воскресенье, 28 октября 2012 г.

Hockey, You Had Me at Face-Off

By Moira Rose Donahue

The manner of giving is worth more than the gift.
~Pierre Corneille , Le Menteur

The "hockey stick present." According to Urban Dictionary, it's "a gift given another that is really a present that the giver wants for him/herself." I received my first hockey stick present the Christmas after I was married. My husband gave me a sleeping bag. To me, "camping" means staying at a hotel that doesn't have room service. I thanked him warmly, but added that I wasn't really interested in camping. "No problem," he replied quickly. "I'll use it myself. Mine is pretty worn out."
I recently received a variation of the hockey stick present from my son. He had just graduated from college in New Jersey, where he had developed an interest in college and professional ice hockey. For Mother's Day, he handed me a ticket to a Washington Capitals' hockey game; he even included an Ovechkin T-shirt.

Just as I am not a fan of camping, I am also not a fan of watching team sporting events. In fact, I'd much rather be watching a Broadway show. Like all good parents, I sat through my children's many sports activities: baseball, soccer, and the most boring of all, high school crew. But voluntarily attend a professional sporting event? Well, football is just too silly for words and a dentist's drill sounds better to me than that annoying "squeak, squeak, thud, thud" of basketball.

But what could I say? My son explained that the ticket was expensive and hard to come by because it was for a playoff game. I wasn't sure what it was a playoff for (I later learned it was for the Stanley Cup), but I feigned enthusiasm. Then he showed me that he had a ticket to the game as well. And I understood. It wasn't a true hockey stick present because he didn't want my ticket for himself. But it was similar — what he wanted was someone to go to the game with him!

Everything changed the minute I entered the Verizon Center and was engulfed in a sea of red hockey jerseys. I felt the crackling excitement of the fans and the friendliness that comes with a shared passion. And I soon discovered that hockey fans are simply a different breed of sports fans. They cheer louder and with more energy than any other fans. Total strangers become instant friends as soon as they sit down. My son proudly told everyone sitting around us that this was my first game and a Mother's Day present from him. I was welcomed to the fold.

And then I heard the sounds of hockey: the swooshing of the skates; the thwack of the stick hitting the puck; the bang when the players hit the glass; and, most amazing of all, the siren when someone "lights the lamp" and scores. And sometime during the game, they showed the Capitals' Unleash the Fury video — a montage of scenes from sports movies designed to whip up the crowd, and the team, even more. True, hockey is just a variation on the theme of "keep away" found in most other team sports. But it's played on ice! I have enormous respect for anyone who can stand up on ice skates, let alone play a game. I was mesmerized.

The game was thrilling! Sadly, the Caps didn't win. But I did — I became hooked on hockey. Now I follow goal counts for Carlson, Backstrom and the "Great Eight" Ovechkin. I read hockey blogs like Russian Machine Never Breaks. I've only missed one game since that first one. I even watch the games on TV when no one is at home and I scream all by myself. And I know what a power play and a PK (penalty kill) are!

And most importantly, that first hockey game ticket turned out to be the "Stanley Cup" of presents — it gave me a way to bridge the transition into an adult relationship with my son. He and I have a shared passion — we talk and watch and cheer hockey. He even got me to try ice-skating with him. I don't get far from the rail while he skates all around me, but I look great in my Washington Capitals sweatshirt. And for Christmas, not only did we give our dog a Capitals' collar and a road kill penguin (mascot of the Caps' rival team), but my son and I unknowingly gave each other identical Unleash the Fury T-shirts!

I may get another hockey stick present some day... certainly I hope I do!

What Is the Higher Response?

By Mark Rickerby

Never look down on anybody unless you're helping him up.
~Jesse Jackson

I was having lunch with a friend one day on the pier in Geneva, Switzerland. A summer crowd was relaxing, enjoying the sunshine and the view of the harbor when a very large, heavily tattooed punk rocker dressed all in black arrived and started challenging everyone to fight. My friend and I watched as the people he challenged backed down or did their best to ignore him, hoping he would go away. He even kicked one person a few times, trying to force him to stand up and fight. We were at the end of the pier so we knew he was going to get to us eventually.
As the man approached us, it became obvious that he was extremely drunk. I knew then that it would be easy to subdue him if it came to that. I was heavily immersed in martial arts at this point in my life and held black belt rank, but I wasn't sure whether to fight or to seek peace, as all true martial artists should.

The friend I was with was a peace-loving beatnik, a little like Shaggy from the Scooby-Doo cartoons. That's what I liked about him, actually, but I was fairly sure he wasn't going to be much help if I couldn't find a way to calm this beast down. This was a chance for me to be a big hero by humiliating the bully who was terrorizing everyone. I would probably get a round of applause, a free drink or two, maybe even the key to the city from the mayor. However, a question I had begun to ask myself with increasing regularity rang in my ears: What is the higher response?

The drunken man finally arrived at our table.

"What about you two sissies, eh?" he slurred. "Which one of you wants to fight?"

I didn't look up. He put his hand on my shoulder and pushed hard. Several dozen attacks went through my mind. It would have been too easy to hurt him, drunk as he was. He was painfully vulnerable. Then that pesky question popped into my mind again — what is the higher response? Or as some put it, "What would Jesus do?"

Knowing that the main thing a drunken man wants most is another drink, I said, "As fun as that sounds, I have a better idea. Why don't you sit down with us and have a beer?"

Confused, he scowled and asked, "What?"

I reached into the bag of groceries we had with us, pulled out a cold bottle, handed it to him and said, "Here you go. We can be friends, too, you know? Come on. Have a drink with us. It's a lot easier on the knuckles."

He stood there reeling for ten seconds or so, trying to figure out if I was serious. People who were close enough to hear the exchange waited, transfixed by the unfolding drama. Would he take the beer or start swinging? Finally, he said, "Alright." He took the beer, opened it and drank most of it one gulp. He started to walk away when I said, "You're welcome to join us if you want to."

He paused again and asked, "Really?"

"Sure," I said. "Sit down and relax a while."

We all sat quietly for a minute or so when I decided to push my luck and said, "So what's going on? Why are you beating up all the tourists?"

He looked at me with a little fire in his eyes. I knew right away that I had gone too far. I had to do something drastic to defend myself so I broke out the secret weapon. I smiled. A big, cheesy one. It was the equivalent of going "all in" at the end of a poker tournament. I was either going to draw the ace or bust. He looked more confused than ever but gradually, wonderfully, a smile spread across his face, too. Then I really started fighting dirty. I laughed. Not at him but as if we had just shared a secret joke. He was probably starting to think I was crazier than he was. My friend and the others nearby were, too. But then something truly magical happened. He started laughing, too. There was a collective sigh from everyone present. When we stopped laughing, he got up and stood looking out at the sea for a minute or so. I noticed tears forming in his eyes.

I said, "Something is obviously bothering you. Why don't you tell us about it?"

He sat back down and told us one of the saddest stories I had ever heard about horrific child abuse, addiction, untimely deaths of his loved ones, and all manner of mayhem. When he was done, he said, "Nothing good ever happens to me. Everything I love gets taken away. It just seems like I was put on this earth to suffer, like God hates me."

I wanted to tell him that we create our own reality by how we use or misuse our minds, and that it's how we react to the tragedies that inevitably befall us that matters, not the tragedies themselves. But I didn't. There's a time for philosophy and a time for listening. This man who had gone to such great lengths to look scary had become a lost child right in front of me, and I could tell by the depth of his emotion and the despair in his eyes that very few people were interested in taking the time to listen to him without trying to "straighten him out." I put my hand on his shoulder and said, "Well, it sounds like there's nowhere to go from here but up, right?"

"I hope so," he said.

We sat quietly for a while. I wrote down my name, address and phone number back in America, handed it to him and said, "If you ever need a friend, you can always call or write." He thanked me politely and walked away, quietly passing the same people he had been harassing earlier. When he reached the entrance to the pier, he turned around and waved goodbye, then disappeared back into his life.

To my great surprise, several months later, I received a letter from him. We corresponded for several years. These were the days before the Internet really took off and people still wrote letters exclusively. Our letters were wild, rambling exchanges full of expansive soul searching. I shared poems and stories with him that had helped me at dark and difficult times in my life. His outlook seemed to improve with every letter I received from him.

I don't tell this story to attempt to take credit for how he turned his life around. He was the one who finally arrived at a place where he was sufficiently motivated to do the work. I tell this story to demonstrate what can happen when we act out of our higher nature rather than our lower instincts. If I had reacted in a violent manner to his harassment of me and others that day on the pier, everyone would have agreed he deserved it. But I am glad that I was able to show him that there was at least one person in the world who accepted and valued him, warts and all. I'm proud that I sought peace and won without conflict. And I had made a friend. A beating would have only deepened his anguish and further convinced him that he was put on this earth to suffer, as he put it. What he needed was a little compassion and I was able to give it to him because I asked myself a simple question... what is the higher response?

Many years passed and I stopped hearing from my friend. I lost the letters he sent me in a fire and his address along with them. But I always remembered his name so I recently looked him up on a social networking site on the Internet. It is an unusual name so he was not hard to find. That same big smile he gave me on the pier was his profile picture. I wouldn't have recognized him if I hadn't squeezed that smile out of him that day when we were both twenty years younger. It was a happy reunion, and I was very pleased to see that he has a good job, a wife and three beautiful children. He exudes joy right through my computer screen. Something good finally happened to him. God never hated him at all.

суббота, 27 октября 2012 г.

Brave Susie

By Amanda Dodson

I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me they are the role model for being alive.
~Gilda Radner

"Donna, did you see the news tonight?" asked Ramona. I hadn't. It was another late evening and I was packing up to leave the hair salon that I had owned for the last sixteen years.
"A puppy was dropped off at the shelter, and it had been beaten and set on fire," she said. Ramona was nearly in tears telling me the horrific details. My heart sank. I didn't understand how people could be so cruel. The wounded Pit Bull mix puppy had suffered second and third degree burns over sixty percent of its body, the dog's jaw was broken and the tips of its ears were singed. Everyone assumed the injured animal would be put to sleep, but at the shelter, in spite of its pain, the dog continued to wag its tail and lick anyone who came close.

In the weeks following, Ramona was chosen to foster the four-month-old puppy until a permanent home could be found. The courageous dog had been named Susie and had already endured a number of surgeries. Susie needed around-the-clock medical care. Ramona was scheduled to go out of town one weekend so I volunteered to bring Susie home and care for her. When I walked in the door, my husband Roy looked skeptical.

"It's a Pit Bull. Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked.

His concern was legitimate. A year earlier I had been attacked by a Pit Bull and Roy knew I still had nightmares from the incident. A family in our neighborhood had moved, leaving behind their dog chained up with no food or water. I was appalled and was trying to find the animal a home. Every evening I filled up its empty food and water bowls. But on this particular day I turned around and the dog clenched down on my calf. He shook his head back and forth, gnawing into my skin. His strength knocked me to the ground where he let go of my leg and began biting my neck. I could see the blood pouring onto the ground beside me. With all my might I pushed the animal off with both of my hands and began running. Doctors would later tell me I was lucky to be alive. I endured forty stitches and was unable to walk for six weeks.

But Susie was different. There was nothing intimidating about her big brown eyes or her always-running wet nose. We welcomed her into our home. And within a few weeks, Ramona helped us make it official. We adopted her.

The joy we experienced as Susie became a part of our family was short-lived when we heard that under North Carolina animal cruelty laws, Susie's attacker wouldn't receive jail time. I was disgusted. What type of message did this send to other abusers? Attorneys shook their heads and apologized, but their hands were tied and nothing could legally be done. The injustice fueled a passion in me that I had never felt before. I refused to let Susie's story be swept under the rug. With Susie by my side, I rallied friends, family and anyone who would listen and began a grassroots effort to tell others what had happened months earlier. Our team quickly grew from a handful of animal advocates to thousands. Within weeks, our humble Facebook page had 24,000 followers. We spoke at rallies, local events and inundated our communities with Susie's story.

Our hard work paid off. After long meetings with our local representatives, they agreed to speak on our behalf. Our state legislators decided that anyone who tortures, starves or kills an animal would face jail time. In North Carolina, the malicious abuse of animals would be deemed a Class H felony, punishable by up to ten years of prison, even for first-time offenders.

On June 23, 2010 I woke up with a spring in my step and whispered to Susie, "Today is the day."

We traveled to our state capital. Susie enjoyed the car ride with her nail polished paws on the door and head hanging out the window. I watched her from the corner of my eye as I steered. She was a far cry from the scared puppy who been beaten, burned and left for dead. When we arrived, I smiled at our governor as she approached, but before I could shake her hand, she wrapped her arms around my neck and whispered "Thank you." But it was I who was thankful that day. Thankful for a little burned puppy that had the will to survive and who change my life — not to mention other lives in the years to come.

When the Time Is Right, You'll Know

By Ben Kennedy

Love one another and you will be happy. It's as simple and as difficult as that.
~Michael Leunig

As the holiday season of 2003 approached, my girlfriend Kerri couldn't stop yammering on about Christmases at home. I remember becoming increasingly annoyed with her stories, and although she never noticed, I'm sure she would've understood.
On November 30, 1995, years before she met me, my father and half-brother left this world. And with that tragedy being so close to December, it really cast a dark cloud over the holidays for me. I also always spent them alone until now. This Christmas however, I had Kerri and her joy for the holidays, her love of her family, and her giddy excitement over what had become just December 25th to me.

Although I was depressed, I was still very much in love, and I didn't want to ruin our first Christmas living together. That's when I bought us two bus tickets from Baltimore, Maryland to Charleston, South Carolina. Sure the Scrooge in me wanted to see just how great these Christmases at home were, but also Kerri couldn't have been happier, and I enjoyed making her happy. After all, this was the woman I planned to marry.

Speaking of marriage, we had been talking of getting engaged for months, so I told her, "Maybe this Christmas I'll talk to your father in person about marrying you."

She replied, "This is going to be the best Christmas ever!"

I was hoping she was right. Because unbeknownst to her, I had already bought an engagement ring.

It was now two days before Christmas and that 600-mile ride on the bus was everything you'd expect it to be: cramped, stuffy, long, and kind of miserable. For me, you can add "nerve-wracking" to that list, as my mind was focused on "the talk," then the proposal if "the talk" went well, and the fact that the ring was in my duffel bag under the bus. You had better believe that whenever passengers were beginning or ending their bus trip during our eighteen-hour ride, and bags were coming on and off of the bus, I was pressed against that window watching like a hawk.

That night when we finally arrived in Charleston, and we pulled up to Kerri's parents' house, I saw bright, shiny Christmas lights and lit-up reindeer. We walked inside and everything Kerri spoke of in her many stories was there. And I tried to be as excited as Kerri, but after being on a bus since 5 AM, I was only interested in one thing: sleep.

Christmas Eve was a blur of catching up with Kerri's family, calling her friends to let them know we were in town, and then visiting with some of those friends. Later that night, when Kerri and I were lying in bed, I told her that I thought that tomorrow morning I would finally "talk to him." She cuddled up close, and while still clueless about my plan, she sensed my nervousness and said, "It'll be fine. I love you."

On Christmas morning I woke up before Kerri and made my way to the living room. Just as Kerri said last night, her father, an early riser, was awake. I took a seat on the couch and asked him to sit in his recliner. He smiled at me while doing so, which led me to believe that he already had a clue about what was about to happen. Or maybe he found it humorous to see a twenty-five-year-old say to him, "Please, Sir. Sit."

Whatever his reason, had he not smiled I don't believe I would've found the courage to continue.

"Your daughter and I have been living together for a while now and I hope you knew this day was coming. I love your daughter very much, and I want to marry her, and I want to know if that would be okay with you."

This big mischievous grin rolled across his face.

"What would you do if I said no?" her father replied.

"I, well, I guess I would have to respect that...." I stammered out before getting cut off by his laughter.

"Welcome to the family. We'd be happy to have you as a son-in-law," he said as he shook my hand.

Relieved, I confided in him, "Sir, I have the ring in my bag, but I don't know where to propose."

That's when he said something that I will never forget, "When the time is right, you'll know."

"I hope you're right."

I crept back into the bedroom and lay back down in bed to find that Kerri was awake.

"Did you talk to him?" she asked.

"I wanted to, but I chickened out."

"Awww, that's okay, honey," she said with some disappointment in her voice as she hugged me tight again. I spent the next hour thinking of how to propose.

After Christmas dinner, Kerri's father gave her mother her anniversary gift. Their anniversary is the 26th, and her gift was an amethyst set of earrings and matching necklace. As the women in the family all gathered around her gift like moths to a porch light, Kerri's father looked over at me with a look that can only be described as, "Don't you have some jewelry that you want to give?"

I nervously mouthed, "Now?"

And he just shrugged his shoulders, with a look of, "Why not?"

I got up, and as I quickly made my way for my duffel bag, I thought to myself, "Oh, 'when the time is right you'll know?' Right, it's more like 'I'll tell you when the time is right.'"

I found the ring and came back into the kitchen looking very nervous and pale. Kerri took one look at me and asked a very concerned, "What's wrong?"

I grabbed her hand and put it to my chest. "Feel my heart. I'm so nervous right now."

That's when I dropped to one knee in front of her whole family as she covered her mouth and said a muffled, "No, no, no."

Certain that her "no's" were from "No, I can't believe it!" and not "No, I don't want this." I proposed.

"Kerri, I knew I was going to love you forever from the moment I met you, and now I can't imagine my life another day, another minute, without you in it. Will you marry me?"

"YES!!" she screamed as her family cheered. And with Kerri's emphatic response, with that one word, Christmas for me was saved. It turned the holiday I once dreaded, nearly destroyed by a family tragedy, into the holiday when I took the first step in starting a family of my very own.

And it's with misty eyes that I'm reminded of this story every year as Kerri and I sit together watching our son Benjamin open his gifts on Christmas Day.

четверг, 25 октября 2012 г.

A for Attitude

By Linda O'Connell

Four things for success: work and pray, think and believe.
~Norman Vincent Peale

English was always my favorite subject. I "got" it, unlike math. In my freshman year of high school, I could write a killer composition and diagram a sentence with surgical precision. In my sophomore year, my teacher allowed me to give spelling tests to the class. I have wonderful memories of my junior year. Mrs. Alexander appointed me to sit at her desk and present the lesson when she had to leave the room. My senior English class was distressing, as it was very small and we had a teacher right out of college who stated that she expected college-level work. Every student received a C or D grade the first quarter. She wanted us to work hard for our grade, and we did. But English was still my subject.

I graduated high school, married early, had children and raised a family. I composed long letters and beautiful poetry. I wrote complaint letters to corporations that got results. I helped my kids with their compositions and English homework and I did my former husband's college-level English assignments. After all, English had always been my best subject. I was an A student, I told my family. Why, my teacher allowed me to take over her class when I was in high school!

Fifteen years later, I went to college, and because I had been an A student, I remained an A student. I lived up to my own expectations.

Recently, decades later, I was rummaging through old papers when I discovered my high school report cards. Holding that bundle of report cards brought back the smell of waxed hallways, chalk dust and Miss R's flowery perfume. I remembered sitting in my advisor's office explaining that I had always excelled at English, complaining that I did not deserve a D from that inexperienced teacher my senior year. The counselor empathized but was unable to change a grade.

Flipping through my old report cards revealed something else too. I wanted to shred them or at least hide them. I was not an A student in high school English! Somehow, I had convinced myself of this, when the grades clearly reflected an average student with an occasional A or B, but mostly C's.

Had I lived up to those grades and defined myself based on those letters, I would have never confidently pursued my successful freelance writing career. I would have ridiculed myself: "Who do you think you are calling yourself a writer? Actually submitting to publications?" Had I believed in my early grades instead of myself, I would have allowed my fear of failure to defeat my enthusiasm and paralyze my creativity. Instead, I viewed my younger self as an A English student. Except for that one undeserved D.

Cottage Clambake

By Stefanie Wass

Rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life!
~Albert Einstein

What a crisp, colorful autumn afternoon. Crimson-tipped maples paint the rural landscape as we drive to my aunt's shady lakeside cottage. Overhead, a flock of geese fly in "V" formation, seemingly pointing to the Ohio/Pennsylvania border, past miles of roadside pumpkin stands and endless fields of late season sweet corn. Finally, my husband turns down a familiar gravel road. I spot the lake, glistening in the warm October sun.
"We're here!" I rustle my girls from the back seat.

"Hurry and say hello to everyone."

The small white cottage reminds me of a dollhouse — the good kind of cozy, where friends and family happily gather, spilling into the yard when the quarters get a bit tight. I smile as I walk past the well-manicured lawn, bedecked for fall with orange and yellow mums peeking from cast iron buckets. As always, dried cornstalks climb the back porch rails. I spy a row of perfectly orange pumpkins, gifts from my uncle's garden. Every year he sends a pumpkin home with each child, just in time for Halloween.

Hopping from the car, the girls crunch through the leaves, hoping to sample appetizers on the back porch table. In an instant, their cheeks are stuffed with crab dip, Amish Swiss cheese, and trail bologna. Family seems to be everywhere. Cousins, aunts, and uncles trickle from the cottage, sharing hugs and gossip in the wooded yard.

Gathered in groups, my chatty Scotch-Irish clan prepares for our autumn tradition: an outdoor clambake, held annually the first Sunday in October. Husks fly off golden sweet corn ears as we all pitch in, removing silky threads from more than forty cobs. Great aunts, unaware that they could be sitting down, scurry about setting tables, slicing juicy red tomatoes, and taking surreptitious sips of homemade berry wine.

The men hover as they always do — around the fire pit. I chuckle at this primitive scene: men tending the fire and women preparing vegetables. Salty steam, heavy with clam and roast chicken flavors, teases my taste buds. What could be better? Somehow, I can't imagine being anywhere else on this idyllic autumn afternoon.

Sitting around card tables in the yard, we say a quiet prayer of thanksgiving. Then, at long last, it's time to dig in. Tearing open the mesh bag of steamers, I generously swirl each clam in drawn butter. What a gloriously gritty delicacy. Heaven seems near as a lobster tail is placed on my plate, followed by sweet potatoes and steaming clam broth. My daughters, content with an ear of sweet corn each, amazingly don't care for seafood.

"I can help you out there," my husband teases, reaching for their leftover lobster. We laugh with cousins and swap family news before gorging on a final, overindulgent treat — homemade cheesecake and raspberry pie.

As the sun sets, we pour second cups of coffee, warm mugs that prolong our time together, if only for a few precious minutes.

"Don't forget to take a pumpkin home," my aunt says.

"Did you get a candle off the mantel?"

Our girls pick their future jack-o-lanterns as I select my party favor — a homemade cranberry scented votive. In the year ahead, it will fill my house with the love, light and warmth of family.

"Thanks again for the clams, the pumpkin, the candle..."

The following morning, I struggle to compose a thank-you e-mail. How can I adequately show my appreciation? Finding next year's calendar, I flip ahead to October, making sure to highlight the first Sunday in bright orange marker.

Perhaps the best sort of thank you involves simply being present for cherished traditions. Next year, and hopefully for many years to come, I will be there, feasting with family at our cottage clambake.

Reaching for the Stars

By Gemma Tamas

Canada is not a starting point, it's a goal.
~Jean-Claude Falardeau

Hockey night in Canada. It didn't mean anything to me, except to spend my evenings away from home. The hospital where I worked as a radiology technician was across from the Forum, home of the mighty Canadiens. When they played in town, a doctor and a technician had to sit by the fiberglass and go back to the hospital when a player got injured. I gave my seat to my younger son Robert, barely eight years old, while I sat in the hospital knitting and waiting for the game to end. Once in a while, muffled cheering vibrated through the walls, breaking the silence. I smiled, knowing it meant the mighty Montréal Canadians, the Habs as they were called, were winning again.
In Hungary, I grew up with soccer, cheering on our national team when they won gold at the Olympics. It was the time when the names of Puskás and his teammates were held in high esteem in the world of soccer.

But the revolution changed all that.

Escaping from the communist regime that ruled my country, my husband and I and our young son became refugees. Then, Canada opened its borders and hearts to us. It took a while to assimilate into our new environment, but we had freedom and countless opportunities.

Robert was the first Canadian in our family, born and raised in Montreal. His brother was the best student in his class; Robert was the most popular one. Every Saturday night, as a true Canadian boy, Robert watched hockey, and with the many young boys in his class, he dreamt of becoming a star.

One Saturday evening, while Robert was sitting in the Forum cheering for his team, he met the Terrebonne Park's hockey coach. And that's when it all started.

When I picked up Robert, he could hardly contain his excitement. "Mother! I can join a hockey team!"

"But you don't have skates," I reminded him. "You can't even skate!"

"I can learn, Mother." Robert pushed my concern aside. "Can we buy skates on Monday? Right after school?" I couldn't refuse his shining, pleading eyes.

"Okay, we will get you a pair of skates on Monday."

Monday came, and after work we went to a sports store. Robert wandered around, looking at the pictures of his favourite players smiling down on him from every corner of the store. The shelves were packed with skates in different sizes and colors. Robert couldn't make up his mind. Finally, he said to the young salesclerk who waited on him. "I want skates like Yvan Cournoyer has."

"Good choice, young man," the salesperson smiled as he pulled down a box from a shelf. "He is the fastest on the ice. Let's see how these fit." Robert took off his shoes, and with great concentration he watched while the clerk laced up the skates.

"Okay, boy," the salesclerk tapped on the skates, "stand up."

Robert tried to stand, then looked around and a small cry slipped out of his mouth. I hurried to his side holding out my hands and Robert, on shaky legs, grabbed my arms and stood up.

"I see." The clerk shook his head. "You still need more practice before you can play in the Forum."

Then, he turned to me. "How about a hockey stick?"

Robert, forgetting his precarious situation, plunged forward, pointing to the rack holding the hockey sticks. "I want that one!" he shouted, while falling on his tummy. We left the store with a pair of skates, a brand new hockey stick endorsed by Béliveau, and with bruised hands and knees but without a scratch on Robert's spirit.

The next day, Robert, with his brand new skates dangling over his shoulder and swinging his hockey stick by his side, hurried to the local arena. The dressing room was filled with boys of all ages.

"Put your skates on!" the coach yelled while he rushed by. Robert, with clumsy fingers, started to lace up his skates. It took him a long time before he got it right. When he tried to stand up, he had to lean against the wall to hold himself up.

By the time he wobbled out to the rink, bigger boys were on the ice. One of them pushed him aside. "Go to the bench before you get hurt!" he bellowed at him. Robert sat down in a daze. He managed to find his way back to the dressing room where he took off his skates and left.

He cried all the way home.

He locked himself in his room and threw himself on his bed. When he composed himself, he turned on his back and stars twinkled at him from the ceiling. His face broke into a grin remembering the time when I, reluctantly, helped him to put them up there.

"I will be a star!" He whispered to himself. "I can't skate, but I can be a goalie; they don't have to skate that much." And without his supper, he went to sleep.

Five years later he became the first string goalie on his high school's hockey team, and they travelled to Nova Scotia to the Nationwide High School Tournament. Their first competition was against bigger and older boys, some in their late teens. It was a rough play, but by the end, the score was still a tie. That's when the shoot-out started. The crowd, with great enthusiasm cheered for the young goalie, shouting his name after each save he made.

"Robby! Robby!" His name vibrated through the arena, and although they lost, Robert became a star.

In the spring, the team toured the U.S. prep schools. As a parent I joined the many hockey parents travelling with the troupe. In Exeter, they were out-shot by 64 to 12. Robert kept his team in the game and it ended with a tie. That year, Exeter was undefeated; their coach couldn't accept a tie to blemish their record. He asked for a sudden death overtime.

"Boys," Robert's coach gathered his players around him. "You don't have to do it." He looked over his squad. "It's up to you."

A dozen tired eyes stared back at him. Suddenly Robert jumped up. "We'll do it!" and as in the past when faced with a challenge, he transferred his desire to his teammates, who jubilantly joined him. They won the game.

A year later, his unshakable determination earned him a hockey scholarship to Exeter, a prestigious prep school, and two years later a scholarship to an Ivy League university.

Thank you, Canada, for giving us the opportunity and freedom to reach for the stars. We are proud to call ourselves Canadian!

The Power of Pasta

By Anne Crawley

Conscience is less an inner voice than the memory of a mother's glance.
~Robert Brault

On the day that I was married, I took the usual "love, honor, sickness, health, etc." vows out loud. I made a few other vows to myself, one of which was to stay calm and understanding about the incredibly close bond between John and his mother. After all, he was thirty-three when I married him, and he had lived with this mother that whole time, so a few precedents had been set. The dating years had taught me that, in the choice between her and me, I might get a sheepish look followed by an apology in private later, but he would never take my side against her in front of her or others. My mother-in-law, in her own way, is a wonderful woman, and I could give her some unflattering labels such as "quirky" or "difficult," but what comes to mind most is "very loving," in a unique way.
So I vowed to stay calm whenever he took her side, knowing that the results of hurting her were far worse than the results of letting me down. Or at least I hoped so.

And so it went for many years, smoothly as can be expected. My teeth are shorter from grinding them down, and the neighbors have become accustomed to my running out in the backyard to scream from time to time, but, overall, it has been smooth, except for a random holiday here and there.

As in all families, we had holiday "traditions," unwritten rules set in concrete, never to be changed. Christmas Eve was at my sister-in-law's because she knows how to do that seven-course fish thing so well. So Christmas Eve was his family's. Each Christmas Day, we attended church and spent the morning at home. Around noon, all presents opened, we headed to his mother's for homemade cappelletti and ravioli. Around four, we went to my mother's, pretending we were hungry because she had worked all day preparing a turkey or ham dinner. These endearing, if fattening, traditions were embedded in our lives.

As fate would have it, one year we just couldn't follow that routine. It had snowed, snowed and snowed, leaving us buried in feet of white powder. Our home is situated in a large natural wind tunnel between a sizeable lake and a pond, giving us a double lake effect, plus a wind chill factor worthy of the Arctic. We could barely open the door that day and had to force the dog to go outside to do his duty. No one was traveling; the roads were barely plowed, and TV announcers urged everyone to stay put. We almost did.

I knew there would be trouble. My mother-in-law began calling at 9:00 A.M. Those bags of cappelletti and ravioli that she had created were bursting out of her freezer. It was Christmas. They had to be eaten that day. Weather had no influence on her schedule or her cooking. I said no. She called at 10:00, 10:30, 11:00, 11:30 and 12:00, frantic by 1:00.

It was Christmas! There were ravioli! About 12:00, John had started to pace. From 1:00 to 2:00, we all shoveled, trying to move at least two feet of snow off the house roof, as it was leaking more than usual. Of course, this made him even hungrier. Thoughts of ravioli obsessed his genetically-driven mind. I said no. Then I watched in amazement as his primal instinct took over. He became crazed. Christmas and ravioli had to be honored! I said no — we would not go out in that storm just for pasta. At 3:00, he lost all control. "Get into the truck! Everybody!" he screamed as he grabbed for the phone, dialed and yelled, "Put the water on. We're on our way!"

It certainly was an exciting trip. We live at the top of a one-mile hill, followed by a bit of level road, followed by a two-mile downhill fondly known as The Wildcat, then a two-mile uphill stretch. There was no "over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go" because nothing could be seen but snow, waist-deep snow that sprayed out on both sides of the truck as we plowed our own path. We were on the road, off the road, in a ditch, in the opposite ditch, but my husband is a veteran of driving on roads like this, and his truck is built for this challenge. The girls were having a great time in their car seats, whooping at all the white spray. I had confidence in John and very little fear, although I realized that my mother-in-law's wishes were dominant again. In the true Christmas spirit (and because I just LOVE her pasta), I hung on and enjoyed being the only family out in that untouched winter wonderland.

We did not pass a single vehicle the whole way down, and the twelve-mile journey took more than forty-five minutes. The bleak, beautiful snow had brought the Valley to a halt — except for one blue Chevy avalanche on an "emergency" ravioli run.

She complained as we walked in. "What took so long? The pasta is getting cold!" Unbelievable. I almost decided not to eat at all when she nagged like that, but even I could not hold out against Margaret's homemade ravioli and sauce. I felt thankful and peaceful that we could spend Christmas together — at least our branch of the family. John's two sisters and one brother never made it, thereby proving to their mother — neglected on Christmas — that their love for her was nowhere near as strong as John's. John beamed.

My mother lived nearby, but we didn't stop in. She would have been shocked, appalled, furious, unbelieving that we had left the house in such weather. The ride home was faster, the road almost hidden in the night. Our tracks were the only ones through the snow. John once again made it seem like a Sunday drive in the park, even though he was working hard to keep the truck in line. By the time we got home, we all knew this had been a Christmas to remember.

Someday, I hope I have a child who loves me, or at least my cooking, as much as John loves his mother and her ravioli. But I will insist that they stay home until the roads have been plowed.

понедельник, 22 октября 2012 г.

A Dream Come True

By Cassie Campbell-Pascall

For too long the world has failed to recognise that the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement are about fine athletics and fine art.
~Avery Brundage

I had always loved sports and hockey in particular. As a kid I remember watching with total fascination as all the athletes entered the stadium during the opening ceremonies at an Olympic Games. I even had imagined myself, as kids are prone to do, walking amongst them, though I had no real idea what sport I would be playing. Women's Hockey was not an Olympic sport at that time so hockey wasn't an option, or so I thought.
The moment I put on skates I was hooked. The only issue was that my parents made me wear white skates and the ones I really wanted were black. My first year of skating was as a figure skater, because that was what you were supposed to do if you were a girl at the time. Nothing against figure skating, but it just wasn't for me.... I wanted to play hockey. And as I skated that first year, I always kept one eye on my brother's hockey practices. I was always watching him play. I wanted to play too, but whenever I asked, I always got the same answer – "Girls don't play hockey."

When I was six years old, I started to really watch a girl named Jennifer Minkus who played on my brother's team. I still remember her name because she became the final and winning argument I had for my parents when it came to them allowing me to play. They had no comeback when I simply reminded them that "Jennifer plays!" They respected her and her family so much and she became a role model to me without her even knowing.

The next year I was playing on a boy's team. I was only seven, my hair was cut short and, like the rest of the team, I would arrive already dressed for the game. I never remember hearing anything negative, but my parents heard things from time to time. As a kid, it doesn't even occur to you that people might have an issue. As it turned out the team didn't really understand that I was a girl until the end of the year party... which turned out to be a swimming party!

We had been living in Northern New Jersey and my first team was the Ramapo Saints. I played in the Mites division and continued to play there for two years before we moved back to Canada. It was exciting for me at the time to finally be playing the same sport as my brother. I had always been a tomboy and I idolized my older brother. I had played street hockey with him, even wearing some of his cast-off clothes sometimes. He just seemed to be the coolest person I knew.

After we got back to Canada the opportunities to play women's hockey improved. We moved to Brampton, Ontario, which, at the time, had the world's largest women's hockey association — the Brampton Canadettes. I just loved to play and even though a lot of my friends quit during their teen years, I kept playing. My first major tournament was the Canada Winter Games held in Prince Edward Island in 1991. By 1994 I played in my first women's hockey World Championship, and then in 1998, the Olympics!

Even now, more than thirteen years later, I remember so vividly walking into the stadium in Nagano for the opening ceremonies. It was one of the best experiences of my life. It felt like I was having an out of body experience. There I was walking into the Olympic stadium yet I was also picturing myself watching as a little girl at home. It was a surreal moment. And I was thinking, "Wow, can you believe it?" It was almost as if I was talking to that little girl... to me. It was a truly amazing, unforgettable moment. I could see myself in my old house, glued to the TV, entranced by the opening ceremonies, dreaming of the day... and it all came back to me in an instant. The endless times my parents had driven me to practices and games. All the training and workouts, plus all the people who had helped me along the way, including coaches and friends. There are so many people that are involved in getting a player to the Olympics or to a national team or the NHL for that matter. It was all of those people that I was thinking about when I entered that stadium.

The Canadian women's hockey team was the favorite that year and the feeling that I had come all this way and that I was representing my country and for the first time ever, women's hockey, well it was overpowering. We wanted to bring the gold home that winter, but we lost to the U.S. in the gold medal game. I was crushed. I thought that I had let my team down, especially because there were older players there who would never get another chance to win gold at an Olympics. It wasn't until about six months later that it finally registered as a win. It finally dawned on me: "Hey, we brought home a silver medal in the Olympics!" It was the first Olympic Games to include women's hockey and we got the first silver medal.

Losing that game definitely made me a better player. We learned so much about ourselves from that loss. I intensified my training, and I became a better leader. We all became better players and better people after the challenging time we had in Nagano. Four years later I returned to the Olympics in Salt Lake City, and this time we beat the U.S. team in the final game and brought home the Gold! It was a game we should have never won — the U.S. had their "dream team" and had put so much money into their program. But we managed to play our best when it mattered the most... on gold medal game day!

To this day I believe that if we had not lost in Nagano, we wouldn't have won in Salt Lake City. It was as if we needed that big loss in order to take a serious look at ourselves and become the players and team we did become.

Moving on, I was fortunate to compete in my third Olympics, which I knew was going to be my last. In 2006 in Turin, Italy the Canadian team again brought home the Gold. It was by far the best Team Canada I ever played on as far as talent and depth.

As a young girl, I never knew that I would be able to go to the Olympics as a female ice hockey player, but I had a vision and I was lucky enough to have it come true! From watching the Olympics on TV as a child to playing on the biggest stage in the world! It was truly my dream come true!

Facebook and Faith

By Melanie A. Hardy

The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.
~Bill Gates

My daughters were less than thrilled when I told them I was setting up accounts on any social media websites they visited. Like so many young people, they felt that these sites were for teens, and that Mom was simply too old to be tweeting or on Facebook. They didn't want their mom "spying" on them, either. I assured them that was not my intention.
Truthfully, I was a little concerned about some of the negative stories I had heard about the Internet. I wanted to make sure that my girls weren't giving out improper information over the Internet or "friending" anyone they shouldn't. I figured I would check their accounts weekly, but I wasn't really interested in doing anything else with my accounts.

After the first few weeks, however, this began to change. People from my past began asking to be my "friend" — my best friends from kindergarten, my high school guidance counselor, and my long-lost pen pal from England. A whole new world opened up to me. I reconnected with so many people who had impacted my life in a positive way, and I was glad to find out what was going on in their lives. Hearing about their careers and families, and seeing pictures of their children — all of these things were special to me and truly brightened my day.

One of the happiest days was when I reconnected with my friend Beth from high school. Her mom had been my sixth-grade teacher and had encouraged me in my writing. I was glad to let her know that her mom's encouragement had helped me pursue short-story writing. The more we talked, the closer we became. We bonded through our mutual interest in charity work, and after a while, we planned a visit to see her second cousin, Mary, and her family, who ran a Christian youth camp in Kentucky. They were in need of clothing, kitchen equipment, and financial contributions, and we began to gather these items in anticipation of our trip.

Several months later, my daughter Blakely and I pulled up to Beth's house in Memphis, Tennessee. Even though we had not seen each other in thirty years, the time flew away as soon as we saw each other. We packed my car to the brim with our donations and headed out to rural Kentucky. I don't think we stopped talking, laughing, and catching up during the entire thirteen-hour drive.

When we finally arrived at the camp, Beth's family greeted us with open arms. Tired but happy, we unloaded the car and were touched by their excitement at seeing our gifts. I was thrilled to have so many new friends.

Our weekend flew by with an auction to benefit the camp and a delicious dinner. Mary and her children sang, played musical instruments, and gave us a tour of their town. We were sad to leave, but felt enriched and blessed by the experience. I gained many more Facebook friends as a result of my visit.

By that point, Facebook had become more to me than just a social site. I realized how much of an impact it had had on me and the people I knew. The power of faith had reached the digital age. Whenever someone in my circle needed prayer or had a sick family member, I began to send messages of support. I decided to spread love, positive quotes, and uplifting comments on my profile on a daily basis — hoping to share my faith in a higher power with my friends. Faith had ceased to become just a personal experience. It had become amplified when shared with others. I was truly surprised to connect with people via the Internet on such a spiritual level.

The greatest blessing I witnessed online happened while we were planning my high school class's thirty-year reunion. Two best friends from school found each other via Facebook. One was in need of a kidney transplant, and the other was a perfect match as a donor. I was privileged to assist them before and during their surgery by providing food, babysitting services, moral support, and prayers. Our entire high school class held a fundraiser to assist with the costs of the surgeries. Facebook literally saved a friend's life! The bond we all established gave strength to my friends, and the positive messages posted online gave them much needed encouragement and aided in the recovery process. We truly bolstered each other with faith.

I originally got on Facebook to keep my daughters from becoming victims of the dangers I had read about. And while negative experiences can occur, I almost overlooked the blessings of the Internet and social media to enlighten people in a spiritual way. Friends who might have felt alone now have a family of faith to help them when they are in need, hurting, or lonely. The positive energy I have felt and sent through social networks has become invaluable to me and others, offering encouragement, and giving us all strength, love, and hope. It is not organized, nor dependent on a particular belief or denomination, but its effect on us all has been truly divine.

The Internet has become a place where I can encounter God through others. It is a place where I can teach and be taught, provide and receive counsel, and facilitate conversations, share experiences, and worship. When life pulls us in different directions, connecting online makes it harder for us to be pulled apart.

Facebook and faith might seem like unlikely partners, but I have truly become a believer.

суббота, 20 октября 2012 г.

Wednesday Night Sanity Check

By Kate Munno

You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.
~Franklin P. Jones

I was in desperate need of a break. The "witching hour" was upon us once again, dinner was burning on the stove, and fights were breaking out between my two children. "Jamison, leave your brother alone! Zachary, no biting!" The whining and crying were relentless, no one napped that day, and I was at the end of my rope. My husband was in the city for yet another dinner meeting, and I was holding down the fort until way after bedtime. I was going to snap.
I called a friend who has four children the same ages as mine, and she was in a similar situation. Our husbands work together and were attending the same meeting that night. I could hear the screaming in the background, interrupted by Jen yelling, "Hannah, leave your sister ALONE!" and "No, Katie!" She kept dropping the phone to pick up the baby because he was crying. Then the pasta pot boiled over and she had to run. It seemed as if we were all suffering equally. Couldn't there be a way for us to break up the monotony, find safety in numbers, stop the fighting, and get everyone to actually eat the dinner we spent the time to prepare? Absolutely.

The first play date was at Jen's house the following Wednesday at 4:00 P.M. My daughter disappeared into the basement playroom with her twin girls and her younger daughter, and my son clung to me as did hers. We chatted about her week, described the various escapades of the kids, and crabbed about the crazy hours our husbands work. As we listened to the shrieks of glee from the girls downstairs, we both could feel ourselves unwinding from the insanity of the day. The occasional crash from the playroom would warrant a pop-in to make sure no one was bleeding, but the girls were so wrapped up in whatever dress-up fantasy they'd created that it didn't matter that a mom had invaded their space. The boys finally got down off of our laps and started exploring the toys on the first floor, and Jen and I sat just enjoying some adult company.

We ordered a pizza and salad, and ALL of the children actually ate their dinner. My kids aren't big salad fans, but if other kids are eating it, apparently it's cool. The entire large pizza was polished off, the salad was gone, and the rascals raced away for more romping. Jen and I cleaned up the plates together, wiped up the floor, and then sat back down to enjoy the pizza we'd ordered for ourselves. When we were done, we invited the gang back for some brownies (which were inhaled) and then they all danced to a music DVD until it was time to go. We left at 7:00 P.M., and my kids went right to bed when we got home. I felt rejuvenated and ready to face motherhood again. The e-mail from Jen the next morning confirmed her similar sentiments. We were on to something and it had to continue.

The following Wednesday play date was at my house, and it was exactly the same. The kids had a great time wearing themselves out, the moms enjoyed a few minutes of peace and quiet discussing the week, the kids chowed down their dinners, and all parties went home ready for bed. We've been holding the Wednesday Night Sanity Check for about five months now, and added another family with three kids to the mix. The more the merrier. Haylee has twin girls and a son, and a husband who works crazy hours, too, so she completely gets where Jen and I are coming from.

Watching nine kids from four years down to eight months interact and play together without the whining and fighting and bickering is a truly great thing, and to listen to the woes of the other moms and problem-solve together, or just listen to the funny stories of the week makes me sit back and realize that it's really not all that bad. Too many times I've felt completely overwhelmed by the constant demands of the house, the kids, and our family. Wednesday night gives me a chance to sit and really observe my children as little people. Those kids that are back-talking, complaining, whining, fighting and screaming at each other when we're at home, are actually polite, considerate, loving souls, and I rarely get a chance to view them like this. Any mom understands that you get the brunt of the abuse from your kids if you're home with them all the time, and often you don't get to appreciate the little things that you HAVE done right in raising them. This is one of those special times for us, and we all go home ready to face another week.

From Selfish to Faithful

By Audrey Sellers

A whole human life is just a heartbeat here in heaven. Then we'll all be together forever.
~Chris Nielsen, What Dreams May Come

"I got the job! I'm going to be a camp counselor this summer!" Zach, my then-boyfriend, now-husband proclaimed the second I opened the front door to find him standing there, beaming.
"That's great news!" I exclaimed, giving him a big hug. We'd been dating for a year, and I knew he loved God, kids and sports. This gig at T Bar M, a Christian sports camp in the Texas hill country, was absolutely perfect for him.

There was just one thing: What was I supposed to do all summer long? My happiness quickly faded to disappointment.

"Wait. Just how long will you be gone?" I quizzed him. With my boyfriend out of the picture for potentially weeks at a time, my summer was beginning to look bleak.

"Well," he began softly, "it's an all-summer kind of thing. But you can visit me!" His eyes pleaded with me to see the good in this opportunity, but all I could think about was myself.

What would I do when my shifts were over at the restaurant where I waited tables? I'd grown so accustomed to hanging out with Zach that I didn't know what I'd do without him. It was my junior year in college, and, quite honestly, I just wanted to have fun. I didn't think much about God.

Zach, on the other hand, grew up a devout Catholic. God was a very big part of his life. While my family attended the occasional Mass, we mostly slept in on Sundays and rarely, if ever, said prayers.

Maybe that's why I was instantly drawn to and inspired by Zach's faithfulness. He invited me to join him at Mass on Sundays, and soon it became part of our normal weekend routine. As much as I would have preferred to stay burrowed under the covers until noon, Zach gently made it clear that going to church on Sunday morning wasn't optional — it was mandatory.

I loved this about Zach, but standing there in the sunshine-soaked entryway of my mom's house, his faith made me angry.

"What am I supposed to do while you're gone? Do you know how boring my summer will be now? It's like I don't even have a boyfriend. I can't go weeks without seeing you," I fumed.

Undeterred by my bad attitude, Zach grabbed my hands and guided me to the couch. "You know that movie, What Dreams May Come?"

I immediately recalled the movie; we had watched it together in his dorm room just a few weeks ago. It made me terribly sad when the husband in the movie left heaven to rescue his wife from hell.

"Well, the reason I want you to go to church with me, read the Bible and invite Jesus into your heart," he said, holding my hands in his, "is so that I can see you in heaven."

Those words changed my life. A spark had been struck somewhere deep within my soul, and I, for perhaps the first time in my life, felt true love.

There was a great love sitting in front of me, and there was the love of Jesus. I only needed to invite Him into my heart.

"How do I ask Him?" I murmured softly, tears welling up in my eyes.

Zach gave my hands a squeeze and said, "Just invite Him in. There's no wrong way to do it. He just wants you to ask."

I dropped to my knees right there at the side of the familiar cream-colored couch, pressed my hands tightly together, closed my eyes and asked Jesus to come live in my heart.

The rest, you could say, is faith history. Zach and I got married in 2005 and had a precious baby boy in 2010. I count my blessings every day. And when the Lord calls me home, I'll tell Him Zach helped me find the way.

Extraordinary Lessons from Extraordinary Debt

By Leslie Cunningham

The willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life is the source from which self-respect springs.
~Joan Didion

I vividly remember walking back to my house after collecting the afternoon mail, flipping through the envelopes in my hand. I saw a credit card statement, another credit card statement and our bank statements. It was in that moment that I felt a deep tension in the pit of my stomach.
I realized that even though I had married a man who I absolutely loved and adored, I really didn't have a clear sense of how he handled money and how the two of us were going to blend our different approaches to handling money in our marriage. I was more organized, detailed and frugal. He was more of a laid-back, free spirit type. I knew that getting on the same financial page was a key factor in creating a successful marriage and financial future.

I asked my husband if he would be willing to set up a time each week to talk about our finances and develop a plan for getting rid of our credit card debt (we had run up more than $43,300 in credit card debt over a three-year period). My husband said he would be willing to do this. Admittedly, he was skeptical — but willing.

We came to refer to our weekly meetings as our Financial Dates. We didn't really have a clue as to what we were doing. All we knew was that we needed to give our finances undivided attention. I remember the knot I would get in my neck several hours before our designated Date.

We had so far to go — how were we ever going to get rid of our debt? We basically made things up as we went along. At the beginning of each Date we would jot down a list of what we wanted to focus on and throughout the hour we progressed through the list until most of the items had been dealt with.

Some Dates were filled with tense conversations, accusations, and snide remarks. Other Dates were filled with laughter, joy and creativity. However, we kept showing up for our Dates and we never gave up. What started out as a means for survival became a powerful connecting thread in our relationship. Something shifted within us.

Instead of our finances becoming a source of divisive tension that pulled us apart, they became the glue that held us together as we became a unified team — creating electric synergy as we focused on the single goal of getting out of debt.

I still recall the day that we excitedly crossed off our last credit card payment on the chart we had created. We had finally arrived. We were free. We had been given wings to fly.

I gained several invaluable lessons from our debt struggles that will stay with me forever:

1. We were committed to changing our situation. Even though we felt overwhelmed, uncertain and stressed about how we were going to turn things around, we were 110 percent fully committed to getting rid of our debt. I realize now how powerful a commitment can be.

2. Opportunities presented themselves during our journey as a result of our commitment. Many people won't begin a journey or declare a goal because they can't see the means to achieving it — so they give up. More often than not you won't see the means of accomplishing a goal until you make a commitment and bravely begin your "hero's journey."

We had given ourselves four years to get out of debt — but we were able to do it in two and a half years. Creative ideas and opportunities presented themselves to us that we truly couldn't have envisioned at the beginning of our journey. We used extra money from Christmas and birthdays to put towards our debt.

And we even sold our beloved Eurovan because we realized that the deep peace and security of being out of debt meant more to us than having the van.

3. We took full responsibility. Instead of blaming the economy or factors outside ourselves (although there were times when we got angry at each other), we were willing to accept full responsibility for creating our debt situation. Many times in the past I thought I was accepting full responsibility for my situation, when in reality, I wasn't.

Whenever I blamed anyone outside of myself (even if it seemed completely justified in my mind), I was giving away my power to change the situation. I ended up feeling like a victim and experienced a lot of waiting — waiting for the economy to change, waiting for my husband to change, or waiting for a friend to change — until I could be at peace.

Now, whenever I feel a twinge of stress or reactivity I ask myself, "how am I contributing to what is happening right now?" This gives me the ultimate power to change my situation.

Even though my husband and I don't have any guarantee against future challenges, I am left with something deep within that is unshakable and that can never ever be taken away — the memory of our past successes and the power to integrate these lessons in my day-to-day life.

To Be Chosen

By Cynthia M. Dutil

Are we really sure the purring is coming from the kitty and not from our very own hearts?
~Emme Woodhull-Bäche

It was during a weekend when I was feeling very lonely and rejected that I met a kitten who, for the next eight years, would make me feel loved and chosen. I was born with cerebral palsy, a disease that left me unable to walk, use my hands, or speak clearly. I required the constant care of my parents, who found this task to be quite overwhelming. They made no effort to hide the fact that they felt that God had given them a heavy cross to bear. As I grew older, their words did a number on my self-esteem. I was certain that the only people who could ever love me were people who had to love me.
After my younger brother Brian got married, my parents were thrilled when he and his wife Linda offered to take care of me. These trips would happen twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. While I was happy that my parents were getting a much-needed break, knowing what those weekends held in store for me would tie my stomach up in knots.

Although my brother and sister-in-law would urge my parents to go away, once they were gone, Brian and Linda made me feel very unwelcome. They told me that if I loved my parents, I would volunteer to move into a nursing home. As a woman in her early forties, I was not ready to do this.

One fall I did not dread my parents' vacation quite as much as I usually did. Just a few weeks earlier, Linda's cat had given birth to six kittens. My mom had already picked out the kitten that would come live with us. I was looking forward to bonding with Whiskers.

I was thrilled with the way that Whiskers reacted to me. The minute that Brian sat me on their couch, Whiskers jumped in my lap and stayed there, even while the other kittens were playing together. Yes, Whiskers and I were going to be great friends.

"Whiskers really likes me," I said to Linda when she finally came out of her home office to fix my lunch.

"That's not Whiskers," Linda said casually. "That's Baxter and he's been promised to someone else." I was heartbroken. To make matters worse, Linda told me that she had never seen Baxter sit still before. "If the kittens are in trouble, Baxter's usually in the thick of things. He's the clown of the litter."

Over the next few weeks, I often thought of Baxter. That little kitten had wanted to be with me. I prayed that Baxter's new owners would make him feel as special as he had made me feel.

Then a miracle happened. When the lady came to pick up Baxter, the young girl who was babysitting my niece and nephews picked Whiskers instead. That same night, Baxter came to live with us, and he immediately found his favorite seat, my lap. After I went to bed, Baxter got very restless. When my mom showed Baxter where my bedroom was, he curled up next to me and fell asleep.

As Baxter became more comfortable in his new home, I could see why Linda had called him the clown of the litter. He was always getting into trouble. During supper, he would sit on our kitchen trashcan and beg for food. My mom had to watch Baxter when it was time to give our four cats their nightly treat of canned food because he would gobble up his food and then try to steal from the other cats.

Baxter also liked to "help" with chores. Whenever my mom was sewing, he would try to catch the fabric as it came out of her machine. Baxter also thought that he was my personal computer expert. And to be fair, he did teach me a valuable lesson about the computer. When Baxter was around, I made sure that I saved my work often. Within a few months, we were affectionately referring to my darling little kitten as Bad Boy Baxter.

As busy as he was getting into trouble, Baxter never strayed from his main mission in life — to be my loving companion. In the summer, while our other cats were chasing mice, Baxter would climb into our lawn glider and swing with me. When I was taking a bath, he would sit on the edge of the tub; he even let me put bubbles on his face.

One thing that Baxter did especially touched my heart. I have a very big nose, which my family loved to make fun of. Often when Baxter was sitting on my lap, he would gently touch my nose with his paw. I took this to mean that he loved me, big nose and all.

A few weeks after Baxter's eighth birthday, everything changed. The cat who used to steal and beg for food had no appetite. Instead of looking for trouble, Baxter spent most of the day sleeping. A visit to the veterinarian confirmed my worst fears. Baxter's kidneys were failing. The vet put him on antibiotics, and said that if his condition didn't improve within a week, we would have a decision to make. I told myself that the medicine would restore Baxter to the fun-loving cat that he had always been.

Unfortunately, the medicine didn't work. Within a few days, Baxter had to be spoon-fed baby food, and even then we could only get a few bites into him. The Baxter I knew and loved was slipping away before my eyes.

As sick as he was, Baxter still made me feel loved. He would wake up from a dead sleep and run to me when I called his name. On the last night of his life, Baxter found the strength to stumble from my mom's lap into mine. I patted Baxter's almost lifeless body and knew that my touch comforted him. Knowing that being with me was so important to Baxter, that he was willing to use his last ounce of strength to make it happen, comforted me.

Baxter has been gone for thirteen years, but what he gave me will last forever. Thanks to him, I will always know what it feels like to not only be loved and accepted, but to actually be chosen.