Category Archives: random acts of kindness

The Perfect Holiday Gifts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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My Perfect Roses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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.

Tiny Dog Security Team–Episode 1–Independence Day

Usually, during rainstorms, our three dogs go crazy whenever it thunders.  They run through the house with their little paws slapping frantically against the hardwood floors.  They scratch impatiently at my door until I finally let them into the room.  Then, they scoot quickly under the bed and hide until the storm is over.

Because of the dogs’ response to thunder, I was concerned how they would react to the fireworks on the 4th of July.   I imagined that the dogs would be running around in circles and barking hysterically once the fireworks began.  However, to my surprise the dogs were holding it together much better than I was.

Once the fireworks started, I jumped in surprise every time I heard the loud sizzles, cracks, pops, and rumbles that echoed around the neighborhood.  It has been 25 years since I have experienced a Kansas 4th of July holiday. For the last 11 years, I had been living in the deserts of Southern California.  Personal use of fireworks is illegal there due to the dryness in the region.  Fireworks are a huge fire hazard in such an arid environment and can only be used in professional displays like at baseball games and theme parks.  While I lived in California, my Independence Day celebration was quiet and calm.  I wasn’t used to hearing the constant explosions happening all around me now and was growing more unnerved as the loud booms continued late into the night.  Every now and then, I ran to the front door to peek outside.  I wanted to see exactly how close the fireworks were to the house.  It sounded like the explosions were happening right outside the front door.  I worried for a moment if I needed to move my car to a safer location.  Was the house secure?  Of course, I was worrying needlessly but the deafening roars of the fireworks continued to unnerve me.  I apprehensively shut the front door.  The light from outside flickered about the dark room and made me feel anxious.  I walked back into my bedroom, shut the door, and took some long deep breaths.

And then….

Oh, goodness, I could hear the dogs thumping down the hallway to my room.  Then, of course, they were soon scratching at my door.  “Okay,” I sighed.  “The dogs are freaking out now.”  I got up from my seat at the desk and opened the door.  The dogs didn’t run into the room, though.  Instead, all three dogs stood in a straight line on the threshold and stared up at me with concern in their eyes.  Then, they came slowly into the room.  But instead of scooting under the bed, they circled around me and looked at me hopefully.  I walked back to my chair and sat down heavily.  To my surprise, the three small dogs surrounded me and stood at attention.  I suddenly realized then that the dogs weren’t looking for comfort; they had come into the room to protect me!  Had they sensed my anxiety?  Did they realize that I was uncomfortable?  Could these three small, incredible dogs actually read my emotions?  They had come into my room not to hide but to unselfishly take care of me.

Once I began to settle down, Cowboy and Friskie returned to the front room.  Only Starburst remained in the bedroom with me.  Starburst is a tiny, older, furry-all-over, white-and-brown female mutt who usually is very calm and low key.  Tonight, however, she stayed on alert.  Though she began to spread out and relax under my chair, whenever I jumped due to another loud crack of fireworks, Starburst would leap up on her four stubby little legs and walk around my chair; she marched around the room as if she was on patrol.  She growled and hissed at any noise that threatened my sense of well-being.  Slowly, she would settle back down beside me again.  She would relax until the next boom occurred just a few seconds later.  And then once again, “Officer Starburst” was back on patrol.  Starburst stayed with me for most of the evening.  She only left my side when I finally turned off my computer and got up from my chair.  After telling Starburst thank you for taking care of me, I closed my door after I thought she had gone back into the living room.

A few minutes later, I opened my bedroom door as I was getting ready for bed.  Oh, my gosh!  To my surprise, I found all three dogs standing sentinel in front of my doorway again.  I was so amazed that the dogs were still protecting me throughout the night.  Little Starburst seemed to be the commander of the Tiny Dog Security team.  She remained stretched out in front of the door as if she was blocking entry into my room.  She looked alert—poised and ready to attack any threat to me.

I suddenly laughed out loud as I got down on the floor.  I happily wrestled and played with the dogs for a few minutes before assuring them that I was fine now even though the fireworks continued.  Though Friskie and Cowboy wandered back off to their bed in the living room, Starburst remained with me throughout the night.  Starburst is Friskie’s mom and I guess when she thought I was scared, her mother instincts took over.  She was, for that night, my protector and defender.  Friskie and Cowboy also continued to check up on me throughout the night.

So with Starburst remaining outside my door, I settled down into bed.  And though the fireworks continued to rage outside, I fell into a peaceful, calm sleep, knowing that I was protected by pure kindness and unconditional love.

Unconditional Love

Friskie has not been a happy dog lately.  When I come home from work, she no longer jumps up excitedly.  She doesn’t wag her tail or bark happily.  Instead, she just continues to lie on her large brown puppy pillow.  She just glances up at me as I walk into the room.  Her big brown puppy dog eyes plead sadly with me for just a moment.  Then she lowers her head back down, rolls over, and goes back to sleep.  I stare at her for just a moment and think about all the fun we used to have together.  Friskie and I became fast friends when I first moved into my brother and sister-in-law’s home.  I considered Friskie my first real friend when I returned to Kansas from California.  The dog and I used to wrestle around the living room together.  We used to play tug of war with her toys.  Any of the toy I would toss across the room, she would fetch and bring back to me with her little tail waggling and laughter glowing in her eyes.  We used to cuddle and laugh together in bed at night before drifting off to sleep.

But now, she is silent and still.  I think she is depressed.  She is sad; sorrow is reflected in her eyes and joy no longer radiates off of her sweet, furry, brown and white face.  She whimpers for a moment now and then settles down and goes back to sleep.  And though she can’t tell me in words, I know why she cries.  I know why she is upset, but I can’t really do anything about it right now.  I tried to explain the situation to her with gentle, loving words, but, of course, she doesn’t have any idea what I am trying to tell her.

“Friskie,” I try to reason with her as I stand across the room from her fluffy puppy pillow.  “I love you but I can’t pet or cuddle with you right now.  I can’t take you into bed with me.  I’ve been so sick.”

And it was the truth, but I don’t think Friskie believes me anymore.  I had been working a lot of additional hours over the last few weeks, and though I was tired, I was feeling good….until last Tuesday.  Tuesday morning, I awoke feeling good until suddenly my stomach began to twist around in circles and I found myself in the bathroom hoping that my suddenly queasiness and vomiting would pass quickly.  Even though, I felt better after a few minutes, I was still feeling achy, dehydrated, and exhausted for the rest of the day.  That was just the beginning.  For the next five days, I was horribly sick with flu-like symptoms.  I continued to cough, sneeze, and vomit.  I suffered from diarrhea, nausea, and horrible prolonged headaches.  My muscles ached and I felt unable to control my movements.  In the middle of summer, I was freezing and couldn’t seem to get warm.  I was shivering horribly and yet would get up from the bed to find my pajamas and the sheets soaked with sweat.  I had absolutely no energy, mainly because I couldn’t eat anything.  Even the thought of food made me feel nausea and queasy.  I stayed completely behind the closed door of my room, only stepping out when I needed to use the bathroom.

As I struggled to heal, I stayed away from the sweet family pets.  I didn’t want to get any of the dogs or the cat sick.  I don’t know if the animals could catch any viruses from me but I didn’t want to take that chance.  I was too exhausted to deal with the animals.  I was too hot to cuddle with the dogs who are covered in hot, sticky fur.  I left the animals completely alone…and I think I hurt Friskie’s feelings.  Though the other animals seemed to understand and take the situation in stride, Friskie looked hurt and upset.  She seemed to be lonely and sad.  I don’t think she could understand why I had turned my back on her after we had been so close.  A few nights, I could hear her tapping her little paws down the hallway and coming to a stop right in front of my bedroom.  I would lie in bed fully awake as I listened to her scratch at my door.  Then my heart would break as I heard the dog start to whimper and cry to be let into the room.  I tried to ignore her.  I didn’t want to be around the tiny dog while I was so sick.  I really wanted to open the door, but I couldn’t pull my achy body out of bed.  My muscles just would not respond.  I couldn’t get up and walk to the door.  So I lay in bed and listened to my lovely furry friend crying for most of the night.  I wanted to call out to her to soothe her, but didn’t want to risk waking up the rest of the family.  As bad as I was feeling, hearing the dog cry made me feel even worse.  But there was nothing that I could do about it.

Finally, slowly, after five long days, I began to get back on my feet by Sunday morning.  Though I was still weak, I began to feel better and was finally able to get out of bed and move around a little.  But now, Friskie wanted nothing to do with me.  For days, I had ignored her.  For days, I had not played with her or pet her.  For days, I locked her out of my room and refused to cuddle with her.  I had broken her little puppy heart and now she was done with me.  She wasn’t happy to see me when I walked into the room.  She wasn’t excited or playful even as I grabbed some of her toys and tossed them across the room.  She just stared at me, her little doggy eyes watching me closely and suspiciously as I walked across the room and retrieved her toys myself.  I held them out to her but she refused to take them.  She had been my best friend and I had let her down.  She no longer trusted me.

I felt as if I had just lost my best friend and I couldn’t even begin to explain to her what had happened.  I wanted to just grab and cuddle with her, but she would wiggle away from me.  She refused my offers of food and comfort.  We ignored each other for several days, both of us with broken hearts and not sure how to fix this situation without the ability to talk out our feelings.  I began to realize that I would just have to be patient.  I had to let Friskie slowly come to trust me again at her own pace.  I didn’t force her to be with me.

And slowly, it began to happen.

Finally, on Wednesday, the fourth day of recovery, I sat on the living room couch with my nose in the book and pretending that I wasn’t concerned about the dog.  I tried not to make any sudden moves as I realized that Friskie was slowly climbing up onto the large square padded ottoman where I had my feet comfortably placed.  Friskie stopped for a moment and stared at my stockinged feet.  Slowly she reached out her paw and patted the top of my foot before quickly pulling away.  I put my book down and we stared at each other for a moment.   Once more, Friskie reached out and patted my foot.  As I looked up at her again, she seemed to smile shyly at me for a moment.  I turned back to my book.  Friskie slowly climbed up and used my legs as a bridge to cross over to the couch.  Tentatively, she climbed until she was cuddled in my lap.  I wrapped my arms around the dog slowly and cuddled her close as she playfully licked at my hands and fingers.  Then she nestled in close to my chest as she settled down to sleep.  After having her heartbroken, she had started to trust me again.  Over time, Friskie started to come into my room again.  She sits on my lap as I work on the computer.  She cuddles in bed with me at night.  I don’t know if she will ever know that she was turned away because I was sick.  I don’t know if she will ever understand the reason that she had been so rejected.  But regardless of the reason, she has trusted me again.  She is loving me again without question.  She is putting her heart on the line one more time in order to feel and know love.  Friskie, like so many other animals, has returned to love me without question or without asking for anything in return.

Why are humans the only creatures on earth that have to make love so complicated?  Love should be pure, giving, kind…love should be without question…love should be trusting and understanding…love should be the willingness to have your heartbroken.  I want to love as purely and simply as animals do.   Too bad all my relationships aren’t this forgiving, this loving, this kind…maybe I need to learn to trust when I want to run, to love when I want to fight, to give when I just want to take.  To love without fear or ego…and maybe God put animals on earth to teach us about unconditional love.

My Favorite Mistake

 

I think I may have made a terrible mistake.  I did it out of love, though, so it can’t be that bad, right?  But my actions are beginning to backfire on me now.  Though I may have some regrets about what I did, I still am unable to stop because, even though it may be wrong, it still makes me feel warm and safe and loved.

Over the last several months that I have been living with my brother and sister-in-law, I have bonded with their three small dogs.  I love animals and couldn’t resist letting their pets become part of my life.  I haven’t had a pet of my own for several years and so the bonding is now a wonderful blessing for me.  I love the dogs and I think, or I like to believe, that they love me too.  I love the way all three dogs excitedly bark and dance around me whenever I walk in the front door.  I enjoy the way the dogs cuddle up to me when I’m just sitting on the couch.  I love the way they suddenly flop over onto their backs exposing their bellies for a quick rub every time I walk by them.  So, you get the idea, the dogs and I usually love hanging out together.  I would hang out with the cat, too, if she liked me.  I’m never quite sure how the cat feels about me.  She sits on my lap and plays with me one day and then hisses and snarls at me the next.  Of course, because of the cat’s ever-changing attitude, I have grown closer to the dogs.

Lately, when the dogs get lonely, they knock on my bedroom door and ask if I want to build a snowman or ride bikes or something.  No, not really, usually they just want to come into my room and hang out with me.  They hide under my bed; they sleep under my desk; they dance around the room as they sniff and explore the area.  The dogs especially love sitting on my lap when I’m on the computer.  Of course, even though the dogs are small, I can hold only one at a time on my lap, which usually causes the dogs to fight with each other.  They growl, snarl, and nip at one another which causes me to immediately send them out of the room for a time out.  They are allowed to come back in to my bedroom again only when they promise to behave and get along.  But, for the most part, when I am writing my blogs, novels, or emails, one of the dogs is usually cuddled up on my lap.  I really enjoy these moments.  It makes me feel really good to be holding an animal, especially a beloved pet, while I’m working.  Whichever dog I’m holding usually likes to lean against the desktop and look at the information that is on the monitor.  The dogs like most of my blogs.  Their little tails start wagging back and forth and their tongues slid out to one side of their mouths.  They will turn around to look at me with serene expressions on their furry faces.  I usually have to be careful with the dogs if I’m sending emails.  Several times, the dogs have leaned against the keyboard and sent out an email before I have completed writing it.  None of the dogs seem to like my poetry, though.  I think it puts them to sleep.  They will lean against the desktop, look at the monitor, yawn widely, and then curl up on my lap and fall asleep again.

So, it is rather obvious that the dogs and I are best friends.  But lately, the friendship may have gone a little too far.  One of the dogs has started to take advantage of our relationship.  But it is really hard to tell her no sometimes.  Friskie is a lively, happy, playful dog who is covered in white and brown fur and has large, brown eyes.  She is a small dog, probably weighing no more than 15 or 20 pounds.

So, a few weeks ago, when I was feeling lonely and a little down, I welcomed Friskie into my bedroom as soon as she scratched on my door late one night.  I picked the dog up and placed her on the bed.  I had never put any of the dogs in my bed before.  But tonight, feeling sad, I decided to make an exception.  It took a little time for the dog to get comfortably situated.  At first, Friskie wasn’t sure what to make of her sudden good fortune and she roamed around the queen size bed for a moment stepping gingerly across the mattress and scratching at the sheets.  She began to settle down into the far corner of the mattress until I crawled into the bed, picked her up, and placed her down in front of me.  We both were settled on our right sides as I cuddled Friskie close to my chest.  I began to relax as I felt warm and comforted.  I began to scratch along the dog’s back, side, and chest.  Soon, we both started to dose off.  After about twenty minutes, however, I picked up Friskie and walked her to the door.  I sat the dog down in the hallway.  She looked up at me in surprise for a moment before I told her good night, threw her a few kisses, and closed the door to my room.   A few minutes later, I could hear her little paws padding down the hallway to the living room where she normally sleeps.

The next night, once again feeling sad and lonely, I invited Friskie into my bedroom and placed her once more on my mattress.  And again, after we had a few minutes of relaxation, I picked Friskie up and placed her outside my bedroom door.  Again, I told her goodnight, gave her kisses, and closed my door.  I listened to her slowly making her way back into the living room.  This soon became our routine several nights a week.

But now, every evening around 9 pm, Friskie knocks on my bedroom door.  Or sometimes if the dog sees me walking through the living room, she chases me down the hallway and races into the bedroom ahead of me as soon as I open the door.  She tries excitedly to jump up on the bed but it’s too high for her.  She never gives up, though.  She continually runs and jumps, hits the side of the bed, tumbles backwards, and then runs and jumps again.  She tries several times to get up on the bed.  Finally, I pick her up and place her on the mattress.  It makes me laugh that she is familiar with our routine now, even though, I don’t think I should keep her in the bed.  I hadn’t actually meant for this activity to become an every night habit.  But now, I’m not sure how to tell the dog no after I have spoiled her.  So, I let her into the bedroom and up on the bed.

Well, to be honest I enjoy the comfort, too.

Friskie and I cuddle together under the blanket.  We again both sleep on our right sides.  I am behind her and wrap my upper body protectively around her.  I hold her and scratch her chest and tummy.  It makes me laugh when I pull my hand away and Friskie reaches out with her little paws and bats at my hand as she demands a few more pats.  We lie quietly together and watch old episodes of Survivor on Amazon Prime on my computer.  We giggle girlishly over Jeff Probst and debate who should be voted off the island next.  We both soon drift off to sleep.  A little while later, I’m awake and I again begin the ritual of moving Friskie off of the bed and out of the room.

But this is where we now have developed a little problem.  As I try to move the dog off of the bed, she refuses to leave.  She whines and sighs heavily.  She presses her tiny, furry body deeper into the mattress.  She digs her little paws into the blanket.  The dog refuses to budge.  She refuses to give up her safe, warm place on the bed.  Again, I get out of bed and pick her up; however, when I try to lift her from the bed now, she suddenly goes limp in my hands.  Even though this can be a little frustrating, it always makes me laugh out loud.  I have seen children refuse to go somewhere with their parents.  Their only defense is to suddenly let their bodies go completely limp.  They become heavy, dead weight as they force their parents to try to lift and carry them.  I always laughed over the way children just seemed to instinctively know how to do this.  All children seem to know this trick.  It must be an innate defense tactic that is written directly into the DNA.  However, now I have discovered that animals are born knowing this very same trick!  Friskie always goes limp now to avoid being thrown out of the warm, comfortable bed.  Picking up this little, 20-pound mutt now feels like I am trying to lift a 100-pound pit bull.  I struggle to pull the dog up and carry her over to the door.  She lays wilted over my arms.  I hold her by her mid-section as her head and paws dangle stiff and heavy down towards the floor.

I struggle to hold on to Friskie as I open my bedroom door.  As I gently try to place her in the hallway, I feel like I am trying to throw a heavy sandbag in the middle of a flood-inducing rainstorm.  She is heavy and drooping, and she has completely refused to help me in my dastardly deed of sending her away.

When I finally set her outside my door, she stands for a moment in the hallway looking up at me with large, puppy dog eyes as she continues to whine and beg to come back inside my room.  She dances around in circles and barks loud enough to wake up everyone in the entire house.  I usually have to pick her up and carry her into the living room where her dog bed is located.  I put the dog down on her large, square, brown “puppy pillow” and cover her with her favorite, tattered blanket.  I kiss her on the head and go back to bed.  Throughout the night, though, she comes to my bedroom.  She scratches at the door and cries.  I lie in bed and regret that I ever let her in my room in the first place.  Then I get up out of bed and open the door.  I cuddle with her for a few minutes.  I pet her, kiss her, and tell her I love her.  I let her cry it out before I finally carry her back to her own bed and she sleeps peacefully.

The next night, though, she is at my door again; all has been forgiven.  She scratches and begs to come into my room, and I am so happy she still loves me.  I really don’t know who needs whom more.  I’m just happy she is there for me once more.  And maybe this is what people mean when they say that their pets love them unconditionally.  Too bad we don’t always forgive and forget and choose to love again with other human beings.

So maybe I have made a horrible mistake with the dogs.  Maybe I should have never let them into my room or let Friskie into my bed.  But I guess we are all co-dependent.  I know there will be more nights when Friskie and I will lie side by side, watching Survivor, giggling over Jeff Probst, cheering on our favorite contestants,  and cuddle each other close; both of us feeling warm and loved….and, honestly, most nights, I don’t feel like I made any mistake as I cuddle the dog close.  I have no regrets at all.