понедельник, 31 октября 2011 г.

The Pumpkin Man

By William Garvey

As a young man, I set out on a path to become a farmer. It started in our first garden, but worked its way to owning sheep, cows and a pig or two.

Each winter I perused an endless supply of seed catalogs. In one I saw a photo of a child standing beside a giant pumpkin. The ad announced a challenge to grow the first 1,000-pound pumpkin. This quest would carry us for the next fifteen years.

Our first challenge was the Michigan State Fair where we received our first ribbon. Later our family set a new state record for the heaviest pumpkin, at 545 pounds.

I set a goal of becoming the best pumpkin grower in the world and coined the name, "The Pumpkin Man."

In the spring of 2001, I decided to retire from growing pumpkins after one more season. As the summer ended, our biggest pumpkin, 700 pounds, cracked open. That disappointment confirmed my decision.

Then came September 11, 2001. We all held our breath. America was asked to give our best to heal our nation. One morning I woke and knew exactly what to do. I would take one of our best remaining 500-pound pumpkins to New York to help them smile.

On October 10, I started to carve. The Red Cross returned my call saying they would love to have our pumpkin. I told them I wanted to deliver it the next day, on the one-month anniversary of 9-11. I explained that I would carve it, then leave my home in Michigan at 3:00 a.m. and arrive in New York City 3:00 in the afternoon. They loved the idea.

My wife Lorraine and I started carving at 4:00 p.m. and finished at 10:00 p.m. We carved only one-half inch deep into the skin, in hopes it might last until Halloween. The finished pumpkin face had, for the left eye, a little boy praying and for the right eye, a little girl in prayer. A heart encircled them both. The nose was the firefighters putting up the flag at Ground Zero and the mouth was the word AMERICA shaped to make a smile. We wanted to show everyone who had lost so much that they were in our hearts and prayers.

I left for New York on the morning of October 11, 2001 at 3:00 a.m. The trip passed quickly and I made it to the mountains in Pennsylvania. In the night, the mountains stood so dark and powerful, with shades of gray gently cascading into blackness. As the sun began to rise, my field of view broadened. My senses started to wake up and I felt a renewed energy. On the horizon, the sun rose, cresting the mountain ridge ahead, it lit up the mountains with depth of color that stretched as far as I could see.

The orange, red and yellow colors flowed from the top of the mountains to the valley, a beauty only God could give.

I felt a presence that overwhelmed me. With tears in my eyes I thanked God for this beauty and asked for blessings on my journey.

As I neared New York City I saw the remains of the World Trade Center across the Hudson River. A broken wall was all that stood, like a stairway straight to heaven. Tearfully I asked God, "Help me touch the hearts of those who lost someone."

I made it to the Red Cross Family Assistance Center on the West Side of Manhattan. It looked like a converted warehouse. There were policemen everywhere. They went through an extensive search of my truck. One policeman chuckled saying, "You should have a license plate that says 'The Pumpkin Man.'"

I smiled. "Thanks, I once was that man and I guess I am again today."

While I waited to unload the pumpkin, a New York City police officer walked up. "How long did it take to carve the pumpkin?"

"About six hours."

He shook his head. "God Bless you man." He ran his fingers over each of the carvings, asking about the water beads around the little girl and boy. I told him it was normal for a carved pumpkin to seep water in an area of the carving. I shared with him that my daughter said, "The little girl and boy are crying for all who lost their mommies and daddies."

The policeman asked how long it took me to drive to New York.

"About eleven hours."

He again said "God Bless you man. You can't imagine how many kids you'll make smile."

He took a deep breath. "My brother was in one of the towers that went down."

I grabbed his shoulder. "Dear God, I am so sorry."

"You came so far; I can't believe you care so much."

"Everyone I know in Michigan and all over the United States cares as much as I do."

He then pointed. "All these police officers from all over the United States, they all really care."

"I've had a knot in my stomach and tears in my eyes since this all began. People like you are why I came."

On the long drive home I had a smile on my face and tears in my eyes. I had achieved my goal to help the people who had lost so much feel a little better. And I became "The Pumpkin Man" for one more day.

Then I prayed for everyone who lost someone. "God bless you man."


воскресенье, 30 октября 2011 г.

A Real Turnaround

By Lisa McManus Lange
Chase down your passion like it's the last bus of the night.
~Terri Guillemets
My writing career began ten years ago with my slice-of-life articles published locally and nationally. As a beginning writer, I was happy to be on my way, writing and learning as much as I could. With two little kids underfoot, as well as working full-time, it was a challenge to find time to write, but I managed.
I was soon discovering the power and effect of my words on others, translating to why I was writing; to entertain, inspire, and motivate others. Readers telling me they laughed, cried or were inspired by my personal articles only reinforced these reasons. I discovered WHY I was writing in the first place.
But they didn't know what was really going on behind the typewriter.
I was faced with many challenges, depression being one of them. A series of events had me questioning myself and my abilities, jeopardizing my happiness. I was not a happy mommy, and even though I tried to keep joy in the house, I knew it wasn't the same. I had no spark, and found it difficult to enjoy the everyday little things in life. My writing life stalled, then stopped, and I didn't write much for two years. I lost the passion and reason of why I was writing in the first place, and forgot the joy it gave me and others. And just to compound things, I gained weight -- the most I had weighed in my lifetime.
In short, I was not a happy person.
But slowly I crept out of the darkness, one step at a time, one word a time.
I learned I had to be in control of my own happiness if I was to feel better, be a more engaged mom, and have a happier life.
I started walking, establishing a routine -- or trying to at least. A few years had gone by during these challenging times so my kids had gotten older, and I was able to escape for short periods. I traded early-morning television news on the couch and sipping tea, for running shoes, rain and sometimes snow. I got out there and walked, rain or shine, maybe not every morning, but at least every other morning. It cleared my head, allowed me time to think, gave me fresh air and fortitude, and made me feel invigorated and healthy. I was eating wisely, and the weight started to go. Slowly the walking gave way to a running-kind of thing; I am not a marathoner, and my style of running was, and still is, not attractive. But it worked for me. It put a spring in my step, and gave me energy and spark to get out and do things with my kids -- and enjoy it.
But I was still missing one integral part of myself -- my passion.
I started writing again, and rediscovered how much happiness it gave me. I had started a new job, joined a monthly writing chapter, and was determined to keep up my walking/running routine. Finding balance was sometimes difficult in juggling my family, my job, and my walking/running routine. But I was determined to fit in writing time -- because it made me happy. Early mornings had me pounding the pavement, not only because it was the perfect solitary time to do it, but because that was the only time I could do it. There was no reason why I couldn't also be writing in the early mornings when the world was asleep. Sure I loved to watch the news and have my tea, but that wasn't my passion -- that wasn't what made me truly happy.
The solution? I set the alarm just a bit earlier and either wrote on the alternate mornings when I wasn't walking, or I would squeeze in some writing time after my time outside.
Through all this, I learned that happiness does not take a lot of hard work, but it needs to be worked on -- created and controlled by me. I created my own happiness, and in turn, I have been more involved with my kids, more focused on them when they need me. I had to sacrifice sitting on the couch every morning with my tea and the television news playing, and get out there and do something that would foster my happiness.
It has gone full circle. My own happiness has showed through in my mothering and through my family, my job performance and my attitude towards challenging situations. I again have readers telling me the effect my writing has had on them, with some able to get on with their own writing because of my inspirational/motivational articles. I laugh more, and my kids laugh with their happier mother.
It was up to me to make it happen -- my own happiness. One step at a time -- one word at a time.
And I did.

суббота, 29 октября 2011 г.

Just Wait Until You're a Mother

By Valerie J. Frost
Before you begin on the journey of revenge, dig two graves.
When I was a teenager, my best friend's dad told us that eventually our parents would get even with us. "Someday you'll have kids just like you," he prophesized. Now I understand that one of the great pleasures of being a grandparent is fulfilling the unconscious desire to get even with our kids for their rebellious behavior. I believe the appropriate word is "payback."
Payback can be coupled with the obsession to bag the perfect Christmas gift for our grandchildren, a gift that separates the grandparent from the stodgy, practical, parental role. Searching the uttermost parts of the city, I find it, the ultimate testimony to a grandson's delight, a Frog Sanctuary! Here is my opportunity to be a hero to the grandchildren and gloat in silent, guileful abandon at the expression on their parents' faces.
As expected, the Frog Habitat is a blue ribbon hit on Christmas Day. There are, of course, a few unexpected setbacks. The tadpoles have to be ordered, and the order sheet hidden deep within the box at the time of purchase reveals two details. One is that you must pay extra for the tadpoles. Two, if it is the wrong time of year, you will wait several months for your tadpoles to arrive. I know that all things work for good if we are only willing to wait. Even an empty frog house sitting on the shelf holds the promise of pleasure to those who are patient. However, these are points difficult to explain to four- and six-year-old boys, especially when a significant part of their Christmas present doesn't arrive until April.
Finally, in the spring, my daughter calls me at work with a detailed description of their new family members. One she describes as really big and wild. "He acts like he wants to jump out of the water," she reports nervously. This one they dub Max. The second is lovingly referred to as puny and spindly. Appropriately, he is christened Peewee. She relays point by point the care instructions provided. I giggle under my breath as she stumbles over words like live crickets and mealworms when describing their dietary requirements.
Over the next few weeks I get a regular status report on the metamorphoses. Tails are exchanged for back legs. Nubs appear that quickly sprout front legs. Finally the day arrives when they move from the tadpole pond to the frog habitat. A perfect place to house small, agile, fast jumping little frogs, small frogs that need their home cleaned on a regular basis and seek every angle or opportunity for escape. What a lovely picture -- frogs darting, daughter screaming, grandchildren laughing and scampering after small hopping green bodies. It does my heart good to know that I had a part in this picturesque scene.
Soon, though, tragedy strikes. Peewee loses his attractive green color and develops a slightly pale complexion. The concern for his health is justified when he is discovered in a rather stiff, prone position. The boys take it pretty well, much better than my daughter, who draws the duty of retrieving the small fishy body from its abode.
Miraculously a small tree frog appears on their doorstep. The timing is perfect and though we grieve the loss of poor Peewee, Max now has a new friend. Junior is small but wiry. Though half his size, Junior has a voracious appetite that puts poor Max to shame.
Everything is now status quo in the frog world. There is, however, one thing that I have not counted on. Vacation time arrives and it is obvious to all concerned that not only do frogs not travel well but they probably wouldn't be welcome houseguests. Since they need daily care, the most obvious caregiver is the grandmother who provided the darling critters. After all, Grandma must love frogs, right? She's the one who bought them. In a well-rehearsed speech, my daughter is quick to remind me of this. Suddenly this payback thing takes an objectionable turn.
Max and Junior arrive, complete with frog habitat, distilled water and mealworms. I am indoctrinated in the art of frog maintenance and dietary requirements. This includes the report of their love for sow bugs. They assure me I will have no trouble finding them outside under logs or bricks. I don't burst this bubble by revealing that Grandpa has recently declared war on every crawling insect within our property line. This chemical assault assures us of no homegrown delicacies for our houseguests.
I discover that Max and Junior are quite personable. Their tiny suction cup feet stick to the inside of the transparent domicile. The cute little throat and tummies move in and out against the plastic dome. I see the beady eyes watching, waiting, expectant, with one thing in mind: "I will escape."
Did you know that when you keep the worms in the refrigerator they go dormant, so they don't move around much until they warm up? What an educational gift! I also discover that there is a natural law that states: No matter how small, any hole large enough to fit a human hand also has enough space for a small slippery amphibian to pass through.

Cleaning the cage is a colorful event. Jumping in every direction, these two creatures might as well be a dozen. Finally, I complete my task. My hair is dripping, my damp clothes smell like fish, and the bathroom is destroyed. Nevertheless, Max and Junior are now clean, fed, and watered. Snuggled in their cozy refuge they are utterly safe and sound. This is what my limited perception tells me. Reality arrives as I check their haven and discover the top of the habitat is open and Junior has escaped. My worst fears have materialized. There are thousands of places a smart frog can hide. Fortunately, he is not one of the smart ones. Junior is located a few feet away sitting in a corner. Grandpa is coerced into his frog rescue mode and the runaway is returned to captivity.
Time grows short, and we know the grandchildren will return soon to reclaim their prize. This will not be too soon, as we have discovered that Max and Junior no longer have a desire for mealworms. The last several meals lay floating on their pond. I begin to panic, when Grandpa comes to the rescue with... sow bugs! Wow, do those frogs eat, and I am relieved. I might make it through this yet....
Vacation ends but my daughter seems to take her time coming after their pets. I am sure it's nothing personal. She sighs as she cleans their house, empties the water and prepares them for transportation. Though she lacks enthusiasm, I am sure it is due to vacation lag. Anyway, I am enthusiastic enough for both of us.
Perhaps they'd like a nice green snake, or maybe a set of drums.... The months pass quickly and the novelty of Max and Junior fades, as do my initial plans for revenge. But I'm not worried; Christmas is on its way once again. There is ample time to conceive another formidable and workable plan. After all, I do have a reputation to uphold.


пятница, 28 октября 2011 г.

Little Bit

By Steven D. Farmer

The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.
~John Powell

"Meow, meow, meow," is what I heard as I walked through the alley. I approached the noise, and I noticed a tail sticking out from under a piece of wood. Under the wood was a tiny black and white kitten. I picked him up and realized he must be freezing to death. I hurried home with the kitten wrapped in my jacket.

My new best friend, who soon became known as Little Bit, received his name because he was nearly weightless when I held him in my hands. He stood about five inches tall and his paws were the size of dimes. Little Bit's small size had a great advantage -- he fit perfectly in the pocket of my jacket, which made taking him everywhere very easy. He would ride with me on my bike, play in the dirt with me, and catch frogs.

Little Bit was the best friend I had ever had. Any time I was home, he wouldn't leave my side. He was always eager to play with me. Anytime I ate cereal he would sit there patiently until I gave him my leftover milk. When I fell asleep at night, he would always curl up around my head to ensure that I was warm.

Unfortunately, I grew up. My teenage life weakened my relationship with Little Bit. I lived at such a fast pace that I stopped making time for him. My free time was spent with my friends instead. I would come in the house on my phone and not acknowledge him at all. His meows became an annoyance to me, but it wasn't his fault that he wanted his best friend back.

Time had taken a toll on Little Bit. His body began shutting down and by the time I realized something was wrong with him, he had already lost his balance. He lay there and looked at me, and to this day I still remember the sorrowful look in his bright green eyes. I took him to the vet, but there was nothing he could do. The last time I held him he wasn't the same tiny kitten I had found ten years before. He filled my arms now. Little Bit was put to sleep that day.

Little Bit's death made me realize how much he meant to me. I regret being so caught up in my own life that I never gave him the attention that he deserved. If I had been by his side all along, maybe I would have seen his symptoms and prevented them from getting worse. I'll always regret not being there for him. He was always there for me when I needed him.

I don't know why they always say that a dog is man's best friend -- Little Bit was the best friend I ever had. I couldn't have asked for more from him. I regret our last years together, but I will always cherish the special memories we made.


Living Life Soaking Wet

By Karen Kelly

Grandmothers are just antique little girls.
~Author Unknown

Soaking wet, water dripping down my jeans and sweater, floor splattered and hair wet. That was me about twenty minutes ago. I was giving my almost one-year-old granddaughter a bath.

How can such a tiny little thing cause so much, well, wetness? Not to mention the whole, hear the water and it makes you want to "go," thing definitely also applies to little babies... and of course it happened the minute after I took off her diaper. The bathmat is the next thing to get a bath.

I wish you could have been there. Rubber ducky and baby girl had so much fun that it made me want to jump in. I heard belly laughs and tiny, adorable giggles that I hadn't heard before. She was cracking herself up, mindless that she had an audience. This laughter wasn't for me, or anyone else that could have been watching. She wasn't showing off. She was totally having a blast.

Every time I reached down to get her out, I got a mouthful of water. She did not want this bath to end! So engrossed was she in entertaining herself that she forgot to get bored. The water was getting cold, her little fingers and toes were turning to prunes, and still she did not want to get out. I finally had to fight her when I noticed the goose bumps on her compact little body. She wasn't ready for her adventure to end, but since I am the older and supposedly wiser one, I realized I had to take her out of the tub.

It made me think back to the last time I had so much fun that I laughed belly laughs and didn't want to stop what I was doing, regardless of a little discomfort. Sadly, I couldn't. Probably because I can't remember being a toddler. But that made me realize that somewhere in our long lost "baby years" we lose our sense of unselfconscious fun. We lose the knack of entertaining ourselves to the point of laughing and giggling regardless of who is watching.

In my self-righteous "grandmotherdom," I just assumed I would be the one teaching, and helping her grow along the way. I figured I'd be the role model and, along with her parents, help show her the ropes. I thought that I would be the one who helped her learn to be a self-confident member of the human race. Boy was I wrong. Instead, from my almost one-year-old, sweet, adorable granddaughter, I have learned the secret of a stress-free life. I have learned how not to be self-conscious, while either naked or laughing to myself.

I have learned to just enjoy the exact moment I am in -- and if I'm having a blast, not to worry if I'm a little cold -- because the fun will outweigh the discomfort every, single time. Thank you dear, sweet granddaughter for showing me what I had forgotten so long ago. To laugh and smile and giggle and have a blast, even when my jeans are soaked and my newly blown dry hair is dripping wet. Thank you for reminding me that right here, right now, is where I want to be and what I want to be doing -- living this minute -- because this is where I am supposed to be, even if it's a little bit soggy


четверг, 27 октября 2011 г.

A Message in the Sky

By Dayle Allen Shockley

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

One evening, feeling anxious and longing for solitude, I stepped out into a quiet October night and walked to the towering pine in my front yard. Slumping down onto the cool ground, I pulled my legs close for warmth. Overhead, the sky stretched wide like a dark blanket as sounds of the night swirled around me.

The past few months had been filled with unspeakable sadness. At forty-seven, my sister found herself facing an unwanted divorce, ending a marriage of twenty-six years -- a marriage nobody ever expected to end, and for reasons that could only be described as heartbreaking.

Since hearing the news, not a day had gone by that I didn't find myself overcome with grief. I pleaded with God to change hearts and minds, but it appeared the heavens were brass.

I'm not sure what I expected on this particular night, but an urgency consumed me as I sat there. I needed an answer. I had to know that God was still out there listening.

"Where are you, Lord?" I said, my words coming out in desperate sobs. "I need to know that you are with me in all of this turmoil and grief. I need to know that you hear me. Can you hear me, God? I need to know!"

My frantic plea floated across the lawn and faded into the night. I waited, anxious for a sign. A bird singing. A wind chime catching the breeze. Something indicating that God had heard me.

But there was only silence of the deepest kind.

With a heavy heart, I leaned back against the trunk of the pine and closed my eyes, letting the tears fall. I don't remember how long I sat there, but I will never forget what happened next.

When I opened my eyes, there, suspended in the blue heavens directly in front of me, framed perfectly between the branches of a neighbor's tree, was what appeared to be the biggest diamond I had ever seen.

An enthusiastic observer of the heavenly bodies, I knew immediately that it was the magnificent Venus. Though it's often called the morning and evening "star," Venus is not a star at all. Venus is a planet -- the most brilliant planet in the solar system, so brilliant it can often be seen in daylight hours.

Had I been sitting two inches to the left or to the right, I would have missed this sight altogether. But there it was -- Venus, flickering in a stunning display of colors. Its light entered my grief and took my breath away.

I knew it was God's gift to me -- the sign I had longed for -- because, for the first time in a long time, I felt Him there, filling the vast space around me. And I sensed that He was reassuring one of his despondent children: I am here, dear child. Morning and evening, I will always be here.


вторник, 25 октября 2011 г.

The Color of Happiness

By Heather McGowan

I would not waste my life in friction when it could be turned into momentum.
~Frances Willard

After nine years of indecisiveness, I finally decided to paint our home's entryway and hallway. At least, "indecisiveness" was the explanation I gave. But, looking around the other painted and decorated rooms of our home I finally realized there were many other reasons it took me so long to decide on a color for these supposedly welcoming areas of our home.

Moving away from my hometown with my new husband, I had entered our home -- a blank slate at the time as we were its first owners -- feeling overwhelmed by the fact that I knew no one in this new town and had no idea how I would decorate the three bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen, breakfast nook, and living room. I so badly wanted our house to feel like a home, but at that time, it all felt so foreign -- marriage, living on my own for the first time, a puppy. I was so terribly homesick, that for a little while, I was convinced that we would move back to my hometown and away from this overwhelming house.

Yet, over the next couple of years, our bedroom was painted, as was the bathroom (twice), the breakfast nook and kitchen (also twice), and ultimately our firstborn's room. Our son's room was beautiful, with a light green chair rail, light brown walls, jungle-themed bedding. His room was the most welcoming in the house. I always kept the entryway and hallway on my "to do" list, but our second baby (and beautiful room) and two jobs later, lack of time always seemed to be the excuse not to finish this project.

Over those years, my once close relationship with my parents cooled for a variety of reasons, their health began to decline, and their visits to my home became less frequent. The rejection stung, so to avoid feeling the pain of this loss, I busied myself with my children, housework, and other activities and put the entryway and hallway project on the back burner. It just seemed easier to do that than make a decision on paint -- or to deal with my feelings.

After a couple of years, I realized I could no longer bury my feelings of rejection, hurt and loss, and sought the help of a counselor, who guided me through a process where I ultimately found happiness -- and began to focus more inwardly on my own family, and less outwardly toward the family I once had.

And then one day, upon returning home from picking up my son from school, we walked into the house, and I realized how unwelcoming it looked to us -- the white walls, the lack of pictures, and the lack of warm window coverings. It was as though -- through the pain, rejection, depression and more -- my feelings didn't allow me to take the final steps to making our house a home. It was as though I was waiting for my parents to tell me that they were planning to visit, and walk into that entryway again -- which was the "perfect" excuse I was seeking to finally finish this project. But, my journey toward acceptance -- accepting that my parents may never visit my home again, that I may never be fully accepted by them again, that my husband and children were the most important members of my family -- finally revealed what I needed to do: paint away the past and look forward to a beautiful future with my family.

It seemed that my husband was just as excited about this final transition. He happily helped me paint over those white walls, removed the white blinds from the windows in preparation for warm colored curtains, and reveled in the transformation that our home underwent, with a simple coat of paint -- "Harvest Brown." It was then that I realized that it didn't take me nine years to decide on a color -- it took me nine years to finally look inside my home for happiness, and not outside of it.


Finding My Joy

By Debra Mayhew

Joy is a flower that blooms when you do.
~Author Unknown

I have a confession to make. I lose things all the time. You know my type. I'm the lady who drives out of the restaurant parking lot with her take-out on the roof of the car. The one who leaves the windows open during thunderstorms. The one who needs three duplicate sets of keys hidden in rocks and crevices all over her property.

By now I've even lost track of how many things I've lost.

I'd like to blame it on the fact that I'm a mom to six children. Or to pretend it's the stress of home-schooling that causes my forgetfulness. Plus, I've got the added responsibilities that come with being a pastor's wife. All good reasons, don't you think? But the truth is, I was this way long before we married, started a family, entered the ministry or taught the first home-school lesson.

If you ran into me on the street, you'd never guess I'm so scatterbrained. I can do a pretty good imitation of competence. But chances are I'm probably standing there doing a figurative head scratch while I ask myself the question: What was I doing again?

See what I mean? Even my train of thought gets lost.

People like me need a strategy for coping with such forgetfulness, and I've developed an excellent one, if I do say so myself. It's very simple. I never panic when something goes missing and I never look for it. My theory, however unscientific, is that it will turn up the minute I stop searching for it.

Library books, driver's license, car keys, cell phone, birth certificate, wallet, plane tickets -- you name it, I've lost it. I've also found every single item, because eventually this stuff resurfaced. Granted, sometimes it took as long as three years, but still. I found the things I lost. Every time. Without fail.

My theory worked like a charm.

Until the day it didn't. That was the day I lost something and couldn't find it again.

I lost my joy.

As usual, I waited a while for it to return. But as the weeks passed, I began to panic. I wondered how long it would be before I felt happy again. In place of light, there was darkness. Anxiety rooted in my heart where contentment used to live.

As the weeks turned into long months, I struggled to ignore the depression that was bearing down and smothering me. I knew it was one of those things women may experience after childbirth, but my baby was six months old. Exercise, sunshine, even a trip to my doctor wasn't helping my heavy heart. Given that I used to look forward to each new day, this change was a hard pill to swallow.

I tried to grit my teeth and power through until the fog lifted and the burden eased. After all, everyone has bad days now and then, right? In the meantime, I spent a lot of time sitting on the bathroom floor, leaning against the tub and crying while the bath water ran.

I had to do something.

So I did the one thing I'd never done before, and went out in search of what I'd lost.

I started by closing my eyes and praying for joy. Only then did I begin to see where it had been hiding. It was first spotted in the pages of my Bible. Then later, I found it in the rocking chair with my baby in my lap, and even more when I felt my toddler's arms around my neck.

The fog began to lift. After that, when I learned how to say no, the clouds cleared and the sun came out. I realized my older children didn't have to be in organized sports if it meant extra stress. My seven-year-old could learn Spanish in high school as opposed to the first grade. The house didn't have to be perfectly clean. I could let go of the smaller things to gain much greater things.

Little by little, it came back.




And a truly grateful heart.

Of course, I still lose things all the time. Just the other day I lost a prescription on the way to get it filled, the dog's medication, and the check register.

I still use my old theory and say with a shrug, "Eh. It'll resurface eventually."

But I use my new theory, too. I search with eyes shut and hands folded in prayer.

Because if it's really something I need, I know God will bring it back to me.


A Closed Door

By Keri Metcalf

Sadness flies away on the wings of time.
~Jean de La Fontaine

I had been staring at my cell phone for about two hours now. The number was completely dialed and all I had to do was press the talk button, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. My heart was beating out of my chest. I wanted so badly to be able to call him and tell him how I felt. I wanted to tell him how much I wanted to be with him again. Why was this so hard? All I had to do was call him and tell him how I felt. That's it. It didn't matter if he felt the same way about me, at least he would know and I wouldn't keep asking myself "what if?"

Another hour passed, and then another, and then another. Why couldn't I just do it? I looked at myself in the mirror and told myself that I could do this. I had to give myself courage. I got up off the bed and rummaged around in a drawer in my dresser. I found a picture of Jake and me sitting on a couch. He was giving me a peck on the cheek while I was laughing and staring at the camera. My mind flashed back to that night. We were goofing around on his couch with his camera. All we did was laugh that night. I couldn't help but smile when I thought of him. That was the night he told me he loved me.

We had been dating for a year at that point. Our relationship had been going great ever since he asked me out during our freshman year. It was March of our sophomore year when I received a text message from him saying that he had met someone else. "I think it's best if you just move on," he had said. I couldn't believe my eyes when I read it. I felt so many emotions all at once. I was angry that he didn't have the decency to tell me to my face, upset that he didn't love me anymore, and scared of what I was going to do without him. I came back to the present and felt a tear roll down my cheek. I wished I could crawl into his warm arms and have him hold me tight. I wished he would dry my tears and tell me everything was going to be okay. I knew I was wasting my time crying over him. I had always known, but I didn't mind. I wanted to waste my time over him. I didn't want to get over him.

I wiped the tears from my eyes when I heard the doorbell ring. I walked to answer the door and when I opened it I saw the face of the person who had caused me pain all these months.

"Hey Keri," he said awkwardly. All I could do was stare at him and give him a slight smile. "I know I have no right to come here and say this, but I made a huge mistake breaking up with you. I'm so sorry."

I just stood there trying to figure out what to say. I looked up into his beautiful blue eyes and something was missing. I wasn't getting that warm, giddy feeling when I saw him. And that was the moment I realized that through all the pain and tears I had suffered through the past four months, I had moved on. I changed. I grew up. I matured. Whatever you want to call it, I had gotten over him. All I said was, "Thanks for stopping by, but I think it's best if you just move on," and then I closed the door on him. In a way, I closed the door on him in my heart as well. I rushed back to my bedroom and hung up my phone and then tucked the picture of the two of us away in my heart forever.


суббота, 22 октября 2011 г.

A Lesson in Ugly

By Bobbie Shafer

Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.
~Kahlil Gibran

One of my earliest memories is being all dressed up to have my picture taken. I remember Mother bathing me, putting lotion on my hair and curling it around her finger as she blew on it. I twisted and squirmed and she patiently told me a story as she worked on my hair.

"This will make you pretty," she explained. "You're going to have your picture taken and you want to look pretty, don't you?"

I was a child in the late 40s and early 50s, and that was the time when ladies wore hats and gloves and nylon hose. Men wore three-piece suits, hats, and carried handkerchiefs. Whether it was to church, shopping, or to a special event, everyone dressed their best. There was no jeans, sweatshirts, tennis shoes, or baggy anything.

We lived in an antebellum house in Palestine, Texas, on a large two-acre lot. For some reason, we attracted the discarded and homeless pets of the area. If it was a stray, it ended up in our yard. In the evening Grandpa would fill a half dozen tin pie plates with leftovers and some cheap cat food and take them out into the backyard. He would bang a couple of plates together, yell "kitty, kitty, kitty." After he went back into the house, a dozen feral cats would creep out from the bushes, the sheds, and the storage building and chow down. Sometimes there was even a stray dog or two. If they were tame, Grandpa would try and find homes for them.

It was 1950 and just after Christmas when I came in from school, changed clothes, and grabbed a sandwich before heading across the hall to see my grandparents. I was surprised to see my grandmother sitting alone sipping coffee.

"Where's Grandpa?" I asked.

"Oh, he's in the basement working on an old stray cat that snuck in the basement window. The cat is badly burned, but you know your grandpa, he's determined to doctor that old cat up."

I headed for the cellar. In the past we had sewn up an old hen that had been attacked in the hen house, bandaged dozens of cuts, scrapes, and injuries of assorted cats, dogs, pigs, horses, and even a cow or two. Grandpa could not stand by and let any creature suffer.

Grandpa's back was to me and I couldn't see the cat that Grandma had mentioned. I saw a bottle of salve and one of Grandma's aloe vera plants sitting on the table, along with two large rolls of gauze and some adhesive tape. I thought the cat had probably blistered a foot or maybe his tail and hurried over to see if I could help.

As I reached his side and got a good look at his patient, I felt all the air sucked from my lungs. My gasp was loud and my grandfather looked at me and smiled a sad smile.

"Not very pretty, is he?" he said softly.

I couldn't answer. I had never seen anything so horrible. One side of the cat's face was totally devoid of hair and skin, his right ear was completely burned off and one eye was seared shut. There were large burns along his side and back, and his tail was missing. His legs and feet were blistered and raw, and the cat just lay in my grandfather's arms trembling.

"Is he going to die?" I whispered.

"Not if I can help it," Grandpa said with tears in his eyes.

"How did this happen?" I asked.

"He must have gotten cold and tried to get into the cellar. I figured he slipped when he got through the window and fell behind the furnace. I kept hearing this faint cry so I came down and found him. He had managed to climb out from behind the furnace."

"But, he is one of the wild ones, isn't he? How come he's letting you hold him?"

"He knows, my dear. He knows I wouldn't hurt him. He needs help. His pain is stronger than his fear."

"Grandpa, even if he lives, he's going to be so ugly," I commented as I looked at the damage the furnace had done.

"So what?" my grandpa said harshly. "Would you love me less if I were burned and ugly?"

"Of c-course not," I stammered.

"Are you sure?" he stared at me. He was smearing the burn cream from the jar over the cat's face and stubble of an ear. "You know, I was always told not to judge a book by the cover. Do you know what that means?"

I nodded. "It means sometimes a book is really good even if the cover isn't."

"That's right," he smiled. "It's important to look good because most people are too quick to judge by appearances. Still, it's even more important to take the time to get to know people and find out if the person is a good person, a kind person, and a person who might enrich your life. You mustn't associate with people who are mean, have no respect, and disregard the law, but those people usually have a reputation that is well known."

"Mother always wants me to look pretty," I argued. "All the most popular people at school are pretty."

"That's for now," he explained. "Now is what young people think about, but now isn't all there is to life. Animals don't care who's popular and who's not. All animals care about is staying warm in the winter, cool in the summer, food to keep them from being hungry, and friends to share their lives with. They don't ask for a lot and they only judge by actions, not looks."

Grandpa doctored the poor cat, smearing ointment on his burns, bandaging his wounds, and all the while murmuring soft comforting sounds. We spent an hour in the basement that day. We bandaged and wrapped and squeezed out the cooling sap of the aloe vera plant and applied it to the places that were the most severe.

Every day for the next month, Grandpa and I changed bandages, reapplied medication and hand-fed the injured cat. He did recover, but his injuries had taken their toll on his appearance. He lost the use of his right eye and it grew shut and his ear was little more than a bald stub. His fur never grew back over the burn scars on his face or his body.

What I discovered, what my grandfather had tried to tell me, was that the sparkle in his good eye, the soft purr from his scarred chest, and the gentle rub of his mangled head against my leg gave me a feeling that I had never experienced before. When I gathered Lucky, his new name, into my arms, I didn't see an ugly cat. I saw a cat full of love and appreciation, and happy to be alive.

It may sound fake, unbelievable, and mushy, but that cat changed my outlook. That cat, my grandfather, and the advice he gave me opened doors I didn't know existed. I started looking at my classmates differently. The beautiful people didn't stand out so much anymore and I discovered lots of new friends who made my years in school the best. I never made the most popular list, but I didn't care. I wasn't the prettiest, but that didn't matter. My friends, like Lucky, knew how to be friends, how to love, laugh, and appreciate life. None of them were ugly, nor beautiful, but I discovered that there is a fine line between the two and that fine line is deep inside.

I still like to look my best, but now I look deeper, beneath, inside. After all, that's where real beauty lies. Ugly is a word that defines a person's action, feelings, and lifestyle. As far as I'm concerned it had nothing to do with looks.



By Kristiana Glavin

No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.
~Alice Walker

I felt so out of place.

Standing among the girls in my rush group, I stuck out. Freckles, glasses, wavy (read: unruly) red hair, and the freshman fifteen didn't exactly make me blend in with my fellow rushees who had flat-ironed straight blond or brown hair, flawless skin and fit figures.

I didn't even match the apparent dress code for rushing. As a practical dresser, I wore my big, red ski jacket and heavy-duty snow boots. It was technically spring semester, but still winter in Syracuse, New York. Other girls also dressed warmly, but a little more stylishly. Heeled leather boots. Tailored wool coats, short-waisted coats with fur trim, or the in-fashion puffy winter coats. I looked ready for hiking. They looked ready to go out.

Looking different I could handle -- I came from an eclectic group of friends in high school. Feeling like an outsider, I could not. I felt uncomfortable. Girls chatted away with each other and friendships formed. I tried, but simply could not get a conversation going.

Maybe this wasn't for me.... But I was there. I figured I should at least give it a shot.

For the first round of rush, we toured all twelve sorority houses over the course of a few days.

After the first day of visiting, I realized that, like my rush group, I did not fit in at all. The sorority sisters were all very polite, but something didn't mesh.... I couldn't relate to most of these girls.

I grew up near Cape Cod in a small suburban town, raised as an outdoorsy girl. I camped. I fished. I played volleyball. I threw shot put and javelin. I spent all of fifteen minutes on hair and make-up in the morning. My friends and I leaned toward the dorky/nerdy side.

During the first round, sisters at each house interviewed us. These were casual conversations -- at least in my view -- about why we wanted to rush, our interests, our background, our families, etc. I answered matter-of-factly and honestly. Perhaps too honestly.

Why did I decide to rush? My best friend at school asked if I wanted to sign up with her. I did, figuring it would be a good experience, if nothing else. I don't think I won too many points with that answer.

I bombed nearly every single interview.

Yet, I was being myself. I figured the girls could accept me for how and who I was, or not. Whether it was socially naiveté or confidence, I don't know. Either way, I continued rush with this attitude.

For the second round of interviews, I got called back to two sororities -- Alpha Gamma Delta and Pi Beta Phi. They seemed more my style, low-key and down-to-earth.

Both also called me back for the third, and final, round.

I didn't have to pledge a sorority. But I got caught up with the idea during the three rounds of rush, and decided I would.

I opted for Alpha Gamma Delta.

The sorority also opted for me. I fit in somewhere, apparently.

There was a buzz of excitement within my pledge group, and many of the sisters. I caught it too, at first. Mandatory study hours with my pledge sisters were fun because it typically led to more gabbing than working. Dinner at the house every once in a while was a nice break from the dining hall. Charity work was a great way to help and a better use of my time.

Yet a nagging feeling of not quite fitting stuck with me, while the excitement didn't.

Shortly after becoming a full-fledged sister, I started seeing my sorority duties as a burden.

Weekly Sunday night meetings became a hassle. They cut into my time to do homework, and I had to rush back for dinner with my friends. Dressing up one of the senior sisters in a crazy outfit for the annual bar crawl was a chore. Stopping by the house just to say hi to the sisters living there felt awkward -- I didn't really know them.

At the same time, my circle of friends at school had grown. These sorority events took away time from them. I missed out on things. I had to rush back from the spring Block Party to get ready for the sorority's formal. Other times, I missed out on movies or game nights or general random fun times with everyone. I felt left out.

That's when I realized, Greek life is great for some people. Not me.

I already had a close-knit group of friends. And they didn't require interviews.


God's S.O.S.

By Sally Kelly-Engeman

Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer and in return for the mystery by which we live.
~Abraham Joshua Heschel

"I've been thinking about our next trip," my husband Mel announced on a sunny Colorado morning. "Antarctica is the only continent I haven't visited."

I knew this meant he had already surfed the Internet and contacted travel agencies for detailed information. We were going to Antarctica.

During previous travels we had toured cathedrals, mosques, and the Vatican. We cruised the fiords of Norway and New Zealand and roamed through castles and palaces in Europe and Asia. We'd trekked the ruins of Pompeii, the Acropolis and Ephesus, watched the sun rise on the pyramids of Egypt and set on the Taj Mahal in India.

One afternoon, after praying and meditating, I heard an inner voice say, "Don't take that trip." I shrugged it off until I later got the same disturbing message during other prayer times.

I shared my apprehension with Mel, but he was so set on the trip, he shrugged off any negative comments and continued to peruse travel catalogs. As the departure date neared, I went to bed one night weary with concern, and fell asleep. I woke from a vivid dream warning me that I should not travel to Antarctica.

Disturbed, I prayed about it and told Mel. He again dismissed my concerns. "You must have misinterpreted your dream."

My increasing concerns were no match for his increasing excitement, which continued to accelerate whenever friends who had taken the cruise raved about it.

As he gathered details, he mentioned that there were no public hospitals on Antarctica. Every passenger was required to present a doctor's certification that he or she was in good health. Then he added, "Should there be injuries or illness, the only medical assistance would be aboard the tour ship anchored offshore."

Although we are both octogenarians, we were healthy except for my arthritis. Raised in the Midwest, we had grown up with snow so were not too concerned about freezing temperatures. We would be bundled in heavy coats, hats, gloves and boots as we hiked the frozen tundra, coated with penguin droppings. What if I slipped and fell?

Although Mel agreed it might be too risky for me to go, it did not dampen his enthusiasm, especially when his adult son offered to accompany him instead. They decided to travel on the M.S. Explorer in November 2007.

When Mel called for reservations, however, he was informed that the tour he chose was fully booked. He contacted other Antarctica tours and learned there were no vacancies. Disappointed, he brooded with frustration before deciding to book the cruise earlier next time.

November 2007 arrived and we were watching television on Thanksgiving evening. A breaking news report interrupted the program. "En route to Antarctica, the MS Explorer hit an iceberg that slashed a huge hole in the hull of the ship."

I gasped and glanced at Mel whose face paled as he stared at the television screen.

The news correspondent continued, "All ninety-one passengers, nine guides and the crew of fifty-four were safely evacuated before the ship sank."

Shivering, I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving that everyone survived.

I blotted my eyes and said another prayer of thanks to God for sending me the S.O.S.


пятница, 21 октября 2011 г.

A Commitment to Myself

By Jeri Chrysong

Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be.
~George Sheehan

Hi, my name is Jeri. I'm a food addict. Not only am I a food addict, I am a food behavior addict. But here's the exciting part. In spite of being a lifelong food behavior addict, I've lost 170 pounds. Picture it -- that's 680 sticks of butter kicked to the curb. How did I do it?

Well... I did not have gastric bypass surgery. I did not have lap band surgery. I did not use drugs. I did not use miracle diet gimmicks.

This is how I did it: Diet and Exercise. And water. And therapy and a support group. And journaling, crying. A whole lot of crying in the beginning. In other words, I did it the old fashioned way, the boring way, the my-insurance-won't-pay-for-surgery way. For my food plan, I followed the Jenny Craig plan. My exercise plan consisted of my own two feet walking, and my bike. I was a gym member but cancelled. I figured why pay money to walk on a treadmill and ride an exercise bike when I can do those things for free?

I didn't make a commitment to a program or a plan. I made a commitment to myself. A commitment that no matter what, I was going to do this. I was going to figure out what the heck had been eating at me all these years so I could be done with emotional eating.

My first step was going to my doctor, who sent me to a therapist, who sent me to Jenny Craig. My therapist told me to let her worry about my head and let Jenny worry about my food and, to me, that made sense. My food taken care of, my therapist and I tackled the head game. The game that says if you think you're fat, you are fat and you will behave accordingly. I didn't like that game anymore so I started playing another one. The I-am-so-worth-all-this-fuss game.

I discovered that weight loss is a mental game and willpower has very little to do with it. For me, willpower means white-knuckling my way through life, whereas if I change my thinking with regard to food and put food in its proper place -- as merely fuel for my body -- I will find lasting success.

I also employed The Secret to lose weight, putting into the Universe that I was attracting better health. I told the Universe, "I continue to attract my optimum weight. Whatever weight that is, that's what I'm attracting. The best weight for my body." Then I started envisioning my thin self. I thought up slogans, mantras, and Jeri-isms. Like, "Food is not my friend. Food is not my comforter, nor is it my confidante. It doesn't sing to me or give me wisdom. It's just food. And I am more powerful than food."

I told myself that no matter what life threw at me, I would not gain weight. No matter what! I learned a better way to cope with my emotions. I emote, then get over it. I journal about it, then close the chapter. I move on. And when I sometimes feel a little low, I re-read my journal and re-visit my pictures so I can impress myself all over again. I've learned it's okay to be impressed with myself!

I have learned that when my stomach growls, I will not die. I have learned that there are PEOPLE at parties just five short feet away from the food table to talk to if I just walk away from the table! I have learned that looking good really does taste better than a pound of peanut M&Ms. I have learned that telling myself I am the most beautiful woman on the planet and then behaving accordingly is not a puffed up mind-set, but an empowered one. And who can argue when the results of my head games are staring them in the face?

Now that I have "reached maintenance," I play maintenance games too. Like, Yes, I can have those chocolate-covered macadamia nuts -- but I can only have them in Hawaii. Yes, I can have cake. But I can only eat cake at a wedding, or a birthday party. I can't bake a cake, buy one, or take leftovers home from a party. Yes, I can have one or two pieces of candy brought into the office -- but I can't buy candy. Yes, I can have one slice of pizza at a luncheon, but I can't have a pizza delivered to the house. Give and take. Not so rigid, just a little more controlled.

So am I cured? Am I done with all this dieting? I've lost 170 pounds so you'd think I'd be cured. Alas, my food addiction is not cured -- but it is managed. I can handle managed.


Sleepy, Grumpy, and Dad

By Carol McAdoo Rehme

Sleep is like the unicorn -- it is rumored to exist, but I doubt I will see any.
~Author Unknown

I was pooped, plain and simple. A young mother, occupied with a household of four active little ones that I'd birthed in a six-year span, I felt my world close in on me one dreary Sunday afternoon.

"I just need to sleep," I whined to my husband. "Sleep will cure me. I crave it. I need it. I deserve it. I just want a nice, long..."

"Consider it done," he interjected.

"...uninterrupted nap."

His eyebrows darted upward as he glanced pointedly at the rain pounding on the patio. He gestured at our housebound children.

"Uninterrupted? Really?" He shook his head and gave a dry laugh. "With this crew, that's asking a lot."

If it hadn't been as tired as the rest of me, I'm sure my jaw would have clenched. Instead, I merely repeated myself, tossing the word a bit desperately over my shoulder as I scurried upstairs to bed.

"Uninterrupted. I want an UN-interrupted nap."

I fluffed my pillow, pulled a warm afghan to my chin, and curled into a ball. My eyes had barely drifted shut when I heard my redheaded toddler holler from the stairway.

"Mommy! Mommy!"

I pulled the afghan over my head.

"Mommy? Where are you?"

"I should've known this wouldn't work," I grouched to myself and heaved a sigh. But before I could toss back the covers and drag myself from bed, my husband manfully shouldered his mantle of responsibility.

"Pssst. Koy, come back down here," he half whispered, although he knew I couldn't possibly be asleep already. "Mommy's napping. If there's something you want, son, you need to ask Daddy instead. Okay?"

"Okay," said Koy, his two-year-old voice loud and agreeable.

Satisfied, I closed my eyes again.

"Well, then," my husband's voice rose as he prompted, a bit impatiently, "tell me what it is you want."

"Mommy," said Koy, plaintively. "I want my mommy."


вторник, 18 октября 2011 г.

Beauty Is as Beauty Does

By Christine StappRemember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance.
~John Ruskin

I had just turned twelve when I realized I wasn't young enough to be a carefree kid anymore but also not old enough to be a "cool" teenager. I was also unlucky enough to be a twelve-year-old with thick glasses and orthodontic braces. In spite of the "four eyes" and "metal mouth" name-calling I had to endure, my mother insisted these temporary impediments would all be worth it someday. She reminded me of Hans Christian Anderson's story, The Ugly Duckling, to make her point. However, back then, even imagining straight teeth and contact lenses in my future wasn't enough to convince me I would ever turn into a beautiful swan, especially since I had the additional drawbacks of being overly tall for my age and twig thin to boot.

My misery was especially amplified every Friday at Walgrove Elementary School, which was coed day in my gym class. That was the one day of the week when the boys and girls had combined physical education classes. Most of the time that meant girls playing foursquare or dodge ball with the boys, which was bad enough since I wasn't particularly adept at either game. However, the worst activity for me was the Friday coed dance class that rolled around about every third week. On those days, we would march single file into the gymnasium and the girls would line up against one wall with the boys facing us from the other side. Most of the time, the teacher put dance partners together but occasionally she let the boys choose their own. Needless to say, I was usually one of the last to be chosen and almost always ended up with a freckle-faced red-headed kid named Pete who was having his own rejection problems.

Of course, as in every grade school there are those kids who never seem to go through any awkward stages -- the popular kids -- who everyone else envies. In our coed dance class, those lucky ones were Veronica and Robbie. Veronica was blond and pretty with a bubbly personality; Robbie was a developing athlete with a friendly grin and dark curly hair. When it came time to choose partners, they always picked each other and it was understood by the rest of us that they always would. After all, they were a perfect match and obviously belonged together. Since I, like many other girls, had a serious crush on Robbie, I often wondered what it would feel like to be Veronica -- one of the beautiful people, one of the chosen ones. The day came when I received a small taste of that feeling.

It happened during one of those dreaded Friday dance classes. Once again the teacher suggested the boys choose their own partners. As I waited, leaning up against the wall with the other girls, I noticed Pete wasn't in the boys' line across the way. Then I watched anxiously as one by one the other girls were chosen until I was the only one left. No boys remained to choose me even if they had wanted to. As I stood by myself, enduring the looks of pity, my lips trembling, tears ready to fall, Robbie suddenly walked over to me and took my hand. "I'll dance with you," he said. Maybe not the most endearing words, but good enough for me. I glanced over at Veronica in surprise but she just smiled and waved as she stood alone while Robbie led me out onto the gym floor to where the others were waiting.

Soon after that incident, I graduated from sixth grade and there were no more P.E. dances to contend with. I transferred to another junior high school and lost track of Veronica and Robbie for good. I don't know if they ended up together or not. However, I never forgot the two of them and the kindness they showed me that day.

Years later, when my straight body turned curvy and my tallness became an asset, I, with my contact lenses and Crest toothpaste smile, became the swan my mother had predicted I would. While I enjoyed my new popularity and more desirable appearance, I found they didn't bring me the happiness and satisfaction I had expected. I think that's when I realized that Veronica and Robbie had given me so much more than kindness that day. They had given me the truth -- that beauty on the outside isn't nearly as important as the beauty that comes from within.


The Miracle that Brought Miracles

By Marsha Smith

This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.
~Proverbs 3:8

We were the couple living our dreams. My husband Bryan had a successful masonry contracting business and I worked with The Christian Broadcasting Network. We had a family, the home we always wanted, and life was great. We were so busy with our work that we took little time off to visit loved ones or really talk to each other like when we first married. But time has a way of eluding that thought as it races on.

But then I began to notice a dark feeling I could not shake. I'd be at my desk and suddenly a sad feeling would wash over me, as if waiting for something awful to happen that we could not stop. I mentioned it to Bryan and he simply said, "Pray about it."

And so I did. I didn't really think about it again until we sat in the doctor's office a few days later.

Bryan had been having back pain and the doctor ordered a routine MRI, predicting he'd probably need surgery. After reading the results the doctor said, "Well you won't need surgery." He paused with a grim look. "You have inoperable cancer in three places -- on your sternum, backbone and pelvis."

We stood there together, hand in hand, staring at the MRI. We asked the questions one asks when given this diagnosis. The doctor shook his head. "There is nothing that can be done. It is a matter of months. I will send all the reports to your family doctor. I am so sorry."

Bryan and I walked out into the early winter's night feeling as dark and cold as the night itself.

He was young. We had a child and a grandchild. We had a life. We had plans, hopes and more dreams.

The next morning when I awoke, my loving husband was sitting by our bed staring at me, tears rolling down his cheeks. "I do not want to leave you," he cried. We wept together that morning, canceling work and all appointments. We talked as we had not talked in years -- not so much about the future, not about all the things we usually talked about -- finances, dreams, and plans. We talked about our love, about the memories we shared, about our family.

Our family doctor called in a cancer specialist. We called all the churches we loved so dearly and put Bryan's name on prayer lists all over the country -- and we prayed with a fervor we had never known.

A month passed. A myriad of tests were done and doctors seen.

One night my faith-filled daddy called. "I was praying and I sensed it was all going to be all right. And I believe it with all that I am."

Two weeks later we sat before the cancer specialist. He closed the folder on his desk and looked at us. "Well, we have run all the tests. There is good news. There is no cancer anywhere in Bryan's body."

I stammered, "What about the MRI? The other doctors?"

He smiled. "All I know is he does not have cancer. Perhaps the neurologist saw scars from an auto accident years ago. But there is no cancer. Your prognosis is -- you are well."

It has been fifteen years since that day, and still whenever I look at Bryan I am reminded of how all our prayers were answered, and how our lives were changed forever. We focus more on each other and our family. We moved back home to a quiet town where neighbors know neighbors and hearts knows hearts. Our goals changed. We live one day at a time, and instead of planning so much, we simply enjoy the moments.

When I see Bryan playing with our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I breathe a prayer of thanks that they know their Papa. Our house creaks at night and there are times when new dress desires do not match my pocketbook, but we are rich.

That one miracle birthed so many other miracles in our lives.


воскресенье, 16 октября 2011 г.

The Grand Canyon Angel

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Tough Times

By Maria NorrisI 
I once thought that if I ever saw an angel, he would appear in a blaze of celestial light -- a magnificent creature with flowing hair and outstretched wings. He'd carry a mighty sword, and his arrival would be announced by a thundering fanfare. Never did I imagine that "my" angel would be an unassuming fellow in shorts, knee socks, and hiking boots. But his appearance left me every bit as awestruck as if he had been the Archangel Michael himself in all his glory.

My encounter with this heavenly being occurred several years ago in Arizona. I was vacationing at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon with my parents, aunt, and uncle. It was a beautiful summer day, and we were hiking the Rim Trail that runs from Grand Canyon Village to Hermit's Rest. After an easy 1.4-mile walk along the wide, paved path, we reached Maricopa Point. From there on, the trail is unpaved, narrow, and sometimes perilously close to the edge. Beckoned by the scenic piñon-juniper woodland and lack of crowds, we decided to continue along the meandering dirt trail a little way before turning around and heading back to the Village.

We went single file, with my fit, seventy-three-year-old dad leading the way. He had just rounded a bend in the trail when he lost his footing in some loose gravel and started to slide off the edge of the cliff. Fortunately, he was able to break his fall by grabbing onto the branch of a scrub pine growing just below the rim, but unfortunately he was too far out of reach for any of us to help him. My uncle lay flat on his stomach and somehow managed to grab Dad's hand. But my uncle wasn't strong enough to pull him up; rather, it seemed more likely that my dad would pull him down -- over the edge. So there they were, my uncle and my dad, dangling 5,000 feet above the floor of the Grand Canyon with three helpless females in a panic, not knowing what to do -- and no one else in sight.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a man appeared on the path whistling some nameless tune. With his graying hair sticking out from beneath a white fishing cap and knobby knees visible below a pair of Bermuda shorts, he looked like an eccentric, aging college professor. It took him only a second to assess the situation, and without saying a word and barely breaking stride, he reached into the abyss with a long, sinewy arm and plucked my dad and uncle from the brink of death as if they weighed no more than a feather. Still whistling, he continued on his way, leaving us astounded as well as profoundly relieved and grateful.

We all knew something miraculous had just happened. What that mysterious stranger had done didn't seem humanly possible. Was he truly an angel? Maybe. Or maybe not. Regardless, he was truly heaven-sent.


Foreign Travel with Twenty-Somethings

By Miriam HillWhile one finds company in himself and his pursuits, he cannot feel old, no matter what his years may be.
~Amos Bronson Alcott

"You're spending six weeks in Costa Rica studying Spanish with college students?" exclaimed my friend. "You're older and retired! Aren't you nervous about traveling to a foreign country with younger people? You could end up rejected and alone!"

My friend was verbalizing my fears about my upcoming trip.

During the university's orientation I was relieved to see older people among the group. Then at the airport I was alarmed as I watched my peers hug the departing students and realized they were relatives staying behind. On the airplane I watched young friends engaged in lively conversations punctuated with laughter. I sat alone and pretended to read a book.

We arrived in San José and moved in with host families who spoke no English. When classes began I observed the students and the differences between my generation and theirs: I didn't have tattoos, wear skimpy tops, display a pierced bellybutton or use the word "like" with every other word. I searched for similarities: we spoke English, we wanted to learn Spanish, and we were sharing an adventure. That was a start.

During a weekend trip I feared no one would want me as a roommate. I was grateful when two girls asked if I would room with them. The next day we hiked 500 meters straight down into a rainforest. The return walk up was grueling. At the top, shapely Pam approached. "You kicked my butt on that climb and I work out four days a week." I sensed I earned her respect.

Back in San José I went shopping with several girls. I watched perfect figures try on revealing tops. I giggled while they checked out cute guys. I was enjoying "hanging out" with girls who were too young to date my son. We discussed parents, religion, racism, values, and dating. They probed for my views on these issues, forcing me to dust off opinions I hadn't examined in years.

I felt comfortable with the group during our next excursion. Suspended from a single cable, I soared from one jungle platform to the next. The trees below looked like stalks of broccoli. While returning in a van, I shared a seat, chocolate, and conversation with animated Katy. She confided that at first the students had doubts about my joining the trip because I was older.

"We, like, don't have those feelings about you anymore," she said with a smile. "We think, like, you're cool! When we, like, get older, we want to be just like you."

I, like, felt tears in my eyes.

When we returned to the States, I expected my new friends and I would go our separate ways. We would no longer have Costa Rica and Spanish to bring us together.

Like, I was wrong!

We continued the relationships that grew while hiking in a rainforest, bouncing along mountain roads, and sharing a sky ride over the jungle.

Traveling to Costa Rica with a group of twenty-somethings was rewarding... because our friendships became stronger than our differences.

My new peer group is, like, awesome!


пятница, 14 октября 2011 г.

He had the real medicine I needed

BY: Amy Jones
A story from The Push.

I ventured down the unfamiliar pathway to the doctor's office. A bad cold forced me to seek the appointment, and I deliberately chose a doctor I had never seen before. It was much easier to face strangers than friends.

My life had come to an abrupt halt a few months earlier. The man I was married to chose to walk away from the life he knew. He suddenly disappeared, abandoning everything in his life, including me. He left messages at his work, for his family, and at our home that he was taking his life in "a different direction." In spite of all efforts, including filing a national missing persons report, he could not be found. And over the years that followed, I realized that I would never see him again.

I felt I had to deal with the message in silence. A pattern of secrecy within my marriage led me to fear authenticity and I desperately try to hide the situation. This choice left me feeling totally alone and only increased my feelings of abandonment. Therefore, when I sought out medical attention for my minor health concern, I wanted to find a doctor who didn't know me.

The stranger in the white lab jacket had never seen me before, and that's exactly the way I wanted it.

"Just tell me what's wrong, give me medication, and I'll be out of here," I thought as I entered his office. I did not know I would find the real "medicine" I needed from a caring doctor who stepped outside the usual bounds of his profession to point the way toward healing.

My throat hurt, but the intense pain I felt was much deeper than that. This must have been obvious to Dr. LeCroy as he questioned me about my physical condition. Gently he probed, trying to determine exactly what was wrong. Suddenly I began crying and pouring my heart out to him, something I had not done with anyone. He listened; but more than that, because of something he experienced in his own childhood, he understood! He gave me many words of encouragement, but his last words were the most important, the ones I will never forget.

He took me by the shoulders and looked straight into my eyes. "Hold on to God through this, Amy. If you hold on to God you will look back in five years and be amazed at what He has done in your life!" Five years seemed like an eternity, and I certainly couldn't imagine what life would be like by then! He handed me a prescription and sent me on my way. After I got in my car, I read the scrawled notation on the prescription slip. It simply read "Jer. 29:11." I recognized it as a verse from the Bible, but I did not know what the verse said or why Dr. LeCroy had written it.

I rushed home and into my bedroom, grabbed my Bible, and turned to the 29th chapter of the book of Jeremiah. And there was my "prescription!" "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." That was exactly what I didn't have in my life but so desperately needed: hope, no harm, a future, and a plan! As I read the verse over and over, I realized it addressed everything that was wrong with me. Anything and everything could be taken from me in an instant, but God and His Word would still be there. Jeremiah 29:11 became my Life Verse.

As I tried to figure out how to pick up the shattered pieces of my hopes and dreams, I clung to those promises found in my "prescription." With the words of Jeremiah 29:11 guiding me, I gave my entire life and future over to God. Two things were strongly impressed upon me: go back and finish college and use what I had been through to help others. I knew this could only come from God because I did not want to share my story, and I did not like going to school!

I encountered many obstacles as I tried to re-enter college. Nothing seemed to work until I discovered Dallas Baptist University. Peace filled me as I drove up the hill to the university's campus. As I walked into the informational meeting, the facilitator was beginning with a video about the school. Looking up I saw a royal blue screen displaying the school's foundational verse, Jeremiah 29:11! I knew then I was where I was supposed to be.

In the months that followed, I contemplated how to use what I'd been through to help others. I had always turned to my dad for advice, but he had lost his battle to cancer the year before my life began to fall apart. So I sought out his hero, Zig Ziglar, a man who was known for helping so many people. To my astonishment, I found that his office was only 45 minutes away from where I lived. I prepared my resume, hoping that I could work in his office while observing how to use life experiences to help others. With directions in hand, I drove to his office, walked in the front door, and soon found myself speaking to the Human Resources Director. When I told him I wanted to learn to share my story with others, maybe in ten or fifteen years, he asked me to share it at their company devotions on the following Monday!

Monday came and I stood before Zig Ziglar and his entire team, pouring out my heart. What I thought would be a one-time chance to share my story became an opportunity of a lifetime as Mr. Ziglar launched my national speaking career within a few short weeks. Who would have thought my second speaking engagement would be in front of a sold-out crowd of 7,500 people alongside Zig Ziglar and six other famous presenters? Since that time I have spoken to over 500,000 people and shared the platform not only with Zig Ziglar but also with speakers and leaders such as Rudy Giuliani, Larry King, General Colin Powell, Suze Orman, Brian Tracy, and Tom Hopkins.

What an incredible ride! In 2005 someone asked me, "When are you going to complete your master's degree?" "May 12th," I said. Then it hit me. Dr. LeCroy told me I would look back in five years and be amazed at what God could do. That was exactly five years from the day my life fell apart!

The Condiment Queen Clams Up

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

By Nancy Berk
Condiments are like old friends -- highly thought of, but often taken for granted.
~Marilyn Kaytor

I've always enjoyed a condiment or two with my meal, but I never realized they were my downfall until "the tartar sauce incident." A native New Englander, I insist that every return to the shoreline include an encounter with fried whole belly clams. Ask Connecticut friends and family my number one priority when visiting and the unanimous response is "fried clams." Fried clams are big business in Connecticut. Even in the off-peak hours, people line up at their local clam shacks for those greasy little delicacies. They are made even sweeter by a patch of tartar sauce. It's not atypical for me to use all of my tartar sauce and move on to my husband's portion.

"Why not just have a nice big bowl of tartar sauce?" my husband teased on our last visit. "Then we wouldn't have to wait in line for a table during tourist season."

I thought his comment was funny but it was also true. Was I packing on the pounds because of my vacation ration of fried foods, or had I become condiment crazy?

Upon closer examination, my mayo mania was obvious. Horseradish sauce. Blue cheese dressing. Guacamole. Clam dip. Sour cream. When I'm done, you'd be hard pressed to spot a bagel under the cream cheese or a cracker under my artichoke dip. My mantra has always been "Never skip the hollandaise." In a former life I was a sous chef, or more specifically, a saucier. A saucier is the exotic title for a sauce maker. There is no title, exotic or otherwise, for the compulsive consumer of condiments except maybe "overweight."

Armed with an awesome set of measuring spoons, I decided to meet my demons head on. Their vital statistics were shocking as well as the discovery that one serving size never sufficiently covers a baked potato. Counting condiments enabled me to see that I could fill the caloric needs of a small nation in one week with my salad dressing preferences alone. Let's face it, I had gained weight one tablespoon at a time. The proper consumption of condiments requires restraint, measurement, and the ability to walk away. I was in desperate need of retraining. A dollop is acceptable. A gravy boat is meant for all guests, not a party of one. I'm not suggesting that we ignore condiments. Indeed that world would be terribly dull. Is there any better complement to fish than a tangy lemon herb sauce? Creamy garlic butter should be a requirement on a warm hunk of sourdough. No, condiments are not to be vilified. But they are too good to resist and too caloric to ignore. Going into a condiment relationship blindly is waistline suicide. My solution -- calculate and enjoy. Indulge in moderation and remember my revised mantra "Not every day's a hollandaise."

If you are wondering whether my fried clam epiphany curbed my consumption of tartar sauce, I'll have to let you know when I return to Connecticut (self-control in Pittsburgh is not a problem because you can't get fried whole belly clams in the 'Burgh). Twenty pounds lighter and still craving condiments, I will take my place in line at Lenny & Joe's Fish Tale, Captain's Galley, or Chowder Pot. But this time, I'm counting on moderation and the ability to clam up when I start to ask my husband for his portion of tartar sauce.