celebrating this year either.  I was just going to go to work, go to the gym, and not deviate from my usual day’s routine.

But then…

Ignoring my request to let August 21 just pass by this year, my family surprised me with dinners, sweet gifts, nice compliments, and a visit to the Kansas City Zoo.  And I was shocked how many people posted wonderful birthday greetings and blessings on my Facebook page.  The good wishes were heartwarming and made me feel connected to so many amazing people who had guided and supported me throughout the years.  Today, Tuesday, August 23, I received a twenty-dollar bill tucked inside a birthday card from my aunt Nancy in Florida.  The card and money made me smile as if I was eight-years-old again…and I think I appreciated the gift more now than I did as a child.  I understood the sacrifice my aunt made by sending me the money and I was touched by her generosity.  The money made me smile, too, because it reminded me of my mother who also sent money through the mail regardless of the risk of loss or theft.  My aunt and mother are women of grace; beautiful, trusting souls who saw the simple good in life, an attribute that only comes…

…that only comes with age!

And that’s when I realize that birthdays are a true blessing!  This year, I thoroughly enjoyed the attention I received from my family and friends and loved the birthday celebrations.

I suddenly realized that my birthday really wasn’t about getting older.  It was a commemoration of how far I have come in my life.  It was a reflection of the connections I have made and the friendships I hold dear.  As I went about my day on August 21, I didn’t feel a year older.  Instead, I felt surprisingly blessed.  I was so thankful for every day of my life and all of the amazing experiences I have had over the years.

Now, I have years of experience and knowledge that only comes with age!

And with age comes a carefree sense of self.  I walk around in my pajamas and go out in public without makeup or brushing my hair and I don’t care.  I say what I feel and don’t worry if it’s not the popular opinion.  I hold on to the things that I like and don’t worry if other people think my ideas are stupid.  I sing out loud and dance with spirit even though other people think I have no talent.  I hold on to my beliefs and refuse any pressure to become someone different.  I try to handle my stress and don’t insert myself into other people’s problems.  I’ve learned to live my life free, accepting the person that I am without fear of what other people think of me. I have grown comfortable in the person I have become.

And I know that all of those who offer me the senior discount and fear for creaking knees will not know this until they too have reached the age of “old,” the age of wearing pajamas in public and dancing when there is no music.

I am more of myself today than I have ever been.  I haven’t grown old.  I’ve grown up by growing strong and growing joyful and growing free.  Among the many great presents I have received over the years, I appreciate the gifts of humility and wisdom the most.  And this year, I learned that every day is precious and every moment needs to be celebrated.  My best birthday gift in 2016 was to see every year as one more blessing.

Though I now have my own unique past, I still maintain my childish heart.  I still have dreams and still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.  But I also have stories to tell and wisdom to share.  I have lived a full life of travel, adventure, successes, failures, heartbreaks, laughter, and tears….

Now, I am older.  I have a history….

I am history.

Pleasant Days

“I really don’t care for the big things, the big moments,” my sister-in-law, Mary, told me.  “I always tell everyone I don’t need to have big surprises.  I just enjoy the kind things people do for me.”

I smiled at Mary’s words as she continued to talk about the things that were important to her in life.  Her words made me smile.  Life can be so simple if we recognize the things that truly make us happy and hold on to those things regardless of other people’s negative comments or actions.

I was more open to Mary’s thoughts at that moment because I was having a very good day.  I woke up around 9 am and spent the morning sipping a diet coke and catching up on my reading and studying.  I spent the majority of the time in quiet contemplation as I studied my inspirational books on angels and new age teachings.

When I was finally ready to exercise my body and not just my mind, I got dressed and drove to the gym.  I parked in front of the building, but before I got out of my car, I looked out of the windshield and noticed a large, brown, beautiful dragonfly hovering right in front of me.  I smiled when I saw it.  Though I was already familiar with this theory, I had just been reading that morning that butterflies and dragonflies are always symbols of a loved one who has passed over.  Whenever a dragonfly or a butterfly appears, someone on the other side is sending a message of love and support.  I thought about my mother as I watched the dragonfly dance on the breeze for a moment.  I had just been thinking about my mom that morning as I prayed and studied.  Slowly, I got out of my car, but even my sudden movements and the slamming of the door did not chase the dragonfly away.  It remained around my car, circling slowly from the front to the sides and back around again.  I started walking across the parking lot to the building.  Once I reached the front door, on a whim, I turned and looked back at my car.  The dragonfly had not moved away.  I could still see the creature, just a small floating dot now, still dancing around my car.  I smiled again, feeling at peace and walked inside the building.

Over an hour later, I walked out of the gym, and to my surprise, the dragonfly was still there!  It hadn’t flown away from my car.  The insect continued to float lazily around the front of my vehicle.  I climbed into my car and watched as the dragonfly now situated itself directly in front of me as I stared out through the windshield.  I could clear see the creature’s four fragile, gossamer wings.  Again, I thought of my mother’s delicate and sensitive nature and felt her presence beside me.  I started the car and began to ease out of my space and drive across the parking lot.  As I rolled up to the exit, I tapped on the brake at the stop sign…and suddenly, there it was again!  The dragonfly was once more hovering in front of me!  I felt so blessed and grateful.  I was loved and at peace with my life.  I knew that everything was going to happen for the highest good.  I had Mom supporting me from the other side.  I drove away then from the parking lot and headed for home.

That evening, Mary and I decided to visit my brother, Tony, at his job and take him out to dinner.  It would be a surprise for him, just a way of letting him know he was loved and appreciated.  As we waited for Tony to finish work, Mary and I decided to walk around the outdoor outlet mall for a while.  It was humid and hot, so we soon decided to get something drink at the small pretzel shop.  Mary was gracious enough to treat us both to a diet coke.  We then stepped outside and sat on a silver iron bench in the shade as we sipped our cold drinks and talked.  Our discussion was inspiring as Mary talked about the things she considered important in her life.  I couldn’t help but grin as I listened to her.  My smile must have grown very wide because Mary suddenly stopped talking and asked me, “What is it?”

I told her then about my incident with the dragonfly that morning.  “And look at this,” I said as I quickly reached into the pocket of my jeans.  I pulled out a shiny, sparkling penny and showed it to her.  I’m a big believer in “pennies from heaven.”  Every time, I find a coin on the ground, I know someone in heaven is thinking about me.  “Look…while you were paying for our drinks at the pretzel shop, I had walked over to grab some straws and I had kicked something across the floor.  When I looked down, it was this penny.  So I had my dragonfly this morning and my coin this afternoon…I have been thinking about Mom all day.  And I know now for sure that she has been thinking about me, too.”

Mary looked at me with her eyes grown wide with wonder.  She didn’t think I was crazy!  She believed me and agreed that my mother was around me that day.  Mary and I then shared amazing stories about superstitions we acknowledge and moments were we had true clarity in our lives.  Mary then stated her philosophy about the importance of basic kindness as opposed to big gestures.

After a few minutes, Mary and I returned to my brother’s workplace and we all went out together for a great meal and a relaxing, fun evening.  I spent the rest of the night reflecting on what an amazing day I had just experienced.  This had been one of the best days of my life.  I was content.  I was relaxed.  I was loved on earth and in heaven.  And I knew that I was so fortunate.  I don’t need to be always traveling the world or getting praise for my work or being the center of attention.  I just need dragonflies and coins, thoughtful conversation, and moments of kindness.  I will always be willing to trade one great, busy, remarkable day for a hundred days of pleasant.  It’s the little things that always make me happiest, too.