Sunday, December 30, 2012

Reflections on 2012 and The End of the Year

What profound words of wisdom can I expound upon as 2012 comes to a close in my collection of days?  It’s for sure that I am ending the year a heck of a lot wiser than I entered it, but I have paid a very dear price for it.  However, in spite of it all, the lessons I have learned have helped me to set my feet back onto a solid path, and I am looking forward to the new year with hope and enthusiasm.
So, what have I learned this year? 
First of all, I’ve learned that I am about the most na├»ve and trusting person on the face of the earth.  I trusted in the wrong person over a very bad decision, believing that he was my soul mate who would protect and shield me in all things.  Wrong! 
I learned that I had very strong blinders on, and could not see what was going on all around me.  I also learned that my family and friends loved me too much to try to tell me what they could see that I couldn’t.  But then, with the blinders I was wearing, I probably wouldn’t have believed them.  It took a crisis for me to shed the cursed things and see clearly.   You know what they say about hindsight being 20-20.  It’s true!
I also learned that my family and friends love me so much that they bent over backwards to support me and help me through this year, even when I disappointed them.  I have discovered for myself what true love is and how unworthy I am of it. 
Bitterness is a terrible taste in one’s mouth, and I have learned to spit it out and set my face toward the future, looking for the sunlight in my life.   I have discovered wonders that I didn’t know existed, and have deepened my spirituality in believing that things happen for a reason, even when they set me on a terrifying path that at times seems endless and dark. 
I have learned that each day I wake up is a gift.  I experienced the depth of depression for a short period of time, out of which came the realization that I never want to visit that dark place again.  I prefer to seek the sunshine and turn my face toward the sun.
There are many small blessings that might be overlooked in one’s life, and I have discovered that they may be the most powerful and important.  I learned to look for the angels carrying these small gifts in my direction, and to be thankful.
But most of all, I learned in 2012 that my collection of days continues despite what happens to me.  Each day is important and has its lessons to teach me.  I am a different person than the one who wrote in this blog this time last year.  I hope that I am a better person, a more humble person, and a more sensitive and compassionate person.  I also hope that the lessons I’ve learned will become part of who I am and will follow me into the new year.
Happy New Year to all of my loyal readers!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Found Me

I’m not sure when or where it happened. 

I think it sneaked in at the Longest Night service at the Methodist Church on the evening of December 20.  After Communion, while I was kneeling at the altar praying, the minister anointed my forehead with scented oil and said a short prayer for me.  It wasn’t until I got home after the service that I noticed an unusual fragrance following me around everywhere I went in my apartment.  When it dawned on me it was coming from the oil on my face, I decided not to bathe that night.  It was with great reluctance that I washed my face the following morning!

Or, it could have been at the kennel when I received a phone call from one of our clients telling me that she was on her way over, and to please not leave for lunch until she got there.  She and her puppy, Yogi, roared up the drive just as we were getting ready for our lunch break.  She handed me an envelope and wished me a Merry Christmas.  This surprised me, because I knew she was Jewish.  With a quick hug from her and a lick from Yogi, they were out the door and on their way.  When I opened the envelope, I found a nice Christmas card with a photo of Yogi and $25 inside. 

Maybe it has been all of the Facebook messages I have received this week wishing me a Merry Christmas from friends and family around the world.

Possibly, it was the young man behind me in the Walmart check-out line who struck up a conversation with me about our plans for the holiday with our families.  As I filled my buggy with my sacks of groceries, he smiled and wished me a Merry Christmas.

But truthfully, I think it was Daisy, the little dog I am puppy-sitting with this week.  Because she likes to go for walks, I head out every evening with her for a walk in downtown Monroe.  Friday night we happened across a living nativity on the square, complete with a camel, some donkeys, sheep, and a few bunny rabbits.  Daisy wasn’t particularly interested in the nativity scene, but the “Hallelujah Chorus” was playing through the loud speaker system, and I was caught up in the visual scene and the sounds of the wonderful music.

Somehow, Christmas has found me.  It is very different from any Christmas I have ever encountered, but it is here.

And I am crying.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Where is Christmas?

I am having a difficult time getting into Christmas this year.  Too much has happened during 2012 that has rocked my world, and I find myself reeling, trying to find sure footing in my life.  Christmas just isn’t helping!
I want to get into the Christmas spirit.  I really do.  I get snippets of it from time to time, such as when I am baking cookies with my nephews and nieces or teaching a new friend how to cut out and decorate sugar cookies.  But then I find myself back in my real world, and the Christmas spirit flees from me.
It’s been a tough year.  I discovered that my biblical house was built upon the sand.  When the storms came, it crumbled and tumbled, leaving me standing bare before my creator and alone in my heartache, fears, and disappointment.  They say that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.  I’m not sure how much stronger I am, but thankfully I’m not dead yet!
I believe I have made progress, day by day.  But my journey is long, and the path is littered with stones that keep trying to trip me up.  My faith is my walking stick, and I lean on it as I maneuver my way through unknown territory.   My family and my friends are on the sidelines of my path cheering me on, and at critical times they have stepped in and walked awhile with me.  I am very grateful for all of the support and help they have given me this year.    I know I wouldn’t be here today writing this blog if it hadn’t been for these special people and for God’s constant presence.   I am humbled by grace and love.
It’s Christmas time.  Brian reminded me of how close it is in his Facebook posting earlier this week.  I am also constantly reminded of it every time I go for a walk in Monroe or shop in our local Walmart.   The commercialism bothers me more this year than in previous seasons- I’m not sure why, but it does.  I search for the true meaning of Christmas, and wonder why we put so much emphasis on a birth and on Santa Claus, when it was the life of Jesus - his teaching and sacrifice - that revealed God’s true self to us.   I am confused. 
I will keep searching for Christmas.  I know it’s out there somewhere.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It's All In A Name

A few days ago my memory was nudged as I was asked about a student I taught in Bassett, Virginia, in 1988.  At first, I drew a blank when asked about this particular student, but then today in a burst of brain activity, the whole memory flashed back.
I was teaching sixth grade at Bassett Middle School.  Bassett was a mill town in southern Virginia, and the students I taught mostly came from factory worker homes, and there were lots of cousins in my classroom.  Many of the children lived outside of town in family “hollers”, and had very little experience with the world outside of Henry County.  Names were unusual, to put it mildly, and I had to learn how to spell names in very unusual ways.
One day in mid-year, a wiry little guy was escorted into my classroom by the principal as a new student.  I greeted him, and asked him his name.  It sounded like he said Drunarb, with the accent on the”narb.”  Trying not to embarrass him or make him ill at ease, I mumbled his name as I introduced him to the class and showed him to an empty desk.  Grabbing a pad and pencil from my desk on the way down the row to his seat, I was ready to figure out what his name was.  As he sat down, I pulled up a chair next to him, and asked him again his name.   He mumbled it again, and again, I couldn’t understand what he was saying.  Putting the pad on his desk, I asked him to please spell his first name.
He began, “D-r-a-n-r-e-b”.  I wrote the letters on the pad as he spoke.  When he was finished,  I tried to pronounce it, and he corrected me.  “It’s Dranarb,” he said. 
“That’s an unusual name,” I said.  “I’ve never heard of it.”
“I’m named after my father,” he answered.
“Oh, your dad’s name is Dranreb?” I asked.
“No,” he countered. “His name is Bernard.  I was named after him.”
The lightbulb in my brain finally fully turned on as I looked at the letters spelled out on my pad , I was flabbergasted, but couldn’t stop there.  “That’s great that you were named after your dad. Do you have a middle name?”
“Yes,” he said.  “My middle name is Siwel.”    He spelled out the letters while I wrote them down. 
Ok, I got it.  I looked at him and said, “You’re dad’s name must be Bernard Lewis.  Am I right?”
Dranreb nodded and smiled.
What more could I say to that!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Every Path Has Its Puddles

I heard this statement the other day, and immediately wrote it down on the note pad on the table next to my bed.
This statement can be taken two ways, as I see it.  A puddle can be an obstruction on one’s journey, or it can be an opportunity for a little bit of fun.  I choose to select option Number 2.
I remember loving rainy days as a child.  If there was no electricity in the air in the form of lightning and thunder, Mama would let me go outside with my raincoat, umbrella, and galoshes to play in the puddles.  My best friend, Marcia, and I spent many happy hours sloshing through the puddles and playing in the gutters of our street.   We’d come back into the house soaked from our ankles to our knees, where Mama would have hot chocolate and home-made cookies waiting for us. 
More recently, I enjoyed a rainy afternoon with Brian, who had flown down from New York City to be with me.  It was a steamy day in July, the day after I sneaked  out of my home.  I had met Brian at the home where I would be spending the next two months of my life.   We were sitting on the deck enjoying a glass of wine at my temporary home when a shower blew in.  We watched it rain for a few minutes when we decided that we needed to play in the rain.  We ran out onto the open portion of the deck and began to dance and twirl, lifting our faces toward heaven, and letting the rain completely soak us.  The little girl in me had been reawakened. We laughed and cried and hugged, getting soaked from head to toe with the fresh rainwater.    I think this was the first step for me in my healing from the ordeals of the past five months.   
Yes, I’ll choose to look at puddles along my path as a good thing.  It’s too much of a temptation for having a little fun!  And besides, as my Daddy used to remind me, I’m not made of sugar, so I won’t melt!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Betty, the Adventurer

Betty Gibson (not her real name) stopped by the kennel this morning to see if we had space to board her dog, Molly (not her real name, either!), for the Thanksgiving holiday.  She had decided at the last minute to drive up to Massachusetts to visit her daughter, and planned to be gone about ten days.  She couldn't finalize her plans without knowing we had room for Molly.

The kennel is full, but Betty holds a special place in our hearts, and we told her that yes, we would be happy to keep Molly for her.   With a smile on her face, she said she had to go home to pack, and that she’d be back later in the day.

Promptly at 4:00 pm, we saw Betty’s little Toyota driving up our long driveway.  She pulled in and parked, got out of the driver’s seat, opened the back door, and out bounded Molly, her big German Shepherd.  Molly has been at the kennel so many times, she headed straight for the door to the runs.  Ashley grabbed her leash and escorted her back to her run while Betty approached the reception desk to check in.

 I finished getting Molly’s reservation made, and talked to Betty while I put the final touches on the run card.  Betty told me that she was driving alone to Massachusetts.  This surprised me, because Betty isn’t a spring chicken, she is hard of hearing, and it takes every ounce of her energy to keep up with enthusiastic Molly.  I guess my face gave away my concern about her driving all that distance alone, because she told me that her daughter tried to convince her to fly.  Betty said that she wanted to take the back roads north, and that if she ran into any bad weather, she’d just turn the car around and drive back home.  She said that she enjoyed driving and that she planned to take her time, look at some pretty scenery, and enjoy herself. 

Smiling, I looked her straight in the eye and said, “Betty, I sure do want to be like you when I grow up.”  Her eyes twinkled, and her wrinkled face lit up.  “How old are you?”  She asked me.  I told her my age, and she replied, “I’m 82.  When I was your age, I drove with a friend from San Diego all the way to Alaska.  I can’t do that anymore, but I am looking forward to driving to Massachusetts.” 

We talked for a few minutes longer about some of the things she has done since retiring.  She said her memory is beginning to play tricks on her, and that she is signed up to be a part of a memory study at Emory University when she returns.

As she left, I wished her Godspeed and safe travels on her trip.  I don’t know how much longer Betty will be able to drive alone on her trips, and I hope that God will have some extra angels in the car with her watching over her on this one.  I know Molly will be happy to see her when she returns home, and I will, too!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Healing Within

Last week-end when I experienced my first 13th Octave La Ho Chi healing, I knew that something significant had happened to me.  

After the session was over, and the burning sensation in my feet and under my left arm had cooled down, and the tears and the uncontrollable trembling had run their course, I was smiling, enjoying a glass of wine, and laughing with my friends.  My healer told me that whenever I felt the need to cry, or felt paralyzed by fear and anxiety, that I should wrap myself up in the blue cloak of Mother Mary - that she was always with me.  I asked her if this was the same Mary as Jesus’ mother, and her durect answer to me was, “Of course it is.” 

It felt as if a weight had been lifted from my spirit.  While I still have many trials and challenges facing me, I could almost feel the brush of angel wings all around me sweeping them away.  It also seemed as though I was seeing things through clearer eyes, and my fears were lessened.    

On Wednesday, I went shopping and found a light blue Sherpa blanket at one of the department stores I visited.  As I felt its softness, I knew that I had to have it. This was the blue cloak I needed to wrap up in.   As soon as I got home, I unfolded it from its packaging, sat down in my comfy arm chair, and enveloped myself within it.  Overcome with sudden emotion, I began weeping.  As I cried, I drew the blanket up closer to my face and let the tears flow.  Soon, all the tears were expended, and I was warm and cozy, all wrapped up in my Mother Mary cloak.   Not only did I feel close to Mother Mary, but I could feel the presence of my own mother comforting me. 

I’m not sure I understand what happened when I had the healing session, but I know that I feel different than I did this time last week.  I also have the reassurance that I am surrounded by the Holy Spirit along with an army of angels ready to protect me and guide me.  As I write this, I know it sounds weird, but I can only attest to how I feel and what I experienced.    It is like the broken pieces in my life have been put back together and that my heart has been opened to receive more of what God wants me to have in my life. 

It is a very good feeling.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Embracing a New Simple Life

I have told people for years that I live a simple life.  Little did I know that my life could become even more simple.  Now that I am living alone in a small apartment, I understand more fully what the word simple really means!

My sister-in-law and I talked over the phone yesterday for our weekly Saturday check-in.  She asked me what I still need for my new home.  I thought about it, and had a hard time coming up with a list for her.  There are still many of my personal belongings still at the house where I used to live, and I am hopeful that I will get them back in the divorce.  I don’t want to duplicate these items until I know for sure whether they will still be available for me.  I wasn’t sure what to tell her.

Downsizing is a word I hear quite often from my baby-boomer friends as they sell their homes and move into smaller spaces.   We are discarding the unessential things from our lives, and making critical decisions on what is important to us.  This is what I did on September 8, when I went back to my home to claim my belongings and move them out.  Unfortunately, I was unable to get many of the things that I wanted and/or needed that day, but looking back on that stressful day, I know that I made some good choices, and I am now surrounded by a few things that hold special meaning for me.   I am mourning over those that were unavailable to me on that day (the reason for this is another story), but now almost two months later, I am doing quite nicely without them, and if I have to do it, I can live happily without them.

I am working on my budget for my new life.  It is going to be a strict one for the next year until I begin drawing Social Security.  But again, I am discovering that I don’t need much, and simplicity is truly an integral part of my life.   There are still things that I would like to have in my new home, but I am living very comfortably and finding that the simple life is indeed a good one.

 My days are changing, my life is definitely changing, and the road I am now traveling is cluttered with new adventures and discoveries.  Even with all the pain and fear of this year, I am collecting blessings along the way, which are making me a new person.   I don’t like snakes, but I keep thinking of the snake skins I used to find when I was camping or hiking, and know that, like the snake, I am shedding my old skin and creating a new one that fits me better. 

Downsizing, embracing a simple life – call it what you want.  It is something that I am living each day.  My days are still worth collecting!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Discoveries Along My Way

Now that I have been living in my apartment for a month,  I am settling into my little nest, making it look like my home, and beginning to feel like I’m not afloat any longer.  I’ve learned a few lessons, made a number of discoveries, and encountered some surprises as I adjust to life alone.  They are making my collection of days very interesting.  Here are a few highlights:

I decided to buy myself a bottle of wine to enjoy with dinner one night.  After it was chilled and I was ready for my meal, I realized I didn’t have a corkscrew.  I made a quick trip to the local grocery store to purchase one, but when I got home with it, I couldn’t figure out how to work the darn thing- it wasn’t like the one I knew and loved at my former home!  I took a deep breath, studied it a bit, and finally figured it out.  I think that first glass of wine in my new home was the best I have ever had.

Peepholes are made for tall people.  I have one on my front door, but I have to climb onto a stool to see who is on the other side.  This happened one day when my landlady’s handyman stopped by to see if I needed anything.  He heard me on the other side of the door clattering around getting my stool out to see who was knocking, and yelled through the closed door to ask if I was o.k.  Once I recognized who it was, I opened the door for him.  One week later, I had a new peephole-  at my eye level.

The television doesn’t have to be on during all of my waking hours at home.  Quiet is nice!  I have been enjoying not having background noise around me all the time.  I really don’t miss it at all.

I can sleep on both sides of the bed, and I do. 

The clock doesn’t manage me the way it used to do.  If I want to stop somewhere on the way home from work, it is fine to do so.  If I want to have my supper at 8:00 pm, that’s ok, too.  I can change my mind about what I want to do and when I want to do it without having to let anyone know.

There is a difference between lonely and alone.  So far, I have not felt lonely, because I have an entire cheering squad of family and friends who are supporting me and who are always a heartbeat away if there is something I need or if I want a friendly voice to talk to.  I am sure some lonely days will surface, but for now I am doing fine.

Baritone ukulele chords and words to old songs that have been stored in the depths of my brain’s filing cabinets for decades are slowly bubbling to the surface.  My sister brought me a baritone ukulele when I moved, and I have been playing around with it trying to remember all of the old songs we strummed and sang when we were Camp Fire Girls at summer camp.  There are still some that are stumping me, but I am hopeful that with a little time, my fingers will remember the chords and my brain will remember the words to the songs.  In the meantime, I now have the magic of the internet  to assist me in remembering!

The surprises and challenges keep on coming.  As those worthy of note make their way into my life, I will share them in my collection of days.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Kennel Days

Working at a boarding kennel provides me with entertainment I never dreamed possible before this job. Some of it is fun and lighthearted, while occasionally my heart is broken.

People ask me how I can stand the sounds of dogs barking all day long. What is interesting is that they don’t, even when we have a kennel packed to overflowing. Yes, there are times that everyone chimes in, and some days we simply have a noisy bunch. Breakfast is a prime example of a noisy time. When I drive onto the property early in the morning, it is almost always quiet, with perhaps a lone bark here and there from an early bird dog trying to communicate with someone. But as soon as the kennel workers arrive, the symphony begins. Somehow, the dogs instinctively know when their food source has arrived. Once tummies are filled, it quiets down for awhile, when the dogs are taken outside to play and to go on their potty breaks.

I usually stay on the property for my lunch hour, and enjoy lunch while sitting under a training shelter on nice days. I seldom hear a peep from inside the kennel. It’s nap time, much like in a school kindergarten classroom. Every now and then, a dog will be aroused enough to send out a warning bark, but usually it is ignored by the rest of the guests. An exception is when we have hounds or Alaskan “sled dogs” staying with us. The dogs from the far north will sing to each other with the most mournful songs I have ever heard. I can imagine their relatives up in Alaska sending their voices across the icy tundra as the teams mush their way across the vast countryside. The hounds are an interesting bunch, as well. They will bay, bark, howl – anything to get attention. You’d think they were after a fox or rabbit from the noise they can generate. I enjoy listening to these two groups of animals communicate with each other.

Watching training is educational in itself. When someone brings in their pet for our two week board-and-train, it is often for an animal that has taken over the household, and the owners have no control anymore. Ashley is a wonder, and I love watching him as he handles the dogs and teaches them what they need to know to be good pets and family members. After training the dog, it is time to train the owners, which is also fun to watch. When the dog goes home, we can only hope that the owners will follow through with what Ashley has accomplished with their pet.

There are sad moments as well. Older dogs with health problems touch my heart as I watch them struggle to get up, and sometimes to simply walk outside. There are a couple of dogs who come to board with us who are blind and need to be guided so that they won’t run into something. We also see those with hip dysplasia and other physical problems who have trouble getting around. Getting old is as hard on the dogs as it is on us! And when an owner calls to tell me that their pet has died, it breaks my heart to receive this news. We never delete an animal from our database, but simply make it “inactive,” which is easier on me. I have also experienced the death of an owner, and have seen the sadness and loss in the dog’s eyes. I have shed many tears since working here.

Yes, this job is a good one for my collection of days. Each day is different, and each day offers new lessons. It is a very healthy place for me to be.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A New Kind of Normal

My world has been in upheaval for the past six months. I am not going into detail about what is happening, but I realize that in my collection of days, my days are certainly different now, and I feel compelled to write about them. I am now cozily nesting in a one-bedroom apartment all by myself. It is in an old house that has been converted into three apartments, within walking distance of downtown Monroe, GA. It is quite a change from living on five acres in a piny woods with vegetable gardens surrounding me that I have known for the past nine years. My life is once again in a topsy turvy state of change, and I am doing my best to ride the roller coaster without falling off or getting too dizzy.

When my old kind of Normal got to the point that I either had to escape it or be sucked into something I couldn’t live with, I knew I had to make a change. It took me awhile to work up the courage to do it, but with the help of good friends, a loving and supportive family, many answered prayers, and a dose of humility mixed with courage, I made my getaway. It isn’t easy, and certainly isn’t over, but progress is being made, and I feel like I am on my way in the direction of my new Normal.

I never thought I would be making this many changes at my age, but here I am. Being alone is giving me the chance to spend some time with myself and to figure out who I am. Somehow, I had lost myself without knowing it, and it took moving out to be able to look at everything from a different and broader perspective and to realize that I had become someone I didn’t want to be. My old Normal just had to go!

Fear has played a huge role in all of these changes. I am dealing with my fear, and facing it in a way I wouldn’t have dreamed possible a few months ago. In my new Normal, I am relying more and more on prayer and faith, and while it often seems that my faith is very weak, I am seeing daily that it is stronger than I had thought. It is helping me to face my fear with a stout heart and accept it as part of my new Normal without letting it overpower me, all the while relying on God to lead me through some pretty dark days.

There are new friends in my new Normal, and several old friends have re-surfaced after having been gone for awhile. I have been amazed at the people who have shown up to support me and to help me through some pretty challenging days, friends who I didn’t even realize I had before the old Normal gave in to the new Normal. I am most grateful for these special people in my life.

Yes, life is certainly different for me now, and I am taking each day as it comes in my collection of days with fresh eyes and a new heart. I’m not going to let a single day go to waste, and I am going to make sure I thank God each day, several times a day, for all of my blessings.

I have today and a new kind of Normal.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Edmund, the One-Eyed Cat

The resident “manager” at the boarding kennel where I’ve been working for the past five months is a grey and white kitty cat named Edmund. Because I am now his primary food source on most days of the week, and I spend a little time every day to scratch between his ears, we have become good buddies.

Edmund has used up one of his nine lives since coming to live at the kennel, and he is lucky to be alive. A couple of years ago he was run over by a car in the parking lot, which crushed one side of his head. Being the super-cat that he is, Edmund survived this terrible accident, although he lost his right eye as a result. His eye lid is now permanently sealed shut, giving him the affectionate nickname of One-Eyed Jack.

Ed lives at the kennel full-time. He has a kitty condo in the reception area and enjoys the run of the front office area and the 100 acres surrounding the kennel. He likes to sneak back into the dog runs when he can, but we highly discourage this activity. It’s not that Ed cares one iota about the other animals, but he can definitely be an irritant to them and cause general unrest among his canine friends.

One of Ed’s favorite lounging spots is on the reception counter, where he has to be physically relocated to the desk chair several times each day when clients come in to pick up or drop off their pets. He also finds sunny spots during the day, where he can be found in one of the many windowsills, on one of the welcome rugs, or in a reception area chair.

When Edmund spends the night outdoors, I can see him running across the field to greet me as I drive into the parking area in the morning. As soon as I park my car, he jumps up onto the car roof, and if the window is open, even a crack, he leans over toward the window, and swats my hair with his paw until I get out of the car. Once inside the kennel, he jumps up onto my desk and head butts me until I put my things away and turn on the computer. He is relentless until I give
him my full attention and fill up his food bowl for him. After this is accomplished, he then ignores
me for a few hours while he catches up on his beauty rest.

Ed is an expert at changing the settings on the printer, keyboarding gibberish on the computer screen, and generally being a nuisance at my desk. I consistently search for missing ballpoint pens and pick up papers from the floor that he has knocked over in one of his quick entrances or getaways. There are times when I have to either secure him in his condo or encourage him to go outside to play.

Edmund doesn’t know that he is handicapped. Actually, I wonder if he really is. While he
doesn’t have the vision of a two-eyed cat, I don’t think he knows at all that his vision is less than it was before his accident. He never misses a jump, and he is an expert fly-catcher. I’ve seen him sneak up on a cricket and nail it with one leap. I’ve also rescued a chipmunk that he caught and held him until it could escape.

Edmund is quite the cat.

I am glad that he is my friend.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Call - A Short Story

Jennie Lazarus

Angela couldtell from the way the door to the garage slammed that Matt was upset. As she stood at the kitchen sink scrubbingpotatoes for dinner, the familiar lump in the pit of her stomach bubbled to thesurface and swelled, making her immediately nauseous. Matt would be standing behind her in lessthan a minute, bear-hugging her and giving her a peck on the nape of her neck –a sure sign that his day had not been a good one. “What have I done wrong this time?” shethought to herself as she listened to his approaching footsteps.

A hundredscenarios raced through her imagination in the time it took for him to crossthe foyer, traverse the family room and enter the kitchen. It amazed Angela that so much could flashacross her brain in such a brief time. Shehoped that maybe this time it wasn’t some transgression with her name on it;perhaps he was perturbed by something- or someone- else. She said a quick prayer that this might bethe case.

The life of aminister was not an easy one - she knew that. Matt had a lot to deal with as the spiritual leader of his small, ruralchurch full of strong-willed individuals, each one carrying his or her ownideas of Christianity and how the church should be run. She had trouble understanding why Matt chosethis path in life. What was this thing -The Call - that he was compelled to follow all the way to the church pulpit andparsonage door? While her heart andspirit believed that God led them both in their lives, her brain had troubleprocessing the reality of the way her life had changed since The Call. Howcould it be so strong that Matt could no longer be satisfied with simply beinga good church member like everyone else in the congregation, the way he wasbefore God spoke to him directly, leading him down this new path?

Sure enough,her fears were realized. Before shecould turn off the water at the sink or put down the potato in her hand, shefelt Matt’s arms wrapping around her middle, and the familiar nibble below herear lobe. Recognizing that thisexpression of affection was the sign she had feared, she hesitantly asked,“Rough day?”

“You couldsay that,” Matt answered brusquely. “We’ll talk about it after dinner.” With that, he kissed her again and in hardly above a whisper, hebreathed into her ear, “Love you.” He released his grasp on her and headed tothe bedroom to change from his preacher attire of sports coat and slacks intomore comfortable sweats and slippers, leaving her to her own thoughts of whatmight be coming later.

As Angelaglanced back over her shoulder to watch his retreat from the kitchen, shecontemplated The Call and how dedicated he was to it - a little too dedicated,she thought. It seemed to her that Mattplaced The Call above everything else in his life, even theirrelationship. As this thought crossedher mind, a wave of guilt and a prayer followed, “I’m sorry, God, I didn’t meanit. Please forgive me,” she confessed.

Angela knew inher heart that she was the cause of her husband’s so-called rough day. Still standing at the sink, sheabsent-mindedly continued scrubbing the potato and gazed out at the fieldbehind the parsonage, looking at nothing in particular, but absorbing the lateafternoon beauty of the sun caressing the wild flowers and bending the daisyfaces toward the west. A lone teartracked its way down her cheek, where she quickly lapped it into her mouth, tastingthe saltiness of her unhappiness.

“Why is itthat God’s call hurts so much?” she quietly asked herself and whatever spiritmight be listening. “And why didn’t youcall me, too?” she added, glancing heavenward, her anxiety finally allowing herto address God directly with her insecurities.

Life had beengood before The Call. She and Matt werehappy, or at least she thought they were happy. Maybe they really weren’t; maybe it had been an illusion, or he wouldn’thave wanted to leave a good job as marketing director of a successful firm tomake such a drastic change in his life. Or perhaps something was lacking between the two of them to make him takea turn in this new direction. She had noanswers, but plenty of questions, and until this moment, no one toward whom todirect them. Again, she said a prayer,in the form of a plea, “Why did you call him to ministry, but didn’t talk to meabout it first?” She knew this questionbordered on blasphemy, but she was at the point where nothing seemed to makesense anymore, and God was the only one she trusted for verbalizing what hadbeen nagging at her for so long.

Angelasnapped back to reality as she realized the water was still running in the sinkand the potato was just about scrubbed to death. Poor thing, its skin was nearly gone. She could almost identify with it. “Poor little potato,” she sympathized. “I know how you must feel,” she sighed as shelaid it aside to clean the next potato waiting in the bowl.

* * * * * *

Suppertimewas quiet. While Matt hungrily choweddown on pork chops and pan-fried potatoes, Angela was hardly able toswallow. She couldn’t help but wonderwhat their after-dinner conversation was going to be. She didn’t dare broach the subject while Mattwas eating. He liked to enjoy his mealswithout the added challenge of a conversation. His typical response to her whenever she tried to start one, “Angela, Italk to people all day long. Let me eatmy supper in peace, please,” kept her from saying a word. As they sat in silence, Angela reviewed theprevious day, Sunday, in her mind, trying to remember if she had said somethinginappropriate of a preacher’s wife, or had perhaps snubbed someone at church. It had been an ordinary Sunday as far as shecould recall, but she had that familiar sinking feeling that she had donesomething that would come to haunt her until she and Matt moved on to theirnext church. She didn’t like thesesilent meals, but in the six years since Matt had become a preacher, she hadgotten used to them in a strange way. Aslong as he didn’t have anything to say, then she didn’t have to come up with aresponse, or more likely, a defense.

Last month,it was a cold-shoulder that she didn’t even know she had committed when shebrushed by Eleanor Porter in the church hallway without stopping to chat. She had been late to her Sunday School class,and simply didn’t think to stop and engage in a conversation with her. And then, last year, Mr. Wilson, chairman ofthe pastor-parish relations committee complained to Matt that Angela needed todress differently for the Wednesday night suppers. She had made the mortal mistake of wearing askirt that was a tad short, and a sleeveless knit top that wasn’t two sizes toobig on her, like most of the clothes that met Matt’s approval. Before that, in another church, there was acomplaint that she sang too enthusiastically in the church choir, and a bighub-bub when she declined an invitation to fill in for the church pianist whowas going away on a two week vacation. It seemed to her that someone was always on her case about something,and Matt never came to her defense, at least not that she knew of. Instead, he’d come home, give her the silenttreatment for awhile, and then spring the latest complaint on her, followed bya plea for her to either make amends or try harder to better present herself asa good minister’s wife. Angela wonderedif he ever supported her in front of his parishioners.

She was gladthat they didn’t have children yet. Sheshuddered to imagine the complaints that would fly over the way she’d raisetheir kids. She already pitied theirunborn children for having to grow up with the label, “preacher’s kid.” Matt still talked from time to time abouthaving a family, but recently he’d been too preoccupied with the church to evenshow any interest in intimacy with her. When he wasn’t at the church or out somewheremaking pastoral visits, he was sequestered in his study, working on a sermon orSunday School lesson and reading Bible commentaries. She was usually well into dreamland when hewould slip into bed at night, only to awaken before her to begin his new day. Whileshe knew in her heart that this wasn’t the way their life together should be,she appreciated the fact that she didn’t have to dwell at any length onpossible parenthood.

As she satacross the table from Matt, watching him eat, her thoughts drifted on andon. She recalled all the times she’dgotten into trouble with him about her lack of preacher’s wife skills, andwondered if maybe there might actually be something wrong with her. Was she a snob? Was she truly insensitive to churchmembers? Did she really portray a poorexample of a minister’s wife? Matt hadteased her a few months ago, accusing her of being a weight around his neck,and she was beginning to believe that it might be true. Was she dragging him down in his profession? Her own career felt second-fiddle to his,even though she put her heart and soul into the community elder-care center shemanaged, where she played games and held hands every day with senile seniorcitizens and listened hours on end to tales of younger years, lost loves, andunappreciative children. She loved theseold folks. She fervently believed that this could very well be her own versionof The Call – whatever a Call was. Why didn’t she feel the same about the churchand her position as the minister’s wife?

An ah-ha!moment slapped her across the face. It felt so real, she glanced at Matt to seeif he noticed her head snapping back in a reactionary movement. Could this be God’s hand getting herattention? Maybe it wasn’t all her fault. She suddenly realized that she wouldn’t have known anything about theseoffenses of hers if Matt hadn’t brought them to her attention. And, like the peace-maker that she was, shetook to heart whatever the issue of the day happened to be, always trying tochange to please him so that his life would run more smoothly. She suddenly felt very weary, and again silentlyaddressed God, “OK, God. I’m not theperson Matt wants me to be, and I’m not sure if I’m the person You want me tobe. I know very little about TheCall. I’m tired of trying to be someoneI’m not. I admit that I don’t understandThe Call, but can’t we somehow all work together on this? I need your help, God.”

With thissimple prayer, a new resolve took root. A stronger spine began to grow, giving Angela audacity she didn’t knowshe had. She looked across the table atMatt, not knowing what was rumbling around in his mind, certain that she didn’twant to know. He pushed away from thetable, having finished his dinner, gave her a peck on the cheek, and moved intothe family room, leaving the kitchen for her to clean up. This gave her a little time to prepare forwhatever was coming next, and to breathe another prayer, “God, I really, reallyneed your help. The three of us justcan’t keep on this way. I can’t believe that your Call was meant to be likethis.” She added, including Matt in herplea, “Please help us.”

With dishesin the dishwasher and the counters sparkling clean again, Angela wiped herhands on a dishtowel and moved toward the family room. This time, although she was afraid of whatmight come, she was armed with a newly found invisible shield. Before Matt could say a word, she stood infront of his recliner, firmly planted her feet, and addressed her husband,“Matt, I’m sorry that you had a rough day, but I don’t want to hear about ittonight. If it has something to do withme and some member’s feelings I’ve hurt, you can forget about ever telling me. I don’t want to know. I’ve had a tough day, too, at my own job, andI’m not interested in learning about my latest transgression, whatever it is.”

Matt satupright in his chair, a look of sheer puzzlement on his face at theauthoritative tone in his wife’s voice. “Angela,” he paused for effect. “Ihad a long talk with Marcia Taylor today…” He didn’t have a chance to finish.

“WhateverMarcia Taylor had to say is not my concern,” Angela cut him off, “and I don’twant to hear about it. I’m tired oftrying to please everyone, including you, and I’m tired of not being able tocount on you to stand beside me with church members.”

Matt wasuncharacteristically speechless. Angelahad never spoken to him in this manner. This wasn’t like her, and her outburst baffled him. All he could do was sit there and stare athis beautiful, but visibly angry, wife. He found his voice, and started to speak, butAngela cut him off.

With a deepbreath, she continued. “I’m going to thegym. I’ll be back in a couple ofhours. This will give you some time tothink about what our conversation will be when I get home.”

With that,trembling inside with fear, but also feeling a strength she didn’t know shehad, she spun on her heel, grabbed her gym bag and car keys, and exited theroom, her head held high. She knew shewas taking a huge risk with this action and with these words, but she felt a guidingpresence within her in what she was doing. She believed that The Call, in some manner not yet revealed, would bemade clear to both of them.

By the time Mattcould recover enough to jump out of his chair and run after her, the garagedoor had shut, and Angela was in her car, pulling out of the driveway.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

To Judge or Not to Judge

I'm not sure where I heard the following quote, but whenever it was during the past week or two, I took the time to jot it down on the note pad next to my computer:  "Don't judge me on my sins because they are different from yours."

This brings to mind the advice from the Bible to take out the log from your own eye before you condemn the splinter in someone else's eye.

 If you read my previous blog entry, you know about the three things I am endeavoring to include in my everyday life.  Even tougher than being thankful for the bad things as well as the good, I find, is abstaining from throwing back judgement on someone who has judged me in a negative way.  I admit that I have taken many missteps along my way through life, and there are times I've wished that I could go back and have a do-over.  But, I know I can't.  Hence, I rely on God's forgiveness.

This also brings to mind the saying, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."  If this were true, then I would be among the stongest women on earth! While I am still alive, I don't feel strong at all!  Maybe wiser and smarter, but not stronger.

 I know I am very egocentric when it comes to my personal sins and that I need to look outward to those people whose life paths intersect with mine.  I must be careful not to judge them when they disappoint or hurt me.  Who am I to judge their lives or their behavior?  Like me, they are traveling through their lives, striving to be the best (I hope!) that they can be, and their sins are different from mine.  None of us are perfect, and nobody owns the rights to a perfect life.

On the flip side of judgement is the joy of being with people who do not judge!  I have encountered many of these special souls who I know are hiding angel wings beneath their clothing and who keep their halos tucked away in their blue jean pockets.  These are the people who have loved me unconditionally, helped pick me up when I've stumbled, and who have been there for me through thick and thin.  They are the listeners, the prayer warriors, and the cheerleaders of my life.  And ,in return, I'd like to think that I will always be there for them when they need support and love.

As I think about the quote at the beginning of this blog entry, I know that I don't want to be a judge, and I don't want to be judged by anyone except God.  We all have different sins, and none is more special or unique than the other. 

To be non-judgmental- that's the assignment for today, and everyday.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Three Things

It's been awhile since I've added anything to my blog. In fact, it's been over three months. I think it's time to get back into the groove. It isn't that I haven't been writing. I began a new journal in March, in which I am doing a different kind of writing. It is one of introspection and very personal thoughts. It has been quite an adventure for me as a writer, and has presented a challenge of writing in a new way. Years ago, I wrote in a journal for awhile, and as I look back at my writing, I can see that what I wrote wasn't entirely truthful, and I wrote thinking more about what someone might think who might happen across my journal. It definitely was not what my honest thought of the day was. This time I am doing my best to tell the truth, at least the truth as I see it on a particular day. And, if someone should stumble across it after I am long gone, maybe it will provide some interesting conversation!

I have been on an intense spiritual journey the past few months. I lost a very good paying job, and am now working at a much lower salary. The new job, however, has the well-paying one beat by a country mile, and for me it is a much healthier environment. During this time, I've been faced with financial challenges, as well as personal ones as I adjust to a more thrifty lifestyle and an uncertain future. It has turned my face more directly toward God and studying his will for my life.

Last Sunday's sermon at Marble Collegiate church, which I attend online, was about living in God's will. The scripture was from I Thessalonians. It spoke directly to me, and I have been repeating the three things Paul speaks of in this scripture everyday this week. They are: Be joyful. Pray continuously. Be thankful in all things. Well, in traveling along this road I find myself on, I find that I am praying more, relying and trusting in God more, and being joyful and thankful in all things, both good and not so good. The third one is a real challenge to me. I can always find things to be joyful in, and God has always been only a prayer away. But being thankful for the bad stuff? Well, that's tough! It is something that I have to work on.

I'd better get started on this for today.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Theater Bug- It Has Quite a Bite!

Brian was upset. He came home from school crying that he had to be a flower in the upcoming production of “Mother Goose” in his Apple Pie Ridge Elementary School kindergarten class spring production. Through tears, he sobbed that he didn’t want to be a boring flower, but a blackbird who flies out of the pie. His best friend, Leslie, was going to be a blackbird, and he wanted to be one, too. He was inconsolable, and I couldn’t get him to accept any of my good reasons for him to be a flower. Finally, my persuasion not working, I took another tack. I told Brian that if he really wanted to be a blackbird, he should talk to his teacher about it.

I look back at this event as the beginning of Brian’s way of doing things. He now affectionately labels it as DIYODS. I think most people reading this blog probably recognize what this stands for, and those who know Brian are nodding their heads in agreement and laughing as they read this. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when he had the conversation with his kindergarten teacher, as he convinced her to change his part in the play from flower to blackbird. I’ll never forget the sunbeams on his face the day of the play when he and Leslie exuberantly burst from the big blackberry pie, flapping their wings and “flying” around and around on the stage. It really was a better part than the flower would have been. All the flowers could do were stand in one spot and sway in the breeze. Of course, the applause was deafening, as Leslie’s family and ours gave the blackbirds a standing ovation and whooped and hollered for our little blackbirds. After this performance, there was no stopping Brian. He searched out parts in school plays and church pageants, and I found myself his biggest fan. He even filmed a movie after receiving his first video camera, “Shaggy Locks and the Three Bears”, starring his and Wade’s dogs, Shaggy and Dusty. He was on his way!

All of these memories surfaced this last week as Phil and I attended a production of “Willy Wonka Junior”, which was performed by a local middle school drama club. Our friend, Olivia, had a part in the play, and she invited us to come. I looked forward to going to the performance from the day she told us about it, and I was as excited about going as I used to be to seeing Brian’s plays. As I watched her on the stage, I noticed how comfortable she was in her role, and how natural and convincing she was as she brought her character to life. I knew that she, like Brian, had been bitten by the bug. After the performance, she was glowing, and for good reason. She was great! I hope that she, like Brian, will doggedly pursue her passion and seek her bliss as she experiences more opportunities to be on the stage.

And I’d like to think that I’ll be in the audience.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Is It Time Yet?

I don’t wear a watch anymore. When I was laid off from my previous job three years ago, I took off my watch upon arriving home that morning, and laid it on the kitchen counter. I never saw it again after that. I never knew what happened to it, but I didn’t worry about it, because it was a cheap K-Mart watch I had bought for less than $10, and since I no longer had a job and no place to go every morning, I wasn’t in any hurry to replace it. Time wasn’t as important as it had been that morning when I had gotten up to go to work, and I had no need of a timepiece.

I remember my first watch. It had Cinderella on its face. It had to be wound every day or it would stop ticking, and the little mouse on the second hand would stop going round and round. I received it for Christmas when I was about seven years old. I wore it until it quit running –I think the winding spring probably broke- and then replaced it with something newer and better. From that time until this fateful day in 2009, I always had a watch on my wrist, unless, of course, my arm was in the water! I never considered myself fully dressed until I placed my watch of the day onto my right wrist. I felt naked without it.

Now that I don’t wear a watch, I have become aware of how many time-keepers there are at my beck and call all the time. My computer has a clock. My cell phone has a clock. My car has a clock. In my house, clocks are everywhere – on the computer, the t.v., the coffee maker, the stove, the microwave, the thermostat, the cd player. In addition, a couple of honest-to-God clocks sit on my bookshelves. There is hardly a minute that passes that I can’t check somewhere to see what time it is.

We are captives to the passing of time. The clock tells us when it’s time to get up, how much time we have to get dressed and out of the door to go to work, what time to eat our meals, when our meetings and appointments are scheduled, and what time everything starts and ends. We set the timer for the cooking time of our microwave meals, and our coffeemakers so that coffee is brewed and ready when we get out of bed in the morning. Time, time, time. What time is it? How much time do I have? How long will it take? When will we be there? These are all questions that our abundance of clocks answer for us.

I remember a tubing trip I took many years ago down the Shenandoah River. We started out at 9:30 in the morning. I took my watch off and left it in the car, and hopped into my huge inner tube. It was a lovely summer morning, and the river was lazily peaceful. The plan was to tube down the river several miles to the place where our second car was parked. The water was cool and fresh, the sun was warm and comforting, and the sky was bright blue with a few puffy clouds drifting across. My companion and I were mostly quiet as we drifted down the river; occasionally, we’d speak to one another to comment about something we were seeing or passing. Mostly, I was lost in my thoughts and daydreams. I was surprised when we reached the spot for leaving the river. It didn’t seem like hardly any time had passed since we had begun our trip. When we got into the car and started the engine, the clock on the dash read 3:00. How could that much time have passed? I didn’t even get hungry when lunchtime clicked around! What had happened to the day?

It was at that moment of being brought back into the realm of time-keeping that I realized I had spent the day in the absence of time. And it had been wonderful! I think about that day whenever I contemplate eternity and what it must be like for something to be “forever.” Without the reminders of clocks, watches, and other time-keepers, I was unaware of the passage of time. I didn’t even notice the sun crossing the sky that day, as I was so caught up in the experience of the river and my wandering thoughts.

I long for the day when I’ll no longer be a clock watcher, and won’t be bound by schedules. This may not happen until I depart this life and move into the realm of the eternal, but I can wait. I’m in no hurry.

But, I’ll tell you one thing for sure- I never intend to put on another watch.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Uncluttering A Brand New Year

2012 is now four days old. I woke up on New Year’s Day I with the old saying in my mind, “Whatever you do on the New Year is what you will be doing all year long.” I was tempted to sit in a comfortable chair snacking on chocolate while watching old movies on television, but my better judgment kept me from doing this. My superstitious nature kept me from emptying the dishwasher, vacuuming the house, or folding clothes, although I know I’ll be doing these chores all year long anyway. However, I did spend part of the day reflecting on my life, and taking a mental inventory of where I am at this point in my trek through life.

Included in this exercise was spending some time uncluttering my life in the form of going through an old chest of drawers that serves as a collection point for useless and non-essential items. I thought this would be a beneficial thing to do on New Year’s Day, as it might help me throughout 2012 from squirreling stuff I don’t need and may never use. It was an interesting undertaking. I found items that I had forgotten about over the past few years, as well as some things that totally surprised me, trying to remember where they came from and why they ended up in said drawer.

One item of interest was an old composition book, the black-and-white covered kind we had as kids for taking spelling tests and writing school assignments. This particular one was titled “Private Papers”, in a third grade printing that I recognized as my own. When I opened it, I found a collection of poems I had written as an eight year old. Obviously, I concentrated on rhyming more than content, but a couple of the poems made me smile. In a separate blog, I plan to publish a few of these gems.

Another object was a brass container with a lid so tight that Phil had to pry it open for me. Inside was a collection of my father’s odds and ends, mostly Masonic Lodge and Rotary memorabilia. One thing that interested me was a commemorative coin of some sort that had the words “Knights Templar” engraved on it. From reading Dan Brown‘s books and watching movies like “The Da Vinci Code,” my imagination ran wild for a short time, imagining my father in secretive gatherings and wondering about his involvement in this mysterious society. After examining each item and thinking about my dad, Phil and I returned each to the container and sealed it back with the tight-fitting lid. Back into the drawer it went. I’m sure I’ll pull it out again in a few years and go through the process again.

A few other things I found were my mother’s high school diploma, Phil’s grandfather’s funeral prayer book, written in both English and Hebrew, a collection of picture postcards from my childhood, and my high school senior portrait. While I returned most of these treasures to the drawers, I managed to fill up a garbage bag with things that were not worth saving. Included were a compass that didn’t know which direction North was, a dried up yellow highlighter, a bundle of yarn that was beyond detangling, several strands of knotted up Mardi Gras beads, and dozens of freebies from trade shows I’d attended during the past several years.

It was odd how this activity of going through these jam-packed drawers and my introspection of my life intertwined New Year’s afternoon. Memories piled on top of memories, mysteries deepened, questions about why on earth I stashed a certain article into a drawer for safekeeping, and why I ever felt compelled to save something that clearly was worthless to begin with. In so many ways, the drawers mirrored my life, full of valued treasures, mementoes of special moments in both my life and my parents’ lives, remnants of past hobbies and interests, photos, clippings, and other paraphernalia from my life’s events.

As I returned the last drawer to the chest of drawers, now neatly organized and visibly less stuffed, I felt as if I had also uncluttered my life. With a renewed resolve to pay attention the important things in my life, discard the useless, and dust off the meaningless, I was ready to move forward into the future with a lighter burden.

It’s a brand new year. I cleaned out some drawers on New Year’s Day. If that’s what I’ll be doing all year long, it’s o.k. with me. I think keeping my life uncluttered is worth it. And I guess I’ll still do my share of the household chores I avoided all day long.