Category Archives: special moments

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!

 

 

 

Advertisements

My Perfect Roses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peace for the Living

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And my mother…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…And may God grant peace to all of us.

 

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!

Hangry

The noise was driving me crazy!  I tried to concentrate on my essay but the dog just wouldn’t stop barking!  Every single one of his yelps just seemed to pierce right through my aching head.  I couldn’t imagine what had set him off.  I had filled the food bowl just a few minutes earlier.  I didn’t hear anyone come to the door.  Maybe the dog just wanted to go outside and chase around the stray kitties and squirrels that roamed into the yard from time to time.  After a few more minutes of listening to the endless barking that dissolved into loud screeching howls that seared into my brain and shattered my equilibrium, I finally pushed myself away from my desk and stomped through the living room into the dining room.

“What is going on?”  I shouted out in general to our three small, hyper dogs.  Cowboy, our brown-and-white, spotted dachshund, was standing underneath the large, wooden dining room table.  He was staring into the kitchen as he continued to bark and howl.

“Cowboy,” I shouted to him, “stop it.  What’s wrong with you?”  I glanced into the kitchen and then started to laugh.  “Ah, Dog,” I sighed, “it’s okay.”  But I don’t think he was listening to me as he glared at Starburst and Friskie and continued to growl.

Yes, as usual, around 6 pm, I had filled the dogs’ double-sided, plastic bowl with their usual hard, dry, crunchy dog food.  Typically, Cowboy, the lone male dog, always had one side of the bowl to himself.  Our two female dogs, Friskie and Starburst, either shared the other side or took turns eating.  This night, however, the females decided to stage a mini, non-violent rebellion.  Friskie and Starburst each took a side of the bowl and refused to let Cowboy in between them.  I’m sure Cowboy was thinking “the little bitches” as he grew more upset and continued to howl and whimper.  “Cowboy, it’s okay,” I tried to soothe him.  “You can eat in just a minute.  Let the girls finish.”

But Cowboy wasn’t used to waiting.  He was hungry now and wanted the females out of his way.  But no matter how fierce Cowboy barked, the females refused to be intimidated.  They just continued to scoop the morsels into their mouths and chew happily, totally ignoring the demands of the only male currently in the house.  In an effort to defuse the situation, I walked over to the large, plastic, red bag in the corner of the kitchen and scooped out a handful of dog food.  I sat down on the floor and called Cowboy over to me as I held the food out to him.  Cowboy suddenly choked back a hearty bark and raced over to me.  He leaped up into my lap and started nibbling the food that I held in the palm of my right hand.  As he chewed, I gently scolded him, “Now, don’t you feel silly causing such a fuss?  I’m not going to let you starve.”  Cowboy continued to eat from my hand until the females had finished their meal.  Then he ran over to the bowl and feasted on the scraps that the female dogs had left for him.  He bobbed his head back and forth between both sides of the bowl as he quickly gobbled up the rest of the food as if he was afraid someone would suddenly take it away from him.

I sat on the floor and sighed as I watched Cowboy begin to lick at the bottom of the bowl.  I never knew before that dogs could get low blood sugar.  Cowboy has a big problem with hypoglycemia.  He gets “HANGRY”!  If the dog isn’t fed by 7 pm, he has a complete meltdown.  Cowboy will bark and cry.  He will run around the living room in circles.  He will jump at me and claw at my legs as I innocently walk by him.  His obnoxious behavior doesn’t stop until he finally gets food into his belly.  Once he has been fed, Cowboy will finally calm down, relax, and return to his normally affectionate self as he lovingly cuddles up on the couch with me or protectively sits under my chair in my room as I work on the computer.  Though Cowboy is the most outrageous, he is not the only one of our dogs that gets “hangry!”

Starburst also gets agitated if she isn’t fed by a certain time.  She doesn’t whine or cry, however.  She has a completely different approach.  Most evenings, I’ll suddenly hear a soft scratch-scratch-scratch on the closed door of my room.  It will stop for a temporary moment and then it will begin again.  Scratch-scratch-scratch.  When I finally have had enough, I will get up from my computer and open the door.  Starburst will be out in the hallway, jumping up and then spinning dizzily around in tiny circles on the hardwood floor.  She will suddenly come to a stop and woozily wobble for a moment before heaving a deep sigh and then running down the hallway.  She knows that this display gets my attention every time and I will follow her as she runs through the living room into the dining room and finally into the kitchen.  When I finally catch up to her, she will pick up the empty plastic food bowl in her mouth and fling it at me striking me on the  lower legs.  Seriously…this tiny, fluffy dog will continue to throw her bowl at my feet and legs until I finally take it away from her, fill it with dog food, and place it back down on the floor for her.

Thankfully, Friskie is much more patient.  She doesn’t get upset or irritated as she waits to be fed.  However, she is not completely drama free when it comes to food.  I made a horribly mistake with the dogs one night.  Just because I was feeling a little lonely, I decided to keep the dogs company while they were having dinner.  I watched all three dogs huddled around the food bowl and when Friskie was suddenly pushed out of the way by the two hangry dogs, I did the same thing for her that I did for Cowboy previously.  I scooped up a handful of food out of the bag and began to feed Friskie directly out of my hand.  It made me laugh to feel her small, sharp teeth nipping at my hand as she pulled the small tidbits of food from my palm.  Suddenly, I realized that the other two dogs had stopped eating.  They had raised their heads up out of the bowl and noticed that Friskie was getting special treatment.  Now, Cowboy and Starburst ran over and jumped onto my lap as I sat in the middle of the floor.  The bowl had been temporarily forgotten and all three dogs were now feeding out of my hand.  I was completely caught up in the moment.  It was funny and sweet and I couldn’t stop laughing as the dogs climbed all over me to get to the food.  It was a fun, bonding moment for all four of us.

Only there was just one small problem.  Friskie, especially, really enjoyed cuddling up to me and eating out of my hand.  When I put the food out for the dogs the following evening, Friskie refused to eat.  She stood a few feet away from the bowl and cried as she watched Starburst and Cowboy feast.

“Friskie, it’s okay,” I told her.  “Go on, eat.”  I reached over and nudged Starburst and Cowboy off to one side as I made room for Friskie at the bowl.  But the dog still refused to eat.  “Friskie, what’s wrong?”  I whispered to her.  “Aren’t you hungry?”  I reached out my hand to stroke back her long brown-and-white fur.  To my surprise, she suddenly turned her head and gave the palm of my hand a long, sticky lick.  I suddenly realized that Friskie refused to eat out of her bowl because she wanted to be handfed again!  I was a little surprised that the other dogs didn’t nip at my hand as I reached right into their bowl as they continued to feed.  I grabbed a handful of kibbles for Friskie and held it out to her.  Now, the dog danced around the kitchen on her four tiny paws in excitement before eating the food right out of my hand.  Like any nervous, first-time mother, I was relieved that she was at least eating.  I tried several times to discuss the situation with Friskie.  I told her that she was a big doggie now and needed to eat out of the big doggie bowl.  But she continued to refuse any food unless it was first resting in the palm of my hand.  I know that I was giving in to the dog’s demands but I wasn’t sure now how to break her of this dependency.  Okay, and yes, I’ll admit it, maybe I was a little co-dependent.  Now, I had to find a way of breaking us both of this addictive behavior.

Then one night, as Starburst and Cowboy were having dinner and Friskie was once more cuddled up to me, I reached over to the large food bag and pulled out some kibbles for her.  As the dog began to nibble from my hand, I began to think that the food was a little different this time.  The pieces felt smaller and of lighter weight.  I looked down at the morsels in my hand and found that the pieces were all shaped like little, brown fish…and that’s when I suddenly realized that I had accidently reached into the kitty food bag!

I stared at the small dog in my arms for a moment before I started to laugh.  “Friskie,” I screeched to her, “you just ate kitty food.  Oh my gosh, you ate kitty food!”  Friskie looked up at me for a moment with a horrified expression on her little face before she raised her furry paws up and started to rub her mouth and nose.  I stared at her for a moment as she now jumped away from me and began to roll around on the floor.  I leaned forward and began to rub her down as I said, “Oh, Friskie, you ate kitty food!  You are going to have kitty cooties.  You got kitty cooties!”  Friskie actually howled as she rolled around on her back for a little while longer.

Finally, Friskie sat up in front of me with her little tail wagging and her tongue hanging off to the side as she panted.  She looked closely at me as if she was asking “Why?” and then she ran to the round plastic water bowl and buried her face in the cool fluid.  She quickly lapped up the water until the bowl was empty.  Even though she eventually forgave me for “kittygate,”  Friskie never begged to eat out of my hand again.  She now, once more, fights for her place at the food bowl with the other two dogs.

The dogs don’t have perfect manners.  One day, I came home from work and was a little hangry myself.  I decided to snack on a bag of Marshmallow Mateys.  I love eating dry cereal right out of the bag.  I settled down onto the couch in the living room, turned on the TV to watch Judge Judy, and ripped open my bag of cereal.  But as I put the first sugary piece into my mouth, I suddenly felt as if I was being watched.  I looked down and noticed that all three dogs were lined up directly in front of me.  All three dogs stared menacingly up at me as if I was cheating them at a card game.  What was going on?  Why would all three dogs be staring suspiciously at me?  I followed their sight line and realized that the dogs were staring at the red plastic bag that was sitting on my lap.  Oh, my gosh, it looked just like their dog food bag!  Did the dogs honestly think I was stealing their dog food?

“No, no, it’s okay,” I tried to tell them.  “This is not yours.  This is people food.”

But I know that they weren’t listening to me as all three of the dogs started to whine and beg.  This was really unusual.  Our dogs usually let the family eat in peace.  My sister-in-law, Mary, who actually owns the dogs, had trained them not to beg at the table.  But it didn’t help when the dogs assumed I was holding their dog food bag.  Did the dogs honestly think I was helping myself to their food?

“No, dogs,” I tried to tell them, “people food.  It may be in a package that looks like dog food, but it really is people food.  It’s for me, okay?”

But the dogs didn’t trusting me.  They now began to sit up and then jumped up and down.  “No,” I told them as I shook my head at their annoying behavior.  “I’m not going to feed you.  I can’t feed you cereal.”

Now, the dogs started barking loudly as they demanded to be fed, but I didn’t want to share.  I decided just to ignore them and that worked for a little while…

…Until I unexpectedly dropped a golden, round, chunky piece of cereal on the carpet.  I quickly leaned down to pick it up but before I could reach it, Cowboy suddenly sprung forward and grabbed the piece up into his mouth.  He quickly chewed it up and swallowed it down.

Dang!  But there was nothing I could do about it now.  But then the situation became worse.  I suddenly noticed that Friskie and Starburst had grown very quiet as they turned to look at each other.  Then, as they turned to stare back up at me, I knew then exactly what they were thinking.  “Well,” the thought seemed to pass between all of us, “you feed him.”

“It was an accident,” I tried to tell Friskie and Starburst.  “I didn’t mean to feed Cowboy.  I just dropped a piece.”

But that didn’t seem to matter.  It just didn’t seem fair to Friskie and Starburst.  Cowboy got a piece and they didn’t.  I groaned as I listened to them whimper and noticed that they stared at Cowboy with hostility.  Now, to help calm the situation, I took a deep breath and reached into the cereal bag.  “Alright,” I sighed as I held a sugary morsel out to each of them, “just don’t tell your momma.”  Momma, of course, referred to my sister-in-law, who would probably be very unhappy with our self-indulgent behavior this afternoon.  Friskie and Starburst jumped excitedly forward and gobbled up the cereal.  Then they began to swirl excitedly around the room.  They don’t usually get sugar and now it seemed to make them extremely happy.  I started to laugh and all of us were so happy, I couldn’t resist.  I snuck another piece of cereal to each of the dogs.  The dogs went a little crazy as they danced around the living room in excitement.  Oh, great, I thought.  I just sent all of three dogs on a sugar high!  “Okay, okay, dogs,” I sighed now.  “Calm down.  It’s okay.”  They were “sugar giddy” for a few minutes before they finally crashed down on the brown and gold carpeting and drifted off to sleep.

Ever since that moment, I have vowed to never again interfere with the dogs’ eating habits.  Life has returned to normal.  Cowboy still is grouchy when he is hangry; Starburst continued to throw her bowl at my legs; Friskie still wants to be “puppied” but is learning to eat like a grown up dog.

I will admit, though, from time to time, I will still walk into the kitchen while they are eating.  I will grab small pieces of food from their bowl.  They don’t nip at me, I think, because  they know what I have planned.  I hold the food out to them, and the dogs nip the morsels out of my fingertips.  The dogs chew the food, swallow it down, and smile (yes, I swear, they smile) up at me and wag their tails.  It makes me feel needed.  It makes me feel loved.

Gosh, I needed to stop being so co-dependent….

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.

 

 

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.