суббота, 25 мая 2013 г.

From Illness Comes Strength

By Tracey Miller Offutt

We acquire the strength we have overcome.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It seemed unbelievable that anyone could have been both a nursing student and a patient at the same time. That is the truth I struggled with every day as I attended my B.S. in Nursing program at Georgetown University from 1999-2002, while also suffering through my second major relapse with Crohn's disease. Living with a chronic illness, while also attempting to make my dreams come true, was a frustrating experience. I was able to comfort my patients, yet I could not comfort myself. I could relieve the pain of others, yet I could not find pain relief myself. Still, I know I was a better nursing student for having been a patient. I often knew what my patients were going through, because I had lived through it, too.
As a student nurse, I reassured my patients that they would be okay, but I knew all too well about unpredictable tomorrows. In my blue and white nursing student uniform, I stood at the bedside of a fellow student with Crohn's disease who had taken the semester off to care for his health. Three hours later, I lay in a blue and white hospital gown on an exam table in my doctor's office, trying to ignore the searing pain that was shooting through me as my abdomen was palpated by my gastroenterologist.

I was diagnosed with Crohn's at the age of eleven, and the carefree laugh I had as a little girl got lost somewhere between my prednisone chipmunk cheeks, my IV feeding line, and the scars marking my abdominal surgeries. When I started working with pediatric patients in nursing school, I would hear them laugh, and the lost little girl inside me prayed they would never have to endure what I did as a child, that they would never lose their innocent giggles to their illnesses, as I had.

I spent my teenage years pretending the Crohn's did not exist, a façade I was able to maintain long enough to move to Boston and attend journalism school. But when the tests confirmed the Crohn's was back and my first remission had ended, I had to leave that life. It was then that I finally allowed myself to think about what having Crohn's really meant.

There are defining moments in life that some of us are lucky enough to realize early on. My moment arrived unexpectedly, in 1998, after a particularly invasive exam from a new doctor in Massachusetts who acted as if we were old friends, although we were strangers. I walked out of the exam room feeling as if my body had once again turned on me in some cruel, ironic joke. I wanted to cry, but there was no one to lean on. My family and friends were hours away. I tried to be brave, but a nurse I had never met before took one look at me and saw right through me. She invited me to sit down with her, and wrapped her arms around me. She gave me the only hug I would have that day and whispered to me, "It's okay to cry here," and so I did.

That was my defining moment, when I found not only solace and comfort in that nurse's embrace, but a purpose in the embrace of nursing. Suddenly I knew, without a doubt, my life's purpose was to become a nurse and help other sick children the way so many nurses and doctors had helped me. Less than a year later, by the end of 1999, I was well into my first clinical rotation as a student nurse at Georgetown University, working towards a BSN and focusing my clinical studies on pediatric gastroenterology. I also worked part-time at two different children's hospitals. Oh, and in 2000, I had two abdominal surgeries without having to take a semester off from school.

Every day, I showed the world that it was possible to be both a nursing student and a patient. My days began much like everyone else's, but somewhere between brushing my teeth and going to class, my life changed. I swallowed a handful of pills and skipped breakfast out of fear that I'd need to go to the bathroom while stuck in rush hour traffic. And yes, my days continued to be unique, more like those of my patients than those of my fellow nursing students, as I made trips to numerous doctors, picked up more pills at the pharmacy, planned my meals around my meds, and tried to make time to rest between classes.

By juggling those two identities every day, I learned something about being a patient that I never knew before: from illness comes strength. And I learned something about being a nurse, too, in nursing school — that there is nothing more important than real nursing care. Still, there were days during my nursing school clinicals, and at my jobs, that I wondered if perhaps I cared too much for my sick little patients, days when I had to take a deep breath to compose myself before entering their rooms. Despite my concern that I would respond too emotionally to every sick child I worked with, I returned to my pediatric clinicals and my jobs week after week, certain that my presence in these children's lives would make it all worthwhile, no matter how emotionally painful it was for me to work with them at the time. A five-year-old boy newly diagnosed with Crohn's disease proved me right. His mother feared they would always be in and out of the hospital, but I shared with her the fact that I also had inflammatory bowel disease and that this had not stopped me from realizing my dreams. The greatest gift I was able to give this family was proof that life after such a diagnosis does go on.

In 2001, I underwent more tests, which unfortunately showed that the remission I had been in since my second bowel resection in 2000 was now over. In spite of my active Crohn's disease (or maybe because of it), and my determination to succeed, I finished my junior year of nursing school with honors. But I do not simply mean good grades. I mean that I finished the year having touched the lives of dozens of patients and their families in ways I would not have had I not been ill, as well.

Due to my Crohn's flare-up in 2001, I had to take a semester off from nursing school. But I knew that I would never let Crohn's beat me... it might knock me out once in a while, but I would always be the ultimate winner in this battle. And, although I did not "officially graduate" with my class in May of 2002, the nursing school faculty urged me to come to graduation anyway, in cap and gown, to wear my Sigma Theta Tau nursing honor society rope proudly. At first I did not want to go, and I could not understand why they would want me to. It turned out they needed me there because I was being presented with three awards! I won an award for The Most Publishable Scholarly Paper, I won a Dean's Recognition award for superior service to the school, and I was given an honorable mention in a speech; they spoke of my journalism background, my writing and editing, how I'd been published, and how I made their school a better and more respected and famous place. I was stunned! And, in the end, despite the surgeries, hospitalizations and Crohn's flare-ups I had experienced while in nursing school, I graduated from Georgetown University magna cum laude in December of 2002, and my first nursing job was at the #1 hospital in the country, Johns Hopkins. So, you see, no matter what obstacles life throws at you, the key is to take them in stride, to never give up. But really, in my experience, the most important thing is to have faith in yourself.

To this day I lead a double life, just as I did in nursing school ten years ago, and because there is no cure for Crohn's disease, I always will live the life of both a patient and a nurse, but I am living it for myself and for my patients... and in honor of the nurse who cried with me that day when I otherwise would have cried alone.
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The Veterinarian's Assistant

By Karen Baker

When a cat chooses to be friendly, it's a big deal, because a cat is picky.
~Mike Deupree

Our daughter, Melissa, first spotted the kitten suckling on its dead mother as we drove by the barn. "Stop," she said. "Maybe I can catch it."
She jumped out of the pickup and snuck over to the orphan. The kitten struggled as she pulled it from its mother's stilled body but calmed as soon as she cradled it between her palms. Glenn, my husband and a veterinarian, told her, "It can't be more than that three and a half or four weeks old. Let's take her back to the house. She needs a bellyful of milk."

Later that afternoon, after a couple of feedings, the young kitten gained enough strength to go outside with us. She crawled at our feet as we sat on the grass in the sun until Glenn accidentally stepped on her tail with the tip of his cowboy boot. Screeching, she ran off beneath dense shrubbery, hiding there beyond the reach of our arms.

Melissa knelt down, calling, "Come back, little kitten. Come back, Little Grey," but to no avail. Glenn felt worse than terrible. Melissa was bereft. "If she doesn't come out, the coyotes will get her."

Her dad comforted her. "If we're quiet, she may come out on her own."

Within a short time, the kitten crawled out and, to our amazement, clambered up Glenn's pant leg, up his chest, and all the way to his chin. Tapping her paw against his jaw, she looked him directly in the eyes, and squeaked a mew as if saying, "I know you didn't mean to step on me."

Stroking her, he told her, "You, little one, have a warm heart. I can tell you forgive me."

That's the day that Little Grey endeared herself to our family. It wasn't long before she grew into a shiny-eyed kitten that frolicked through our home. When friends visited, she'd rub against their ankles, purring affectionate hellos until they marveled, "This is the most people-loving kitten we've ever seen." Amongst the other pets in our household, however, our newcomer strode with her head high, her whiskers twitching with attitude as if she alone had regal status.

On Saturdays, our daughter helped at my husband's clinic. She wouldn't go without Little Grey, so the kitten always rode in the car with us cuddled up on Melissa's lap. At the clinic, "our princess" lay atop a tall counter greeting clients as they entered the waiting room with their pets to see Dr. Glenn. As she matured into an adult, most acknowledged our official greeter by name, saying, "Hey, Little Grey, how's it going this morning?" She'd either mew softly or reach out with a gentle paw and tap them on the arm. Our people-loving cat added a warm touch to the clinic.

In contrast to Little Grey's love for people, she was a choosy greeter when it came to the steady stream of animal patients. If a rambunctious Lab or a fussing lap dog spotted her and barked or yapped, our princess looked down on them from the safety of the counter, her gold eyes glowering in an unblinking stare. If the dog stepped closer, she growled, flattening her ears and flicking her pencil-thin tail, her way to remind all dogs to keep their distance.

One evening after Melissa left home for college, Glenn walked through the door of our home with a basket containing a red-and-white Jack Russell terrier named Mitchell. The owner had seen Mitchell in the fields with a rat hanging from his mouth, probably one dying from the effects of rodent control. Apparently Mitchell had ingested it and the poison ravaged his body: his stiffened limbs jerked, eyes twitched and body quivered. To control convulsions, Glenn hooked him up to IV fluids and administered sedation.

Little Grey must have heard the dog's whimpers because she stalked into the room, one hesitant step at a time, her angular face peeking from behind chair legs, her nose sniffing, as she approached the blanket-lined basket. Then her ears flattened. A dog! She hissed, snubbing our ill patient, and left the room grumbling, her dark grey nose in the air as she headed for the living room to curl up on the couch.

After monitoring Mitchell well into the night, Glenn finally climbed into bed, setting the alarm to awaken him every hour to assess the little dog's progress. After the three o'clock check, he lamented, "I'm not sure the little guy's going make it. I can't keep him warm enough."

At four, he called me downstairs. I feared the worst as I walked into the room, yet Glenn smiled, and said, "The vet's helper is here." I thought he was referring to me. But when I looked in the box, I found Little Grey, who had once been on the cusp of death herself, snuggled up close to the terrier, her front and back legs encircling him. Purring compassionately, she glanced up at us.

I looked at my husband, "Can you believe this?"

He smiled. "Wait until we tell Melissa about our new assistant."

As we dimmed the light, Little Grey laid her head on Mitchell's wire-haired back and we returned to bed knowing that we had another healer on our veterinary team.

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Getting the Point

By Wendy Hobday Haugh

The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.
~Psalm 34:7

It was one of those glorious spring days when everything feels right with the world. I was profoundly happy, with a wonderful husband, a one-year-old son, and an organist job I loved at the church where I'd grown up. It was a Thursday evening, and choir practice had just ended. Feeling exhilarated, I ushered everyone out of the church, then locked myself safely inside, eager to squeeze in some additional organ practice before heading home to my family.
Climbing up on the bench, I pulled out my postlude for Sunday (a rousing Bach piece), cranked up the volume and began playing. The dramatic piece was a perfect match for my exuberant mood until — suddenly — I felt a firm, warm finger dig into my spine. Instantly, an electrically charged aura engulfed me, giving me an eerie sense that my waist-long hair was standing on end.

Astonished, terrified, I stopped dead, fingers hovering above the keyboard, my breath shallow, ears listening for any movement from behind. Agonizing seconds passed while I gathered my courage to turn and face whoever stood behind me. Heart pounding, I drew a shaky breath, spun around, and saw... no one!

Or had someone slipped behind a nearby pew?

Abruptly, the air around me returned to normal, and I calmed down a bit. Dropping from the bench, annoyed by this surreal interruption, I strode through the church, inspecting pews, back rooms, windows, doors. Everything was locked up tight. Nothing was amiss yet clearly I'd sensed something — or was it just my overactive imagination?

Skeptical now, and eager to resume practicing, I returned to the organ and fired up my Bach. But instantly — not two measures later — that firm, insistent finger was at my back again, the air charged with an irrefutable sense of urgency.

This time, I didn't question. As my music died, I whispered with uncanny conviction: "Okay, God, I get it. I'm outta here."

Uneasy yet strangely un-fearful, I turned off the organ, grabbed my things, and exited the church I'd known and loved since infancy. Outside, I took a slow, hard look around me. The spring evening was still lovely and warm. The birds sang sweetly. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves. Yet I was certain that something life-changing had just occurred, and in that moment I couldn't help wondering... would I ever know, exactly, what it was?

Early the next morning, I was yanked from sleep by the blast of a telephone.

"Wendy," cried Father Barrett, our minister, "did you notice anything unusual at church last night?"

My eyes popped open. Wide awake now, the story of my previous night's adventure tumbled out.

There was a pause.

"Well," Father Barrett sighed at last. "I'm glad you left when you did because the church was broken into and robbed of all its silver and gold. This morning, when questioned by police, a neighbor recalled seeing a dark utility van parked after hours in the library parking lot next to the church. They must have been waiting for you to leave."

My skin prickled. My head reeled as the inexplicable events of the previous night started to make sense.

"Someone was watching over you, Wendy," Father Barrett offered kindly.

At that moment, I knew he was right. My guardian angel had persisted in bugging me until I trusted, on blind faith, that it was time for me to go. But in the days and years to come, I was haunted by the possibility that had I only stayed longer, my beloved church might have been spared the travesty of a break-in and burglary. Maybe the bad guys would have given up and gone away! In no small way, I felt responsible, burdened by the sense that I'd deserted my church in her hour of need.

I was twenty-eight years old when this happened; I'm fifty-nine now. I went on to have two more beautiful sons and, today, I'm a grandmother to three children as well. But I'm a pretty slow learner when it comes to major life lessons because only recently did it dawn on me that I did not let my church down, after all. To the heartless thieves, I was just an expendable commodity compared to the monetary value of those precious metals. I see now that I was in very real danger, and I'm glad that I followed my instincts. I wasn't expected to be a super hero who "saved the day" that beautiful spring night. Far from it, I was meant to do exactly what I did:

STOP.

GET OUT.

GO HOME.

BE SAFE.

Far wiser than I, my guardian angel made sure I lived to see another day, to be there for my family and to savor the many blessings of this life.

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Sleepless Nights

By Melissa Face

If you have a mom, there is nowhere you are likely to go where a prayer has not already been.
~Robert Brault

Mom wasted no time returning my phone call. "Don't put the baby on eBay," she urged. "I'll be over in an hour to give you a break." She showed up in a few minutes and removed my screaming newborn from my arms. She proceeded to rock her grandchild and sing to him while I went upstairs for a nap.
It was a well-deserved rest. I had gone without a good night's sleep for the first four weeks of my child's life. While everyone else in the world counted sheep, I counted down the minutes until the baby's next feeding. That was when the room would finally be peaceful again. Then, in the early morning hours, I burped, changed, and rocked my baby as the sun rose on a new day.

There were times when my fatigue caused me to be a bit short tempered with my mom — a very silly thing to do when someone is offering you help. "You are not the only new mother who has ever felt stressed and overwhelmed," she reminded me. "We've all been there."

My mom told me about spending late nights and early mornings in the rocking chair. "There were times when I tried everything to get you to stop fussing. I was at the end of my rope. But those days passed quickly for me. They will for you too."

I knew she was right. It would pass quickly — too quickly — and then there would be other reasons for staying up all hours of the night: driver's licenses, proms, dates, etc.

I remember coming home a bit late from a date when I was a teenager. I slid my key in the lock, quietly turned the door handle and closed the door behind me. I tiptoed past the squeaky floorboards in the dining room and headed towards my room. Then, a light flicked on and there sat my mother, waiting for me in the living room.

"Where have you been?" she demanded. "You were supposed to be home at eleven o'clock."

"It's only midnight," I argued. "What difference does an hour make?"

My mom grounded me for arguing with her and for breaking my curfew. She tried to make me understand that she was only angry with me because she was worried. I thought she was mean and unfair. It would take me years to realize otherwise.

There were several other occasions when my mom went without sleep because of me. She tossed and turned when I moved two states away and she undoubtedly paced the halls when I announced that I had withdrawn from college. I kept her awake with the kind of worry that only a mother can feel.

It's four o'clock on a Wednesday morning and my baby and I are wide awake. He has eaten and has been changed but he will not stop fussing unless I hold him. So together we sway in the rocking chair, his tiny head against my chest and my head drooping from exhaustion.

Years from now, I will be awake for other reasons. He will be late for curfew, driving for the first time, or going away to college. I will wonder where he is and whether or not he is okay. I will long for the late nights and early mornings that we spent together in the rocking chair. Then, when the sun rises and the rest of the world is awake again, I will call my mother. She will understand.
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The Fabric of My Memories

By Dean K Miller

A father is always making his baby into a little woman.
And when she is a woman he turns her back again.
~Enid Bagnold

With three young girls, laughter, squeals and giggles reverberated off the walls, filling every corner of our home. One of their favorite, and thankfully, less boisterous activities, was playing "hair salon." I would be called for my "appointment" after they'd run out of options on their own flowing braids. Back then I had enough hair to beautify with their plastic barrettes, colorful ribbons and stretchy rubber bands. Sitting patiently, three pairs of small hands worked through my hair, I'd hear a snap, feel a slight tug on my scalp, and then snickering behind me.
"Ohhh, that's looks so beautiful, doesn't it?" More laughter.

"Yes, it is so much prettier than before." Clapping and jumping accompanied the giggles.

When my appointment was finished I was handed a mirror. Of course, I conveyed my approval of their work as they pointed out their own contributions.

Through the years, as their hair grew in length, mine crept in the opposite direction. For the girls, a scrunchie, a cloth-covered hair tie, became the rage. Available in all sizes, colors, and textures, they pushed the rubber band into obscurity. Hair fashion hit the youth market. The girls' ensembles were not complete without a matching scrunchie. It didn't take long for the bathroom drawer to overflow with enough of them to stock the local Claire's boutique.

When my daughters started playing team sports, it became necessary to fashion hair ties in colors to match their uniforms. Under the guise of team bonding, pizza parties served as a means to create coordinated hair decorations. Pinking shears and colored fabric covered the floor. By the end of the evening, shreds of material were everywhere, often accented by pizza sauce or a chocolate milk spill.

By the time my oldest daughter reached nine years of age, she enjoyed watching basketball games on television. As a special treat for her, I acquired two tickets to a Seattle Supersonics basketball game. Our father/daughter outing kicked off with a gourmet meal at McDonald's followed by our arrival at Key Arena shortly before tipoff. During the first half, we enjoyed popcorn (over-salted) and soda (over-sugared and under-carbonated).

My daughter's first NBA game needed a memento, something besides a ticket stub. I suggested we go look for something to take home. She jumped out of her chair and was already skipping up the stairs before I got out of my seat. Out on the concourse we located a souvenir stand and her skipping resumed. Pom-poms, stuffed animals, mini basketballs and T-shirts hung on metal hooks. She was undecided until her gaze focused on a scrunchie emblazoned with the Sonics logo. Her finger shot out as if she'd seen an elephant across the room.

"That. I want that... the scrunchie."

I paid for the ridiculously over-priced hair tie without further consideration. Returning to our seats, we enjoyed our food and drink, cheering a rare Sonics win. My "date" fell asleep on the one-hour drive home, her new Sonics scrunchie taken from her hair and moved to her wrist for safekeeping.

Her collection of scrunchies continued to grow, until the fashion changed. Without warning, slimmer, sleeker athletic style hair bands replaced the scrunchies. Eventually most were sold at garage sales or given away. But not all of them found their way to a new home.

When the time arrived for her to leave for college, I was worried. Foremost, had I done the right things to prepare her for life away from home? Then next, would she eat enough or get enough sleep? All of the things I could no longer control scared me.

On the morning of her departure, with most of her life and its few belongings loaded into her car, I picked up the final piece to be loaded — her nightstand. Carrying it down the stairs, the top drawer opened a bit. From the back of the drawer slid the Sonics scrunchie purchased nearly a decade ago. I hadn't known she had kept it and I decided to keep the discovery to myself. The day was difficult enough. Any new emotions from me would only dampen her excitement. I maneuvered the nightstand onto the back seat, pulled open the drawer and took one last look at that souvenir scrunchie. Dabbing the tears from my eyes, I closed the car door.

"Looks like you've got everything, at least the important stuff."

"Yeah, I think I've got it," she replied, not knowing how true that was, at least for me.

She pulled out of the driveway, starting the next chapter of her life. Knowing that her Sonics scrunchie was going with her made it a little easier to say goodbye.
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My Gardening Angel

By Monica A. Andermann

In the garden I tend to drop my thoughts here and there. To the flowers I whisper the secrets I keep and the hopes I breathe. I know they are there to eavesdrop for the angels.
~Dodinsky

There I stood at my local nursery's annual flower show between displays of fragrant roses and delicate lilacs, taking in their sweet scents. The flower show had always been one of the highlights of my year. Mom and I would attend together, looking to the various displays for inspiration for our own summertime gardens. Afterward, we would stroll through the amply filled greenhouse, making plans for the upcoming season and purchasing our supplies.
Now, though, everything was different. Mom had passed away the year before and this year, only a few weeks earlier in fact, I had unexpectedly lost my longtime job. I was barely over Mom's passing and now I was at another difficult juncture. As I walked through the aisles of blooming flowers and potted vegetable plants, I felt dazed. My brief job search had proven fruitless. It hadn't taken long to discover that I would not be able to find the same type of position I had enjoyed for the same amount of pay without finishing my college degree. I had two years of schooling behind me and longed to earn my degree. Yet, with all my other responsibilities that proved a difficult undertaking. In the past, I had made several failed attempts to return to college. Now, I asked myself what I should do: take a lower paying position, or return to college for the next two years.

Mom would have helped me think this through, just like she always helped guide me toward the healthiest plants for my garden. My mother had a special way of picking up on signals that certain plants showed. The turn of a leaf, the thickness of a stem, or the color of a bud were all signs to Mom. Now I wished she could send me a sign about which option was best for me. Well, I decided, I'll have to figure this out on my own.

Still pondering my decision, I pulled a rosebud toward me and sniffed. Instead of the usual sweet scent I expected, there was an acrid but familiar odor. I walked a few feet and stuck my nose into a patch of usually fragrant wildflowers only to inhale the same very unpleasant odor. Suddenly, I placed the scent: my mother's hairspray. She always used a large amount to keep her fine hair in place. I often joked that I knew when she had been in a room, because the smell of that product lingered long after she had left.

I looked around. "Mom, are you here?" I asked. The scent became overwhelming and then just as suddenly subsided. Immediately, I felt as if I were directed to go straight home and fill out my college application.

As I drove home, I questioned the possibility of receiving a sign. Probably, I knew deep down that college was the right track for me, and my sudden leaning in that direction had nothing to do with Mom at all. Yet, when I sat down later that evening and filled out the college application, I received undeniable proof that Mom had guided me. The day of orientation was to be held on May 18th — the anniversary of Mom's passing. I went on to earn my degree with a 4.0 average and I have no doubt that Mom's encouragement was with me every step of the way.
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My Hot Italian

By Lynn Maddalena Menna

The art of love... is largely the art of persistence.
~Albert Ellis

Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. I never dated an Indian chief, but that was probably because they're hard to come by in suburban New Jersey.
I dated a lot. I just never found anyone I liked.

My mother once said, "If a knight in shining armor came riding down the street on a white stallion, you'd say, 'But he has a red plume in his helmet. I wanted one with a purple plume!'" She couldn't understand what there was to think about. To my mother, love came after finding someone appropriate to marry. She'd say things like, "He's in med school. What do you mean you don't like him?"

Truthfully? I feared boredom. I just couldn't imagine spending the rest of my life with anyone I ever went out with. Wasn't there supposed to be a spark or something? All of these guys seemed interchangeable — same guy, different name.

Maybe I needed to broaden my search.

Teaching did afford me summers off and I was able to spend some of my vacation time in Europe. Men were so romantic there. They looked at women in a way that I had never been looked at before in my life. Was it the wine or exotic locales that made them so attractive? What ever it was, they should bottle it and sell it as souvenirs at the airport. They'd make a fortune.

Of course, September brought me back to reality.

On the first day of school there was an Italian boy in my class. This wasn't unusual. I taught in a large, inner-city school where most of the kids were from either Europe, South America, or the Caribbean. This boy's first words to me were, "You know, you'd be perfect for my big brother."

Honestly? It wasn't the first time I heard that from a student, but there was no way I would ever take anyone up on that offer. Too weird.

But Rocco never let up. Not a week went by that I didn't hear how much his brother and I had in common. This kid was relentless. Even the other kids in class were getting in on it. "You gotta meet him, Miss Maddalena. You'd like him."

And let me tell you, the big brother wasn't bad-looking. Rocco brought a picture in. You could tell it was taken without him knowing it, but the guy was a hot Italian just about my age. This was 1977, and Prospero was the spitting image of John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino.

"How old is he?"

"Nineteen."

"Nineteen? He's way too young." I was twenty-three heading towards twenty-four. Dating younger men wasn't fashionable. Yet.

"He acts older." This coming from a fourteen-year-old.

Still, it was really too weird. I'd stick with hitting the clubs with my girlfriends, but it was getting old.

Kissing too many frogs and hearing, "What's your sign?" too many times made me decide to go on a self-imposed dating strike. I had a better time staying home and reading than standing around talking to the desperado disco-babies in three-piece suits.

Then boredom hit. Spring was in the air, hibernation time was over, and I needed to get out. Nothing serious, just a little fun. The school year was almost over. Could I? Should I? We had nothing in common. He was way too young. But we were just going out, not getting married.

"Rocco," I said, "do you think your brother is still interested in meeting me?" To tell you the truth, I wasn't even sure if he knew anything about it. I just figured that since Rocco was so persistent with me, he was doing the same thing at home. I guessed right. It turns out that Prospero had been sending his own friends past the school at dismissal to check me out. I slipped the kid a piece of paper. "Tell him to call me."

Our first date was April 30, 1977. What can I say? When I looked in his eyes it felt as if I had known him forever. Before we knew it, we were spending all of our time together. Everything was more fun when Prospero was around. Although we came from very different backgrounds, we shared the same sense of adventure and common values. We took the time to grow together.

Like the song says, we fooled around and fell in love.

Rocco was best man at our wedding in 1980 and made a lovely toast taking credit for the fix up. I still run into some of those kids from my class. They're married now, with kids of their own, and they never fail to remind me that if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have met my husband.

If anyone ever told me that I would marry Rocco Menna's big brother, I would have laughed like crazy. But what can I say? It was the best thing I ever did. Since the day I met him, Prospero has been my knight in shining armor. And his plume is absolutely perfect.

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Food Felon

By Nell Musolf

A well-trained dog will make no attempt to share your lunch. He will just make you feel so guilty that you cannot enjoy it.
~Helen Thomson

Toby, a Golden-Retriever-Yellow-Lab mix, loved to eat. As a matter of fact, Toby loved to eat anything. Dog food was fine, but what he really liked was food left unattended by a family member who was doing something like, oh, answering the telephone or getting up to refill his milk glass. Toby would stealthily move from his position on his blanket in the corner of the family room, nonchalantly wander over to the dining room table, and make his move the second he spotted the opportunity.
Toby's thieving ways didn't go over too well with my husband Mark.

"That dog is impossible," Mark said whenever Toby nabbed something off his plate. "When's he going to learn that there is people food and there is dog food?"

I didn't have an answer for him but it seemed pretty clear that not only was Toby never going to learn, he also didn't have any interest in learning. Dog food might be okay, but people food was clearly better. Besides, Toby seemed to truly enjoy his life as a food felon.

Eventually, we all grew a little wiser when it came to protecting our meals. Someone in the family was appointed Guardian of the Dinner Table so Toby was no longer able to sneak a hamburger or a hot dog off anyone's plate. We learned not to leave bowls of potato chips unattended on the coffee table. We especially learned to keep all food scraps in the garbage, which went under the kitchen sink behind a sturdy door.

Toby didn't like our vigilance, but we knew that it was good for his digestive system and also good for our nerves. Mark was especially happy that Toby was no longer stealing food from us, his exasperated, hungry owners. After a while, we no longer had to be quite so vigilant. Toby seemed to be content with the food in his bowl. Family members were able to leave peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the kitchen counter, leave the room for longer than ten seconds, and return to find their snack still intact. Our kitchen kleptomaniac was apparently cured. Or so we thought.

One night, Mark was making a sandwich to put in his lunch for work the next day. Toby sat watching him, his big brown eyes following Mark's hand as Mark slathered on mayonnaise and sliced some roast beef extra thin. Mark looked at Toby looking at him.

"This looks good, doesn't it, Toby?" Mark said more than a bit smugly. "Well, I'm sorry but it's for my lunch. I'm going to put it in the refrigerator and eat it tomorrow and it's going to be delicious."

Toby thumped his tail in response, drooling just a bit.

"You may have a small piece of roast beef," Mark told him, tossing him some meat. Mark wrapped his sandwich in foil, put it in the refrigerator, cleaned up and then left the room. Toby watched him the whole time.

The next morning when he got up for work, Mark went to the refrigerator for his beautiful roast beef sandwich. He opened the refrigerator door, reached for the foil packet and his fingers met... nothing. Mark leaned down and looked into the refrigerator. His sandwich was gone. After checking every shelf, bin and container he realized that his roast beef sandwich was really and truly gone. He decided that someone else in the family must have eaten it so he grabbed an apple and a cheese stick and shut the refrigerator door.

The subject of the missing sandwich didn't come up for a day or two, not until I was making a sandwich with the last of the roast beef.

"This looks good," I commented as I sliced what was left of the beef into thin slices.

"You should know," Mark responded. "After all, you ate my roast beef sandwich the other day."

"I did not," I responded, shocked.

"Sure you did. It was wrapped in foil in the refrigerator and it was gone the next morning. Didn't you eat it?"

"Not me," I said. "Maybe one of the kids?"

But both of our sons denied touching their dad's roast beef sandwich and I believed them. Neither of them had ever been big fans of roast beef. Later that same evening I found a ball of foil crumpled on the floor of the living room. The moment I picked it up, Toby left the room looking somewhat guilty.

I looked at the ball of foil I was holding. Was it possible? Had Toby managed to get the refrigerator door open, find the roast beef sandwich, and devour it without our knowledge?

Mark and I agreed that it had to be what happened. "I can just imagine what he was thinking," Mark said ruefully. "I was making that sandwich, telling him how wonderful it was going to be, telling him how he couldn't have any of it and he was thinking, 'want to bet?'"
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Graduation and Liberation

By Kelly Salasin

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.
~Mahatma Gandhi

Graduation day is a peculiar one. After spending four years completely immersed in the lives of your friends, you abruptly shift your attention to family and future. For weeks you've been in survival mode — papers and finals and late-night pizza and parties — and then suddenly there you are, on the day where you formally and finally exit this world that has been your... everything.
I remember that sunny day in May well. My roommates and I were living off-campus in a building filled with upperclassmen. After spending two years in a dorm room the size of a walk-in closet, this three-room apartment was heaven. It was an old building, but that only lent charm to our autonomy — wood floors, sculpted moldings, high ceilings, and tall windows letting in lots of light.

On the morning of our graduation, the apartment was abuzz with preparations — hair, gowns, caps, and families arriving for the traditional brunch before the ceremony. My parents were recently divorced, so the day had been neatly split in two: the more affordable breakfast with Mom and my stepfather, followed by the expensive dinner with my dad and his girlfriend. My younger sister Robin would ride up with my mother to bridge the divide — attending both the celebrations. Everyone would be at the graduation, of course, in separate seating.

My roommate Margie's parents arrived first, and then Annie's. Everyone lingered, waiting for my family. Before they left, Margie asked if I wanted to join them. She was in high spirits. Annie's family stayed on, growing concerned. "Are you sure you don't want to come to breakfast with us, Kelly?" they pressed. I wasn't worried at all and practically had to force them out of the apartment. My family had a longer drive than theirs, close to two hours if there was traffic, and I would rather have a rushed breakfast with them than a leisurely one without them.

Just as the apartment emptied, the phone rang. It was my sister Robin on the other end, and she was sobbing. They weren't running late, they weren't stuck in traffic, and they hadn't had an accident. They hadn't left yet, and they weren't coming — at all. My mother was drunk.

The apartment grew larger and emptier and quieter, and I grew more alone. How would I face my roommates and their families with this news? I couldn't inflict this on their day too.

"Why?" I wondered through tears I tried to stave off. "Why today? Why me?"

It made sense to me when my mother drank because her life was lonely and empty with my father working all the time, or when she drank because of troubles in her new marriage, but it didn't make sense now. I had been her friend, her ally, and her confidante all these years. Why would she be drunk on my graduation day, and so early in the morning at that?

After suggesting my sister quickly call my father to salvage a ride for herself, I hung up the phone and felt a chilled emptiness replace the excitement inside me. I considered lying to my roommates and their families. I considered not going to graduation at all. I considered not existing at all.

I didn't want to be in this messed up family. I didn't want this story to be mine. I had grown up in a "good" family where my mom kept the house clean and made cookies for Christmas. She was always there — after school, whenever I called, no matter what I asked for. What kind of graduation gift was this?

I let out a deep exhale of grief, and then sucked in determination. This is MY graduation day, I told myself. This is the day that celebrates my last four years of studying and learning. I am graduating Magna Cum Laude! This is MY day. This is about ME.

I draped my robe and cap over my shoulder and began walking the thirteen city blocks to campus. I continued walking past the college until I got to Cavanaughs on City Line, our hangout. My roommates and I joked that we had purchased their new ceiling with all the dollars we spent there. Opening the heavy door, I moved out of the sun and into the cool, dank darkness. There, even though it was morning and graduation day at that, I found another classmate having a beer. I hopped up on a barstool and joined him. There were even pastries laid out instead of the classic relish tray of hot peppers, horseradish, and spicy mustard. In a booth alongside us, another friend sat with his family. I regained my sense of place, and a bittersweet feeling of belonging. With a beer and a pastry for breakfast, I reclaimed this day as mine and headed to my graduation ceremony.

There's not much more I remember from that day. Most of my friends were in the Business College so I sat among relative strangers in the college of Arts and Sciences — without having to explain my morning. There's a photo of me with the sun in my face as I received my diploma. Afterwards, I hugged friends goodbye and we all rejoined our families. My father took me to my favorite upscale Italian place on City Line. Though it seeped from my pores, there was no talk about my mother and what happened that morning, especially in the presence of our future stepmother. My sister and I smiled at each other from across the table with weary eyes and bruised hearts.

My mother's drinking got worse that summer and instead of joining the "real world," I left it, backpacking through Europe in the fall while classmates embarked on careers. The following year, I fell in love with the man who became my best friend and partner.

My mother "hit bottom" the week of our wedding and arrived drunk with matted hair. We had two ushers escort her down the aisle. In the face of community pity, I was thankful she made it at all. We both wore the same shoes — hers in cream, mine in white. We had picked them out together. Her dress hung on her emaciated form.

While away on my honeymoon, she went into rehab, and then spent the next ten years sober. She apologized for my graduation and my wedding. I just smiled and told her it was okay. I loved her too much to feel all the anger and betrayal and sadness. I didn't want to threaten her precious fragility.

My mother was diagnosed with lung cancer during my last trimester and died two weeks following the birth of my son. Her beautiful photo sits beside my computer as I write. Sometimes I yell at her, and sometimes I cry tears of anguish and abandonment. But mostly, I smile, grateful for her and for knowing who I am apart from it all.

My graduation morning stands out as a defining moment in my life's story. Sharing it now drains what hold it still claims on my heart and spirit, revealing a strength of character and purpose that I'm proud to call my own.
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воскресенье, 19 мая 2013 г.

The Missing Candelabra

By Bruce McIver

Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned. ~Peter Marshall

It was one of the largest weddings ever held at Wilshire. Fifteen minutes before the service was scheduled to begin, the church parking lots were overflowing with cars, and scores of people were crowding into the foyer, waiting to be properly seated. It was the kind of occasion that warms the heart of a pastor.
But that was fifteen minutes before the service.

At exactly seven o'clock the mothers were seated, and the organist sounded the triumphant notes of the processional. That was my cue to enter the sanctuary through the side door at the front and begin presiding over the happy occasion. As I reached for the door a voice called from down the hall, "Not yet, Pastor. Don't open the door. I've got a message for you."

I turned and through the subdued lighting I saw the assistant florist hurrying as fast as she could toward me. Her speed didn't set any records, because she was about eight months pregnant and waddled down the hall with obvious difficulty. She was nearly out of breath when she reached me. "Pastor," she panted, "we can't find the candelabra that you are supposed to use at the close of the ceremony. We've looked everywhere, and it just can't be found. What on earth can we do?"

I sensed immediately that we had a big problem on our hands. The couple to be married had specifically requested that the unity candle be a part of the wedding service. We had gone over it carefully at the rehearsal — step by step. The candelabra, designed to hold three candles, was to be placed near the altar. The mothers of the bride and groom would be ushered down the aisle, each carrying a lighted candle. Upon reaching the front of the sanctuary, they were to move to the candelabra and place their candles in the appropriate receptacles. Throughout the ceremony the mothers' candles were to burn slowly while the larger middle one remained unlighted. After the vows had been spoken, the bride and groom would light the center candle. This was designed to symbolize family unity as well as the light of God's love in the new relationship.

I felt good about all this at the rehearsal. I had a special verse of scripture that I planned to read as the couple lighted the middle candle. We had it down to perfection.

We thought.

The notes from the organ pealed louder and louder as I was stalled in the hallway. I knew that the organist by now was glancing over her left shoulder wondering where in the world the minister was.

"Okay," I said to the perplexed florist, "We'll just have to wing it. I'll cut that part out of the ceremony and improvise at the close."

With those words I opened the door and entered the sanctuary, muttering behind my frozen smile, "What on earth are we going to do?"

The groom and his attendants followed me in. The bride and her attendants came down the left aisle of the sanctuary. When the first bridesmaid arrived at the front, she whispered something in my direction.

The puzzled look on my face was a signal to her that I did not understand.

She whispered the message again, opening her mouth wider and emphasizing every syllable. By straining to hear above the organ and through lip-reading, I made out what she was saying: "Go ahead with the unity candle part of the ceremony."

"But... how?" I whispered through my teeth with a plastic smile.

"Just go ahead," she signaled back.

We made it through the first part of the ceremony without any difficulty.

Everyone was beaming in delight because of the happy occasion — everyone except the first bridesmaid who had brought me the message. When I looked in her direction for some additional word about the candelabra, she had a stoic look on her face and her mouth was tightly clamped shut. Obviously, she was out of messages for me.

We continued with the ceremony. I read a passage from Corinthians 1:13 and emphasized the importance of love and patience in building a marriage relationship. I asked the bride and groom to join hands, and I began to talk about the vows they would make. There wasn't a hitch. I was beginning to feel better, but I still had to figure out some way to conclude the service. Just now, however, we needed to get through the vows and rings.

"John, in taking the woman whom you hold by your hand to be your wife, do you promise to love her?"

"That's the funniest thing I've ever seen," the bride interrupted with a loud whisper. I turned from the bewildered groom to look at her and noticed that she was staring toward her right, to the organ side of the front of the sanctuary. Not only was she looking in that direction, so were all the attendants, and so was the audience! One thousand eyes focused on a moving target to my left. I knew it was moving, for heads and eyes followed it, turning ever so slightly in slow-motion style.

The moving target was none other than the assistant florist. She had slipped through the door by the organ and was moving on hands and knees behind the choir rail toward the center of the platform where I stood. The dear lady, "great with child," thought she was out of sight, beneath the rail. But in fact, her posterior bobbled in plain view six inches above the choir rail. As she crawled along she carried in each hand a burning candle. To make matters worse, she didn't realize that she was silhouetted — a large, moving, "pregnant" shadow — on the wall behind the choir loft.

The wedding party experienced the agony of smothered, stifled laughter. Their only release was the flow of hysterical tears while they fought to keep their composure. Two or three of the bride's attendants shook so hard that petals of the flowers in their bouquets fell to the floor.

It was a welcomed moment for me when the vows were completed and I could say with what little piety remained, "Now, let us bow our heads and close our eyes for a special prayer." This was a signal for the soloist to sing "The Lord's Prayer." It also gave me a chance to peep during the singing and figure out what in the world was happening.

"Pssst. Pssst!"

I did a half turn, looked down and saw a lighted candle being pushed through the greenery behind me.

"Take this candle," the persistent florist said.

The soloist continued to sing, "Give us this day our daily bread...."

"Pssst. Now take this one," the voice behind me said as a second candle was poked through the greenery.

"...as we forgive those who trespass against us..."

I was beginning to catch on. So I was to be the human candelabra. Here I stood, with a candle in each hand and my Bible and notes tucked under my arm.

"Where's the third candle?" I whispered above the sounds of "...but deliver us from evil..."

"Between my knees," the florist answered. "Just a minute and I'll pass it through to you."

That's when the bride lost it. So did several of the attendants. The last notes of "The Lord's Prayer" were drowned out by the snickers all around me.

I couldn't afford such luxury. Somebody had to carry this thing on to conclusion and try to rescue something from it, candelabra or no candelabra. I determined to do just that as I now tried to juggle three candles, a Bible and wedding notes. My problem was complicated by the fact that two of the candles were burning, and the third one soon would be.

The dilemma was challenging, a situation that called for creative action — in a hurry. Nothing in the Pastors' Manual addressed this predicament. Nor had it ever been mentioned in a seminary class on pastoral responsibilities. I was on my own.

I handed one candle to the nearly hysterical bride, who was laughing so hard that tears were trickling down her cheeks. I handed the other to the groom, who was beginning to question all the reassurances I had passed out freely at the rehearsal. My statements about "no problems," and "we'll breeze through the service without a hitch," and "just relax and trust me," were beginning to sound hollow.

I held the last candle in my hands. They were to light it together from the ones they were each holding. Miraculously, we made it through that part in spite of jerking hands and tears of smothered laughter. Now we had three burning candles.

In a very soft, reassuring voice, I whispered, "That's fine. Now each of you blow out your candle."

Golly, I said to myself, we're going to get through this thing yet.

That thought skipped through my mind just before the bride, still out of control, pulled her candle toward her mouth to blow it out, forgetting that she was wearing a nylon veil over her face.

Poooff!

The veil went up in smoke and disintegrated.

Fortunately, except for singed eyebrows, the bride was not injured.

Through the hole in the charred remains of her veil she gave me a bewildered look. I had no more reassurances for her, the groom or anybody. Enough was enough.

Disregarding my notes concerning the conclusion of the ceremony, I took all the candles and blew them out myself. Then, peering through the smoke of three extinguished candles, I signaled the organist to begin the recessional... now! Just get us out of here! Quickly!

Everything else is a blur.

But I still turn pale when prospective brides tell me about "this wonderful idea of using a unity candle" in the ceremony.
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I Don't Have to Be Super Momma

By Heather Davis

My cooking is so bad my kids thought Thanksgiving was to commemorate Pearl Harbor.
~Phyllis Diller

It was my hope that I could, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, cook our meals at home. It would be healthier than picking up fast food. It would be more economical than heading out to the chips and salsa place every other night. As I made my Martha-Stewart-esque decision, I had visions of us sitting around the candlelit table using the Christmas dishes and laughing with each other right before we broke into "Silent Night" sung in three-part harmony. Idyllic to say the least...
For heaven's sake, why couldn't I pull off this "cooking at home" bit for a month?

Why couldn't I? Basketball, choir, play practice, Christmas parties, deliveries, shopping, groceries, play dates... But, that didn't stop me from trying.

I could have cooked ahead, but that requires more planning than I am capable of doing at this time of year with the family that I live with (which is my own family, by the way). I could have plugged in the Crock-Pot in the mornings and done some cooking, but the last three times I dumped a dish in the Crock-Pot, I came home to find that the dish had not cooked because I had not turned ON the Crock-Pot. Mornings are not my best time of day.

Despite all the pitfalls that seem to line my life's path on any given day, I decided that cooking at home would be completely and totally do-able. Nooo... I was not drunk when I made that decision. Not even tipsy!

It was one crazy evening where both of our daughters had basketball practice and we'd been up early to get to choir on time and we'd delivered dozens of pounds of pecans and still, in an effort to be economical and healthy, I attempted to cook dinner at home. It was ten minutes till seven and I was still chopping and mincing and boiling and sipping the sangria.... If I was going to be cooking this much, I was going to have to get in the right frame of mind.

I peeked around the corner of the kitchen to find my hubby snoozing in the recliner, my younger daughter doing cartwheels in the living room, and my first-born baby — God bless her precious heart — in the dining room making some sort of mess that I would clean up two days later. I was slaving in the kitchen preparing a healthy, economical meal for my family when a blue box of the cheesy goodness would have been met with more enthusiasm and would have taken half the time.

My older daughter snuck into the kitchen and cozied up to me with her arm around my waist. "Momma?" she began and I sucked in my breath. I just knew she'd ask me when dinner would be ready — the question that drives Mommas the whole world over to scream and throw food in their very own kitchens. Instead, she took a very deep breath and said, "Why are you trying to be Super Momma? Isn't it more important to be with your family than in the kitchen?"

My shoulders slumped. I squeezed her tight to me. A lump grew in my throat and tears pooled in my eyes. I loved my baby. She had helped me to see that even the best of intentions will rob us of the day's blessings. She spoke again, "Why don't you put this meal up and let's go out to eat?"

I kissed the top of her ever-growing head, nodded and said, "Sure, honey. Let's go...."

At which time, she broke free of my hold as if I were holding kryptonite to her Super Daughter act and hollered, "She caved, y'all! Let's go," and in a matter of SECONDS, my baby and my hubby had their coats on and the three of them were sitting in the van.

I quickly packed away my chopped and diced and minced foods for another night and as I stepped into the garage, my smarty-pants daughter rolled down her window and hollered, "Get a move on, Momma! We're starving out here!"

Why didn't Norman Rockwell ever paint pictures of THAT scene?

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Too Dumb to Be a Nurse

By Carol A. Gibson

Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.
~Author Unknown

When I was eight we moved to a house a block from Saint Vincent's Hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania. Always a rover, it wasn't long before I had checked out all the different nooks and crannies around the building. One entryway caught my attention because at certain times of the day the nurses came and went through that door.
After a while my curiosity got the best of me. I was no longer content to watch the nurses arrive for work — I wanted to see them at work. Before long I was roving the upper hallways and watching my Nightingales in action, despite the sign in all the hallways that read, "No Children Under Age 14 Permitted to Visit."

By the time I reached junior high I was sure I wanted to be a nurse. If you didn't study Latin, you couldn't be a nurse, so I enrolled. Many Latin words were familiar to me and I thought it would be pretty easy. The hard part turned out to be the usage and creating sentences with the words that seemed so easy to pronounce. Several weeks into the course my teacher came to me, without tact or gentleness, saying, "I think you should withdraw from this course. It seems to be too hard for you and you are slowing the rest of the class down."

Teachers and other adults should be careful when trampling on young people's dreams. That was the day I learned I wasn't smart enough to become a nurse. With shame and humiliation, I handed in my Latin textbook and switched to study hall for that period for the rest of the year. Throughout high school I never again took a math or science course that wasn't required for graduation. I left those courses to the smart kids.

After high school the years raced by. I married, had children. Most women didn't work outside their home and if I did become acquainted with a woman who worked, she usually was a nurse. The conversation would go like this:

"Do you work?"

"Yes. I'm a nurse."

"Oh. I wanted to be a nurse, but I'm not smart enough."

"Oh I doubt that."

"No, really. I couldn't even learn Latin."

Then one day my husband John came home from work with news that would change my life in a major way.

"Carol, Mav died this afternoon." I looked at my husband with disbelief.

"What!" Mav was young and healthy. "How?"

"He was a passenger in a car that came over the crest of a hill that was obscuring a truck parked half on the highway. They couldn't see the truck until they were right on it and had no time to swerve, and well..." his voice trailed off.

Mav and John had been friends since they were in their early twenties. John was devastated by this tragedy. As the days passed he was unusually quiet. Finally one evening he said, "Carol, Jackie has never worked and now she's alone with four children. Unless Mav had great insurance, I don't know how she will manage. I've been thinking — if anything happens to me, I want you to be able to take care of yourself and the children. Why don't you think about what you'd like to do and get the training you'll need to do it?"

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. For months before Mav's death I had been having the most unusual experience, but hadn't shared it with John since it was spiritual and at that time he was skeptical about matters of faith. Many times a day a verse from the New Testament book of James would come to my mind: "Is any among you sick?"

Then one evening, while I sat reading, I suddenly saw myself, vividly, on what seemed like an internal movie screen. I was walking down the hall in a hospital dressed as a nurse. I entered a room with two female patients and walked to the bed nearest the window. I knew the patient had had a stroke and I was checking on her. After I watched her for a couple of moments and was certain she was sleeping comfortably, I turned and walked back to the nurses' station where I picked up a chart.

The combination of these two occurrences started me thinking that God was calling me to become a nurse. His calling didn't diminish my belief that I wasn't intelligent enough. But He gave me the determination to try because that was what I believed He wanted.

I began looking at nursing programs. I was certain that I would never be able to become an R.N., but maybe I could become a Licensed Vocational Nurse, as their courses weren't as difficult. I signed up for the entrance exam.

The day of the exam I entered a large room full of people also wanting to enter LVN training. I imagined every one of them would do well on the test and would go on to become an LVN except me.

One day not long after I opened our mailbox to find a letter from the school. I wanted so badly to open it, but with my lack of confidence, I laid it on the kitchen counter saying, "I'm not in the mood for a rejection letter today."

Letters like that call to you, though. With every trip through the kitchen, I saw it. Finally I forced myself to open it, thinking, "Let's get this over with."

"Dear Carol," I read. "We are pleased to notify you that you successfully passed the entrance exam for Licensed Vocational Nurse. We are saving a seat for you in our next class provided we hear from you within one month."

Twenty-five hopeful LVNs started in my class on that September day. To my surprise, for the next eighteen months I earned the highest grades in the class and eventually graduated as valedictorian. With this success under my belt, a year later I challenged an R.N. program and was exempted from the first year of studies. At the end of the three-year course I finished fifth out of a class that started with forty students.

An insensitive teacher once stole my dream. It took an act of God to get it back, but there is a saying that whom God calls, He also equips. If I were a motivational speaker I would urge my listeners to adopt this mind-set: If you have a dream, exhaust every effort and every avenue necessary to reach it. I've worked thirty years now as a nurse and I've never been more certain that this is what I was meant to be.
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A Deed a Day

By Shannon Anderson

Happiness is a by-product of an effort to make someone else happy.
~Gretta Brooker Palmer

I cast a warning glare and mouthed the words "Just a minute!" as my daughter tugged my hand. I was stirring chili with the other hand and balancing the phone between my shoulder and chin. The clothes dryer buzzer sounded as my husband walked in with our other daughter. The dog was scratching at the door, and we had about twenty minutes to eat before we had to take the girls to their next activity. My husband seemed a bit annoyed that dinner was not already on the table. The girls started arguing about who had to let the poor dog back into the house.
That night, I had a heavy heart thinking about how mindless my family's routines had become. We were becoming taskmasters who performed each day's activities as if we were on an assembly line. We had become absorbed in our own activities and not very considerate towards those around us. We needed to do something to bring back some meaning into our lives. It needed to be something that would refocus our own agendas and energize us toward the common good.

I purchased a journal, labeled it "Our Deed Diary" and held a family meeting. I told my husband and our daughters that I wanted us all to think about doing a kindness for others every day. It could be for each other or for people outside our home. The purpose was to reduce the focus on ourselves and brighten someone else's day in the process.

We talked about what a good deed would mean for this "project." We decided that a good deed was doing something nice for someone else that they were not expecting. It could be as simple as making a card for your teacher or going out of your way to give someone a compliment for something he or she did. We decided to record our deeds every day and discuss them over dinner. The girls seemed excited at the prospect of this new "game" we were playing. My husband rolled his eyes. I said a little prayer.

When I first conceived of this project, I thought that one deed a day was too easy. Let me tell you; it is harder than it seems. We all, of course, do things for others on a regular basis; but this had to be something above and beyond what we already do. Sending birthday cards to people that we already send cards to every year would not count. This had to be an unexpected effort on our parts.

We had a rough start. We were supposed to talk about our good deeds and write them in our Deed Diary at dinner every day. On some days, someone would forget to do a good deed, while on other days, we would forget to write our good deeds in the diary. After a few weeks though, I found myself waking up in the morning trying to decide what good deed I could do for someone that day. My daughters began to rush to me after school to tell me a good deed they had done for someone that day.

We have been doing good deeds for nearly a year now. I am happy to say that it is making a difference in our lives. Instead of always wondering what the day will bring for us, we think about what we can do for someone else. At dinner, we have an instant conversation starter, as we all share our stories.

I have expanded the deed experiment to my first grade classroom. I started out by having every student write a letter to someone in the school to thank him or her for something he or she does for us. It was most touching to observe the janitor, nurse, librarian, and other school staff hang our notes on their walls while beaming because they felt appreciated.

In my classroom, every student does not have to do a good deed every day, but our class, as a whole, tries to show at least three kindnesses to others each day. We record them and I am most boastful about how thoughtful the students are towards others. When a student spills his or her crayons, you wouldn't believe how many kids scurry over to try to help and clean them up! Just as with my family, keeping and sharing a Deed Diary changed our whole outlook on life.

Who would have thought that trying to do a simple kindness a day would be so rewarding? I feel my daughters and first grade students better understand the old saying that "it is better to give than to receive." They have felt that indescribable feeling of inner joy that you can only experience by giving to someone else from your heart. The best thing is that you feel so great about doing something for someone else, you don't even look for or expect anything in return. So, when someone does reciprocate, it is an enormous and positive bonus. When someone does something nice for me, I now think of it as, "What a great idea! I'll have to do that for someone too!"
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