воскресенье, 27 октября 2013 г.

That Was Love

By Diane Gardner

...serve one another humbly in love.
~Galatians 5:13
It was the basket. Not the Colombian roses or the diamond necklace or the theater tickets John bought me back when he sought me as his wife. No, a cheap plastic basket of laundry taught me what real love is. It was shortly after we wed, when I was dying.
Four months after we married, I entered the hospital. My body had simply stopped absorbing any food or nutrition. Not one ounce. I was literally wasting away. For weeks, my new husband stayed with me in the hospital as doctors searched for the cause and performed two surgeries to remove the portion of my system that Crohn's disease had destroyed.
But something my husband did during my recovery spoke to me of real love more than anything else. He did the laundry. Oh, not just normal laundry. When recovering from this kind of surgery, well, let's just say one's body doesn't always get timely signals for certain things. And some of the laundry was, frankly, unpleasant. I was well enough to handle the worst of it, and new bride enough to be embarrassed to ask my husband to. One evening, I woke up from resting, desperate to drop in a small load of no-longer-sexy underwear, when my husband walked into the room with the laundry — freshly washed and folded. I looked at him with tears in my eyes.
And I realized... that was love. Real, lasting love. Love that proves, through action, that it's willing to get down in the ugliest, most embarrassing parts of life with you. Love that accepts your most humiliating moments and carries you through them.
Through the tears, my eyes opened. I realized that sometimes love isn't expressed by flowers and jewelry, or even "I love you." The most powerful love is revealed through humble sacrifice. That's the love God wants us to show.
I decided I'd pay attention to the little things that spoke love, not just the big ones. You see, I saw that:
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Wives
When John sent me out of state for three months so I could be with my dying father... that was love.
When he changed jobs so we could move closer to my mom... that was love.
When he took on a second job so I could pursue my dream of writing and editing... that was love.
When he fixes the computer I always break; when he insists our eggs be fixed the way I want more often than the way he prefers; when he calls me every day before he drives home... that all is love.
And it makes all the difference to recognize how my husband expresses love, rather than only noticing the flowers and candy. I've found a deeper, stronger romance. And God calls me to love sacrificially, as well. You see, I discovered that getting down in the dirty laundry together... well, that is love — love that makes marriages last.

Petunia

By Ellen Tevault

Count the garden by the flowers, never by the leaves that fall. Count your life with smiles and not the tears that roll.
~Author Unknown
Every year, my partner Mel and I plant flowers in our yard to honor our deceased loved ones. A few years ago, we couldn't get around to it. The reasons were many that year, including me getting laid off and Mel being injured at work.
One day, we rushed out of the house to Mel's physical therapy. On the way to the car, Mel paused and smiled. "Hey honey, look." He pointed to a flowerpot near our front gate. "Your mom says, 'hello.'"
I looked at the flowerpot, and my jaw dropped. A single, white petunia grew among the many weeds. It should've been choked out, but it flourished anyway. Because petunias are annuals, there was no explanation for the single flower. It had to be a miracle.
Warmth flooded through me, and tears filled my eyes.
Every year, Mel and I planted petunias in a variety of vibrant colors in different pots around the yard, but never white ones. The flowers honored my mom, who had always called me "Tunie." When I was a little girl, she'd chase me through the house, saying, "Kissy, kissy, Tunie." I'd giggle as she scooped me up into her arms, kissing me. Our ritual ended when I became a teenager and too big to be called such a childish name. When my mom died ten days after my nineteenth birthday, that declaration didn't matter as much. I missed being called Tunie. Since my nickname was short for petunia, we declared it my mom's memorial flower in our yard.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven
Staring at the single, white flower, I knew my mom was letting me know she was still there for me. Nothing could keep her away from me, not even death. Suddenly, all the trials life threw at us weren't as bad as I had thought.
That single flower reminded us to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life, not get caught up in the temporary, short-term trials.
As I cried, Mel placed his hand on my shoulder. "She must have known we needed her," Mel said. He caressed me as he spoke.
I nodded and said, "Thank you, Mom."

четверг, 24 октября 2013 г.

Treasured Time

By Janet N. Miracle
Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment.
~Thích Nhất Hạnh
"Just think! We won't ever have to set our alarm clock again now that you are retired, too," my husband said as I watched the hand on the clock move to the exact time my retirement would begin. Now I hoped to keep "normal hours." For me, this meant going to bed and getting up when I felt like it. I looked forward to spending quality time together doing all the things we had been unable to do when we were young and we were busy raising a family and holding down full-time jobs. On the other hand, it was scary.
Doing research about retired people, I learned that divorce rates for couples in retirement were skyrocketing. Though many causes have been given, some of the reasons point to the difficulties couples have adjusting to being together too much. In time, they can become bored with each other. I wondered if this would happen to my husband and me.
At first, my fear was unfounded. We traveled to Ireland, took a barging trip around Texas, and attended our favorite concerts. For a while, I felt we were honeymooners. But just as the honeymoon wears off, so did our retirement bliss. I found I needed some space to be by myself. And even though my husband and I were communicating more with each other, I felt depressed at the end of the day because I had accomplished nothing.
I remembered my career days when my days were fulfilling and filled full. At my job as a high school teacher, I felt I had accomplished something every day as I helped my students to create a fresh piece of writing, add a new word to their vocabulary, or put geographic locations on a map. In turn, I learned something from my students, too.
My to-do list was finished on the weekend. The thoughts of doing something for me were out of the question. I always wanted to learn to play a musical instrument, listen to music, or become a published author.
But when I finally had the time as a retiree, I caved in to all the vices of late risers — sleeping late and staying in my nightgown as I glued my eyes to the television till noon over endless cups of coffee. I was getting further behind every day; many jobs had to be done in the evening or left undone. I began to feel useless. And frankly, I became bored with watching my husband sit around all day watching me.
About this time, I purchased a copy of the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Resolution. I read it from cover to cover, and all the stories touched my heart; but there was one story that stood out above all the others: "Confessions of a Morning Person" by Mimi Greenwood Knight.
That story began to change my life by altering my daily schedule at the most opportune time. Mimi Greenwood Knight relates how she kept early morning hours by getting up as much as four hours before dawn, as quiet as a cat burglar. And her secret — she enjoyed it. I thought, "If it worked for her, why I couldn't make it work for me?"
Instead of getting up at 7:00 with my husband, I started my day a few minutes earlier. Then I started getting up at 6:00, then 5:00 and finally 4:00. Our fourteen-year-old cat became my alarm clock as she grew accustomed to the earlier feedings. Her meow let me know if I were even a few minutes late.
I could hear the sounds of the house as I sat at the table in the kitchen sipping tea and writing for at least twenty minutes. I listened closely to the rhythm of the second hand on the clock and the gurgling sounds of the refrigerator.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition
I came to love these early morning hours. I found I was my best self in the morning. That special story changed my lifestyle permanently.
I signed up to take piano lessons. With the aid of my headphones plugged into the keyboard, I started practicing my music during these early morning hours without waking my husband. I found I was more alert then and could concentrate better. In the same manner, I listened to my favorite singers, playing a favorite song three times in a row with no one to get tired of hearing it. I exercised with a DVD, and it gave me energy to tackle my chores all day long. I attended writing seminars and took an online writing course, and recently I had the honor of publishing two stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul books.
As the morning wore on and the dawn came, I observed the birds at the feeder on the deck and learned to identify them by name. For the first time, I looked through my kitchen window to see a downy woodpecker with the rising sun as a backdrop. I wondered if heaven could be more beautiful. As Terri Guillemets says, "I used to love night best, but the older I get the more treasures and hopes and joys I find in mornings."
One morning my husband greeted me with "What are you doing up so early this morning?" as he poured his first cup of coffee. It was 7:30.
"I am well into my day," I answered as I rattled off a few of my activities. He didn't know I had tiptoed out of bed in order not to disturb him and started my day three hours earlier.
"When you finish your coffee, let's go out and smell the dawn," I told him.
His eyebrows furrowed as he said, "How can you be so cheerful at this hour?"
I forgot about our encounter until a few weeks later when my husband came to the kitchen smiling and said to me, "Do you still want to walk? I haven't smelled the dawn since I was a young boy."
I relaxed, as I had already done my routine chores for the day. We walked out into the early morning sunlight hand in hand. I knew I had no worries about boredom.

Life on Soldier Creek

By Melissa Kraft
The past is behind us, love is in front and all around us.
~Terri Guillemets
Babies raising babies described us best. As newlywed teenagers, Jason and I had struggled for two years to raise our son, Aaron, when we got an offer we really couldn't refuse. Jason's father's boss was looking for a family to move into his mother's farmhouse. He asked for a small rent payment in exchange for taking care of Mrs. Lineberry's property while she resided in the long-term care unit of our local hospital.
"She had her roses and he had his hummingbirds," Jody's boss had said, remembering his now deceased father and ailing mother. To us, taking care of the things they loved seemed like a small price to pay.
On moving day, I saw the beautiful white house on the inside for the first time. I had been forewarned that it would remain slightly furnished and I was pleased to see a few antique pieces left behind. What I hadn't known was that there was one room inaccessible to us, packed with furniture and locked from the inside. Even from the outside, a thick curtain hung down over the window.
For the first few months, Jason worked nights. I felt like a frightened little girl, having never spent the night alone. "I'm a mother now," I told myself. When I turned off the television and lights at bedtime, I told myself that anybody would be a little suspicious in a house with a secret room.
It wasn't long before I felt at home and safe. The longer we were there, the more I imagined the couple who had lived there their whole life and had raised their children in the old house. Many times, while snipping the rose stems, I wondered about them, him sitting on the front porch watching his hummingbirds while she tended her roses. I wondered what it was like on the other side and if he was waiting for her. Would we be happy growing roses and feeding hummingbirds? Even though I had yet to see a single one, I would buy a hummingbird feeder.
That fall, I started going to Murray State and working two nights a week. Driving home from work at one o'clock in the morning, winding down our narrow curvy road was definitely out of my comfort zone. Fog often blanketed the road, sinking into the many dips and crevices. One night, the fog looked like dead bodies lying in the road. "I've got to get more rest," I said. I mentioned this to my mother, expecting she would just laugh and think I was crazy. Her reaction was something I never expected. "Do you know the story of Soldier Creek? It's only a few minutes from your house."
I did some searching. In 1945, a warplane carrying four officers and five soldiers had flown into a terrible storm. The plane crashed after it was struck by lightning, killing nine of the passengers. Only one man managed to activate his parachute and fall 8,000 feet to safety. He spent the night out in the fierce storm until neighbors took him in. Hundreds of onlookers came to the site, some out of curiosity, some to take a piece of the wreckage as a souvenir, and some to fan the flies away from the bodies.
Afterwards, I no longer felt quite so silly. Were Mr. and Mrs. Lineberry living in our old house at the time? Could they have been the couple who helped the survivor?
Little did I know there would be more strange occurrences taking place near Soldier Creek. One night, Aaron and I were home alone, sleeping soundly, while Jason was at work. A lightning storm woke me up. I lay there for a few minutes trying to fall back to sleep when I heard somebody walking through the kitchen. At first, I was scared. But as I heard the footsteps pace the kitchen, open cabinets, rattle pots and pans, and pull out the kitchen chairs, I was convinced it was Jason, although he wasn't due home for hours.
My husband had had trouble keeping jobs, having hit the responsibility of the world a little too quickly once I had accidentally become pregnant with the baby. But so far, he had proven successful in keeping his job as a security guard, working nights from ten till six. Now, I was suspicious. Maybe he had been fired again. I waited for him to come and tell me. After several minutes, I called out for him. "Jason!" But there was no reply. I got up and walked into the kitchen. The light was on, but no one was there. I picked up the phone and started to dial 911 when something told me to call Jason's work number instead. When he picked up the phone, I whispered desperately, "Somebody's in the house!" As soon as I said that a sucking sensation went through the room and the screen door behind the back door slammed hard. Aaron woke up and came running down the hallway screaming and crying.
"What was that?" Jason asked.
"I think somebody left out the back door."
"Take a quick look around and see. If you don't come back in two minutes, I'll call 911 on my red phone."
That sounded like a great idea, but when I tried to lay down the phone, I realized I was frozen. No matter how hard I tried, my right hand would not let go of the phone and my right arm would not pull away from my ear.
"Jason, I can't move," I replied.
"This couldn't be about Mrs. Lineberry, could it?"
"What do you mean?"
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven
"She died this evening. I was waiting for the right time to tell you."
All fear vanished. "That's it!" I said with joy flooding my heart. "Let me go check the house real quick!"
"Okay, I'll be right here," Jason assured me.
With the house all clear, I came back to the phone. "There's no reason to call the police."
"Well, okay. But, if you hear one more thing, call 911."
I promised him that I would. I put Aaron in my bed with me and he immediately fell asleep. I longed for daylight, so I walked into the living room, raised the shades and sat by the window waiting for sunrise. Had I really experienced Mrs. Lineberry's ghost?
Then, a single hummingbird came and hovered in front of me at eye level. I watched as it dipped down and hovered over a rose as if it were kissing it. I knew beyond a doubt that it was a sign!
I couldn't wait to call my stepmother who worked at the hospital where Mrs. Lineberry had been.
"Gail, tell Mrs. Lineberry's nurses that she's okay."
"Really?" she asked. I could tell from her tone that she knew she had passed away.
"Yes, she came home last night," I said, without any fear of embarrassment.
She promised to pass the word along.
I went and cuddled up to my sleeping little boy and slept more soundly than ever since moving in the house. Peace had come to Soldier Creek.

Childhood's End

By Lynn Sunday
One thing you will probably remember well is any time you forgive and forget.
~Franklin P. Jones
I was fifteen years old when my dad stepped on his bathroom scale and discovered he'd lost weight without trying. Soon after that he began waking in the night slick with sweat. I was sixteen when cancer killed him. He was forty-nine.
My mother fell apart during his final year when our lives were about doctors and test results and the antiseptic smell of hospitals. Surgeons cut my dad open and closed him up again. He returned home a bedridden, shrunken, frightened man — not my wise, witty father at all — whispering to me about fun things we'd do, places we'd go when he recovered. He remained at home with visiting nurses coming and going until he was moved to a nursing home to live his last month on a morphine drip, with round-the-clock nursing care. My mother sought relief in prescription drugs, one after the other, to ease her constant anxiety and depression.
She was fifty-five and white-haired when she became a widow. She'd married my dad in her late twenties — before that she'd lived with her brother who'd looked out for her. As a pampered only child, I had no idea that when my dad became too sick to work our family income stopped as well, and our financial situation was precarious. I didn't know how emotionally fragile my mother was, or how frightened she must have felt selling the suburban New York home she loved, and moving near her sister in Manhattan. I didn't know what it meant to have or to lose a life partner — and to deal with menopause at the same time.
But I was a teenager and to me the world was made up of my thoughts, my wants, and my feelings. The dad I adored and admired was gone. My mother — my adversary and nemesis since I turned thirteen and my hormones kicked in — was consumed by her sorrow, vanishing into a perpetual haze of legal drugs.
I felt alone — like I'd lost both parents, even while one still lived. My mom didn't cry when my dad died, or at his funeral or after that — never smiled or laughed again either. Aching for attention I reached out to a neighbor in his twenties and we became lovers. I was happy again, imagining myself in love. I got married and had a son a year later. I was eighteen years old.
My mom and I never fully reconnected after that, although she and my aunt lived only three blocks away from me. Our relationship was so stressed, I was angry when my mother had a breakdown and was hospitalized for a week — angry at my obligation to join the relatives in conferring with her doctors about her latest ailment and escalating depression.
"What's to be done about poor Celia?" the family asked, hands wringing, gathered around her hospital bed — while head hanging, eyes cast down, my mother waited for us to decide. But short of resurrecting my father and restoring him to her side, we had no idea how to help her and the doctors continued to prescribe pills.
My second son was born after we moved upstate. I earned my college degree and then divorced two years after my graduation. I moved with the boys to San Francisco.
Although my mom considered my cross-country move a personal betrayal, I was, given the circumstances, the best daughter I could be. I telephoned often, wrote letters, took my sons to visit her, and had her visit us. She drank us in like sunlight when we were together — but when goodbyes were said and I resumed my life her world went dark again.
She was in her late seventies when her sister lost her mind and was put in a nursing home. Her brother, who lived not too far away in Queens, died a few years later. My mom was eighty-seven, tiny, frail, and swallowed up by dementia when I packed her up and took her to a nursing home two miles from my home near San Francisco, where I lived with my second husband.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers & Daughters
There was, at the end, a reconnection. One stormy day in September, the afternoon of my fifty-first birthday, I visited my mom at the home. It was a good one as such places go: clean, and the caretakers were courteous and kind. But I felt my own mortality gazing at the terminally old sitting silently in their wheelchairs, lined up along the hallways like pigeons on a fence.
I exhaled sharply before taking a deep breath and helping my mother to the enclosed front porch, the least depressing spot in the place. After seating her in a comfortable chair, I sat beside her setting out paper plates, the banana bread that she loved, fresh fruit, and chocolate cupcakes on a small table between us. We sat nibbling, looking out the big front window at the trees swaying in the wind.
I sat, as I had all my life, bearing witness to my mother's grief, thinking I could hardly remember back to when I was small and called her Mommy — and she smiled, laughed, gave dinner parties, made me dresses and birthday cakes, and cared for me when I was sick.
And then my mother spoke. "You know I'm not normal anymore, Lynn," she said in her charming Hungarian accent, with her precise, almost formal way of expressing herself. I turned to her, surprised, and she continued. "It can't have been much fun for you being my daughter all these years, since your father died. Honey, I'm so sorry for that."
I stared at her in astonishment. My mother — the mother I loved and longed for — still existed inside this ancient wreck of a woman. I felt a hot rush of love for her and tears slid down my face as I took her wrinkled old hand and stroked it gently. We sat together talking about my childhood, and the life she loved in the suburbs with her fruit trees and backyard garden. She asked if I'd loved my dad and I told her she'd given me the best father anyone could have had. We sat like that until she was tired and I took her back to her room and put her to bed.
When I came the next day she'd disappeared again. I searched her eyes for a sign she remembered yesterday's conversation. There was none. My mom died a week later, silently in the night, at ninety-one.
I was and remain grateful for that brief moment when the veil over her lifted and I heard my mother's voice filled with love for me — and our connection, battered but unbroken, was reaffirmed. It wasn't everything I'd dreamed of but it would have to be enough.

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Against my better judgment, I visited the cat room at the shelter. Given free rein, I would have filled my pockets with kittens. It didn't help that my husband, John, and I had recently euthanized Abby, our seventeen-year-old black, orange, and white calico. From the day Abby joined our family, John said she was better entertainment than television. I saw how much he missed her.
We took Abby's remaining food and litter to donate to the shelter and I ventured into the cat room, where three white-mittened black kittens climbed the cage bars and reached out as kittens often do. Sitting primly in the midst of the chaos of the three boys was their sister, a white, gray, and sand-colored calico, a pastel version of Abby. She looked like a real lady, not inclined to climb curtains and upset houseplants.
I coaxed John to come and look at the little calico I had spotted.
"If you want the cat, get the cat," he said.
I took her out of the cage and handed her to him.
"What's this smudge on her nose?" He rubbed her nose with his thumb and then handed her back to me. "If you want the cat, get the cat."
"That's not dirt on her nose. It's a little spot of gray fur. Do you want to think about it over the weekend?"
"Here," said John as he reached for his wallet. "She may be gone on Monday."
Smudge promptly proved me a bad judge of kitten character. Her prim lady act in the shelter cage could have garnered an Academy Award. One evening we heard her crying but couldn't find her. Somehow she had opened a bathroom vanity drawer, climbed in and wiggled until it glided shut. Several days later, she opened the same drawer, but this time it didn't shut. It blocked the door and barricaded us out of the bathroom. We kitten-proofed the drawers. She pulled towels off the rods and piled them in the sink to use as a comfy bed. She hid her toys in our slippers at night, pushing them down into the toes so we would have a real wake-up call in the morning. John encouraged her wild behavior, like her racing up and down halls and stairs that we dubbed "the evening zips." He would put her in a plastic grocery bag and drag it on the floor. She loved it.
Several weeks after Smudge's adoption, severe back pains felled John. Medication and rest did nothing to improve his condition. After two weeks, he could no longer go to work, even for a short time. Stoic, John spent the day lying on quilts on the den floor. Before I left for work each morning, I would assemble a box of Smudge supplies: sheets of aluminum foil for John to make into balls, ping pong balls, shoelaces, and a yardstick notched for a string, to which John could tie ribbons or feathers for his kitten to chase. When I came home at noon to get John's lunch, I would crawl around to retrieve and re-box the Smudge supplies.
John's condition worsened. Physical therapy exacerbated the pain that was misdiagnosed as sciatica. A month went by and the pain traveled to his leg as well as his back, and narcotics helped him rest at night. Smudge grew and slept with John on the floor. Tucking herself between his arm and chest, she snoozed when he did and played when he needed diversion. Several more weeks passed with additional X-rays, an MRI, and then the true diagnosis. The head of the femur was dying and collapsing in a condition called aseptic necrosis. He needed a hip replacement, but his loss of weight and muscle strength over the preceding months forecast a lengthy recovery.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Cat's Life
The day after surgery, John had a bad reaction to the medication and stopped breathing. After two days in critical care and further complications, his physical therapy was behind schedule. I stayed with him fourteen hours a day, sleeping in a motel near the hospital, dashing home to tend to mail and to check on seven-month-old Smudge. I would find her in the sphinx posture on John's recliner or on his quilts on the floor where they had spent the days. She ate but had no interest in her toys or in me. She mewed when I called to her but held her position on John's territory. I could have cried over her obvious distress at the change in her life. Ten days after surgery, John was transferred to a nursing facility closer to our home to catch up on rehabilitation. The next morning I walked into his room.
"Good morning," I said.
"Where's my cat?" he answered.
I felt cold fear. Was there lack of oxygen after surgery? Did he have brain damage? Didn't he know where he was?
"John," I began quietly. "Smudge is at the house. You're in a nursing home."
"I know that," he said. His eyes had a touch of the old mischief in them. "I checked. If a pet has all its shots, it can come and visit. Go get her."
I raced home, grabbed health papers, put Smudge in her elastic harness and then in her carrier. The harness would ensure I wouldn't be chasing her down the hall or fishing her out from under the bed. But how would she react? Would John be upset if she panicked? I put the carrier on John's bed and opened the door. Smudge crept out cautiously. John spoke to her and extended his hand. Smudge walked up to him, sniffed his face, and then lay down at his side between his arm and chest, just like she did during those long weeks on the floor at home. She spent the next four hours on his bed catnapping with him, chasing a ribbon, and amusing the staff. John's blood pressure dropped to a near normal level. He needed fewer pain pills. Smudge made several more visits before John came home to continue treatment as an outpatient. It was May. Smudge had been his emotional therapy since January. A month later John was back on his garden tractor.
And Smudge? She is now six years old and regularly clears counters of anything she is capable of moving. Jar lids become hockey pucks on the hardwood floors. Shake out a plastic bag and she leaps into it for a ride, still not in the least inclined to be a lady.

Christmas Vision

By Melissa Pearn
It is hard to wait and press and pray, and hear no voice, but stay till God answers.
~E.M. Bounds
Two months before my family sat around a Christmas tree, we were sitting around a hospital waiting room hoping for good news. My sister Jessica, thirteen at the time, had just been diagnosed with a brain arteriovenous malformation, an AVM. The doctors were relatively shocked and they told us it was a miracle she hadn't dropped dead after one of the aneurysms in her brain burst the previous year. The details of her condition were somewhat complicated but the simple diagnosis was this — she needed another miracle. Her rare condition had doctors unsure of how to proceed and had us anxiously waiting for them to decide on a plan of action. They told our mother that her chances weren't exactly good and tried to prepare us for a worst-case scenario.
She was sedated heavily in order to help with her pain and was made to go through numerous procedures so the doctors could get a better idea of what they were up against. Speaking to her on the phone was comforting but difficult, since she sounded so far away because of the morphine and seemed to be in so much pain. It seemed so unfair that such a young girl could be facing so much. I passed through my teenage years without so much as a broken bone and here was my young sister who had barely made it to adolescence and was now fighting for her life.
Our family did what we always did; we turned to prayer. We prayed constantly for her recovery and our church, extended family, and friends all did the same. Prayer groups from one end of the country to the other prayed that we would, in fact, get our miracle.
And remarkably, we did. After a surgery to stop the bleeding and repair some of the damage, the doctors told us she could go home. We were overjoyed, but it wasn't the end of her struggles. When she arrived home she was still recovering from a stroke, a consequence of the surgery they had done on her brain. She had to be in a wheelchair and had partial hearing loss in one ear. She also had double vision and, to avoid vertigo, needed to wear an eye patch every waking moment. It was a devastating blow to see her like that and to hear how weak she sounded, but we had to focus on the positive; she was alive. We were so thankful to have her with us that we felt we'd never have to ask God for anything else. He had given us our miracle and that was all we needed.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!
That Christmas we were happy to be celebrating as an entire family again. No matter the bumps in the road we faced that holiday season, our mantra was this: it could have been so much worse.
It seemed, however, that we were in for one more holiday surprise. On Christmas Eve Jessica woke up and she could see. Her vision had somehow corrected itself and she no longer needed her eye patch in order to function. It was our very own Christmas miracle. That night at our Christmas mass, we all stood a little taller, prayed a little harder, and sang a little louder.
Even though there were piles of presents under the tree that Christmas the unspoken feeling in the air was unmistakable. Jessica's regained eyesight was the best gift by far and the one nobody had even thought to ask for.

The Dragonfly

By Amanda Romaniello
In the night of death, hope sees a star, and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing.
~Robert Ingersol
I swatted at what I thought was a fly, but it flitted away and landed gently next to my right hand. I sat on the railing of the wooden bridge where Henry and I were passing the time this comfortable August morning. The sun beat down on my face, but a nearby tree protected four-year-old Henry's fair skin and blond hair from the rays. At his age, he had little patience for things that did not fascinate him, but between digging for worms and this new activity of throwing rocks off the bridge into the waterfall, he was thoroughly content. If lunchtime didn't come, he'd probably continue this all day. But at that moment, all I could focus on was the glittering dragonfly. Even when my eyes returned to the giggly boy, I couldn't help but notice that the dragonfly did not leave.
The rest of that Thursday continued as a normal afternoon would between two babysitting jobs and an evening relaxing with my parents. In just a few weeks, I'd be returning to Syracuse University for my senior year. I had started turning my phone off when I went to bed, because I still battled sleeping issues since my former boyfriend passed away eleven months before. I had just begun to feel like my old self again, but that changed when I woke up the following morning.
My alarm rang for my 6:30 a.m. spin class, but as soon as I shut it off, my phone continued to buzz and chirp. Multiple voice mails, too many missed calls to count, and an unusual number of text messages lit up the screen. One text caught my eye because it came from someone I hadn't spoken with in a while. When I opened it, I immediately regretted my choice:
"I'm sure you already know this, but Hannah Smith died in a car accident last night."
Tears filled my eyes, and I bolted from my bed to my parents' bedroom. All I could do was sob. I didn't understand. Why Hannah? Why was I going through this again?
My mom explained that my best friend had found out last night and called the house, but they chose not to wake me up because they knew it would be a while before I slept again. But as soon as she finished, something in me hardened. I stopped crying and said, "I'm going to spin class. I've been through this before; I can do it again."
So I went about my day. After spin class, I got ready to spend my morning with Henry again. I would have cancelled, but spending time with him would put me in better spirits. He wanted to go back to the bridge to play, and it wasn't until I had settled on my same perch that a shimmer caught my eye. I followed it down to my right hand, and there rested a dragonfly. Not just any dragonfly, but the same beautiful, purple one from the day before. It couldn't be. But after further inspection, I confirmed it was the same dragonfly. I started to wonder what this bug meant to me, but Henry's request to leave put it out of mind.
The next few days continued in a blur. Sunday became a double-dreaded day because it was my former boyfriend's gravestone unveiling in addition to Hannah's wake. So down to Philadelphia my father and I went, only to drive back immediately to see Hannah's family for the first time since the accident. All I could think about was how good it was that I already had a "funeral" dress. After the wake, I met up with friends and reminisced over drinks. It felt good to be around the people who knew and loved Hannah too.
On Monday morning, the pews were filled by the time my mom and I arrived at the funeral, so we stood along the wall. I watched friends weep as I cried for Hannah, who we all knew really lived her life. Afterwards, I rekindled high school friendships and tried to keep busy before heading back to school in the next few weeks. I stuffed my pain back inside me. "I've done this before; I can handle this," I'd repeat to myself as the tears would threaten to fall.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven
But one afternoon, on a routine run to clear my head, my legs took me to the graveyard, where I found a flower-covered gravesite showered in sunlight. It was only appropriate that no tree would ever block the sun near where she lay. Hannah was a sun child who would sunbathe from dawn 'til dusk whenever she could. As I sat down on the grass and turned my iPod off, the pent-up tears came.
All the pain, suffering, and longing to just hug her again came boiling to the surface and flooded out. At one point, I cried so hard I found myself curled up in the grass lying next to her asking why. Why her? Why again? Why now?
Unsure of how much time was passing, I calmed down and lay on my back, staring at the almost cloudless sky. I rolled to my left to lean on my side before getting up, and it appeared: a dragonfly. Blinking away the remaining tears, I couldn't believe my eyes. Was I really seeing a dragonfly? This time sitting on Hannah's grave marker? It couldn't be.
I reached out my hand towards the dragonfly. Instead of flying away, it flew closer to me and landed on the grass. I sat up, mesmerized by this beautiful creature. I bent my knees to hug them to my chest and tears began to creep up again. But before I could really cry, the dragonfly flew up and landed on my knee. That's when I started to laugh. This was no coincidence. I knew it was Hannah, visiting to comfort me.
I left the graveyard after the dragonfly caught a breeze and flew away. Even though my pain and ache for Hannah will never quite go away, I always keep an eye out for dragonflies because I know she's with me. It's only appropriate that she appeared as a dragonfly because she was as beautiful, vivacious, and gracious as one.

понедельник, 7 октября 2013 г.

From Chaos to Restoration

By Andrea Arthur Owan

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's household, then the LORD will be my God..."
~Genesis 28:20-21
While studying simplicity, our women's Bible study instructor asked us to determine our individual focus. I laughed outright. Focusing — on anything — was impossible.
In October, my husband, Chris, left a secure job for self-employment, but ensuring the company's success meant grueling work hours, and my younger son and I rarely saw him. He seemed oblivious to the destruction his obsessive behavior wreaked on our marriage and family. Work and success had replaced us, and the rejection felt final. Then my father died, and Christmas was marred by grief. My younger craved his dad's presence; my older son struggled uncharacteristically in college. In April, I battled injuries from a car accident and a hostile insurance company. Finances were shaky, and my marriage hung by a thread. One word summed up my life: chaos.
We'd weathered rough times before in our twenty-seven-year marriage, including our daughter's death, and God had shepherded us through every inch of life's difficulties. Yet now everything seemed to be unraveling. I was at the end of my coping rope, directionless and hopeless.
The one flickering light at the end of the tunnel was our upcoming vacation, but as the departure date neared, the business was at a critical, sink-or-swim juncture. Yet in my mind, this trip had been our last resort, a Hail Mary to save us. What should I do now?
No sooner had I cried out the question than God gave me an answer: go alone. Drive up the California coast? Alone? Having buried my own dreams for so long, I no longer knew my capabilities.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Wives
Go alone. It seemed as though God was giving me permission to cease striving and pleasing, to come away with Him. He seemed to say, "Let me take care of you, and everything else." So, I stepped out in faith.
I discarded electronic devices and rejected guilt. I feasted on sunsets, seashores and vistas. I saturated myself with God. I prayed and really listened to Him. As I journeyed, stress dropped like scales from my soul.
And my eyes were opened to how I'd contributed to my marriage's decline. I'd become weak and needy, unfairly expecting Chris to be everything to me. I helped too much, pushed too much, expected too much, enabled too much. I needed to get out of the way and let God work on Chris, so he could grow and become the man he was created to be. As clarity brightened the future, my spirit rejoiced.
Four days before the trip ended, Chris joined me. When I saw him standing curbside at the airport — duffle bag in hand, hopeful, expectant smile on his face — I knew my prayers were answered. Our three-day reunion was honeymoon-like. I shared with Chris everything I'd learned and asked for his forgiveness. Chris apologized for everything he'd done to the family.
Redeemed and restored, our future once again glowed with hope and purpose. I'd trusted God and taken a risk. He'd rewarded us with a miracle.

Girl Scout

By Tara Henson-Cameron

And Girl Scouting is not just knowing... but doing... not just doing, but being.
~Juliette G. Low
I can remember walking at least twenty blocks to those Brownie Girl Scout meetings every week. It was probably closer to five or six blocks, but I was only seven or eight years old, so it seemed farther.
I went faithfully every week... even though I was the only girl there who didn't have a vest or pretty uniform to wear. Even though I was the only girl there whose parents didn't drop her off, pick her up, or get involved in the troop in any way. Even though I never got to attend any of the outings, camps, or even sell cookies. Even though I didn't know my troop number or what that even was.
All I knew was that once a week I went to a place where everyone was nice to me. And even though I didn't know all their names, I knew that once a week I had lots of friends, at least for one night, because they said they were at the end of every meeting in our friendship circle. Someone always held my hand in the circle, and no one cared that I didn't have on a pretty uniform... they didn't care if my clothes weren't nice... if my hair was brushed... or that my parents never even paid my dues for that matter. What were dues anyway? I didn't know.
I don't remember the crafts we made or the projects we worked on. I don't remember family nights or my troop leader's name. I can only remember the feeling of belonging. I can only remember that for one night a week I wasn't the poor girl with tattered clothes. I wasn't the loner daydreaming in class while everyone laughed because I didn't hear the teacher call my name. I wasn't the girl with tangled hair that no one combed. I wasn't at home listening to the screaming or the sound of his fist when it collided with her skin.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers & Daughters

I was safe, and I was with people who didn't mind me being there, even though I never registered or never contributed to the troop in any way. I wasn't in the way, and I was welcome just as I was. I was someone. I was significant enough to be someone's friend and that made all the difference to me... at least once a week.
So today, at twenty-seven, I am a proud, registered Girl Scout in troop 198. I still don't wear a vest or pretty uniform. But my pretty little girl gets the skirt, shirt, vest, hat, and even the hoodie. She (with my help) sold just over 500 boxes of cookies this year. She earned enough "cookie dough" to pay her way to camp this summer. I told her that her cookie dough points could be used to buy anything she wanted in the Girl Scout shop or to go camping. Without hesitation, she decided she wanted to go camping. And while I was telling her the options on which camps she could go to, she decided, without hesitation, that she'd be going to the "Mommy and me" camp this year with her mommy.
My little girl loves being a Girl Scout. She may take for granted the pretty uniform she wears and even the fact that she's a registered scout whose Mommy makes sure it's done right. But I know that she's learning the things that matter most. She's learning what accepting others for who they are is all about. She's learning that beauty is what's inside someone's heart and not in their size, shape, status, clothes, or color of their skin. She's learning to love through acts of service to her community and those around here. She's learning that hard work pays off. She's learning about integrity and building good character. She will grow up and forget all those crafts and projects even though they are the building blocks that make the picture whole. But she will never forget the good character that was instilled in her. And she will always remember it when it's time to apply those tools to her life and helping others. I know because I was a Girl Scout too.

A White Feather

By Deborah Durbin

The guardian angels of life fly so high as to be beyond our sight, but they are always looking down upon us.
~Jean Paul Richter
It was about ten o'clock on a Saturday morning. Having changed my baby daughter Holly, aged eight months, I decided to take a trip to the shops to get something for our lunch. We lived in a small village at the time and although it was only a ten-minute drive to get to the local shops, the drive was via several narrow lanes. I had lived in the village all my life, so I knew the road like the back of my hand.
I strapped Holly into her car seat and we set off for the short journey, listening to her favourite nursery rhymes CD. We arrived at the local shops, went into the bakery and the post office, and then I strapped Holly back into the car and we set off for home.
The lanes in the village were never designed for heavy goods vehicles and yet truck drivers still insisted on using them as a short cut to get to the main road. Over the years I had signed many petitions that had been drawn up by other villagers, but the council still allowed them to use the narrow roads. So I was always careful navigating the lanes, in particular one very tight bend that was almost an S shape and just a little wider than one car. If another vehicle were coming the other way, one of them would have to reverse up the lane a few yards to allow the other to pass.
As we headed home and approached the S-bend, I put my foot gently on the brake just in case a car was coming the other way. As I drove round the bend, there heading straight toward us was a huge red truck. At the speed he was going, there was no way he would ever hit his brakes in time to stop and he was heading directly for our car.
I really believed that the truck was going to plough straight into us, so in a split second I hit my brakes, unbuckled my seat belt and threw myself over Holly. At least if I took the impact, she might survive. They say your life flashes before you, but that's not what happened to me. All that went through my mind was, "Right, this is my time then." My darling dad had a saying when he was alive: "When the white feather touches you on your head, then it is your time to go." All I remember thinking is, "I hope this doesn't hurt too much and I pray that my baby survives."
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels Among Us
In those few seconds, I closed my eyes and prepared myself for what was coming, telling Holly how much I loved her. I could hear the truck rumbling loudly towards us as I shielded my little girl.
Suddenly everything went completely silent. So silent that I thought the impact must have happened and I was already dead, being transported to heaven or wherever it is we go next. There was no noise whatsoever. After what seemed like ages, I gingerly opened my eyes. I was still lying across Holly, I was still in my car, and the road was completely quiet. No traffic, no truck coming towards us, nothing. It was as if a huge hand had picked up my car, moved it out of the way and placed it back down on the road again. I looked in the rearview mirror and there was no sign of the red truck. It had simply vanished into thin air.
Shakily I drove home. There wasn't another car on the road for the whole journey. When I got Holly out of her car seat, there in her seat was a small white feather.
I keep the feather in my car as a reminder that angels were looking after us that day, almost ten years ago, and I thank them every day for looking after us when we travel anywhere.

From Nuisance to Blessing

By Terri Elders

A dog is one of the remaining reasons why some people can be persuaded to go for a walk.
~O.A. Battista
From the first, I thought of him privately as Natty the Nuisance. My husband had picked up the puppy as a freebie from the Flour Mill, a local feed and hardware store where people bring unwanted litters. He'd been advertised as a Great Pyrenees mix, but he looked more like a Heinz 57 to me.
"Look, isn't he a lively one?"
Ken set the black ball of fur on the floor and our usually aloof adult female Akita bounded over to nuzzle him. She immediately flopped on the floor and rolled over on her back so that he could pounce on her belly and gnaw on her ankle.
"I just know this mutt will be a great companion for her," Ken said. "She's been lonely."
I just stared at the rollicking seven-week-old pup. That's just what I needed... another creature to pick up after, and a shaggy one, too. What a nuisance!
Besides the dogs, three cats also shared our house. I liked animals in theory, but Ken had been ailing for years, so feeding, grooming, walking and cleaning up after all of them fell on me.
I muttered through the weeks of mopping up messes until Natty was housebroken. I grumbled until he finally learned to lap water out of a bowl without tipping it over. He sensed I was not his fondest fan, and spent most of his time curled up in Ken's lap. When he got too big for that, he settled for resting his nose on Ken's knee as my ailing husband idled away his days watching reruns of Gunsmoke and Cheyenne. Whenever I walked into the living room, Natty would cast me a mournful glance, and then bound over to Ken's recliner to snag some petting.
The only time Natty ever came near me was when I ran a comb through our Akita's coat or cuddled a cat. Then he'd scamper over and nose my hand away from the other pet. If I ignored him and continued to groom or caress, he'd whine and whimper, and then poke my hand again, harder. A total nuisance, I'd say to myself, the world's biggest pest.
"I've never seen an animal that craved so much attention," I'd complain.
"Oh, he's just a puppy," Ken would say. "He'll outgrow it."
But he never did. Then last spring my husband died. In the days that followed, Natty's neediness quadrupled. He'd avoided me before, but now he wouldn't let me out of his sight. He'd track me from room to room, and if I settled down to read or to work on the computer, he'd immediately sidle up and start nudging my arm.
I felt sorry for him. Ken had been his constant companion. I know dogs mourn loss just as we humans do. Nonetheless, I didn't appreciate the annoying interruptions. I wondered vaguely if I should find another home for him, one where he could get all the attention he hungered for... maybe a family with children to play with. I had my Akita as a guard dog, so I couldn't figure out what purpose Natty really served.
Nearing his sixth birthday, which should be middle age for a dog of his size, Natty suddenly seemed to be sliding into an early senescence. I noticed that he spent most of his time in the backyard just lazing on the grass, watching the birds and occasionally barking as a truck passed the house. Where he used to shoot back and forth from the patio to the apple tree, now, if he even bothered to get up, he'd plod slowly across the lawn.
Kind of like me, I thought. But I'm well into my seventies and this dog was far too young to have severe arthritis as I do.
When I took Natty in for his annual checkup and shots, the vet didn't pull punches.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive
"No arthritis. He's pretty healthy. But he's overweight, and should lose around twenty-five pounds. I know it's hard, but see if you can walk him more."
I sighed. I needed to lose twenty-five pounds, too. I'd packed on weight during my husband's decline. In grief, I'd comforted myself with creamy casseroles and carrot cake. And though I lived on a country loop frequented by walkers, joggers and bikers, I found endless excuses to avoid walking that mile-long course myself. It was too hot. It was too cold. I was too tired. I was too old.
Twice daily I'd been taking the leashed Akita for a brief stroll up and down in front of my property, with Natty trotting along beside us. But I hadn't walked the mutt around the loop since his puppyhood.
The next morning I dragged out Natty's old leash. While I snapped it onto his collar he thudded his tail against the front door. At least one of us was excited. I put on my jacket and mittens and the two of us set out.
To my surprise, Natty confidently lead the way, keeping a steady pace, not stopping to sniff at every twig the way his Akita sister does. He marched ahead, tugging me in his wake, not even pausing when neighbor dogs scrambled to the front of their owner's property to growl their territorial rights.
To my surprise, I enjoyed breathing in the scent of lilacs on the fresh spring air, feeling my heart beat a little faster from the mild exercise, even running my fingers through Natty's coarse fur when I reached down to pat him in approval when he heeled rather than strained to chase a passing car.
The next day we did it again. Then again. Soon we settled into a routine. If I grow too engrossed in catching up on my e-mail correspondence, around 10 AM Natty will be at my side, shoving his snout under my arm. Or if I become too distracted by household chores, he'll plant himself by the front door and rumble until I remember it's time for our walk.
Nowadays I see Natty as a blessing rather than a nuisance. Though the Akita remains my bodyguard, my elegant and diligent protector, scruffy Natty has become my personal untrained therapy dog. Together we're striding into shape.
He's nudged me into a new lease on life.

Lucky Pen

By Kimber Krochmal

A hundred hearts would be too few
To carry all my love for you.
~Author Unknown
"Mommy, I got something for you!" Cody ran through the door after school. His face wore the biggest smile ever. He waved something above his head. "It's a pen. But not just any pen. It's a lucky pen!"
He handed me the pen proudly. He stood in front of me with his shoulders back and his chest puffed out, waiting for my reaction.
I looked at the pen in my hand. There was nothing special about it. It looked just like any other ballpoint pen. I had a drawer full of them. But oh, looks can be deceiving. I didn't realize how special it was at the time or how much I would come to treasure it.
I had made the decision to pursue a career in writing. A decision that was full of fear and anxiety for me. I had dreamed about it for a long time but I was afraid to take a chance. I was scared of rejection.
The night before, I had voiced those fears to my husband when I thought Cody wasn't listening. "What if everyone hates my writing and I fail miserably?"
But Cody always did hear more than he was supposed to. Now he stood in front of me, watching me examine the pen.
"You don't have to be scared now," he said. "This pen will make your stories great and everyone will love you."
Tears filled my eyes. I grabbed him and pulled him tight against me. I was afraid to speak. Afraid I would break down sobbing if I tried. With that pen, my six-year-old put everything in perspective.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Parenthood
Rejection didn't seem like such a big deal any more. Even if I never sold the first story, I had everything I could ever need. I knew that pen would bring me luck, though. How could it not? I felt lucky already, just by having Cody in my life.
I found out just how lucky when I heard what he did to get it. In the lunchroom, Cody heard an older boy talking about having a lucky pen. He had to get it for me. The boy was a tough negotiator but Cody didn't give up. In the end, he traded his lunch, his favorite Matchbox car, two army men his brother gave him, a crayon, and a piece of candy. He traded his most prized possessions for that pen. Just to make me feel better.
I still have that pen, though it's long out of ink, in a cup on my desk. When a rejection letter arrives and I start feeling sorry for myself, I look at it and remember just how lucky I am.
For while I treasure that pen, it's the little boy who gave it to me who's the real treasure.

The Unexpected Difference

By Rebecca Snyder

To teach is to learn twice.
~Joseph Joubert
For a statewide teacher forum, I was asked to create a table presentation characterizing my classroom, my students, our district and community. As an avid scrapbooker, I immediately relished the idea of creating photo collages and carefully arranging artifacts and mementos that would illustrate the important work teachers do inside the world of their own classrooms.
So, for weeks, I sifted through file drawers and shoeboxes, searched in cabinets and in closets. I was hoping to find just the right prints or memorabilia that would capture the spirit and personality of my school and community — that would capture the difference I had made as a teacher. All through September, I unearthed photos of lesson activities and keepsakes I knew I had stored in a file folder in the back of one of those drawers. I asked my colleagues to help me find images or objects that would represent our most famous community members, like Mr. Rogers and Arnold Palmer, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who hold training camp nearby. By mid-October, I had found those things. But, I had also found something unexpected, something much more dear, and very rare.
I found pictures of Gavin who gave up two weeks as a high school senior one summer to help fifth and sixth graders craft puppets out of socks at elementary drama camp. I found notes from and pictures of Calvin whom I had taught for almost six years, and remembered how he always made sure every classmate felt accepted and valued. I found a résumé written by Carrie who supported herself without the help of parents, and who despite her often late night shifts, never missed a day of class. I found a worn copy of Robert Cormier's I Am the Cheese that Pete proclaimed was the first book he had ever finished. I found student-questions scrawled on slips of paper and Post-it notes. I found a copy of Macbeth in Portuguese that belonged to an exchange student who read it first in her own language, before reading it again in ours, just so she could be sure she wasn't missing something important in the translation. I found Kelly and Sarah; Mark and Abby; Matt, Justin, Laura, Morgeaux, and Dave. I found Erin, Cady, Bree, and Lisa; Lindsey, Charlie, Hilary, and Kate. Amanda, Taylor, and Nenny.
I found my students.
The students who had made me laugh. The students who had moved me with their courage and compassion. The students who had challenged me to question what I knew of the world outside my own hemisphere, the students who inspired me to expect more from them and from myself.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales
What I found was evidence of a real difference. Not the difference I had made in their lives, but the difference they had made in mine. There I was, standing at my filing cabinet reviewing lessons — not those I had taught, but the many I had learned. Lessons in strength and perseverance, humility and honesty. Lessons in laughter, joy, and grace.
I came to teaching, as most teachers do, hoping to touch the hearts and minds of my students. What I never expected was how powerfully they would touch mine.
In September, my table presentation was an assignment, and I went about completing it as a professional task. In October my work became very personal, and served as a wonderful reminder of just how powerful a place a classroom can be, not just for students, but also for teachers. And, when I arrived at the forum with my presentation in tow, it wasn't a display of any difference I had made, but the difference my students had made. It didn't display lessons of my design, but my students' lessons, the ones they had taught me. I looked around at the other displays and found a similar theme. I didn't see graphs or report cards. I didn't see unit plans or portfolios. I saw stuffed animals, hats, pumpkins and patches — electronic photo albums, smiling faces, storybooks, and even fishing flies. I saw keepsakes and mementos that spoke of caring, compassion, motivation, and enthusiasm. I saw tokens of kindness and souvenirs of bravery and creativity.
I saw a real difference — the difference made by students who have walked in and out of our classrooms, in and out of our lives, in and out of our hearts.
In making lesson plans, all teachers have to ask "What will this day's lesson be?" The question begins with the students as audience, but it's a question that I now turn on myself. Today I walk through the door of my classroom ready to teach, but also eager to learn from the young people who are excited to teach me about them — their insights and interests, problems and anxieties, hopes and fears. We teachers are masters of prepared lessons, but should always appreciate that the unexpected lessons, both simple and profound, effect the most powerful difference, for they make students of us all.