вторник, 22 марта 2011 г.

The Little Green Book

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Mothers

BY: Shannon Griffin Blair

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
~2 Timothy 1:7

Considering I had never broken a bone, been stung by a bee, or even had one thread stitched through me, the delivery of my son was a terrifying event -- but not just physically. I was also burdened by worry. That first night in the hospital, I stood alone in the gray-blue bathroom listening to my sobs echoing my child's. Why wouldn't he stop crying? How would I get him to eat? What would I do with him when I get home? When would I feel like me again?

These questions and more baffled me, especially since I thought I was more than prepared for Jay's arrival. After all, my husband and I had decorated his nursery, attended showers thrown in our honor, completed a series of birthing classes, and read just about every bestselling baby book on the shelves. Our baby would be the happiest on the block, and we would certainly be baby-wise! Yet there was one book I had not consulted very often throughout my pregnancy, and I needed it more than ever.

While still hiding away in that bathroom, with tears streaming down my cheeks and not knowing where to turn, I suddenly remembered the tiny green Bible I had stashed inside my overnight bag. A man had been handing out free copies of the pocket-sized book on the campus where I teach just the week before. When my water had broken unexpectedly, I began throwing movies, snacks, and clothes into a duffel. Before zipping up, I saw the little book sitting on the counter beside a stack of mail and thought it might come in handy. Little did I know it should have been at the top of my "To Pack" list.

Under the glare of the hospital bathroom's fluorescent lights, I turned to the table of contents. Inside was a reference to key verses for various emotions. It took me some time to pinpoint my feeling, but I knew for certain what to call it when I saw the word "Afraid."

As I read 2 Timothy 1:7, I vowed to rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit that I had forgotten lay within me. I dried my tears and went to the side of my son's bassinet, marveling at the miracle before me. And even though Jay was crying hysterically, my heart's gates finally opened wide enough to allow back in all the love and wonder I had been feeling those nine months prior whenever we heard his heartbeat or watched him twist and turn within my belly. Remembering the words I had just read, I took a deep breath and called in the nurse to give us guidance on how to soothe our precious little one. Within a half-hour, calm had returned.

After that evening, there were and continue to be times when I feel just as clueless and frightened. Simply going grocery shopping for the first time nearly brought me to tears! But instead of shutting myself away in the bathroom to cry, I remind myself to turn to that dog-eared page in the little green book that now rests in Jay's nursery. It is then that I remember the most powerful resource is right at my fingertips.


The Greatest Love

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Twins and More

BY: Linda L. Osmundson

In true love the smallest distance is too great, and the greatest distance can be bridged.
~Hans Nouwens

The phone rang.

"Mom, I've been transferred to Seattle," said our youngest son three years after he and his family arrived in Colorado from New Zealand.

Following his Western Samoan service in the Peace Corps, he'd taught in Auckland, New Zealand, met his love, married and had twins -- Lina and Leilani. When the twins were eight months old in January 1999, the family moved to the States.

They lived in our walk-out basement for six months. We watched the girls scoot and then crawl across the floor. We caught them as they took their first steps. We heard their first words. Then the family found a house six miles away and moved out.

With the transfer, they'd be more than a thousand miles away. Would our bond be broken? There'd be no more last-minute babysitting. No more sleepovers after a card game with their parents that ran too late. No more dropping in at their house to visit and get my hugs.

On moving day, I brought the girls to my house so they wouldn't get in the movers' way. Great thought, but perhaps not the wisest decision. The next morning, we packed two cars -- one for their family and, of course, one for my husband and me -- and started out on our two-and-a-half day trek to Puyallup, Washington.

Upon our arrival at the new yellow house, the girls tore up the stairs like tornadoes.

"Where are you going?" I asked.

"To see our rooms," two voices chimed.

Soon, Lina ran to her mother and whined, "Where is my bed?"

Tears filled Leilani's eyes. "I want to go back to the blue house."

I, too, wanted them to go back to the blue house.

A few days later, we returned home alone. However, the phone rang, and two shy little voices said, "Hi, Nana and Papa. What're you doing?" They related all their day's activities and hung up with, "I love you, Nana. I love you, Papa."

Future calls revealed more about their move. They told how lots of children lived in their neighborhood; how they visited the library, church and YMCA located near their home; and how they met John's fellow employees, and gained lots of support and friends. Even though they were far away, we thanked God for their happiness.

The best was yet to come. The phone rang often. Their love continued; they didn't forget us.

"Nana," said Lina's three-year-old voice, "we got new bedspreads." I heard two sets of feet thump in the background. I pictured tiny legs trying to run up the stairs. "Mine is pink with lady bugs and bees. See?"

I laughed and imagined her holding the phone so I could see her treasure.

Feet thumped again. Then Leilani said, "Mine is purple with butterflies and flowers. See?"

A few months later, we answered the phone. "Nana and Papa, we asked Mommy and Daddy if we could come to your house, and they said no. Can you come to ours?"

As Christmas approached, I considered their request. I couldn't stand the thought of the holiday without them. On Christmas day, we flew to Seattle. John picked us up and drove to his house. Arms loaded, we headed for the front door.

"Here," said John, "go through the garage."

"No, the girls don't know we're coming. We'll ring the doorbell."

From outside, I could hear their mother urge them to break a rule and answer the door. At last, it opened, and one little girl peeked around the edge. I knelt before her. She ran into my arms, followed by her sister.

She said, "Oh, Nana, did Santa bring you for our present?"


The Park Bench

Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Miracles

BY: Barbara Davey

God is the circle whose center is everywhere, and its circumference nowhere.

While the natural cycle of life should have prepared me for the eventual death of my beloved grandfather, the thought of losing him was something I never allowed myself to consider. Throughout his life, Grandpa seemed to defy the conventions of the aging process. Hale, hearty, robust and quick-witted, he was my confidant, my mentor, and most importantly, my best friend well into his nineties.

Then, less than five minutes after I had talked to him on the telephone, he died suddenly from a cerebral hemorrhage, leaving me with a hole through my heart, soul and spirit.

I was his first granddaughter, but Grandpa was not one to spoil me. Nevertheless, I did always feel special with him. His eloquent manner of speaking and magnificent carriage attracted attention in every venue. Whether we were in a restaurant, a supermarket line, or a doctor's office, people gravitated toward him, and I loved being at his side. He lived by the Serenity Prayer, accepting what could not be changed, while bravely trying to improve what could. Even as a young child, I always sensed he heeded a Higher Power. His example was his greatest gift to me.

In the weeks that followed his death, I lived a numb existence. I staggered through the days, grieving, only to be tortured with thoughts of him throughout the night. I could not begin to comprehend that he was gone. He would no longer enter a room, answer the telephone, share a meal.

To physically escape the mental anguish, I started walking. For months, my only objective was to exhaust myself physically by day, to ensure my nights would be given over to sleep.

Soon, my walking pattern became routine. I strolled a few miles to our neighborhood park, then rested briefly on a bench overlooking a duck pond. An elderly man sat on an identical bench on the opposite side. Neither of us ever spoke to the other, but I sensed we were both seeking a similar peace in the silence.

Months passed, and eventually these excursions began to quiet my heart. I felt a change happening. The old man smoked a pipe and the tobacco reminded me of a time long ago when my grandfather used to smoke one, too. Perhaps the aroma triggered something, but I was transported back to a happier time. I remembered myself as a child reading the Sunday comics with Grandpa, playing with wooden blocks, and telling stories while eating canned fruit.

Throughout the next few months, other images flooded my memory. School graduations, holiday celebrations, birthdays and summer vacations from long ago were relived while sitting on that park bench. Again, neither I nor that old man ever spoke, but somehow I knew my gradual healing was related to that time on our identical benches.

One day I woke and realized the oppressive weight on my heart had lightened. It was then I recalled a dream I had. My beloved grandfather was there. He looked a little peculiar, though, as if he were a bit disturbed with me, a bit confused. I couldn't quite place the look on his face, but I knew I had seen it before.

It came to me later that day as I sat on that park bench. There, gently surrounded by the aroma of tobacco as my elderly companion puffed on his pipe, I remembered. Thirty-five years ago, my grandparents had taken a trip to Ireland. I hadn't wanted my grandfather to leave me, and I carried on horribly, crying about how much I would miss him. He had been disappointed in my behavior then, and that same look was on his face in my dream.

"Why are you acting like this?" he had asked me before his trip. "I'm only going away for a short time. I'll see you again very soon. Stop that."

Looking back over my behavior the past year, I could almost hear that same admonishment. But there seemed to be a new twist to his message this time. Now he seemed to be saying, "Let me go. I am finally home, and I am happy. But I am disturbed with you. It's not your time yet. When you're ready to come home, I'll be here. I am already waiting for you."

That realization hit me like a thunderbolt. I sat on that park bench for quite some time. Finally, with the sun setting, I buttoned my coat and started home. It was only then I realized the old man had left.

From that day forward, while I continued to miss my grandfather deeply, my heart was not so heavy. I could even smile when I remembered his perfect diction, erect posture, and witty sayings. I continued my walks to the park, but I never saw the old man again.

One day, I asked the park rangers if they had seen him.

The three men looked at each other, and then at me. Finally, one of them said, "We're not sure what you mean, Miss. The three of us have watched you sit on that same park bench every day for nearly a year. But you have always been alone. We never once saw an old man here."


Learning About Loss Before It's Too Late

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

BY: Saralee Perel

Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.
~Grandma Moses

One day last week I woke up in a lousy mood. Why? We were out of coffee. I was late paying a MasterCard bill. My favorite clock had just stopped working.

I didn't even think of saying "good morning" to my husband Bob. After all, we've been waking up together for 32 years. As usual, we both got out of bed and headed right to our desks.

I checked e-mail and replied to people who were complaining about rainy days as if we were all living through a catastrophic disaster.

One more e-mail remained. It was from a fellow named John. And it turned out to be a breath-stopping shock.

The first time John wrote to me was about a year ago. He was responding to a column I had written about relationship troubles that Bob and I had overcome:

"Hello Saralee. My wife Donna pointed out an article by you she found moving. It brought her to tears. I'm a grown man who can be very emotional. I was pleasantly surprised that there was a happy ending and everything was fine. Few couples these days enjoy the closeness that you have with your spouse. I am proud to say that I have been with my beloved for 26 years and she's still the one."

When I saw his name on this current e-mail, I was hoping to read more about his loving marriage. He wrote:

"Two days ago my wife fell down a flight of stairs. I lost the only girl I will ever love. She was only 54 and in perfect health."

I stared at his words as my life was overhauled in less than one minute.

I could hear Bob in his study. He was in a bad mood because he kept getting cut off during a phone call to our veterinarian. I asked him to come in and read John's e-mail.

As he was reading, his demeanor changed. In slow motion, he went from appearing uptight and annoyed to sadly calm. With a deep sigh he said, "Thank you for having me read this."

I cried as I re-read the rest of John's note: "She was an organ donor and I am told that because of her good health she can help as many as 50 people. It has been nice talking to you about the love with our spouses."

I responded, "Your e-mail made me think about so many stupid things I get upset about. You gave me a huge wake-up call as to what matters in life and what doesn't." When I asked for his permission to write about this lesson, he kindly agreed and said, "I'm sure Donna would be honored."

I am the one honored to be writing about Donna's many legacies. She selflessly changed the lives of 50 people by giving precious gifts from her body. Through the words of her adoring husband, she leaves behind and continues to teach the profound yet often overlooked lesson: love is what is most important. I am also hoping she will help many realize, the way I did, that most everything is small potatoes compared to love, life and death.

And so this morning, it didn't faze me that I was out of computer paper when a deadline was imminent or that we, along with many others, are so hurting for money that we're on food stamps.

In silence, I said, "Thank you, John, for being so open with me about your tender love affair. Thank you for showing me that living in the moment is the path to joy, because all future moments are truly unpredictable. Thank you, Donna, for showing me that giving, in its most gracious and noble form, is done without expecting anything in return. Eternally, you will always be 'the one' -- for John -- for 50 peoples' lives you will now be an extraordinary part of... and for me."

And then I said "good morning" to Bob.


Marathon Mom

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

BY: Bonnie West

We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.
~Emil Zatopek

In 1980, when my children were old enough to stay alone for a few minutes, but young enough that it had to be only a few, I decided to make a dash to the store. I was thirty-four and breathlessly shocked that I couldn't run two blocks without stopping. It was at that moment I was humiliated enough to take up jogging. We lived near a park and the trek from my house around the park and back was a mile and a half. Day after day I ran the course until I could do it without stopping. I was a runner! Unfortunately I was soon an injured runner with no idea how to stop the pains in my shins, but I did know who to ask. Twice a day I would see a fellow run past my house. I knew he lived in the white house right across from the park. He seemed to run a little more than I did, so I figured he'd know what to do. I knocked on the door and the guy I'd seen running so often answered. He introduced himself as Garry and listened while I told him I was a runner (I actually said that) and asked if he knew anything about running injuries. He gave me lots of advice and suggested I go to a running store and replace my little tennis shoes with something better.

At the store I mentioned my neighbor and was treated like royalty. The clerk explained that the guy I'd been talking to was Garry Bjorklund, the Olympic runner, and didn't I know who he was? I knew enough to be totally embarrassed that I'd called myself a runner in his presence and resolved then and there to actually become one.

So I trained. Every day I ran a 5-mile loop, usually around 5:00 AM before my husband and kids woke up, and every day I would meet Bjorklund and a friend heading out as I was coming home. They always encouraged me, and I always picked up the pace.

In the fall of 1981, after a summer of intense training, I ran the City of Lakes Marathon. In order to get a T-shirt, you had to finish in less than four hours. I know it's shocking, but in those days, there were no bags of treats, medals, prizes, and news coverage. There were just some time officials, awards for the top finishers, and a T-shirt for finishing in under four hours. I finished the grueling 26.2 miles in about 4 hours and 20 minutes, which might very well have been last place. Most everyone had gone home except a wonderful volunteer who vowed to stay until the last person finished. But I was too late for the shirt.

I went home that day, thrilled to have run my first marathon but devastated that I had nothing to show for it. My kids made me tinfoil medals and when they hung them around my neck, I started to cry. I think I was still crying when the doorbell rang and there stood Bjorklund. "You're the one who deserves this," he said, and handed me a marathon shirt.

The Twin Cities Marathon replaced the City of Lakes Marathon in 1982 and instead of circling two lakes four times, it now winds around those lakes and continues on the scenic parkways and river roads of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Thousands of supportive volunteers and hundreds of thousands of spectators with boom boxes blaring the theme from Rocky line the route to cheer on the more than eight thousand runners. It all ends up in front of the Capitol with great fanfare, copious amounts of food, medals for finishers, and, of course, the coveted T-shirt.

Marathons have come a long way since 1981, but they are still 26.2 miles. It has been twenty-five years since I ran that first marathon, twenty-five years since Bjorklund, a young man who'd won marathons, been an Olympian, and still holds the State high school boys' cross country 1600-meter record came to my house and handed me a shirt.

My own son, the tinfoil medal maker, and his sister are adults now, running their own marathons. In fact my son just qualified for Boston and last week called and said, "How about lacing up your running shoes again Mom, for me. Because you're a sixty-year-old woman, if you run a 4:30 marathon you'll qualify for Boston too! What do you say we go together?" Who can resist an offer like that? Time to get out that threadbare T-shirt and hit the road again!


A Pot of Soup

Chicken Soup for the Soul: New Moms

BY: Catherine Ring Saliba

Soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tension of the day, and awakens and refines the appetite.
~Auguste Escoffier

There I was, sitting in a shabby chair in a shabby apartment on a shabby street in a shabby part of town. The apartment was the upstairs of a shabby... all right, rundown house located across the street from an extremely odorous dairy. "Shabby" is the most accurate word that comes to mind when I think back to that time and place, and it also describes my state of mind.

The year was 1963. I was a brand new mother, having given birth to my first precious child only a few days earlier. The birth was difficult, including forty hours of labor and the use of forceps. Cesareans were rare back then, and paternity leaves were nonexistent. Thank goodness changes have been made in that regard, and fathers now share equally (well, almost) in the joys and terrors of this grand adventure.

On this particular day, my husband was at work and would leave for one of his frequent business trips the next day. I had no family nearby, and since we were new to the area, we'd had little chance to make friends. As I sat there holding my very cranky baby, I felt so sad and exhausted. The stirrings of hopelessness began to creep into my soul. Postpartum depression was not a household word then. I looked around the tiny room, then at my beautiful little daughter, and wondered how on earth I would be able to care for her, be a good mother and wife or even cook dinner later that evening.

When a knock sounded at my door a few minutes later, I was just preparing for a good cry, but managed to stifle the tears in order to answer the door. There stood a smiling young woman close to my own age, carrying a gigantic kettle. She stepped inside, placed the kettle on my kitchen table, and then introduced herself. She lived in another shabby apartment in another shabby house nearby, and somehow had heard that a new mom lived here. She, too, had a new baby, just a few weeks ago, and knew that I would undoubtedly be too tired to cook. So, she brought me a big pot of homemade soup.

I am convinced that her kindness saved my sanity that day. The soup lasted for many days, and it tasted like caviar, steak and crème brûlée to me. Our friendship lasted for years until we both moved away and, sadly, lost track of each other.

My baby girl grew up to be a brilliant and fabulous young woman, earning two master's degrees, an MBA, and a PhD, and then to marry and have four beautiful children of her own. She accomplished all of this with a severe hearing loss, and eventually had two successful cochlear implants.

Despite all of that, I haven't forgotten my early distress, and the wonderful gift of the heart given to me at my lowest time, by my caring neighbor. I have continued the tradition and have given a pot of soup to many new mothers among my acquaintance along the way.

Wherever you are, my lovely friend of long ago, thank you!


Never Ever Say Never

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Golf Book

BY: Fred Funk

He conquers who endures.

Let me open with one of the best statements I've ever heard. While practicing after an early round at Memphis, in ninety-degree heat with matching humidity, Kirk Triplett yelled over to a bunch of sweaty pros, "There has to be something really screwed up with us to excel at this game."

I think Kirk's little quip explains how this game can really mess with you. When things are going well, life is good. The life of the road, with its bad food, bad hotels and lonely downtime, is okay. But play poorly and everything gets magnified. Negative vibes seem to have a ripple effect into every aspect of life.

I don't believe there is such a thing as a natural golfer. Can you imagine someone picking up a club for the first time and making a magnificent swing, sending the ball on a beautiful flight and on target? Maybe in the movies. I do believe that every player who has made it on tour has worked extremely hard to learn what it takes to score.

It baffles me to see some guys, who have professional talent beyond what I could ever imagine, struggle or never make it. At the same time, others make it with less talent, and go on to have great careers. I'm not sure where I fit in this scenario, but you can judge for yourself.

My childhood years were the best. I cannot imagine anyone having better times than me and my friends shared from age seven through college. We all had jobs, we had sports, we had good homes, good schools, but most of all, good times.

From age eight until sixteen, I had a paper route. Each year my route grew until I had about one hundred customers. When I turned sixteen, I started driving the delivery truck on weekends, making eight dollars per hour, a lot of money back then. I did this through college. At age twelve, I also started working at the U of Maryland golf course. I started as a cart boy, then range maintenance, then pro shop.

My athletic background was typical of most kids back then. I played nearly every sport at the boys club level. Baseball, football, basketball, not really excelling in any one of them. I was a very good athlete, but I didn't really believe in my skills. One sport I did do outside the norm was boxing. From age eight to sixteen I fought in the Junior Golden Gloves. We trained hard, fought hard, even bled hard, but it was fun if you can believe that.

All this and I haven't mentioned golf. Well, at age ten I went with my dad to caddie for him, and I decided to try the game. I loved it and really got into it, except I never gave anything else up. My responsibilities with work and other sports, let alone school, meant my time for actually playing golf was limited early on. I believe to this day, my dedication to being a good employee, a decent student, and to do the best I could at any sport, molded me for my drive to get to the tour.

I've said that I was a good athlete, but I was small and not very fast. Bad combo to stand out in most sports except boxing and golf. In boxing you always fought someone the same size, and I liked that, except there were some pretty tough guys my size. Does Sugar Ray Leonard ring a bell? Well, he rang many a bell, and I witnessed most, because he grew up in the same county I did. He was one of those "can't miss" kids.

Me, I was never a "can't miss" kid; I just kind of blended in. I was average as a junior golfer, but I became one of the best in the county in high school. My freshman year at U of Maryland I did not make the team, then transferred to PGCC (Prince George's Community College) for two years, then went back to Maryland and was team captain my last two years. Following graduation, I headed south to a Florida mini tour in 1981 and went "belly up."

My future in golf looked bleak, until my coach at Maryland offered me his job because he got promoted to Athletic Director. From 1982 to 1988, I was Coach Funk, when hired the youngest Division I head coach in history. It was through this time period my game picked up. I worked hard on my game, harder than any of the players. I was determined to see if I had what it took to make it. In 1984, I won the National Assistant Pro Championship. This allowed me to go to Q-School, but I failed. Failing in '85 led me to '86 Q-School.

Having had my best summer, I tore a rotator in my left shoulder and failed again. Skipping '87 Q-School, I showed up with no expectations and what happened? I made it.

Failing my rookie year sent me back to Q-School but I easily qualified and made it back to the Tour. I never went to Q-School again. My career was a long progression, many highs, seemingly even more lows, but the triumphs did come and my career as a whole was a great success.

I believe my childhood experience helped mold me, even drove me to have the successes I have had. I've had one goal this whole time: "How good can I get?" I believe I can't answer this yet; I can still improve, still learn. Stay tuned for the sequel to my story because of my belief, "Never Ever Say Never."


Playing to Lose

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

BY: Emily Parke Chase
In every part and corner of our life, to lose oneself is to be the gainer...
~Robert Louis Stevenson

After our first son married, my husband and I sat on the couch looking at the wedding photos. There were the bride and groom, barefoot and grinning as they stood in the grass. Here were the bridesmaids laughing and whispering behind bouquets of flowers. Another photo showed our son and his best friend toasting each other with a bottle of Jones Soda. And the next photo? A snapshot of myself with our guests.

That photo startled me. In my bright yellow mother-of-the-groom dress, I looked overweight. I felt embarrassed to have the photo appear in a family album. How could I have let myself get so overweight? There and then I resolved to get that weight off before the next family wedding came around with its photographic record of my image.

In college, I had been slender, but with the years, pounds began accumulating. They came slowly at first, but as I hit my fourth decade, in one six-month period I added 15 pounds to my frame. Still, the excess weight did not slow me down. Another decade passed before I took an honest look at that wedding photo and admitted the truth: I was obese.

After my son's wedding, I went to my doctor for my annual physical checkup. The doctor prodded me here and listened to me there. He smiled graciously and pronounced that I was in good health. Then, as he was collecting his folders and clipboard and heading for the door, I took the plunge and asked him, "What about my weight?"

Hadn't my doctor noticed that I was well above the weight limit for my height? Was my physician more willing to run the risk that I could die from a heart attack than risk that I might be offended?

"How can I get rid of these extra pounds?" I asked.

My doctor paused, set down his clipboard and, because I initiated this discussion about my weight, admitted his concerns. Offering several suggestions, he jotted down the name of a nutritionist.

Meet with a nutritionist? The idea intimidated me. I am a capable person. At work I solve problems. But now I needed someone to teach me how to fight a battle in a new arena. The nutritionist was understanding. She allowed me to cry and, yes, even grieve the loss of my favorite comfort foods. She assured me that I wouldn't be saying goodbye to those foods forever. I could still eat a chocolate brownie, butter a homemade sweet roll, or savor a piece of apple pie, just not all of them on the same day. Together we worked out a daily meal plan that suited my lifestyle.

Soon I was counting calories, comparing fats, and charting my carbs. Keeping track of all the numbers became a kind of game. I engaged my appetite as an opponent. As with any unfamiliar game, I had to learn new rules.

"I don't like cold foods. Raw carrots just don't do it for me," I complained.

My nutritionist suggested, "Lunches don't have to be the traditional salad filled with cold greens and celery. Instead, try cooking a plate of fresh hot veggies."

Why, I learned, I could even fix vegetables for breakfast! Vegetables for breakfast? All my time-worn rules about cereal and toast began to crumble.

My appetite, my unseen opponent, had lots of tricks to get me off track, but I was delighted when I won the game and stayed within my calorie limit for the day. Steadily the pounds disappeared.

But sometimes I didn't win.

Many years ago when I was a child, my grandmother taught me to play cards. She said learning to play games was character-building: It taught children how to win and lose graciously. Thus, long before I learned to read, I played card games. As a toddler I learned to sort the cards into piles of red and black. Then I played simple matching games and memory games. And as I grew older, the rules became more complex and involved more strategy. I became hooked on games of solitaire like Canfield, Idiot's Delight, and Clock. Along the way I discovered that winning and losing is just part of the cycle of life.

In the same way, with my new eating plan, I found there were days when I won and other days when I gave in to cravings and tossed my diet to the wind. When that happened, however, I didn't give up. I might not win all the time, but I continued to play the game and develop new strategies in order to win the next day, strategies like substituting lower calorie items for my high-fat pleasures.

Three years later, I was no longer obese. By the time our daughter got married, I had shrunk six dress sizes. The photos in my daughter's wedding album show a petite bride radiant in her white gown while, standing nearby, her newly-slim mother looked on with pride.


Queen of Hearts

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grandmothers

By Emily Parke Chase

They might not need me; but they might. I'll let my head be just in sight; a smile as small as mine might be precisely their necessity.
~Emily Dickinson

After the great American poet, Emily Dickinson, died, her home in Amherst, Massachusetts was sold to my grandparents, Hervey and Ethel Parke. There in the heart of New England, they raised their five children. My father was born in the home, which is now owned by Amherst College and is open to the public as the Emily Dickinson Museum.

The house at 280 Main Street was officially called a mansion, we were informed, because it had four chimneys, not because the property included formal gardens and a grass tennis court. It also offered a wonderful cupola high above the roof where children could peek out and spy on the entire town. Doors and stairs creaked with mystery. Walls were said to harbor old poems stuffed behind the plaster by the famous former resident. Grand, sprawling, full of nooks and crannies, it became the perfect playground for sixteen lively grandchildren.
We called our grandparents Nai Nai and Yeh Yeh, the Chinese terms for revered grandmother and grandfather, not because we had a wonton noodle in our heritage, but because my aunt and uncle served as missionaries in China in the early 1940s, and they were the first of the clan to supply grandchildren. Once their children used these terms of endearment, the pattern was established and the rest of us adopted the same honorifics.Nai Nai, by the time I arrived on the scene, was already an older woman. During the day, her snow-white hair was pulled back in a neat bun, but at night I remember sitting on the black leather chaise at the end of her bed and watching her brush out the long strands. To me she looked like the woodcut illustration of the first wife of Mr. Rochester in my child's copy of the Brontë novel, Jane Eyre. "Like the woman who was raving mad?" she laughed when I told her so.

My grandmother delighted in having fresh flowers from the garden appear in vases all about the house. She would walk in the gardens and point to the ones she wanted us to cut and indicate where they might look best. "Those would look nice on the mantel in the library. The others can go in the parlor."

Her heart always wanted the house to look its best because from time to time, random visitors knocked at the door and asked to see the place where Emily once wrote her poems. Without fail, Nai Nai would welcome these complete strangers and offer them a tour. Before they left, she would invite them to enjoy a hot cup of tea and read some of their favorite poems aloud. She knew the lines herself by heart. Her head would nod as she listened to her guest recite, "I'm Nobody! Who are you? Are you — Nobody — Too? Then there's a pair of us!"

Early in the evening, like a shepherd rounding up his flock, she would announce bedtime and shoo all of us grandchildren up the oval staircase to the Austin Room, the Emily Room or the Lavinia Room. As we grew older, we were still sent upstairs by 8:00, the hour she herself retired to her bed. Even as teens, we obediently continued to follow her lead, only to sneak downstairs half an hour later for a raucous round of games in the library.

Parlor games were an important part of our life in Amherst. Most of us learned to manipulate the cards in a playing deck well before we learned to read. We began with simple games of matching hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs. Then we spread the cards out on the floor and played Memory. Later we worked up to games with more and more complicated rules — Canasta, Cribbage, Canfield. Each game had its own rules, and no Parke ever relaxed the rules just because the opponent was a child. My cousins and brothers and I all knew Nai Nai's favorite phrases. If she was losing, she'd quote the dime novels she grew up with: "I'll get you yet, Nod Nixon, he cried, as he shook his fist in the villain's eye!" Or she would promise ominously, "The worm will turn!"

Nai Nai had no fears about her grandchildren becoming card sharks. Her theory was that learning to play cards was character-building. Card games taught a person to win and lose graciously. No one ever wins all the time, so the loser might as well learn to be pleasant even when he is "skunked" and then congratulate the other player. Just as importantly, when you were lucky enough to win, you were not to flaunt that victory at the expense of your cousin's humiliation. Nai Nai's personal attitude was that she never lost: Either she got the highest score or she won bragging rights about having "such smart grandchildren."

If our hearts are as warm and welcoming as my grandmother's, then we too will all be winners.


Timeless Love

Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love

BY: Cynthia Hamond
Love is not only some-thing you feel. It is something you do.
~David Wilkerson

My son-in-law, Chris, fiddled with his watch and tapped his finger on its glass until he had my daughter's attention. He had come to pick her up after a long day of work that had followed the short-sleep night of new parents and he was tired.

Hilary looked up from buckling their baby girl into her car seat and smiled at him.

Chris yawned and stretched his neck. He picked up Emily's car seat and waited for Hilary to make her rounds of hugs and thank yous to all the loved ones who had come to celebrate their baby and shower her with gifts. Chris and Hilary had been married just over a year and in that time he had mastered the fine art of waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting....

But, after waiting for years to fall in love and start his family, this former confirmed bachelor counted these minutes of waiting among his blessings before finally waving goodbye and taking his wife and baby home.

I was happy for my daughter. Hilary had been through so much. Her first marriage had been painful and short, the happiness beginning to change just twenty minutes after leaving their large and elaborate wedding.

Hilary had worked hard to regain her confidence and equilibrium and then Chris came into her life and his love helped complete her healing.

My aunt and I were picking up after the shower when she said, "Cindy, I really like Chris, but I'm a little worried now."

That puzzled me. "What do you mean?"

"Didn't you see what he did when he got here? He no sooner came in the door then he was hurrying Hilary, pointing to his watch and tapping on it!"

"Yes, he does that a lot." I answered. "Isn't it sweet?"

That puzzled her until I explained.

Chris and Hilary were married in a small ceremony, with only their parents in attendance. After we had briefly rejoiced with them, Chris had scooped up his new bride and carried her off to his car. As they pulled out of the church parking lot and headed to his house to start their life together, he could feel Hilary tensing up. As they got farther from the church and closer to what would now be their home, her apprehension grew.

Chris reached over and took her hand. They drove like that for a few more minutes until his watch's alarm started beeping.

He dropped her hand and tapped on his watch. "Well, Hilary," he said, "we've been married twenty minutes and I still love you."

He smiled at her. Hilary slowly returned his smile and then teared up in her relief. Chris had given her the best wedding day gift of all, the reassurance of his kindness and love.

And these five years later, he continues to reassure her in their day to day life, through his love and care of their daughter and two-year-old son.

And when the words can not be spoken or the depth of his feelings can not be expressed, he gently taps on his watch, an intimate and personal reminder to Hilary of his timeless love.


воскресенье, 13 марта 2011 г.

A Letting-Go Kind of Love

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Mothers

BY: Michele Cushatt
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
~Psalm 34:18

He didn't want to tell me, afraid I'd march back to the school with a shaking finger and motherly lecture for a few of his peers. But I pressed. And pressed. After all, I'm a mom who makes an art out of extracting important information. Weary of my relentless questions, he finally confessed.

"Some kids have been picking on me at school."

Ah, the reason he'd been quiet. I kept my mouth shut, afraid any sound would stifle his transparency. Instead, I nodded my encouragement to continue.

"It happens mostly in Spanish, but sometimes in other classes and on the bus."

He described several incidents, nothing ruthless or dangerous, but not particularly enjoyable either. Most of the kids involved were kids we'd known for years. Then my son scrunched up his face and shrugged, unwilling to give vent to the emotions lurking below the surface.

"I don't really care, I guess. But it gets old."

I could tell he cared more than he let on, and the mother bear in me wanted to shoot off a scathing e-mail to his teachers or drive straight to the school office, educate them on the dangers of bullying, and demand an intervention. As if reading my thoughts, he begged, "Don't say anything, Mom. Please. It'll just make things worse. I can handle it."

The lines on his young face and the intensity in his eyes made me doubt it. I could see his hurt, and my heart nearly broke as a result.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart. What these kids are doing... well, it's not right." He shrugged again.

I gave him a hug, told him I loved him and was so proud of him, and then released him to his homework. After he left, I sat at my desk, head in my hands and ready to cry. Is there anything worse than the helpless moments of motherhood?

When he was a baby and cried from hunger, I fed him. When he needed a clean diaper, I changed him. Any time he cut a finger or scratched a knee, I ran to the rescue with Band-Aids and peroxide, ready to fix whatever was broken.

But I couldn't fix this brokenness. I'd respect his request and not intervene -- yet. Being a middle-school boy was tough enough without a pushy, overbearing mother. I'd have to sit back and watch him wrestle through this challenge, praying he'd rise above it, stronger and more mature as a result.

It was then that I got a glimpse of God's role in parenting me. At times, He's come to my rescue, diving in to pluck me from the middle of a struggle. Other times, He's allowed me to wrestle through the difficulty, hoping I'd grow and mature in the process. Occasionally, I've wondered if God is callous, unconcerned with my pain. But as I sat at my desk with my heart bleeding for my son, I understood that sometimes parenting means not intervening. It's learning to love by letting go, allowing your own heart to break in order to allow them to live their own story. And then waiting to hold them when they need a safe place in which to fall.


M&Ms Addict

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

BY: Peggy Frezon
It's better for food to go to waste than go to waist.
~Author unknown

There's a story that was jokingly told among my family. When we turned the couch cushions to do a good deep cleaning, there on my husband's side of the couch were a few coins, some loose change that had fallen out of his pockets.

"But Peg, look what's under your side of the couch," said my husband, Mike. "M&Ms!"

It was true. I was an M&Ms addict. I just loved those little chocolate candies. I loved the way they melted in my mouth. I loved the taste of the sweet chocolate. I loved the crunch of the candy coating. But what I didn't love was the way they contributed to my escalating weight.

M&Ms may not be diet food, but I considered them perfect in every other way. The flavors: plain, peanut, crunchy, dark chocolate, white chocolate, peanut butter, mint. And the colors! One of the best things to do with M&Ms was to sort them into piles -- bright red, cheery yellow, dependable brown. And my favorite, gorgeous green. If only I could stop at sorting! But no, I had to pop them into my mouth. One, and then another, then... well, you can imagine what happened.

I can't say that M&Ms were totally to blame for my weight gain. Since my children were born, I struggled to shed my baby fat, anywhere from 10 to 40 extra pounds. I worked hard, exercised and kept the weight off for a while. Then I'd slip into my old habits and gradually feel my jeans' waistband tightening again.

If only I didn't have a sweet tooth. And if only M&Ms weren't so easy to eat. On the way home from work, I'd buy a pack to hold me over until dinner. At the movies -- what better than a theater-size box of M&Ms? It wouldn't be so bad if I'd stuck to the fun size portions once in a while. But you know what's even more fun? The little candies come in 42-ounce, 56-ounce, and even 5-pound bags! Sometimes those bags of chocolate treats went on sale, and, you know it's never a good idea to pass up a sale.

So I'd pop some M&Ms in my mouth whenever I felt the need for a quick sugar fix. But the quick fix was becoming a big problem. How did I know it was a problem? Because I was starting to hide my M&Ms habit.

At first, I kept a regular-size bag of the candies in my pocketbook. I'd munch them alone in the car or at my desk, when no one was looking. Then, I hid a larger bag behind the spaghetti canister in the pantry. No one would notice its dwindling size as I made my way through the contents. When I was done, I scrunched up the bag and concealed it inside an empty yogurt container in the trashcan.

Meanwhile, my waistline continued to expand. I was cutting back in other areas, eating salads with low-fat dressing and skinless chicken breasts, but my candy munching was undermining the rest of my healthy eating.

One day Mike and I were strolling through the grocery store. We bought carrots and lettuce in the produce section. Then came the candy aisle. I paused at the tempting bags of M&Ms.

"Why do you like them so much?" Mike asked.

"They make me feel good."

"But food is just fuel," he said, "to nourish our bodies. That's all."

I frowned and slowly pushed the cart on past.

Over the next few weeks I began to do better at resisting my cravings. I ate rosy red apples when I wanted something sweet, a few almonds when I needed a crunch. And the weight started to come off. Instead of sneaking sweets I walked the dog, knowing we were doing something healthy together. It started to feel good.

Then one day a package came in the mail. When my birthday arrived, Mike presented the beautifully wrapped box. "I ordered this before..." he said, his voice apologetic.

I ripped off the paper, opened the flaps and discovered the contents of the box. "Oh!" I gasped, holding up a clear, cellophane bag tied with a ribbon. Inside was a bevy of beautiful, perfect, M&Ms. All green. The kind you have to special order. The kind that are printed up just for you. I held them closer. Each one had words on it: "I love Peg."

"I understand if you don't want them," Mike said.

I beamed and hugged him tight. "Of course I want them!"

I put the candies in a pretty clear jar and tied the ribbon around the neck. I kept them on my countertop where I could see them every day. But I never ate a one.

Some things can make you feel good, without taking a single bite.


One of Those Mornings

Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love

BY: John Forrest
Flowers grow out of dark moments.
~Corita Kent

The irritating buzz of the alarm dragged me from my dreams. I stretched my arm from beneath the covers to silence it. My fumbling fingers found the snooze button, pressed and then recoiled in shock at the feel of the frigid plastic. "Oh no," I groaned, "not again!"

Rolling on to my side I hauled the covers higher on my shoulder, pressed up against my wife, Carol, and kissed her awake. The radio clicked on and the local station's morning man confirmed my fear. Overnight, the temperature in Orillia had plummeted to a record thirty degrees below zero. This would be, "one of those mornings."

As newlyweds, Carol and I had overcome many challenges, not the least of them learning to work together to cope with rural life in Canada's mid-north. One of the toughest tests of our love was surviving our first winter in the wilds. It was mid-February 1970 and I was teaching in a nearby town. Although we were eager to move to the heart of Ontario's "cottage country," like most young couples Carol and I were long on ambition and short on cash. However, we had managed to scrape together a down payment and over Christmas break we abandoned our comfortable city apartment and took up residence in a very old cottage on the shore of Lake Couchiching.

Although idyllic in the summer, our new home was isolated and ill-suited to winter occupancy. We had managed to install an indoor toilet and a bathtub, but the conditions were still spartan. A tiny acorn fireplace and temperamental old oil stove were our only sources of heat and there was no insulation, so frozen pipes and drains were a common and frustrating occurrence in our frigid abode. We prided ourselves on our ability to cope. Outfitted in arctic boots and one-piece snowsuits, we spent that first winter shoveling tons of snow, splitting forests of wood, and on really cold mornings using a hair dryer to thaw our frozen plumbing. Our love was tested and grew stronger as we battled the elements together, coming to grips daily with the rigors of rural living. However, it seemed that this morning would provide us with our toughest test yet.

We had awakened in a freezer! The minus-thirty degree temperature had jellied the stove oil, cutting the flow of fuel to the space heater, and I knew our water lines would be frozen. It would have been a perfect day to stay in bed; however, as a probationary teacher, I just had to get to school.

I tested the temperature with a puff of breath over the edge of the bedspread, and watched in horror as a vapourous cloud rose toward the ceiling. Bracing myself, I flipped the covers off and leaped to the floor. The icy cold of the linoleum seared my naked feet as, like a novice firewalker, I danced my way down the hallway to the oil heater. I opened the reserve tank, struck a match and thankfully the flame caught.

Fortunately the pipes in the bathroom had not split and after some carefully applied heat from the blow dryer, hot water steamed from the bathtub spout. As I settled thankfully into the wonderful warmth of the water, I heard some thumping from the front room. Carol must have risen to begin her chores. After thawing the kitchen taps, she would leave them running to flush the system and she would use her trusty hatchet to split kindling for the fireplace.

"What a team!" I thought, as I lay in the bath, unaware of the drama unfolding in the kitchen.

Although the kitchen taps had thawed, the sink's drain was still frozen. The water running in was not running out. The sink soon overflowed and water began splashing onto the super-cooled surface of the linoleum floor. Distracted, Carol turned her attention away from her task, just as the hatchet was descending. Her shriek of pain split the arctic air.

Galvanized, I leaped from the tub, water streaming from my body as I rushed to her rescue. When I reached the front room, I was confronted by a grisly scene.

My mate was seated in front of the fireplace, left hand clutched in her right, blood seeping from between her fingers and dripping on to the hearth.

She was crying, "I cut my finger off! I cut my finger off!"

With my attention focused on Carol, I failed to spot the danger awaiting me and stepped, naked and unprepared, firmly onto the slick icy floor of the kitchen. My feet flew out from underneath me; I crashed down butt first in the slush, slid wildly across the room, and slammed into the wall. By the time my head cleared, Carol was alternating between sobbing in pain and laughing at me.

Still, it was obvious that swift medical attention was needed. Carol was already dressed, so I wrapped her hand in a makeshift tea-towel bandage and hastily donned my own snowsuit for the trip to town. Thankfully, the block heater had kept our faithful Chevy warm enough to start. However the rest of the vehicle, including the heater, was frozen solid. No problem! With me driving and Carol wielding a window scraper in her uninjured hand, we pounded on flat-spotted tires along miles of rural road to the town hospital.

The nurse in Emergency escorted Carol directly in for treatment, leaving me to handle the paperwork. Needing my wallet, I reached up and grabbed the zipper on my one-piece snowsuit and pulled, opening it to my navel. "Oops!" I was nude underneath.

While the receptionist and I turned matching shades of red, I hastily re-zipped and provided from memory what information I could.

A nurse appeared and invited me into the treatment room. Carol had been very lucky! The doctor explained that although she would suffer a permanent loss of feeling in the tip of her finger, the bone was undamaged. Her nail and much of the severed flesh would grow back! After some stitches, a bandage and sling, and a call to my very understanding school principal, we headed home.

Once there I carefully rekindled the fireplace and made coffee. As Carol and I sat quietly in the glow of the fire, looking at each other over the rims of our steaming mugs, subtle smiles spread slowly across our faces. Although bruised and bloodied; we toasted each other and sipped, silently congratulating ourselves on surviving another trial.

Our young love would face more challenges before we reached our first anniversary and overcome many others as the years passed. But early adversity builds strong relationships and now forty years later, when winter's winds wail and the temperature plummets in Ontario, we toast each other over our morning coffee in Arizona, thankful that we no longer have to face "one of those mornings."


Heaven Sent

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog

By Kathleen Lumbert

There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.
~Ben Williams

When my friend Louise showed up at my door, her hands firmly planted on her ample hips, she let me know in no uncertain terms that my hermit days were over, at least for a weekend.

In a tone that left no room for objection, she said she would be picking me up next Saturday morning, nine o'clock sharp, and informed me I would be joining her in house-sitting for her boss, making it quite clear that she'd take care of the house and the dog, a Dalmatian named Lucy. All I would be required to do was accompany her and swim, relax, and enjoy the beautiful scenery as I saw fit.

I wanted to refuse Louise's generous offer, desperately. I felt safe in my seclusion, and didn't want to put myself at risk yet. I still felt too fragile after what I'd been through the past eighteen months. My husband had left me and my two elementary school-aged daughters to fend for ourselves, and I had been raped which left me pregnant. The resulting baby had to be given up for adoption because of my poverty. My grief seemed to have no end.
Yet the following Saturday morning, there was Louise, true to her word, ready to pick me up and take me away. We drove northward through the city until we were finally winding among trees, creeks, and curvy roads. We stopped in front of a rambling ranch house on a graciously landscaped, slightly sloped lot. Walking through the front door, we stepped into a large entryway, down a few stairs, and into a great room. I don't remember much else about the house after that, because we'd reached the backyard, and I was enthralled by the beautiful quiet lagoon that had been created around the swimming pool. Outlined with natural rock formations, fresh, clean water from the hidden filtration system softly cascaded back into the pool. Shrubbery and flowers poked out of the rocks with palms and large ferns behind them. A tall wall in back of the foliage gave the pool privacy, and I easily imagined myself being alone on a deserted island. I wanted to cry; I felt that I didn't deserve to be in such beauty.
Suddenly, I felt a wet, persistent, sponge-like sensation in my hand. Looking to see what it was, I was startled to see a very young Dalmatian peering up at me; her paws were much too big for her to be full grown, and her left eye was framed by one of the many black spots that punctuated her white coat. "This must be Lucy," I thought anxiously, and I stepped back, my reaction sparked by my fear of dogs I didn't know. Laughing at me politely, Louise showed me upstairs where I could put my luggage, and much to my astonishment, Lucy padded close behind. For some reason she was keen on knowing me, but I tried to ignore her. I wasn't interested in expending any energy on cheerfulness.

After Louise prepared an early dinner, we donned our bathing suits and headed for the pool. Lucy stayed at the edge until we got out, and as I lowered my body onto the towel to dry off, she immediately started nuzzling my hair. "What do you want, you silly dog?" I said, petting her. Lucy's wagging tail moved faster and she stooped to her elbows and barked, jumping up as she continued to shake her tail. I realized, to my surprise, that I was enjoying her fun sweet nature.

The rest of the weekend, Lucy would not leave me alone. She ran circles around me, seeming to sense my sadness, determined to make me smile with her silly antics. Finally, late Sunday, I couldn't take it anymore, and as Lucy pushed my hair off my back to nuzzle my neck, I started giggling; first a little hiccup, then gradually building up to a good guffaw. Rolling over, grabbing my belly, I tried to stifle the side-splitting hoorahs. Lucy, apparently delighted at the effect she'd had on me, started barking to my laughter. Sitting up, I pulled Lucy into my arms and just hugged her. Licking my face, she took the embrace as long as I wanted to give it.

It was the first time I'd been happy — truly happy — since my losses. I looked heavenward and thanked God for this beautiful animal and her ability to bring me out of the dark squalor of my sadness.

Twenty years later, I can still picture every one of Lucy's spots, her blue eyes, and the one black ear which was always angled backward. I'm pretty sure Lucy is no longer here with us, but I'm certain that among all the relatives and friends that will greet me someday in Heaven, Lucy will be right there, once more barking along with my laughter.


Always at My Back

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

BY: Wendy Walker
What a child doesn't receive he can seldom later give.
~P.D. James, Time to Be in Earnest

My relationship with my father is complicated. It always has been. We are alike in many ways and this only adds to the complications. But there was one time when it was simple, when I was just a daughter and he a father, and it is this one time that I remember with great affection.

I was in college, probably my freshman year. I attended school only two hours away from my parents' house, so I came home every break I got to see friends from high school, or to sleep and eat free groceries. Occasionally, I brought friends with me. It was a great place to escape the many pressures of college and growing up, and to be someone's child again.

On one break, I came home early to catch up with my best friend from high school. My mother's sister was visiting, so I camped out in the basement bedroom -- which was just fine by me because it made for easy entry in the early morning hours. My friend's mother took us to a movie and we made it an early night. The house was dark when I came home, but David Letterman was still on. I watched some TV and then went to bed myself.

A few hours later, I woke up with a horrible pain in my gut. I didn't know this at the time, but it was similar to labor contractions -- only it didn't come and go in waves of torment. The torment was constant. I tried to get comfortable and fall back asleep, but that wasn't happening. So, clutching the walls as I walked, I made my way up two flights of stairs to the bathroom medicine chest. I scoured the shelves for anything that might help -- antacids, Tylenol, Motrin. My aunt, who was sleeping in the next room, heard the commotion and came out to see what was going on. She had been a drug counselor at one time in her life, and had keen hearing for roaming teenagers. By the time she found me, I was doubled over and getting dizzy. She rushed down the hall to my parents' bedroom, and by the time they arrived, I had passed out on the floor.

I woke up in the nearest bed with all three of them around me. They immediately began questioning me. Where had I been? What had I done? What had I eaten? Did I take any drugs (that one from my aunt)? The answer was, simply, movie and popcorn. They checked for signs of appendicitis and gave me some Motrin. I can't remember whether I fell asleep again or just waited out the night, but in the morning the pain was still there, full on.

My father was dressed for work, but he called in to say he would be late, then bundled me in the car and drove me to the emergency room at one of the local hospitals. It was the usual scene -- crowded, chaotic and filled with the distinctive feeling that comes from being at the mercy of a headless bureaucratic machine. We checked in and sat in the chairs waiting for our turn. The one thing about my father that is easy to understand is that he has never been a patient man, and this is especially true when someone he loves is suffering. I was far too distracted by my own pain to notice it then, but his patience was depleting as the minutes, then hours ticked by.

We made it, finally, to an exam room and that's where the waiting really began. Seeing that I needed observation, the first doctor came, then quickly left us in a line for admission to a regular room. Only the line was very long. Four hours passed. My father came and went from the room as I lay there in fetal position, breathing through the pain and freezing cold with only a hospital sheet and my father's coat to cover me. Out of everything that day, the pain in my gut, the eventual needle sticks and IVs, it's the cold in that room that I remember most vividly. Eventually, I began to shiver and my lips started to turn purple. I needed to be admitted, and soon.

Typically, my father's lack of patience resulted in, let's say, fervent advocacy. But not on this day. On this day, there was no arguing with nurses or yelling at desk clerks. Instead, my father asked someone if they were prepared to admit me that moment. When they couldn't give him an answer, he simply grabbed the bag with my clothing, draped his coat around me, and carried me -- out of the room, past the hospital staff that tried to stop him, through the security doors, the room with the chairs, out the front door and into his car.

With me dressed in a hospital gown and his overcoat, he drove to a second hospital, a second emergency room. He carried me again to the admitting desk and within an hour, I had been admitted to the hospital for observation. I stayed there for two days, at which point the pain was gone and written off as a stomach bug. But that's not why I remember the story.

People who know me well know that I am no shrinking violet. Had I been capable of removing myself to a second hospital that day, there is no doubt that I would have done it and that my father would have encouraged me to do it myself, taking pride in having raised a strong, independent woman. But on that day, I was not a strong, independent woman. I was a child rendered helpless by pain. I was a daughter in need of protection. There was no one in the world I needed more than my father, and he was there.

It's not often that people are put to a test. Indeed, it is precisely those rare times that make the headlines -- heroic firefighters storming a building, pilots landing planes under extreme duress, bystanders pulling a stranger from the train tracks. I can't imagine any comfort greater than knowing there is someone in your life who will never fail to have your back and do whatever is needed to protect you. I had that in my father.

I am a mother now, and I know what it feels like on the other side of that equation. I can feel it inside me, this likeness I have to my father. Some of it presents an ongoing struggle. Lack of patience probably tops that list. But I gladly take it all to have that one thing of his that I can bestow upon my own children. There are times when I can see it on their faces, this knowledge that I am strong, and that no matter what, I have their backs.