Monday, February 20, 2017

Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge?

My oldest niece and I are only a few days shy of being 27 months apart in age. I've often wondered who was more freaked out back then ... my mom who had a toddler when her teenage daughter had a baby or my sister who had a baby when her youngest sibling was a toddler. Something tells me there were more than a few times of total weirdness when my mom, my sister, my niece Sharon and I were out in public together. I mean, think about it ... people thinking mom was my grandmother ... people thinking my sister was my mom ... people trying to figure out why my niece and I looked as different as day and night. Even though I'm sure there was much awkwardness in the beginning, it all turned out well ... at least for my niece and I ... we grew up more like sisters than cousins and we were the best of buds. 

I can't remember how close in time it was when my niece and I each got married, but I think it may have been within a year or so of each other. She beat me to the punch in the having kids department, though, with her son Jeremy being born a year before my Mattie and her second child Rachel. Yep, you read that correctly ... my niece and I were both pregnant at the same time ... her with her second child and me with my first. Talk about a fun time ... we went baby clothes shopping together ... we downed gallons of fruit juice together ... we even had a baby shower together. She beat me to the punch again when her precious little girl Rachel was born a couple of months prior to Matt's arrival into the world.

Maybe it's because we were pregnant at the same time or maybe it's because Rachel and Matt were born so close together or maybe it's because my niece and I babysat for each other quite a bit or maybe it's because she's always been such a sweet kid, but I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Rachel and I'd do just about anything for her. Heck, I even drove all the way from Kansas to Tennessee in a car with three smelly teenagers to be at her wedding ... if that doesn't say best great aunt EVER, then I don't know what does. Rachel and Kevin's wedding ... that's the day two of the sweetest, kindest, most compassionate and loving young people I've ever known stood before God and their family and friends and made a promise to love and cherish each other for the rest of their lives. No matter what ... that's the day they said that no matter what life brought their way, they were committed to loving and caring for each other ... no matter what.

Before I go on, I want you to know that I asked Kevin and Rachel if it was okay with them if I wrote this post about them, saying I wouldn't mention their names and would only refer to them as members of my family. Big fat tears rolled down my cheeks when I read Rachel's text telling me not only that I could write about them, but that I could use their names as well. If I didn't already know that they're incredibly wonderful, brave, honest and courageous young people before, I certainly knew it the minute I read my sweet great niece's words on my phone. And now I've come to the hard part of my post this evening, the part I wish with all my heart I never had to write.

Several months ago, Kevin started having some muscle weakness that he thought was probably caused from overdoing it a little when he was working out. Then he began to experience a little difficulty in swallowing and he noticed that he seemed to be losing his balance and stumbling more than he had before. It became apparent to Kevin that there was something more going on than just working out too hard or that his throat was just sore or that his inner ear might be out of whack, he went to the doctor to find out what was wrong. The doctor ordered a battery of tests ... tests in which the results indicated Kevin might have ALS, a diagnosis which has since been confirmed by other physicians at two of the top research hospitals in the country.

Please know this ... I'm not writing this post tonight because I want you to feel sorry for Kevin and Rachel or their two young children, and that's not what they want either. I'm not writing tonight to ask you to send a big fat check to the ALS Association or to encourage you to start round two of the ice bucket challenge to raise funds to help find a cure. Don't get me wrong ... if you feel led to donate a big chunk of change to fund research toward finding a cure for this terrible disease, I'll be the first in line to encourage you to do so but please know that's not what my post this evening is about. I'm writing this post tonight about Kevin and Rachel for one reason only, and that reason is indeed something I want to ask you to do. I'm writing this post tonight because I know many of you believe, as I do, in the power of prayer and I'm asking you to pray. 

I'm asking you to pray that God will choose to reach down and heal Kevin, yes, but I'm also asking you to pray that if He chooses not to do so that he will continue to give both he and Rachel the strength, the faith, the courage and the love to face what's ahead of them. I'm asking you to pray for their two precious children ... their little boy is five years old and their little girl is eight months. I'm asking you to pray for understanding and patience and strength for their family ... that's why I'm writing this post tonight ... to ask you to pray for Kevin and Rachel and their precious children. I've lost faith and confidence in many things over the last year or so, but there's one thing I continue to believe in with every fiber in my being ... miracles happen every single day, friends ... I believe that God still works miracles every single day. 

To you, Rachel and Kevin ... thank you for trusting me to share your story ... thank you for teaching me daily what real courage and faith look like ... thank you for loving me and for letting me love you right back. I may not be there with you in body, but know that I am forever and always with you in heart. Love you both so very, very much.

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the holy one of Israel, your Savior." --- Isaiah 43:2-3


Friday, February 17, 2017

Invitado Especial de Esta Noche

The summer following my junior year of college, I spent three months taking extensive Spanish language classes in Guadalajara, Mexico. My place of residence for those three months was in the home of the Lopez family ... Guillermo and Carmen, and their son Miguel. From the moment I arrived, they treated me as if I were one of their own. They were kind, compassionate, loving and giving people, and they welcomed me ... a total stranger to them ... and they welcomed me into their home and treated me like family. That summer I learned something far more important than Spanish, friends. That summer I learned that it's not age or gender or language or skin color or sexuality or faith that divides us ... that summer I learned that the only thing that separates us is our hearts.

Unless you live under a rock on another planet, you know that there's a great division in our country ... a greater division than I think I've seen in my lifetime. It's easy to lose hope and to spend our time living in fear of what tomorrow may bring or focusing on what we can't do rather than what we can. But ... but ... but ... we mustn't give up ... we must stand with the young men and women who are the future not only of our country, but of the entire world. They are the ones who bring me and countless others the hope of a brighter tomorrow ... they are the ones who are stepping up to fight against injustice ... to say no to discrimination and racism ... to speak out for the victims of sexual abuse. They are the ones who won't give up until real and lasting change comes ... they are the ones who aren't afraid to say enough is enough ... they are the ones who make me proud to be an American.

Tonight's post was written by a young man who is a copywriter for the company where I work. He told me I could print his name ... because he's not afraid to say enough is enough ... because he will not give up until real and lasting change comes ... because he's one of the ones who make me and so many others proud to call ourselves Americans. Thank you, Matt, for speaking from your heart ... thank you so very much, my friend ... so very much.

     by Matt Stacks
You’ll start learning the Spanish alphabet in 7th grade.

ah. bay. say. chay. day. ay. f-ay. hota. ka. l-ay. m-ay. n-ay. n-yay. oh. pay. cuh. air-ay. airrrrrrrrr-ay. ess-ay. tay. oooooh. vay. dough-blah-vay. eh-keys. e-gree-ay-gah. say-ta.

Then you move onto colors.
ah-zool. ver-day. ah-ma-ree-o. a-na-ran-ha-do.

And vocabulary words.
guy-yee-nahs lay way-vos.
I pack my muh-lay-tahs and arrive at the air-o-pwer-toe.

So you learn a list of words. And then another list. And one more. Then conjugations of words. All of this standard info. But when you’re armed with these words, they open up new worlds.

You’re now in high school, and you think you’re pretty cool because you can politely ask for extra cheese at Chipotle. Yo quisiera un poco más queso, por favor. You like the empowerment.

But you’re white. Really white. Like can’t-shower-after-a-sunburn-for-three-whole-days white. And you have no one to talk to in Spanish.

So you look for opportunities to speak to any native speakers you can find. You start listening more. You learn about struggles your Cuban-American Spanish teacher had to endure to come to America. He moved here when he was little. Too little. He’s a weathered man now. How he longs to go back to his país natal.

You’ll spend two weeks as a senior teaching two brothers from Durango, Mexico, how to speak English at Sacred Heart Elementary. You’ll see their carefree smiles. You’ll see them full of life. And, at recess, they’ll give you an education in fútbol.

Then you’ll go to college. And you’ll study more Spanish. You’ll read novellas and you’ll watch películas. You’ll learn about women’s literature of Spain in the sixteenth century. You’ll discuss the sacred pilgrimage route, El Camino de Santiago, that passes through the heart of Spain.

Then you’ll volunteer at a place called El Centro. You’ll see people in KCK come for help. You’ll interact with illegal immigrants. You’ll discover that these people have many of the same hopes and dreams as you. You’ll learn that the road to becoming a citizen of the United States is arduous. You’ll be surprised to find out that these illegal immigrants pay their taxes by April 18, just like the majority of us. You’ll look them in their ojos. And you’ll see another human standing in front of you.

They’ll have come from all over—Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Colombia. They’ll tell you they have family back home. That they want to all be together. That it’s just too difficult to come here legally. So you’ll ask yourself why you got so lucky. Why random, pure luck birthed you as a white American male, and them not. You’ll wonder what separates you. The answer? Nada mucho.

You’ll donate to El Centro to help these people help themselves. You know you can do more. You can always do more.

And then a president will take power. He will assume all Latinos are Mexican. He’s going to build un gran muralla to separate the United States and Mexico, he tells us. He’ll say they are bad hombres. His Spanish is not better than yours. He will call them all rapists and murderers.

He is wrong.

The Latinos you know are twin brothers from Durango, dancing wildly because they learned that zapatos are also called “choos.” A Mexican-American professor whose daughter graduates from Harvard. A Cuban-American high school teacher who laughs at ill-conceived jokes by 17-year-olds. A Guatemalan who lives across the hall in your freshman dorm and who crushes you every time you play Ping-Pong.

So you’ll fight for those who come here to make a better life. Who are as human as you. Who live out the virtues of America more than many Americans. And you’ll wonder if it’ll get better. It will. You’ll close your eyes and see how your life has been changed and enriched because of that extra alphabet you learned. And you’ll wonder, “Can we all overcome this bigot in the White House?”

Si se puede. En juntos.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

An Island Never Cries

When my son Brad informed me a couple of weeks before my last trip to Maine that he had made arrangements for us to spend two days on an island, I was both excited and nervous at the same time. Listening to Brad's description of the peacefulness of the island and the rustic nature of the accommodations sounded like something straight out of Swiss Family Robinson, one of my all-time favorite movies when I was a kid. I'll admit that I wasn't completely thrilled about the outdoor shower and the composting toilets part of my son's explanation of what awaited me on the island, but I was excited about the adventure of it all. I was a nervous wreck about surviving the hour-long boat ride ... the hour-long boat ride in the middle of the ocean with waves and sea creatures and memories of puking my guts out in cars and airplanes because of motion sickness ... oh, yeah, you bet your butt I was nervous about the boat ride.

The more my Brad talked about the mother and son excursion he had planned for the two of us, the bigger the lump in my throat swelled ... my 28-year-old son was actually excited about taking his old gray-haired mom to a secluded island. When we ended our chat that evening, there wasn't a doubt in my mind I would do whatever it took to get myself on that boat and go to that island with my boy. And, believe it or not, my steadfast determination to overcome my fear didn't falter even a little bit. When the day arrived for us to embark on our island journey, I popped a couple of Dramamine, tried really hard not to think about the boat sinking and all the creatures that would eat me if it did, and I climbed on that lobster boat and spent two of the most remarkable days of my life on Hurricane Island off the coast of Maine with my son.

Now Brad had told me before I departed on this particular trip to Maine that he and Shelby intended to make me see and experience all kinds of new things and that some of those things would push me far outside of my comfort zone. I'm fairly certain, however, that me taking two hard falls in a matter of two days wasn't part of their plan. Now that I think about it, though, the result of those falls was that I was far, far away from being comfortable for several days ... hmmm ... maybe they did plan them after all ... hmmm. My first tumble occurred when we were almost back to the car after climbing a massive beast of a mountain. Okay, okay ... maybe it wasn't a Rocky Mountains kind of mountain, but it was a mountain nonetheless. I made the mistake of briefly looking up at Shelby instead of continuing to watch my feet as I walked down the steep trail, and before I knew what was happening, I came crashing down onto a good-sized rock at the edge of the path. Even though the sound my arm made when it hit the rock made me think I must surely have broken a bone, my injuries were confined to scrapes, abrasions, bruises that were topped off with a sizable wallop of embarrassment. Little did I know that in less than 24 hours, I would think that particular rocky encounter was more like a stroll in the park than a fall.

Brad's description of the island didn't disappoint ... I have never seen such beauty, my friends, and that's saying a lot from a gal who's always been a bigger fan of the mountains thaI have the ocean ... well, at least I was until I crashed and burned on one anyway. From the massive boulders that lined its shoreline to the ancient trees that towered at its highest point, the island beckoned me to leave my fast-paced life behind and to rest in its quiet and simple existence. I instantly envied the dozen or so residents of the island as Brad introduced me to them ... they live on the island six months out of the year teaching various student groups about marine life and sustainable living. To live in that beauty and be doing such amazing work? Oh yes, I was both amazed and jealous ... wow ... just wow. 

Following the introductions, Brad and I stowed our gear in the small boat house next to the dock and hopped ... actually, I gingerly stepped ... into a small motorboat which took us to the other side of the island and dropped us off. Brad had agreed to do some additional filming for the foundation that manages the island in exchange for them allowing him to bring me to the island, and he was anxious to get his drone in the air. That's my boy, alright ... he always finds a way to make the impossible possible. I watched Brad scamper across the big boulders ... leaping from one to the other like a gazelle ... as I took my time along a less challenging route, picking up various rocks along the way to add to my collection back at home. I eventually arrived at the spot where Brad was filming, and I sat on a boulder and watched him as he maneuvered the drone in the sky. I ate a protein bar and drank some water ... heck, I even caught the drone a few times when Brad brought it in for a landing. The sun was shining brightly ... the wind was blowing gently ... the waves were rolling easily ... it was as close to a perfect day as I've ever experienced.

I'm not sure how long we lingered on the boulder, but after a while Brad said he needed to change locations. He once again scampered across the giant, rounded pillars of rock, and I once again walked slowly, stopping now and then to rub my much more sore than I would admit arm, shoulder and thighs. In order for me to get to where Brad was standing, I had no choice but to make my way across some of the not as big but still big boulders ... slowly and carefully, no gazelle jumping for me. When I was within a few feet of Brad, I said, "Look, Buddy, the whole front pocket of my hoodie is full of a bunch of cool rocks I found." I then stepped off of the rock where I was standing to the one just below it ... at least I intended to step from one rock to another, but instead my overtired thigh muscle decided not to go along with my plan. Remember how I said the other fall turned out to be a walk in the park? I wasn't quite as fortunate in the injury department the second fall around ... my island crash left me with a bloody chin and knee, and the top of my right hand was ... well, let's just suffice it to say that the top of my right hand was so chewed up that once I convinced my freaked-out son that I was okay, I went in the woods, took off the t-shirt I was wearing under my hoodie and wrapped up my by then dripping blood hand.

By now, I bet you're wondering why you're still reading this forever long and seemingly meaningless tale of when I fell down ... twice ... and got all banged up on my last trip to Maine. I'm sharing the stories of me falling down ... twice ... because I think there are some lessons I'm supposed to learn from those embarrassing and painful falls. Lessons about being careful ... lessons about misplaced trust ... lessons about paying attention ... lessons about keeping my guard up ... lessons about watching where I'm going ... lessons about strength and weakness. And perhaps the greatest lesson came to me through the words of my sweet son as we walked to our bunkhouse on the island ... in the dark ... him holding my arm so that I didn't fall a third time. The lesson to remember what matters most ... it's not how many times you fall that matters, it's how many times you get up and try again.

"This almost makes me wish I had kids, Mom."

"So that you could bring them to the island, buddy?"

"No. So that I could tell them what a bad-ass Ghee they have, Mom."

It's the getting up and trying again that matters, friends ... it is indeed.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Maybe I Shouldn't. But Then Again, Maybe I Should.

Last week I was sicker than I've been in years. I had a nasty sore throat, a massive headache and a queasy stomach. But those symptoms were nothing compared to the miserable aches and pains that came with the 103 degree fever I had for almost four full days. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that my eyelids even hurt when I opened them ... I literally hurt from the top of my head to the ends of my toes and everywhere else in between as well. God surely was looking out for me this last week because I didn't get dehydrated even with such a high temp, and my blood sugar stayed pretty level even though I definitely didn't eat as much or as often as I should have. I really and truly can't remember when I've been that sick, and I certainly hope and pray that I never get that sick again ... never, never ever do I want to be that sick again.

Over the last several years, I've done more reading about the workings of the human brain than I ever would have imagined I would do. Maybe had I been more scientifically inclined when I was younger I would have spent more time gaining more understanding in regard to just how important that gray blob of matter that resides within my skull really is. It wasn't until I found myself drowning in the black sea of depression that I began consuming every bit of information I could in my attempt to understand what was happening to me. Words like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine and gamma-aminobutyric acid went from being things I'd never heard of before to being things in my brain that weren't working correctly. And once I discovered that all those little critters were malfunctioning inside my head, then words such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, central nervous system stimulants and dopamine reuptake blockers went from being nonsensical pharmaceutical jargon to me to being medications that quite literally saved my life.

Though I can't remember when I've been as physically ill as I was last week, I remember all too well how violently ill my brain was on this day five years ago. It was on this day ... three short days after the birth of my first grandchild ... that I sat at my kitchen table staring at the stark white envelopes that held what I fully intended to be my last words to those I loved. I had the pills in my right hand and the glass of tea in my left, convinced that dying was my only way out ... my only way out of the searing pain of depression ... my only way out of the heartbreaking misery of spending a lifetime hiding the truth about who I was. I was planning to die on this day five years ago ... but yet here I sit on my couch this evening with my sweet little wiener dog buddy's head nestled on my leg as I pen this post. I'd say God surely was looking out for me on that day five years ago when He sent along a friend to interrupt my plan.

Sometimes I think maybe I shouldn't remember where I was on this day five years ago. Maybe I shouldn't remember the goodbye texts I sent to my children that morning ... maybe I shouldn't remember the oppressive darkness that enveloped me ... maybe I shouldn't remember the letters I wrote to my loved ones or the videos I made for my newborn granddaughter ... maybe I shouldn't remember the fear or the pain or the loneliness or the desperation that made me believe with every fiber in my being that death would be better than life. Sometimes I think maybe I shouldn't allow the significance of this day to continue to reside within my mind.

But then again, maybe I should ... maybe I should always remember where I was on this day five years ago. Maybe I should remember the interruption ... maybe I should remember flushing the pills down the toilet ... maybe I should remember that on this day five years ago, I was given a second chance at life. Maybe I should forever remember the wonderfully courageous people who've walked with me over the last five years ... my incredible children (all six of them) and my precious grandgals ... my family back home in Tennessee ... my friends like Pat and Debbie and Joe and Donna and Leonora and Hilary and Ann and Rob and Yosef and Jeanne and Lynell and Aimee and Karen and Rand and Tonya and Ali and Verlin and Jim and Ele and so many, many more. People who believe in me when I don't believe in myself ... people who continue to believe even five years later that I'm still worth saving ... people who make me want to stay alive. 

Maybe I shouldn't mark this day each year. But then again, maybe I should, friends ... maybe I should indeed.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

But You Ain't No Fly

My oldest granddaughter's birthday was yesterday ... her fifth birthday. How can it even be possible that she's five years old already? They say the older you get, the faster times goes by and I've decided that's especially true when it comes to how quickly my two little grandgals are growing up. It seems like it was only yesterday that my little Boo was just a newborn ... I barely blinked and now she's five years old ... five years old ... seriously, how did those five years go by so quickly? She went from not even being able to hold her head up to crawling to walking to running to ... riding a horse. A big horse ... a really, really, really big horse, not a pony. Yep, my little Boo rides on a gigantic beast of a horse named Kota. In fact, in the last two videos my sweet daughter-in-law sent me, my itsy-bitsy little Boo baby looked like a natural sitting in the saddle atop that beast horse as he trotted ... yes, I said trotted ... around the rink.

I'm not sure who was more excited yesterday about what was in the mysterious package that arrived in Canada exactly on the day of Coraline's fifth birthday ... me or my little my little horse-loving granddaughter. I had begged Becca to message me when the gift arrived so that I could Skype with Coraline and watch her open it. The look on her precious little face when she saw the adorable cowboy boots ... or in Coraline's words "real equestwian boots" ... the smile on her face and the way her eyes lit up was nothing less than priceless. We only Skyped for a few minutes because I had to get back to work, but it only takes a few minutes for a sweet little Canadian girl to know how very much this old Ghee loves her.

One of my co-workers in our Wichita office messaged me a little after 11 a.m. today to tell me there were several proofing projects coming my way. As we chatted back and forth about when the work needed to be returned, she mentioned that she figures in enough time for proofing so that I don't have to work through lunch and I commented on how much I appreciate her doing so and thanked her for always being so kind and considerate to me and that I'll always bust my butt for someone who's nice. Then I told her something my dad used to tell me over and over and over again.

"You catch a lot more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, Sam. Don't forget that."

Now if you've been reading along with me for a while, you know that my dad was pretty much the wisest and most profound man who ever lived and he had a heart for others like no one I've ever known. Something tells me that had my sweet old Daddy been able to do so, he would have given my co-worker a high-five and a gigantic hug when he read her reply. And I also think he would have thunked me on the head and told me I needed to listen to people like her and ignore the ones who ... well ... let's just say those who think otherwise of me.

"Aww - you're the sweetest! But you're no fly!"

My kind friend in Wichita had no way of knowing how very deeply her words would touch me today, nor did she have any idea of how very much I needed to be reminded that not everyone has the old song "Shoo fly, don't bother me" playing in their head every time they interact with me. Why is that, do you think? Why is it so much easier to believe the ones who think you're nothing more than a bothersome fly that they wish they could shoo away than it is to believe the ones who think you're a majestic eagle that they wish they could keep forever? Why is that, do you think? Why indeed, friends ... why  indeed?

Lest I be inundated with emails asking why I began this evening's post with the story of my granddaughter's birthday and her love of horses, I shall leave you with this glimpse into the caverns of my terrifically jumbled brain. I pretty much always think of my dad's admonition to always use honey rather than vinegar when attempting to catch flies whenever the concept of treating one another with kindness is discussed. And when I think of Daddy's quite wise and profound words concerning honey, vinegar and fly-catching, I, quite naturally, think of flies. And when I think of flies, I think of horses and the way they swish their tails and do that thing with their ears to get the flies off of themselves. And when I think of horses, I think of a sweet little blonde-haired Canadian gal ... a sweet little blonde-haired Canadian gal who just so happened to have a birthday yesterday ... her fifth birthday.

Time flies, friends ... use lots and lots and lots of honey and pitch your bottle of vinegar in the trash. And remember ... you ain't no fly ... you surely ain't no fly to me.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Fox and the Hound

One of the things that appealed to me the most about the apartment complex I eventually chose to move to was its location. Shortening my commute to and from work was critically important to me, but there are tons of apartment complexes that meet that criteria ... in fact, there are a whole bunch of them not far from where I live. What I instantly loved about the complex I chose, however, wasn't the fact that it's much closer to work ... though I'm totally digging my seven-minute commute to and from work ... what I instantly loved was that it felt like I was out in the woods rather than in the middle of the city.

I thought for sure the maintenance guy was just pulling my leg when he told me the week after I moved in that humans and their domesticated pets weren't the only creatures living in the woodsy-feeling apartment complex. He had a bit of a twinkle in his eye when he talked about the "raccoon subway," and a wide grin spread across his face as he rattled off the names he had bestowed upon the resident family of deer. But when I asked him if there was a walking trail through the woods, he reached out to pet Ollie's furry head and said, "Yes maam, there is, but you shouldn't take this little guy out in the woods. I've seen bobcats and foxes out there, and then there's the snakes, too." The minute he said the "s" word, I decided right then and there that my little wiener dog and I would be sticking to the pavement on our walks ... snakes scare the living poop out of me.

It only took a few weeks for my skepticism regarding the validity of the kind, older gentleman's description of the animal kingdom I had unknowingly moved into to disappear. It was during the holidays, and I was stretched out on my couch reading a book when I noticed what I first thought was a dog trotting down the street in front of my apartment. I quickly realized that the furry reddish creature that was loping down the street was not a dog but a fox. He was a good-sized fellow, and the white at the end of his long slender tail stood in stark contrast to the cinnamon red of his coat. I quietly opened the sliding glass door and walked onto my deck so that I could see where the sly old fox was heading. I watched quietly as he glided down the street and into the woods, and I wondered if he was cold when I saw him burrow down into a pile of leaves. Within a matter of seconds, however, I realized that Mr. Fox was not cold at all ... he was hungry. I'll spare you the details, but a few minutes later, Mr. Fox headed back up the street with a lifeless squirrel dangling from his mouth.

The mind is such a funny thing ... it's been weeks since I stood on my deck and watched old Mr. Fox score his dinner, but it was only last night that he decided to make an appearance in my dreams. I'm not sure why, but I had one of those super intense "I really miss my big dog Julie" days yesterday. I miss that old girl a lot, but yesterday I missed her an extra lot. My sweet Jules was hands-down one of the happiest dogs I've ever known ... she was always ready and willing to play or snuggle on my lap or wrestle with Ollie. For people who say that dogs can't smile ... well ... those people never met my Julie girl. I dream about her every now and then, and most often those dreams are happy ones. But last night, I dreamed that Julie was in the woods with Mr. Fox, and it was not a happy dream at all. Again, I'll spare you the details, but I woke up in a cold sweat because Mr. Fox had done to my beautiful hound what he had done to the squirrel.

The terrifying dream has marched through my mind countless times today even though I tried my best to keep it at bay. It struck me this evening that maybe I can't get the dream out of my head because there's something I'm supposed to learn from it ... some wisdom or lesson or truth I'm meant to understand, though if that's the case, I haven't figured out what it is yet. Unless ... maybe ... maybe my dream was to make me search my heart and think about whether I'm the fox or the hound in the way I treat others. Do I lie in wait for the opportunity to attack or do I smile, wag my tail and try to make others happy? When others are wounded and bleeding, do I go in for the kill or do I do everything I can to care for them and help them to heal?

Fox or hound ... which one are you, friend ... which one are you? 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Only Yardstick That Matters

If my sweet dad ever grew weary of me sticking to him like glue when I was a little kid, he certainly never let it show. Not only did he let me follow him around, he never once got upset with me for being right up in the middle of whatever project he happened to be working on at the time. I enjoyed every minute I spent tagging along with Daddy as he worked, but I really, really, really loved it when his project of the day called for the use of the mystical, magical, majestic chalk line. I remember it like it was yesterday ... Daddy would get this extra-special twinkle in his eye as he looked at me and said, "Alright, Sam, go ahead and make us a good line." Seriously, I remember it like it was yesterday ... the sound of the old line snapping ... the sparkling blue of the chalk ... the pride in Daddy's voice when he said, "Now that there's one fine line ... that there's a line you can measure by, Sam ... that there's a line that's straight and true ... that there's one fine line, Sam."

A few days ago, I posted the photo below on my Facebook page ...

... and a good friend of mine left the following comment on that post ...

"It's the only yardstick that matters."

I haven't been able to get my friend's words out of my brain since the moment I read them, and I know why ... his words won't leave my mind because they are so very profound and so very true.

If we were to get gut honest with each other, my guess is that I'm not the only one who worries about measuring up to the standards or expectations of others. Let's just be real with each other and admit it ... here, I'll say it first ... I spend a boatload of time worrying about how other people feel about me or how they see me or what kind of yardstick they're using to determine if I'm worthy to have a place in their lives. And I spend even more time worrying that no matter which yardstick they choose to use ... intelligence or wealth or beauty or power or social status or job title ... I'll never be able to measure up. Now go back and read that list of yardsticks again ... sad, isn't it? So very sad that the yardsticks so many of us use to measure one another really have nothing at all to do with who we are on the inside. So many of the yardsticks we use have absolutely nothing to do with who we are as people ... nothing to do with the goodness, or evilness as the case may be, of our hearts ... nothing to do with respect or compassion or kindness or mercy or patience or grace or love. So many of the yardsticks we use don't even begin to come anywhere close to measuring what is most important ... the way we treat one another.

"It's the only yardstick that matters."

He's right, you know ... my friend is right ... how we treat one another really is the only yardstick that matters ... it really and truly is.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Watching My Pocket

Back in the late 1800s, there was a string of train collisions that were caused in part by the inaccuracy of the timekeeping pieces of engineers and conductors. When one of those collisions took the lives of several people, a commission was appointed and tasked with developing a universal set of timekeeping standards for all railroads. It took two years, but in 1893 the General Railroad Timepiece Standards went into effect and railroad officials scurried to place their orders with William Bond & Sons, the American agent for Barroud & Lund of London. And that, friends, was the birth of one of the most valued and treasured watches in all of history ... the railroad pocket watch.

I remember my dad saying that once the love of trains and railroading got in your blood, it was there forever. That statement was certainly true for Daddy ... he worked for the Southern Railway for 50 years. I never understood what a big deal that was until now, you know ... working at the same place for 50 years ... that kind of loyalty and commitment to a company is pretty rare in many workplaces today. While I would never claim to love all things trains as much as Daddy did, I think he's probably smiling in heaven as I type these words ... I really, really, really love pocket watches, especially the railroad pocket watches of days gone by.

Several people have given me pocket watches down through the years, and I treasure every one of them just as I do the people who gave them to me. Though I love all of my pocket watches, there's one in particular that is extra special to me. It's not a railroad watch, and it's not a fancy, expensive, made by a Swiss watchmaker watch. It's the one that most often resides within my pocket, however, and it is without question one of my most-loved possessions. I don't know why, but there's something about the watch that's calming to me. When I'm afraid or anxious about the future or feeling all alone, having the watch in my pocket helps me to remember that, in time, whatever is troubling me at that moment will indeed pass.

There's something else that my beloved pocket watch helps me to remember ... something that, as weird as it may sound, may well be the reason I've always been so infatuated with the old-fashioned timepieces. See, here's the thing ... no matter what I'm doing, I have to take time out every day to wind my watch or it doesn't work. If I don't do my part ... if I don't wind my watch so that the gears continue to move ... if I don't put in the effort required to keep my watch going, it dies. And every time I wind my old watch, friends, I can't help but think about people ... people I love and care about. I can't help but think about how important it is that I do my part ... that I keep the gears of my relationships with others moving ... that if I don't put in the effort required to keep those relationships going, they will most surely die.

Think about it, friends ... are you winding your watch?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Road to Home

A little more than a month ago, I walked through my little house with the Goldilocks deck for the last time. My daughter walked with me from room to room that evening ... bless her sweet heart, she drew the short straw on being the one of my three children to live close enough to me to be the designated "help Mom get through moving day because we all know she's going to lose it" kiddo. I must say, however, that my children's assessment as to what my emotional state would be on moving weekend wasn't entirely accurate ... I barely cried at all on Saturday. I sobbed my heart out pretty much all day on Sunday, though, and I do mean sobbed. I knew it would be hard when the time finally arrived for me to leave my little house, but I had no idea it would be as difficult as it was.

When I began writing my post this evening, I intended to write about things I miss a lot about my house ... like my garage, my fenced-in back yard and my beloved walking trail ... and things I don't miss even a little bit ... like worrying about repairs that needed to made and not having the money to make them or the long commute to and from work. I intended to write about how the road to home now is so very different than the road to home was before. I intended to write something that would inspire you ... something that would cause you to search your heart and think about which road you're traveling.

That's what I intended to write, but then I watched and listened as President Obama gave his farewell address to the nation. If you've been reading along with me for a while, you know that I have a fairly strict code when it comes to not writing about political issues ... should you go away tonight thinking this post is about politics, then it's time for me to hang up my pen and never write another word. This post isn't about political parties or societal issues or any of the plethora of other hotbeds of disagreement that threaten to consume our country. This post is about the respect, humility, grace, honor, appreciation and dignity demonstrated by the President of the United States in his farewell speech this evening to the American people ... his speech to all Americans ... let me say that again, friends ... his speech to all Americans.

"Show up, dive in, stay at it. Sometimes you'll win, sometimes you'll lose."

"My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you. I won't stop; in fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days."

"We're all in this together. We rise or fall as one." --- President Barack Obama

Monday, January 2, 2017

Great Expectations

I've really never been a big fan of making New Year's resolutions ... or revolutions as my daughter used to call them when she was a little girl. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for setting goals or getting rid of harmful habits or striving to be a better person. I'm absolutely in favor of participating in some good old-fashioned introspection from time to time. And speaking of introspection, here's an interesting little tidbit for you to mull over ... consider it a freebie for this evening's post or it could be fodder for my beloved head doctor's unending questions as she seeks to dig her way into the recesses of my ever-challenging mind. But back to the tidbit that is perhaps worthy of a certain amount of mulling ... I generally come away from those times of personal reflection and reevaluation even more convinced that resolving to eat healthier foods or exercise harder or devote more time and attention to the people I love and care about shouldn't be made at the beginning of a new year, but rather every single day of my life.

Even if you only check in on your social media accounts once a week, I'd bet you've still seen more posts than you ever wanted to see that were lamenting what a bad year 2016 was ... I know I sure have. I have to agree that 2016 wasn't the greatest year I've ever had, both for me personally and for my extended family as well, but I also have to say that it wasn't the worst one I've ever experienced either. I had a lot of major life changes that took place last year, some good and some not, and sometimes they were a mixture of both good and bad. Take selling my house and moving into an apartment, for example ... there are way too many goods and not goods and mixtures involved in that major life event to even attempt to share with you. But I will tell you this ... I expected it would be that way even before I actually made the decision to put my house on the market. And I'll tell you this, too ... I think the fact that I expected there to be good, not good and a mixture of both helped me get through the process with far less trauma than most people thought I would.

I've been thinking a great deal over the last couple of months about expectations ... about what I expect from myself, what I expect from others and what others expect from me. And in the course of all that thinking, I realized something that I consider to be rather profound. Expectations, whether self-imposed or instituted by another, can serve as a catalyst that spurs me on to tremendous personal growth or they can be a mechanism that delivers defeat and despair. And sometimes ... well ... sometimes they can be, whether self-imposed or instituted by another, a murky mixture of both.

Even though some of you won't agree with me, I'm not going to wish you a happy new year and I don't want you to wish me one either. It's not because I don't want you to be happy and it's most definitely not because I don't want to be happy myself. It's because wishing you to have a year filled with complete happiness is not only an unrealistic wish, it's one that's impossible for anyone to attain. So instead, I wish you a year of the good, the not good and the mixture of both. I wish you a year that grows your heart and expands your compassion for others ... a year that teaches you to value people more than things ... a year that brings you understanding for who and what really and truly matter most in this life. 

So here's to the year ahead, friends ... here's to the good, the not good and the mixture of both. Here's to being open, honest, real and transparent. Here's to taking care of each other. Here's to being better people than we were before.