суббота, 28 апреля 2012 г.

How I Found My Running Partner

By Marie Duffoo

Beware of the chair!
~Author Unknown

One morning I started to sweat. Profusely. Just sitting down. I would have attributed it to hot flashes, but I knew those were years away. The accompanying pain in my left arm was what made me ask a neighbor for a ride to the emergency room.

The heart attack was minor in nature, but a major scare. Who knew that a size 2 forty-year-old who ate plenty of veggies, hated junk food, and only ate lean meats would be a candidate for heart problems? After one night of observation in the emergency room I headed home.
My doctor blamed my sedentary lifestyle for my new health problems and told me I needed to get some daily exercise. He said that because I worked at home, I lacked the need to go out, walk around an office building, walk at lunch, run for trains, and all that. I simply walked from my bedroom each morning, headed to the kitchen for coffee, and walked about 35 feet to my office. Sometimes still in my jammies.

He told me to start running. Slowly at first, maybe 50 feet, stop, walk, rest, run another 50 feet. He told me perhaps I could run each day with my husband, an accomplished headstrong runner who could do five miles a day without even breathing hard. I knew for a fact that my husband would never allow me to accompany him and slow him down, but I was ready to promise my doctor anything in order to stop the lecture.

The following day, Karen, the neighbor who had driven me to the hospital, came over to check on me. I told her I had my marching orders, or rather, my walking orders. Karen knew how much I detested exercising and laughed at my predicament.

Then she said, "I have an idea! Roxy loves to go to the park!" Roxy was her nine-year-old Lab, and we were crazy about each other. I frequently took her for her afternoon walks when Karen was away on business. "With my travel schedule, I can't take her as often as I'd like. Why don't you take her?"

Before I could answer, we heard some barking. Our yards were connected by a two-way gate that Roxy had mastered. As we watched her padding across the lawn and up my back stairs, we were astonished to see that Roxy had somehow managed to find her leash and bring it with her! As she pranced through the kitchen door, she proudly wagged her tail as she dropped the leash at my feet, and extended her paw in a "high five."

"How did you get her to do this?" I asked Karen. The entire episode smelled of conspiracy! Karen, however, couldn't stop laughing and swore up and down she had nothing to do with this!

I picked up the leash and headed out the front door with Roxy in tow. She led me down the block to the park where she promptly took off like a wild bronco! Up, down, around bushes and trees, other dogs, other owners, hills, dales and doggy hydrants. I couldn't even get her to slow down enough so I could take her leash off! And she seemed to know exactly what she was doing. She had this all planned! I finally begged for mercy as I sweated, gulped for air, and headed to the bubbler.

As I walked her home, Roxy was calm and kept glancing over at me with what looked like concern. She would slow down, look up, and when I nodded to say, "I'm fine, girl," she'd pick up the pace a bit.

The following day I had a deadline I was certain I wouldn't meet. Being a freelance writer, this was my life. As I worked diligently, I heard Roxy barking out back. This was nothing unusual -- Roxy loved to bark at the neighborhood squirrels and kids coming home from school. But something made me get up this time and go look.

Sure enough -- here came Roxy, leash in her mouth, heading up my kitchen stairs! Same time as the day before! I was sure Karen had put her up to it this time, so figuring Karen was hiding in the bushes outside, I called her cell phone, knowing she'd pick up.

"Okay, lady, how on Earth did you train Roxy to do this?"

Karen seemed befuddled. "Huh?"

"The leash thing! She looks so cute sitting here with the leash in her mouth!" I explained.

"She's at your house? Good grief! She must have gone out the doggy door in the basement. I am at the grocery store and she was sleeping when I left!"

I just looked down at Roxy, and I knew. This was her idea. She knew how to help me. And she was doing it.

This routine went on for almost three years. Every day, rain or shine, Roxy showed up with her leash and barked at my kitchen door. I could set my clock by her: 3:00 on the dot, every day.

My doctor was thrilled and I was feeling wonderful. I actually toned up with all this running and chasing and doggy babysitting. I loved spending time with Roxy. It gave me something to look forward to each day.

Even though I wasn't officially "jogging," I was certainly doing my share of running! Maybe without form, but certainly with lots of purpose. Roxy would never let me take off her leash! She seemed to instinctively know I needed to be attached to her in order to get better! Many of our doggy dates ended up with a healthy frozen yogurt at the park, which I lovingly shared with her.

Then one morning my phone rang very early. Caller ID told me it was Karen, and my heart skipped a beat. No one calls at 6:00 with good news.

I picked up the phone and simply said, "What's wrong?"

She was crying. "Can you come over?"

I ran through the backyard in my robe and slippers, not knowing what I'd find. Karen opened her kitchen door for me.

"She's gone. I can't believe it. I tried to wake her for breakfast and she was cold. At least she died in her sleep; she didn't suffer like I thought she might. I didn't want to tell you, but she had a bad heart. It was a matter of time."

I looked at our beloved Roxy, all curled up in her warm cozy bed, peaceful and quiet -- with her leash next to her, ready for our afternoon outing. I couldn't help but think that maybe we managed to keep each other alive a little longer than was meant to be.

That was almost ten years ago. I still run, but this time I have my own Lab, Sally, a gift from my husband.

It's now Sally's job to put me through my paces at the doggy park, and she does a marvelous job. Each day as we walk out the front door, Sally barks once, and wags her tail, looking at the large white urn on the bookshelf. This is where Roxy's ashes are, in loving memory. As I see Sally bark at the urn each day, I can't help but wonder, "Does she know?"

A Matter of Perspective

By John P. Buentello

What we see depends mainly on what we look for.
~John Lubbock

There have been times in my life when I felt like I had the weight not only of the world, but the entire universe, on my shoulders. During those times I was sure life couldn't get any worse, and that I was the unluckiest person who'd ever lived.
That all changed in a heartbeat one cold winter day. I found myself downtown, shuffling along the street with my head hanging, my spirits low. I'd just gotten word the promotion I was hoping for had gone to another person. A year's worth of hard work had come to nothing, and I was looking at another year of grinding away at a crummy job I could barely stand. The icy wind that bit at my face was like a slap from the uncaring hand of fate.

Worse than all that, I was meeting my wife, and I'd have to look into those hopeful, ever supportive eyes and watch the light go out of them as I told her how I'd failed to reach yet another goal. We would have to find a way to make do again, to figure out how to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, when we'd already stretched our budget to the breaking point.

Why did life have to be so hard? I worked for my living, putting in eight, ten, twelve hours a day, going to school at night trying to better myself and make me look more indispensable to the company I worked for. Didn't I offer to take every thankless job that no one else wanted to touch? Didn't I show up every day with a smile on my face and a can-do attitude? Why was all that effort ignored?

Finally I saw my wife standing there, moving from one foot to the other, trying to stay warm. I immediately noticed her coat, years out of style and beginning to grow threadbare at the edges, her shoes that were not made for such harsh weather, and the hair that she had learned to cut herself to save money. This was the woman that I had to disappoint yet again. I knew that the dreams she'd had in her heart when we first married had not been extinguished, but they had been cut down and reduced to more modest hopes. Even those would have to be dashed this day.

I stood there holding her against the cold as I explained what had happened, and being the person she is, she took it all in with a grace and love that would not allow a trace of accusation aimed at me. She didn't have to. I felt enough of it for both of us. As we walked toward the bus stop, passing by a group of strangers huddled against the cold, I couldn't contain it any longer. I stopped and looked up at the heavens, feeling the anger well up in my throat.

"Why does it have to be like this?" I said out loud, the bitterness plain in my voice. "Why do we have to be stuck renting a tiny little house in a poor neighborhood? Why do I have to have a desk job that pays me minimum wage? Why does my family have to live on beans and rice and bread? Why do we have the same clothes we bought years ago? Why am I down to my last five dollars every payday? Why does it have to be like this?"

My wife was trying to tug me along, but I pulled back, not wanting to take another step further in the terrible life I had. I stood there on the icy street, wanting to just collapse under the weight of my endless problems. I was ready to give up, to say I had been cheated out of a life that I deserved. That's when I heard the voice speak softly beside me.

It was one of the strangers in the group of men we'd passed by, and as I turned to look at him I realized he was one of the homeless people who hung out by the river surviving on handouts. The man was dressed all in rags, his hands and face were red from the cold, and the look on his face was one of the saddest I had ever seen. I stood there and stared at him, hearing the words he'd spoken moments before echo inside my head.

"Man, I wish I had that guy's problems."

In that instant I came to realize all the blessings that had been given to me, all the gifts I'd taken for granted and ignored. As I looked over and stared at my wife trembling in the cold, I realized I was one of the luckiest men on earth. I had a wife who loved me, a family I adored, a job that kept us going, and hopes and dreams for the future that had never been erased.

I smiled at my wife, and the hope I'd been draining from her came back into her eyes.

There was a silent question I asked her, and she instantly understood what I wanted to do. She nodded, and I stepped toward the man who'd spoken those words. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my last five dollars, and put them into his hand. Then I rejoined my wife and the two of us walked down the street, the warmth in our hearts keeping us safe from even the bitterest cold.


Memory Meals

By Miriam Hill

What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?
~Lin Yutang

"Mom, thanks for making barbecued meatballs and rice before I left," said Betsy with misty eyes. She hugged me goodbye while her dad finished loading the car with packed boxes. My daughter was moving from our home in Florida to her apartment in Washington, D.C. to begin her new job. "I'm really going to miss your cooking," she added.
Betsy's comment about home-cooked meals gave me an idea. I decided to make special gifts for my three grown children, who were in various stages of leaving home for college and careers.

After Betsy waved goodbye, I drove to the store and bought three yellow recipe boxes and decorated index cards. For several days I copied family recipes from my food- splattered cards, including Betsy's meatballs, the traditional bunny cake Lori requested each Easter, Steven's special lasagna, and the family's favorite, fresh apple cake.

I included precious recipes I had gathered from country neighbors when our family spent summers on our farm in Missouri, knowing they would rekindle fond memories. I chose Cousin Donna's recipe for the beets she pickled, after she harvested them from her picture-perfect garden. I copied Lestie's tangy freezer slaw ingredients she had scrawled on a used envelope years ago. I made note that Pat's instructions for making her outstanding homemade rolls included driving thirty miles for fresh yeast.

When the handwritten cards stood alphabetized in their boxes, I closed the lids and set them aside until I would be with my children again. When the time came, I presented each one with the recipes and enjoyed their wide grins and shrieks of delight as they thumbed through the cards.

"I remember making this bread in my second grade class," remarked Steven.

"Oh, this is the best macaroni and cheese ever!" recalled Lori.

"Look! Here's one for the homemade ice cream we churned on the farm each summer!" squealed Betsy.

Over the years the boxes of recipes continued to be popular resources in their kitchens, reminders of the food and love they were served during their childhoods. Now, with children of their own, they explained the stories behind the recipes to my nine grandchildren, and inspired them to become young cooks.

One day, a video arrived on my computer. I watched my animated, eleven-year-old granddaughter, Amy, as she pretended to be Julia Child and demonstrated how to make an omelet. When she finished, she held it up to the camera and imitated the famous, "Bon appetite!"

I think it's time to give Amy her own small box filled with handwritten family recipes.

четверг, 26 апреля 2012 г.

Like Mother, Like Daughter

By Anna Fitzgerald

And mothers are their daughters' role model, their biological and emotional road map, the arbiter of all their relationships.
~Victoria Secunda

I can still remember the day my mother came home from the hospital after her first operation. It was a sun-filled day, the weather at odds with the atmosphere in the house, which was morbid and tense. I had just left college to become my mother's full-time caregiver -- a decision I was already beginning to question as I surveyed the volume of medical supplies that had accompanied my mother's return. It was daunting to be faced with the prospect of looking after someone who had looked after me all my life.
With one operation down and three more to go, my mother was already unrecognisable to me. The warm, plump woman who had raised me had been replaced by a pale waif-like creature. The pain and stress had dulled the brightness in her eyes, and her trademark dimples had disappeared in her sunken face. Fragile had never been a word to describe my mother, but now it defined her. For the first time, the enormity of what I had taken on struck me.

The first few weeks were the most difficult. Like a newborn, she required constant care and attention. Her wound had to be dressed every day. She couldn't feed herself, clean herself or even get out of the bed.

I wasn't sure how to cope with this role reversal. I was so used to my mother being the caregiver, the provider, that I couldn't bear to see her so weak and helpless. I really didn't know how I was going to cope. However, nothing tests character like necessity. It turned out the thoughts of being responsible for my mother's health were far more challenging than the reality. Over the next few months, my mother slowly began to improve. Under my care, she began to live again. I watched the twinkle come back into her eyes as she regained the strength to do small things for herself. We celebrated the little things that we had previously taken for granted -- simple things like when she finally had the strength to lift a teacup to drink by herself or when she could sleep through the night without waking from the pain.

One of the happiest days was a sunny day in July. It was a couple of weeks after her final operation, and her recovery had been slow and complicated. When I brought the breakfast tray down to her that morning, she turned to me and said, "It's a pity to be stuck inside on such a nice day." I bundled her up in a scarf and coat and brought her outside.

I will never forget the look of pure joy on her face as she looked up at the blue sky. It was the first time in a year that she had been able to go outside and enjoy something as simple as the heat of the sun on her face. She looked at me, put her hand over mine, and smiled -- a smile that said much more than words could express. In that moment, I realised how much I had gained from becoming a full-time caregiver for my mother. I had become more mature and responsible, and I had discovered strengths that I never knew I had. Our relationship had evolved from the traditional one of mother and daughter. I gained a newfound respect for my mother. Through caring for her, I learned to appreciate how wonderful she really is. Her remarkable inner strength, her uncomplaining nature, and above all her ability to smile through the pain are qualities that I can only hope of inheriting.

Caring for my mother has been a turbulent journey full of both tears and laughter. Although we both felt like giving up at times, ultimately, it has brought us closer together and allowed me to count every day we have together as a blessing.

The Second Time Around

By C. Hope Clark

God sends children to enlarge our hearts, and make us unselfish and full of kindly sympathies and affections.
~Mary Howitt

The doctor announced my pregnancy with less fanfare the second time around. Counting the days, I figured two years and four months between the two children -- perfect. My first child arrived after a long labor, but the pregnancy itself had been more enjoyable than not. We'd planned for only two children in our lives, and this time I knew more of what to expect. The magic of carrying a child was once again mine, and I intended to cherish every moment of the final childbearing phase of my life.
A mild doubt softly knocked at my conscience on my drive home, however, but I pushed it away. When I arrived in the kitchen, I smothered my toddler, Matthew, with kisses and hugs, inhaling all the marvelous mothering experiences of him. As I did, the doubt rushed in this time, crashing over my head. How in the world could I ever love another child as much as I loved this one?

Looking at the light of my life, I realized the news would alter his world forever. Not only would my world shift, but his would as well -- possibly even more so than mine. Was I shortchanging him? How could I feel guilty about having another baby? But, also, how could I take this step without consideration for his needs and wishes?

"You promised Matthew all of your love," said my conscience.

A tear welled, and I set Matthew in his father's arms before excusing myself to change clothes. "Silly, so silly," I murmured in the closet. "Families have several children. I have a younger sister."

Memories of my sister didn't help. We'd fought like cats and dogs well into our college years. My memories of our fights, tears and a few spankings for our confrontations were angry and judgmental. As the elder, I'd been the quieter one, and my sibling had wielded the temper. She'd married my ex-boyfriend, stolen my car for a joyride and dented it, pilfered my clothes, accused me of being fat, and called me the goodie-two-shoes for years.

Matthew had my temperament -- docile and introspective. Even at twenty months old, he showed quiet resolve. He would be two years old when his world would rock and tremble, and the attention that was his alone would be shared with an unknown entity -- a person he might not like, who'd require more attention than him for a while. Guilt nagged me, and the exciting first day of a new pregnancy countdown morphed into dread.

The next step was visiting Grandma and Grandpa to deliver the happy news. Memories of the first announcement were recent enough to remain vivid, and I looked forward to the congratulations, hoping the hugs and good wishes would erase the negative niggling in my mind.

Mom and Daddy smiled and showed the appropriate delight. Mom quickly swept up Matthew upon hearing the news, showering him with an exceptional load of kisses, calling him her best angel. Her jubilation at the news didn't ring true to my oversensitive ears. I wrote off her faux effort at excitement to this being the second time around the block for me, no longer a new experience, and figured it too soon for anyone to bubble over with joy.

Watching Matthew sleep that night, I admitted the truth. Grandma held the same doubt I did. What if the second baby created more problems than delight?

This sleeping toddler was her first grandchild, and this child of perfection hung the moon in her eyes -- as he did in mine. I was my mother's daughter. Love for him might fade a bit when the diapers and formula took time away from ABCs and bedtime stories. She kept her feelings to herself. I kept mine bottled up as well.

In my own bed, I shed a few self-pity tears. The deed was done, however, and I'd work twice as hard to love both, whatever the price. My conscience argued with my hormones through most of the night.

The months passed more quickly the second time around. Some things were different, others the same, but the calendar raced by. I finally called my mother and announced we were headed to the hospital. Expecting her to grab her coat and follow in her car as with the last one, she instead offered to keep Matthew and await a phone call.

Wham -- the doubt rushed back at the worst moment, as Grandma exercised logic over emotion, a reaction I interpreted as protecting Matthew from what was about to happen to him. Soon back pain and gripping contractions consumed my thoughts, and I concentrated on the work at hand. Wracked with pain, I envisioned Grandma hovering over her first grandchild, determined to be the one who saved him from dejection.

Child number two came into the world quite differently than his brother's quiet entrance -- spontaneous and noisy. Stephen arrived in his own way with his own style. I peered down at him and felt an unprecedented love, a love only meant for this particular person.

My love hadn't split between two sons. Instead, one glance at that tiny soul more than doubled my capacity to cherish. I understood the mothers with twins, with triplets, with a dozen children. And I better understood how the Lord loved each and every person with equal compassion and intensity.

The time came for Grandma's visit. I stood defensive and ready to justify my baby's existence as equal to his brother's. She walked into the room... and melted. Laying her eyes upon her second grandson sparked the identical understanding that had been mine in the delivery room. She ate him up in the same manner as she had Matthew in his early hours. After her visit, I cried... relieved... ecstatic at how perfect life was at this moment.

Fifteen years would pass before we discussed the silliness of our worries. The magic of childbirth is more than science; truly it is a miracle in the human capacity to love. Love cannot be restricted or measured by the number of times it happens. The second time around is just as good as the first, if not better.

Equally Beautiful

By Pearl Lee

Share our similarities, celebrate our differences.
~M. Scott Peck

"Hey, do you want some fried rice-ee?" I bit my lower lip and pretended I didn't hear. "What's wrong? Don't you understand any English? Eee-ngrish?"

I slammed my locker shut, clutching my science textbook to my chest. Rooted in front of locker 163, I blinked furiously to prevent tears from spilling down my face and giving them the satisfaction of seeing me cry.

"Stupid, what are you staring at?"
I stood still. The pretty, teal blue that the school had painted the lockers with in the beginning of this year was peeling, revealing a dreadful, bleak gray -- its true colors.

When I was eleven years old, I was teased for who I am.

Prior to entering middle school, I had never been self-conscious about my differences; I didn't understand why my classmates teased me about my "Engrish" when I spoke English like everyone else. As far as I knew, I was just as American as anyone else. I was born in the United States. I wore jeans, T-shirts and sneakers; I liked hot dogs, mashed potatoes and ice cream. I giggled on my hot pink phone to my best friends and developed crushes on cute boys. I listened to Britney Spears, *NSYNC and was in love with Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys. The only differences that I could see were in my appearance; my hair was black while my friends' hair was blond, red, and brown; my eyes were chocolate and theirs were green, blue, and honey-colored.

One spring afternoon, I hopped into the passenger seat of my mother's Jeep and hid my bloodied palms underneath my legs. Earlier, a group of seventh grade girls had followed me down the hall during lunch break, yelling one particular derogatory term. When I didn't respond, they snapped. "Don't you know it's rude to not respond when someone's calling your name?" They pushed me onto the asphalt, where I scraped my hands.

"How was school?" my mom asked.

"Fine." I looked out the window.

"Lots of homework today?" she cast a quick glance at my dirtied backpack.

"Some," I muttered.

As soon as my mom pulled into the garage, I hurried into my bathroom and washed the brown, dried blood off my hands. Sneaking into my parents' office, I uncovered a roll of gauze, which I carefully wound about my hands. When I returned downstairs for my afternoon snack, my mother was standing in the kitchen waiting for me.

"Pearl," she began angrily, her left hand on her left hip. "Why didn't you eat your lunch? You just wasted food that I took so long to prepare for you."

I hid my hands behind my back and sat down in the dining room chair. "I didn't have enough time."

My mother stared at me for a moment, as if deliberating whether this was worth a reprimand. Finally, she exhaled. "Eat your snack," she said quietly. Relieved that the discussion was over, I forgot about my hands and lifted them to the table. My mother suddenly gasped.

"What happened to your hands?" she cried, rushing over to the table.

"I fell," I began, watching helplessly as my mother unwound the gauze.

My mother stared at the scrapes piercing diagonally across my palms. "How?"

I lowered my head, pausing for a moment to make up an excuse. I could have said that I tripped during physical education. Or that I tripped over untied shoelaces. But I heard myself whisper, "Some girls pushed me."

My mother's gentle, steady breathing abruptly ceased. I looked up at her quickly, out of concern and curiosity. She was standing over me, concentrating her eyes on my face, with an expression that I've seen only during the rare moments when she accidentally slices her finger while preparing vegetables.

Suddenly, she was kneeling in front of me, holding onto my wrists so tightly that the pink beds of her nails turned into a milky white. "Listen to me," she began fervently. "And listen to me well. Do not let others hurt you in any way, and if they do, do not allow them to think that they can get away with it. Do not believe that you are somehow less than them, because you're not. We are all equal, each blessed with a brain that keeps you going, hands to do your work and feet to carry you far. These years are difficult because you've been given something different and others around you don't know how to respond to it. But do not despair, even for one moment, for I can assure you that this too shall pass, and if you keep your head on straight and embrace the person that you are, you will go far."

Seven years later, I graduated high school at the top of my class and chose to attend a prestigious university in Southern California. I made lifelong friends, whose hair colors varied from blond, brown, and black to red, purple, and green. I learned that appearance was only skin deep, and personality, intelligence and humor are the true treasures of each soul. I met people who not only tolerated differences, but also embraced them, and I have learned to embrace mine. My black hair-brown eyes-fair skin is just one combination in a vast melting pot of physical features, all of them equally beautiful, equally valued, and equally respected.


Never Late

By Joe Rector

Punctuality is the politeness of kings.
~Louis XVIII

The family curse began when my twin brother and I were about five years old. Our mother took on us on shopping trips to town. We had to drive several miles to catch a bus that would take us to Gay Street, the main street in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee. From the time we exited the bus until we caught one for a return ride, Mother marched us up and down every street in the city. She stood only five feet two inches, but her short legs covered more territory than people much taller. She never bought much because money was in short supply, but Mother had an itinerary she had to cover before the homeward bus ran. Don't be late for the bus; don't be late getting home. "Don't be late" became our family's mantra, and it's caused plenty of grief over the years.
Mother began her twenty-year career as an elementary school teacher when my twin brother and I started first grade. Every school day morning, she chased us out of our beds, made us dress, and fed us breakfast. Then we'd load ourselves into the car for the mile ride to the local elementary school. School started at 8:00 A.M., but our brood arrived each morning no later than 7:30 A.M.

My brother Jim and I took a break from punctuality during our senior year in high school. The principal contacted our mother with news that we'd been tardy thirteen successive days. The tongue lashing we received changed our ways. A beating would have been more welcome than the long lecture we received. The main point of the speech was that being late is a sinful act that neither of us should practice. We were told to go and sin no more.

All the harping on not being late finally seeped to my core. As a freshman in college, I constantly worried about not being able to find my classes on campus. The thoughts of arriving late and being verbally chastised by a professor kept me in a near panic. I also was concerned about not being prepared for class once I arrived. What if I forgot an assignment? What if I needed to use the restroom? To prevent such disasters, I would find the buildings and rooms for classes at the beginning of each term. Then I would arrive for each session approximately a half-hour early.

The fear of being late turned into a compulsion to be early to all events in my life. This driving force played havoc with married life. My wife Amy is one who believes that arriving for an 8:00 appointment at 8:00 is acceptable. Showing up any earlier is a waste of time to her. On the other hand, I pace the floor, wring my hands, and curse as I wait for her. With every passing moment, my heart rate increases and my blood pressure spikes. Drives to our destinations often include heated arguments as I throw temper tantrums about being "late" to a function. The tension grows even more if we arrive on time or a couple of minutes early. Amy never says a word, but a smirk is pasted on her face, and her look screams, "I told you so!"

I became so anxious waiting for Amy on Sunday mornings that we finally began driving two cars to church services. I'd leave in time to be the first person there, and Amy and the kids would arrive only a couple of minutes after assembly had started.

The fear of being late carried over into my job as a high school English teacher. Teachers were required to be at work at 8:00 A.M. To me, that meant the correct arrival time was no later than 7:15. During the years that I taught an early morning class at 7:00 A.M., my arrival time was usually 6:30. The reasoning for such early arrival was it gave me time to do some work prior to students arriving. However, I usually spent the time in activities that had nothing at all to do with school. Not being late was what mattered most.

My children are adults now. Unfortunately, they've learned too well from their father. During their years in sports, we arrived at practices or at games before anyone else on the team. In their present lives, both Lacey and Dallas are early arrivers. They, too, have come to believe that being early is the same as being on time. Lacey's husband and Dallas' girlfriends struggle with the compulsion. Perhaps the newest member to the family, grandson Madden, can break the cycle and discover that being late isn't a capital offense.

By Tracy Powell
A few years after my grandmother passed away, my grandfather let me dig through their old photos. I came across a picture that fascinated me. My beautiful grandmother was dressed impeccably, beaming with joy against the backdrop of the ocean. I showed the photo to my grandfather, and a smile spread across his face. His green eyes lit up as he took the photo in his shaky hands and looked at his "Anna."

He told me how my grandmother had been left destitute when my biological grandfather had left her. Her children, including my mother, were very young. My grandmother was forced to move back in with her parents and support her family with hardly any income. But through all the hardship, she never got depressed. When things would go from bad to worse, she would call her girlfriends, get dolled up, and go to the ocean for the day. Things eventually turned around, and she remarried. My grandfather helped raise her children.

That night in bed at my grandfather's house, I admired this photo for hours under the dim bedside lamp. I considered what it must have been like for her when her husband went to the grocery store one day and never returned. I thought about how unwanted she must have felt, how lonely and scared she must have been. But in that photo, I saw none of those feelings. I only saw a gorgeous woman entirely enjoying herself and the wonderful beauty around her that the Lord had blessed her with.

I brought the photo home with me, and I keep it at my desk while I pursue my own dreams. When things start to get rough, I see my grandmother saying to me as she stands next to the ocean, "Go call your girls, get dolled up, and enjoy God's gift to you... life!" I obey her voice and call on my friends, with whom I find warmth and support.

Like my grandmother, I bond with nature and remember I am a creation of God. It reminds me of my gifts and why I am here. When I return to my desk, I am invigorated, ready to tackle my destiny once again.

воскресенье, 22 апреля 2012 г.

Old Faithful

By Jan Henrikson

Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed.
~James Montgomery

"Hey! You!" I half-yelled at a man in the parking lot near Yellowstone's Old Faithful Lodge. Charmed by a bison rolling on the ground in the distance, he completely missed the one walking past his left shoulder.

When the man turned to look, my skin prickled. "Pay attention," my inner voice said. "Surprising things are afoot for you too."

Somehow I knew I was being put on notice.
We'd ridden roughly 370 miles a day on a Harley motorcycle, from Tucson to Yellowstone. The first few hours, because of a minor misunderstanding with a favorite publisher, I prayed for reassurance about the direction of my career as an editor and writing coach. Soon, I surrendered to the rhythm of the ride, the cleansing wind, and the creativity roaring within me in this beauty. How wondrous that Bruce and I could sit, blissfully connected, our helmets just inches apart for hours.

We ventured from the parking lot to the benches by Old Faithful, due to spout any minute. "Mind if we sit here?" Bruce asked a ponytailed man.

"Go ahead, I don't bite."

Bruce loved meeting people on the road, which was a Godsend because I had no desire to talk, preferring to bask in the moment. I didn't want to be rude, so every once in a while, as Bruce and Mr. Ponytail chatted, I nodded in their direction, catching bits and pieces.

He and his wife were traveling with her mom and dad in their RV. He dedicated his life to helping gang members recover from substance abuse and violence. In fact, he ran a nonprofit called L.O.V.E. Let Our Violence End. He traveled around the country training police officers, judges, and health care professionals on how to interact with gang members. He was traveling now to de-stress and revive.

"Get his card," I heard in my head.

"What? No!" I protested, staring where I willed Old Faithful to rise. Normally I wanted to get people's cards. My favorite thing in the world was to write about inspiring people. What if I couldn't find a market for his story? Or I got too busy with other assignments? I didn't want to get his hopes up.

Mr. Ponytail kept talking, easy and soft. My senses wouldn't stop vibrating. His L.O.V.E. programs successfully helped gang members choose peace, again and again. I recalled how one of my best friends was a facilitator in Nonviolent and Compassionate Communication. We'd collaborated on a book about it.

When the geyser erupted, I barely saw it, so distracted was I by the voice in my head. "Get his card, get his card, get his card. This is why you're here."

I felt a quickening inside me. How melodramatic, I laughed at myself. The second the geyser died down, I heard myself gush, "I'm a writer. Can I have your card?"

Mr. Ponytail looked dumbstruck. He slapped the bench with one hand. Tears filled his eyes. His face reddened. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," he said. "I've been praying for the last two weeks to meet a writer." He clenched the bridge of his nose between his fingers and shook his head.

My neck flushed.

"That's what she does!" said Bruce, astonished.

"Everybody's been telling me I should write a book," said Mr. Ponytail. "I just started taping my stories, but I've felt so lost. I'll fly wherever you are for a week to tell you my story," he said. "Whatever it takes."

Bruce described how I nurtured books into completion. I had no idea he'd been paying such attention.

I almost chuckled. As Bruce and I were thundering on a Harley from Tucson to Mr. Ponytail, God was orchestrating the answer to my prayer... and His.

Necklace of Memories

By Kerrie Barney

Mother's love grows by giving.
~Charles Lamb

My mother recently called me over to witness a discovery she'd made. Tucked into the very corner of the family attic, the discovery was an old cardboard oatmeal container wrapped in blue paper. On the lid was a childish crayon drawing of the eight-year-old-me-I-had-been, complete with glasses and long brown braids. And on the side was the legend: "Kerrie Barney Time Capsule, 1986." My mom's eyes twinkled quite a bit as she handed it over. "I thought you should be the one to open it," she said.
The strange thing was, until that moment I hadn't even remembered the time capsule, the product of a third-grade school project. Both excited and a little apprehensive, I carried it into the dining room and spilled out the contents on my mom's table. There was a photocopied worksheet full of questions like "How tall are you?" and "What's your favorite food?" painstakingly filled out in my awkward beginner's cursive. There was a handful of rocks I'd picked up on the playground, a tiny little doll I now remembered as having been very precious, my first pair of glasses, and a baggie full of twenty-year-old rabbit food that I'm sure I meant to be symbolic of our family pet. And there were handful after handful of beaded necklaces.

They spilled out of the time capsule like confetti, all conceivable shapes and colors, a veritable rainbow of history that instantly took me back in time. When I was six years old, my mother took the unprecedented step of starting her own business. It was an exciting, terrifying year in our family history, and since a fledgling entrepreneur like my mother couldn't afford either office rent or child care, I ended up spending a lot of time in the home office my mother made of our basement. Every day after school I'd walk down the steps to the basement, to spend my evenings reading or doing homework at a spare desk in the corner. More often than not, I'd fall asleep under the conference table before Mom was able to get away, and she'd have to carry me upstairs to bed when her workday finally ended.

I have to say that, despite being distracted by a thousand pressing worries, my mother never forgot just how hard spending so much time in an adult environment could be on a child. She always made sure that we spent the dinner hour eating together, even if that dinner was a frozen meal hurriedly heated in the office's microwave and eaten at her desk between phone calls. And at least once a week she visited the city's teaching supply company where she could get good deals on art supplies and craft kits to keep me occupied. I had crayons and poster paints and modeling clay galore, all tucked into my very own drawer at the bottom of her filing cabinet. And then one day she bought me The Beads.

The fact that I refer to The Beads with capital letters does not mean they were expensive by any means. Made of plastic and purchased by the pound -- I think my mother paid seven dollars for a five pound bag -- they were hardly the stuff award-winning jewelry is made of. But they were colorful, made of a bright, pure, translucent plastic that sparkled in the sunlight like a pirate's hoard. And to my eight-year-old eyes they were the most beautiful things in the world. Mom helped me transfer them into Grandma's old canning jars so they would be easier to transport without spilling, and for the next two years I was a girl possessed, spending hours sorting The Beads by color and shape, painstakingly searching for matches I could string into jewelry. My mom bought me a cone of weaver's carpet warp, a strong, thick, white thread just the right weight for childish fingers to manage, and I made necklace after necklace, fascinated by the way the different colors blended together to make works of art. Some of these creations I wore to school or for make believe, transforming myself into a princess or a fairy queen. Most I gave to my mother, who wore one to every business meeting and power lunch with pride.

Looking at these necklaces now, strung on their finger-soiled cotton warp and finished by the simple expedient of tying the thread in a knot and leaving the ends to dangle (it would be years before I learned about clasps or crimp beads), part of me has to wonder if the whole reason Mom let me have them for the time capsule in the first place was her subtle way of getting out of wearing them. Still, when I can banish my inner critic and look at the necklaces honestly, I can see that they really are beautiful. The colors and shapes are blended together in surprisingly sophisticated ways, proving that even at eight, I was already playing with design in an effort to realize my own visions. And the love they represent -- the love of a mother taking time to nurture her daughter's creative spirit even under very trying circumstances, and the love of a daughter taking that nurturing and offering it back in beaded form -- is a beautiful thing indeed.

I had opened that time capsule expecting to see how much I had changed in the last twenty years, how much time and growth had transformed me. Instead, I am overwhelmed by how much of me has stayed the same. My braids are long gone, but I still wear glasses. I still pick up rocks that catch my eye when I'm walking to and from work. I still love animals and seem to spend an inordinate amount of time and money on keeping them fed. And yes, I still love beads, supplementing my income by selling hand knotted gemstone jewelry at craft fairs, and I still make necklaces for my mother. And she still wears them with pride.

So the woman that I am, and the girl that I was, are not so different after all -- instead we're inextricably connected. As connected as two beads glittering on the same strand.

The Jacket

By Carol Sharpe

You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never
be able to repay you.
~John Wooden

She looked younger than her fifteen years. Her white face stood out against the blackness of her hair. She was a child of the foster care system. We had received a call from the Ministry that a home was needed for a young girl immediately, and of course we agreed.

There was a lot of hustle and bustle to get her room ready. We were not expecting a child for another two months. The day was filled with a mixture of apprehension and excitement. Our own children kept asking questions such as:
"What is she like?" and "How long will she stay?"

"We'll just have to wait and see," was all I could answer.

We had four children of our own: Margaret and Joanne were seventeen and fifteen, and Rob and Jeff were twelve and nine. That afternoon, Susan arrived with the social worker. She hugged the wall. Her eyes had the look of a hunted animal. At this point, I stepped forward and said, "Welcome to our home, Susan."

"Kids, please go downstairs to the family room, so Dad and I can talk with Mrs. Kline." We sat at the kitchen table, and Susan was very quiet. Her eyes darted back and forth like a creature looking for a way out. This was her fifth foster home since she turned eleven. I wanted to put my arms around her and tell her she would be safe with us. I didn't want to scare her.

For the first two weeks Susan was quiet. She came into the kitchen while I was working. We discussed school and what she would like to do in the future. Mrs. Kline gave me all the information about Susan's past. I never mentioned the terrible things that had happened to her.

Her so-called mother placed her in very strict religious homes. Punishments were harsh -- cruel acts like putting Susan in basement closets or forcing her to kneel on rice in the corner.

I wondered if, in trying to help Susan, I had taken on too much. Her life had been one crisis after another. Would she be able to put the pain behind her and get on with her life? Would I fail? Self-doubt overwhelmed me.

It was Friday night and Susan had been with us for only one week. Margaret and Joanne were getting ready to meet their friends. Susan was watching television.

"Aren't you going out with the girls?"

"You mean I'm allowed to go with them?" she asked in amazement. Her question took me by surprise.

"I was never allowed to go out at night at the other house," she continued.

"Well," I finally responded, "it's different here. Friday and Saturday you can go out but the curfew is eleven o'clock." When she heard my words, she jumped up and hugged me. I was so surprised that I almost fell backwards.

As the days went by, Susan became a pleasure to have around. It seemed like she had always been with us. To my delight, the girls would sit in each other's rooms and giggle like typical teenagers. It was a sound that warmed my soul.

Susan had been with us for about a month when I decided Joanne needed a new jacket for school. Susan asked to come with us. She wasn't used to shopping in stores other than discount outlets. The process of buying involved filling out receipts and sending them to the Ministry; she found it all very embarrassing.

Joanne was trying on a green suede jacket with a fur collar. It was expensive but she pleaded and said she would give up her allowance and do extra chores, anything to have it. Susan chose a jacket she liked and was promenading in front of the mirror. As I watched her, I realized she was not the same girl who had entered our home only four weeks earlier. She stood taller and held her head higher. The tightness in her face had softened. She was able to look me in the eye when she spoke.

She walked up to Joanne, modeling the jacket for her, and sighed. "Isn't it beautiful?" Joanne agreed as they both preened in the mirror. Susan replaced the jacket on the rack. I watched the two.

"That coat looks so nice on you, can I borrow it sometime? Alex will love you in it!" She teased. I hadn't seen her face so animated before.

While they were busy I quietly asked the salesperson to wrap up the jacket that Susan had tried on. "Please don't let her see; it's a surprise." For the next few minutes I kept Susan busy while the salesperson rang up the sale and wrapped the treasure. Then we formally bought the coat that Joanne had loved. The salesperson had placed the parcel containing the jacket where the girls couldn't see it. I told them I was going to the ladies room and managed to sneak it out to the car without being caught.

When we arrived home, Joanne proudly modeled her new jacket for Margaret. Susan was still talking about it and how Joanne would lend it to her.

"Susan, would you please go to the car and bring in the parcel from the trunk?" She happily complied and when she returned, laid it on the table.

"Open the parcel for me while I put on the kettle?" I could hear the sounds of ripping paper, and then I turned, and saw her reaching out to touch the jacket.

Her hand recoiled as if she had touched something hostile. I walked towards her and put my arms around her. Susan looked directly into my eyes, unable to speak. Anxiety and concern for this newly acquired sister showed in Joanne's face.

I held Susan's face and asked, "Isn't this the jacket you were trying on?" At that, Susan started sobbing.

"In all my life no one has ever bought me a beautiful jacket like this. Why did you do it?" She held the jacket and stared at it with disbelief. I was on the brink of tears myself and my voice shook as I managed to say, "Because you deserve it."

I left the kitchen and went to my bedroom. I couldn't stop crying. My heart ached for this child, who didn't feel she was worthy of a new jacket. As I was sitting there deep in thought, a knock came on the door.

"Come in." There in the door way stood my five children. Susan was standing at the back holding the jacket so tight. Their faces told me they needed to say something. Margaret stepped forward and spoke for them:

"Mom, thank you for bringing Susan into our home. We hope we can keep her forever." The rest of the heads bobbed up and down in agreement. My eyes welled with tears again.

"We love you, Mom." I looked at the faces of my treasures and whispered, "I love you too. I'm the luckiest mother in the world."

Susan stayed in Vancouver with us until she was twenty-three. She returned to the province she was born in but wasn't accepted back by her mother. I now call her my daughter and she calls me her angel.

Amanda's Jonquils

By Kim Seeley

Every flower is a soul blossoming in nature.
~Gerard de Nerval

I do not have a green thumb, nor do I possess so much as a green pinkie. In fact, plants and flowers seem to have an aversion to me. Despite all my earnest endeavors, most of my plants and flowers exhibit a varying array of colors, none of which is normal. One plant on my brass flower stand is now mostly yellow. Another plant is a lovely green, except for the tip of every single leaf, which is black. I water too often, I am told, or too much, others say; I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong, but I seem to keep doing it.
The truth is, my plant collection is not one of my own choosing. All of my plants were gifts during a time of traumatic grief in my family. I still have one living from the time we lost my father-in-law to cancer, another from the year a stroke took my mother-in-law, three from the loss of my nineteen-year-old daughter eight years ago, and one from the death of my sister-in-law two years later. My plants have truly been watered with tears.

There was a time that I attempted to plant a flowerbed in my front yard. When my two girls were small, I ordered beautiful varieties of tulips and planted them each fall. Then each spring, I would eagerly watch for the first signs of growth. Each tulip that pushed its way through was a victory for me. However, I soon found that the neighborhood dogs and cats seemed to enjoy destroying my flowers as much as I enjoyed watching them grow. Some animal liked to eat the tops off my tulips; another liked to pull them up by the roots.

About nine or ten years ago, I quit planting the bulbs in the fall, and I gratefully turned the flower gardening over to my husband. He plants mums, which do not need several months of dormancy, and which the neighborhood cats and dogs do not find as much fun to destroy.

Eight years ago, my nineteen-year-old daughter was killed in a blinding rainstorm. On a hot August afternoon, she hit a patch of high water, hydroplaned, and spun around into the path of an oncoming car. The state trooper said she was killed instantly. My family was inundated with grief and despair, neighbors and friends, food and plants. In the months that followed, my thoughts turned to creating a legacy for Amanda. She died too young to have married; no children would carry on her genes. How could we ensure that her memory lived on?

One of our first efforts was the establishment of a perpetual scholarship fund, because Amanda had been an outstanding student in high school and during her one year at college. We also assisted the Wesley Foundation at East Carolina University in constructing a prayer garden in her memory. Her boyfriend named a star for her and brought us the star chart. Her best friends and their families built and maintain a cross at the accident site. Her Girl Scout troop planted a tree; her high school friends dedicated library furnishings to her -- so many people understood and aided us in our attempts to create a legacy for Amanda.

Amanda's birthday is in April, and that first April after the accident we decided that we would place flowers in church every year in honor of her birthday. After church, we carried them to her grave. When we returned home, however, we were shocked to see a group of cream jonquils with yellow centers in my flowerbed, right outside Amanda's bedroom window. We had never planted this particular type of jonquil, nor would we have ever planted them in just one spot. Our flowers were always evenly spaced across the front of the house. We looked at them in awe but we could not explain their appearance.

The following April, the jonquils once again made their magic appearance, blooming beautifully outside Amanda's window. Every year now, for eight years, the jonquils have appeared. They always bloom right before her birthday, always in the same spot, without any assistance on our part. We recognize them as what they truly are -- Amanda's birthday present to us -- and we simply accept them with gratitude and wonder. And amazingly, the neighborhood dogs and cats leave them alone. And so do I.

вторник, 17 апреля 2012 г.

Substitute Career

By Emily Parke Chase

The best substitute for experience is being sixteen.
~Raymond Duncan

"Yes! We've got a sub today!" The grin on the student's face told me all I needed to know. I was in for a challenge and first period hadn't even begun. After years of traveling around the country as a motivational speaker, I had retired and turned to substitute teaching. The advantages seemed numerous. Instead of entering a new school each day, I could settle at a single local high school. The work schedule was flexible; if I wanted to spend time visiting with my grandkids, I could say "no" to teaching. And instead of speaking on the same topic day after day, I could branch out and teach English, Chemistry or Spanish.
Returning as a teacher, however, made me realize just how much of my high school studies I'd forgotten. Was I really smarter than a tenth grader? Pulling algebra and geometry from the recesses of my brain was a challenge. And in history class, what did I know about life in ancient Greece? The kids thought I was old, but not that old!

Students, of course, switched seats as I took roll. Classes attempted to convince me that their teacher hadn't announced the quiz I was to proctor. And of course, I learned never to send more than one student to the restroom at a time.

When Colby saw a large cardboard refrigerator box as he entered Spanish class, he got a gleam in his eye. He enlisted the help of a crony across the room to distract me and then jumped inside the container. I spotted him, so I moved to the front of the room, stood next to the box and gently pressed my hand on the top flaps, forcing the boy hiding below to crouch down in a cramped position. I turned to the class and announced, "Today we have access to a new classroom teaching tool: the latest version of Xbox 360. The software inside is programmed to give correct conjugations of common Spanish verbs. Each time I thump the side of the box, it will conjugate one of the verbs listed on the whiteboard. Of course, if the box's answer should be incorrect, then you will input the correct form so the box remembers the next time."

Colby thought his crouched position was awkward, but conjugating verbs in front of the entire class made him even more uncomfortable. Out of sight, this class clown was unable to distract his classmates, and by the time I released him from his cardboard casing, he had reviewed all his verb forms. Who says a sub can't teach outside the box?

Next Aidan needed my attention. He kept getting out of his seat in order to talk to his friend on the other side of the room. When I reminded him to return to his desk, he explained, "I speak Arabic and need to get help from my friend."

Pointing at his desk, I pronounced firmly, "Bito d uk ni'ida!"

With a look of shock in his eyes, Aidan turned to his classmates. "She speaks Arabic!"

I don't. Speak Arabic, that is. But since he didn't know the language either, what difference did it make? Aidan never knew my words were from an obscure Mexican indigenous dialect, but he dashed back to his seat. Obviously I still have gifts as a motivational speaker.

Subbing may have advantages but, believe me, it's no job for sissies.

A Mother Takes On Big Tony

By Michael Jordan Segal

When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.
~Sophia Loren

"Can you do me a favor?" asked Bobby, a seventh grade classmate at my junior high school. "Hold this extra pair of shoes for me and I'll pick them up right after the final bell."

Now I had a dilemma. I was new at school and Bobby was one of the first friends that I had met. But I had a dental appointment after school and my mother said that she would pick me up in front of the school building at the end of the day. What was I going to do?
My mother was always late. So I told Bobby that I would wait for him at my locker with his shoes for a few minutes after the final bell. We agreed that if he did not show up at my locker after ten minutes I would just leave his shoes in a brown bag on the floor in front of my locker. He thanked me and said, "That would be perfect."

When the final bell rang at 3:15, I ran to my locker. I turned the corner of the hallway where my locker was located, expecting to see Bobby waiting for me. But Bobby was nowhere in sight. I opened my locker and took out Bobby's shoes. Still no Bobby. One minute, ten minutes, twenty minutes. No Bobby. It was 3:45 and the hallways were empty. Only the school janitor remained.

I put Bobby's shoes in a brown paper bag and put the sack down next to my locker. I then bolted to meet my mother, who told me she had been waiting for me since 3:13. Probably the first time she hadn't been late in my entire life.

The next day, I saw Bobby at school.

"Where are my shoes?" he asked.

I explained to him that I had left the shoes in a brown paper bag on the floor next to my locker. I reminded him that he had agreed to this plan.


I swallowed and meekly said, "You mean Big Tony?"

Bobby did not have to say one word. The look on his face told me I was right. I was your typical thirteen-year-old: Five-foot-two, voice cracking, poor complexion. But Tony, well, basically, he was a big man. He was over six feet tall, bearded, with an Afro that had a metal rake in it.

I ran all the way home, surprising my parents.

"What's the matter? Are you feeling okay?" my mother asked.

I explained the problem with Big Tony's shoes and begged my parents for help.

My father was quick to respond: "We'll just buy Tony some other shoes. Mike, find out what size he wears."

But before my father could finish his sentence, my mother erupted, "We're not buying any shoes for Tony. This is ridiculous. Mike told the boy if he wasn't at his locker he would just leave the shoes and that's exactly what he did. I don't want to hear anyone saying anything more about buying shoes!"

I was shocked. My mother had always been so passive with everything, but now when her son was probably going to be murdered, she was standing up and being assertive. I did not know what to do.

My mother quickly replied, "Mike -- you go back to school this instant and I don't want to hear one more word about any kind of shoes!"

As I slowly and meekly exited from my house, I heard my mother's remark as I closed the door: "Ridiculous!"

I was petrified at school when I returned. I pondered which would be worse: Getting punched by Big Tony or facing the wrath of my mother.

I could not concentrate on anything that day except the sounding of the final bell. At half past two, the door to my classroom creaked open. I was even more petrified as I looked to see who was on the other side.

Thankfully, it was just Mrs. Brown, the frail sixty-eight-year-old school secretary, who whispered something to Mrs. Johnson, my fifth period math teacher. Mrs. Johnson quickly told the class, "Boys and girls, it seems Mr. Watson (the school assistant principal) wants to talk to Mike."

I walked with Mrs. Brown to Mr. Watson's office. As I sat in the chair outside his office, I could feel my knees shaking as I wondered which was worse -- being punched by Big Tony, facing the wrath of my mother, or being questioned by the assistant principal.

Mr. Watson exited from his office and motioned me to join him there. I rose from my chair, entered his office, and sat down -- but my knees refused to stop knocking.

However, I was so surprised by his meek voice when he began speaking: "Mike, I understand you're having some problems with a Tony Peterson. Ordinarily I don't condone students fighting, however I'll make an exception in this case. Mike, you can fight Tony."

As he said those words, my mouth dropped open. Was he kidding? How was I going to fight Big Tony?

I left Mr. Watson's office feeling petrified. I could not concentrate on anything, except avoiding Tony. However, as the days went by Tony did not even say anything to me. In the ensuing weeks I realized what must have happened: my parents must have called Mr. Watson and threatened dire consequences if I were hurt. In turn Mr. Watson must have persuaded Tony to leave me alone.

True, if my father would have had his way, I would have been able to sleep much easier that eventful evening when Tony lost his shoes. However, because my mother got her way, I learned many lessons, including that money cannot buy everything. For that, and for so much more, I say, "Thank you, mom."

Consider the Daisies

By Janeen Lewis

"We'll be okay, honey," my brightest voice mustered. In reality, my heart was heavy.

My husband, Jesse, a state government worker, called to break the news of a proposal for twelve unpaid furlough days for the next year. We had already endured the effects of six furlough days.
Jesse and I had become a one-income family in 2006 so that I could care for our newborn son, Andrew. Our nation's economic meltdown followed our decision. Grocery expenses rose, and gas prices skyrocketed while we lived on a less-than-average income. But we were thrifty and continually hopeful, and we had another child, our daughter, Gracie. For four years, God's provisions amazed me. Now, as we anticipated lost income, doubt chipped away at my faith.

At the same time, a drought plagued us. Though I watered faithfully, my petunias and Gerber daisies sagged like my forlorn spirit. After weeks, the rain came. Since summer had slipped into autumn, the downpour seemed inconsequential.

"Let's go for a walk, Mama!" Andrew exclaimed the next day, after the storm had cleared. Why not? I thought to myself. It was uncharacteristically warm, and a walk might help me feel better.

I ambled along in the sun's warmth, pushing Gracie in her stroller and watching Andrew pump his legs up and down on his Spiderman bike. Just ahead of me, Andrew put on his brakes, jumped off, and crouched down beside a patch of grass.

"Look, Mama, daisies!" Andrew shouted, amazed. I looked down where Andrew pointed and, sure enough, there was a beautiful patch of daisies. We hadn't noticed them before, even though we walked past this grass almost every day. Although all the other wildflowers had long succumbed to the parched landscape, the vibrant daisies flourished.

"How did they get there?" Andrew asked, as perplexed as I was.

I thought of "Consider the Lilies." The simple message in scripture and the beautiful song tell us that if God cares for the birds, flowers, and grass, He will care for us, too. My worries dissipated, and a slow smile formed on my face. For the first time in weeks, a new spark of hope flickered in my heart.

"Sometimes, it takes a little rain to breathe new life into something," I replied to my son's question.

And sometimes it takes a walk on an uncharacteristically warm day and a thriving patch of wild daisies to breathe new life into a doubting heart. That day, God reminded me once again that He cares for the lilies of the field, the daisies on the roadside -- and my family and me.