Sunday, January 13, 2019

You See That, Right?

First off, I'd like to thank the many of you who've reached out to me since my post on December 27. I'm deeply humbled by your messages of support and encouragement, and am incredibly grateful for your prayers and well wishes as I continue to recover from the stroke I had in late November. It really and truly is a wonderful life, friends, and I am so very, very blessed to have you sharing the journey with me.

Last week was my first full week back to work since Thanksgiving, and I've got to admit I was more than just a wee bit nervous. I was glad my return to the office the week before happened to fall on a three-day week since my energy level isn't quite back to 100 percent just yet and I sure didn't want to fall asleep at my desk. I won't say I've never dozed off for a few minutes during all the years I've been in the workforce, but let's be gut honest here ... falling asleep at my desk the first week I come back to work after having a stroke would not have been good. Not good at all. You know as well as I do that someone would have seen me with my head down on my desk or slumped back in my chair with my eyes closed and immediately thought, "Well, that's it. Terrie's dead." So yes, I'm thankful, both for my sake and that of the co-worker who would have suffered untold emotional distress had they found me sleeping, that I did indeed stay awake upon my return to work.

Believe it or not, it wasn't until last weekend that I actually began reading about the type of stroke I had. Weird, I know, and definitely out of character for me considering my usual insatiable quest for knowledge. I'll attribute my lack of research regarding my stroke to the fact that my vision was significantly impacted in the first few weeks after it happened. You only get a smidge of information when you say "Hey, Google, tell me about lower right occipital lobe strokes" ... certainly not enough for an extraordinarily curious mind such as mine ... which is why last weekend I decided it was time I learned more about what had taken place inside my head, and I was finally feeling brave enough to read up on what's ahead for me regarding my continued recovery. So ... after sleeping in until 12:30 p.m. last Saturday, I spent a good part of the remainder of the day curled up on the couch with my wiener dog and my laptop gathering as much info as I could on the fascinating and glorious thing that is the human brain.

Don't worry, I'm not going to wax on about everything I gleaned from what I read last weekend ... that would take way too long and involve way too much risk for yours truly with regard to misspellings and incorrect wording. But I would like to share just a bit as to what I've learned. I'd never even heard of the occipital lobe of the brain before my recent visit to the hospital ... hey, I flunked biology in college, twice, so back off with the science jokes, OK? Since what prompted my ending up in the hospital was the fact that I couldn't see very well, it wasn't exactly surprising to learn that the occipital lobe of the brain is dedicated to vision. Technically, it receives information transmitted via the eyes, processes that information and then sends it on to the frontal lobe which formulates a response. Of the four major lobes of the brain, the occipital is the smallest but the one most used in our daily lives. 

I'm sure you've heard the saying, "Small rudders guide great ships," and that's very true when it comes to the occipital lobe. Trauma to that little section of the brain, whether from injury or infection or stroke or tumor, has the potential to wreak a lot of havoc in regard to what a person sees or doesn't see. A person could lose their sight completely, be unable to recognize people or objects, experience significant issues with depth perception and balance or even have hallucinations. In my case, I have what's called congruous homonymous hemianopia. In laymen's terms, I have a fried fuse in my brain that's messing with my field of vision and causing me to be more sensitive to bright light than I was before the stroke. I'm currently going to brain rehab a couple of times a week where some really awesome folks are teaching me how to retrain that small piece of gray matter in my noggin to quite literally see things in a different light. And bonus ... I get to wear a totally cool pirate eye patch when I'm reading.

If you've been reading along with me for a while, you know that I've gone through some dark times over the years ... times when I was ready to throw in the towel and be done with living. Which is why when the doctors and nurses started talking to me about there being a high risk of depression following a stroke, I made up my mind before I ever left the hospital that I would do everything in my power to keep that from happening. The weird thing is that, for now at least, the stroke has had entirely the opposite effect on me. It's made me appreciate things I used to take for granted, to slow down and enjoy life, to not be afraid of new adventures and  to spend more time with the people I love. And it's made me determined to find the good ... and the funny ... in this part of my journey.

I'm so thankful, friends, to be alive and to have only a small blind spot as my "stroke leftover." I will admit, however, to having a little fun with some of the young folks in my office after explaining to them that some people have hallucinations following an occipital stroke. When they ask me if that's happened to me, I smile and say, "Oh, no. Absolutely no hallucinations for me, thank goodness." Then the next time I see them, I say something like, "Tigers aren't really my thing, but that one over there by the window is gorgeous. You see that, right?"

Have a great week, friends ... remember to keep your chin up, your sense of humor intact and your grateful meter in tip-top shape. Stay tuned for my next post ... I kind of like this whole talk-writing thing. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Lost Crayon

Many of you probably have no idea what year Crayola first introduced its new crayon packaging that contained a built-in sharpener or how many crayons said history-making packaging held. It was 1958 (one year before I was born), and the box had a whopping … wait for it … a whopping 64 Crayola crayons. That's right … 64 crayons … 64 different colors … AND a built-in crayon sharpener on the back of the box.

I totally remember the day I finally convinced my mom that I really, really, really needed her to buy me one of the super-awesome boxes of 64 Crayola crayons with the built-in sharpener on the back. I had been begging for the then "biggest box of crayons ever" for months, and Mom finally said yes. Right smack dab in the middle of the Zayre Department Store in downtown Chattanooga, Mom finally said yes to buying the crayons for me. I remember that day like it was yesterday ... the slight smile on Mom's face as she handed me the green and yellow box of crayons ... the feel of the box in my hands as we walked through the store ... the anticipation bubbling inside of me to color in my favorite Batman coloring book ... the smell of the crayons as I opened the box when we got home. You bet I remember that day, friends ... I remember that day because it was, without a doubt, one of the greatest days of my little girl life.

All was well and life was good for my young self until the fateful day when I came home from school, opened my beloved box of Crayola Crayons and discovered that one of the crayons was missing. And not just any old crayon, mind you ... it was, and still remains, one of my all-time favorite colors. That's right, friends ... I opened my beloved box of 64 Crayola Crayons with the built-in sharpener on the back to find the Brick Red crayon was missing. Of all the crayons to disappear, why, oh, why did it have to be Brick Red? I managed to remain relatively calm as I searched every nook and cranny in my little bedroom for the missing crayon, but when I realized it wasn't anywhere in my room, sheer and utter panic engulfed me as I raced through the rest of the house trying desperately to find my dear friend Brick Red. I won't admit to how long I looked for that crayon or to how long I was consumed by an overwhelming sadness over its loss, but I will confess to crying myself to sleep over losing my very special crayon friend … not only that night but for more than a few nights afterward as well.

I bet you're probably thinking the same thing my mom and dad did regarding Brick Red's sudden disappearance … it was just a crayon for gosh sake's and I still had 63 others, including at least 10 variations of the color red. But none of those 63 crayons were Brick Red … Brick Red was special. It was my go-to crayon … my one crayon that somehow managed to give even my ugliest coloring projects a spark of beauty. And believe me, friends, I had some really, really, really ugly coloring projects back then. Brick Red was the crayon that seemed to never get dull or need sharpening, even though I colored with it almost every day ... it was like the Energizer Bunny in the world of crayons. But the most special thing about my old pal Brick Red? The thing that made it so important to me? That one crayon somehow made me believe I was capable of creating a masterpiece. In many ways, that crayon made me believe I was a masterpiece.

By now you're probably scratching your head and wondering why in the heck I'm writing about losing a crayon 50 years ago, especially on the first day of a new year. But I do have a reason, and even a legitimate one at that, for my subject choice for this the first day of 2019. You see, friends, Brick Red's departure from my crayon collection was about more than just losing my favorite crayon. When I lost that crayon, I lost my desire to color at all. The truth is I didn't even open the box of crayons for a very, very long time. Why? Because I was so afraid of losing another crayon that I didn't even attempt to create anything with the crayons I had left. I was terrified by the thought that my masterpiece-creating days were over. I cringed in fear as my once-held belief that I was a masterpiece fell in shards all around my scared, lonely heart. I was afraid ... plain and simple ... I was afraid. I was afraid of once again losing something that had been so special ... so dear ... so precious to me.

I'm guessing many of you agree that fear is an extremely powerful emotion, one that's capable of sidelining a great big bunch of us ... at least I know that's true for me. In my 59 years of life, fear has kept me from doing or saying or being lots of things far more important than coloring in a Batman coloring book. Fear is one tough cookie, let me tell you, and once it's sunk its claws into my mind about a certain thing, it's harder than soap scum in a teenage boy's bathroom to get rid of. Take flying, for example ... I'm not nearly as afraid of getting on a plane as I once was, but I can promise you that the day before I know I have to board the sky monster, that old fear comes marching right back in and tries to convince me not to get on the flight. Fear tells me I'm sick and shouldn't fly. Fear tells me there will be a hijacker on the plane and I shouldn't fly. Fear tells me I'll get motion sick and have to puke in one of those tiny bags ... oh, wait, that actually happened to me once so that disqualifies that one as fear and slides it squarely into the category of reality. But the truth remains ... fear is a powerful emotion, one that can absolutely knock the life out of me if I let it.

A lot of folks use the beginning of a new year as their springboard for change, or at least they say they're going to change some things in their lives anyway. We all know that oftentimes those New Year's resolutions fall by the wayside far more quickly than we're willing to admit. With each new year, we proclaim that things will be different ... we proclaim that we'll be different and I think most of us sincerely believe that will be the case when we set forth our proclamations, myself included. Which is why I'm not making a specific list this year of what I would like to change in the coming year. Instead, I've decided to cover my desires for self-improvement in this new year with a "No Fear" blanket. No fear of living life to its absolute fullest. No fear of what tomorrow may or may not bring. No fear of judgment from others. No fear of loving and caring and doing for others. No fear of doing me the very best way I know how.

Who would've thunk a lost crayon from so many years ago could still be teaching me lessons today? Who would've thunk it indeed? Happy new year, friends ... cheers to creating and being masterpieces of your very own.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

It Truly Is a Wonderful Life

I'll explain later, but I need to begin with the following disclaimer: Author shall not be held liable or responsible for any misspelled words, typos or incorrect wording that may occur in the transcribing of this post. Now that I've taken care of that important information, let's begin, shall we?

In 2017, I posted 35 entries to this blog ... a pretty substantial decrease from the previous seven years, which included an all-time high of 266 in 2013. And this year? Well, if you include the post I'm penning right now, I'll be up to a whopping 12 entries for the entire year. That such a prolific and fairly well-followed writer as myself could relatively disappear from the literary world with nary a mention from "Entertainment Tonight" or "Good Morning America" or, gasp, "The Ellen Show," boggles the mind. Thankfully, so many of you from my loyal and unwavering fan base have written and continue to write expressing your desire for me to get back to it ... to pick up the pen, so to speak, and share my thoughts, stories, struggles and victories with you once again. You never gave up on me and for all your words of encouragement and support, I thank you, truly and deeply, from the bottom of my heart.

I can offer no valid reason for why I stopped writing, but rather only an excuse, and some of you most probably will consider it a flimsy one at that, for my departure from the thing I once so deeply loved. As much as I hate to admit it, I allowed the words and actions of a few other people to ... well ... to put it bluntly ... knock the living crap out of my heart and cause me to lose the tenuous sense I had of self-worth. It made me doubt the goodness of my heart and obliterated my ability to believe I could contribute to the greater good of anyone. I distanced myself from everyone, afraid to trust or open up to others, fearing not just being hurt again, but of not being able to survive the pain if I was. Well, guess what? I'm not afraid anymore. Nope, I'm not afraid and I sure hope I won't ever be again. At least not afraid of getting hurt by other people anyway ... I will always, always, always be afraid of thunderstorms. I'm not afraid anymore because even if other people try to make me believe otherwise, I know I have a good heart. I know I'm a good person. I know there are lots of people who love and appreciate me. And most important of all? I know there are plenty of folks in the world for me to help. Whether that's handing out PB&Js to my homeless friends under the bridge or writing something that might make a difference in someone's life or being a listening ear to a young person who's struggling or telling my wonderful grandchildren how very much I love them ... I know there are plenty of people in the world for me to help. As a dear friend so kindly reminded me recently ... I'm one of the good guys and the good guys team needs me to get off the bench and get back in the game.

Having said all of that ... and yes, I know it was a lot ... I'm not saying I'll be back to writing hundreds of posts next year. What I'm saying is that I'm hoping and planning to write more next year than I have for the last couple of years. I'm saying that I'm hoping and planning to not let the naysayers get to me the way I have in the past. I'm saying I'm hoping and planning to be better ... to do more ... to help more ... to see more ... to laugh more ... to love more ... to live more. Which leads me to the reason for my disclaimer at the beginning of this post, along with at least a partial explanation as to my newfound perspective on ... well ... on life in general.

Instead of shopping on Black Friday as I had planned, I ended up spending a couple of days in the hospital. After running several tests, including snapping some illuminating photos of the inside of my noggin', the doctors told me I'd had a small stroke in the lower right occipital lobe of my brain. I know stroke is a scary word ... I know it scared me when the doctors told me that's what had happened to me ... but I assure you that I can walk and talk and laugh and cry and think and crack jokes and give hugs and bake amazing chocolate chip cookies just like I always have. Other than getting tired much faster than I did before, I only have one lingering aftereffect from the stroke and that involves my vision. It's improved a great deal in the last few weeks, though, and the neuro ophthalmologist is confident that time and brain retraining therapy will have me back to seeing clearly in no time. The glitch between my brain and my eyes continues, however, to make typing and reading a bit hard for me so I'm using the newfangled talk to text technology to "write" tonight's post ... hence the reason for my disclaimer.

As far as the partial explanation for my new outlook on life, simply put ... strokes kill people every day, and I'm still alive. If my stroke was caused by a blood clot that traveled from another area of my body, I could have easily died from a heart attack or a pulmonary embolism. But for a reason or reasons I may never know this side of heaven, I'm still here. And if I haven't learned one other thing in the last four weeks, I've learned this ... life is a blessing and I deserve to have my butt squarely kicked for taking even one moment of it for granted. Life is precious ... life is a gift ... life is something to never ever be wasted. God has granted me another chance at life, and I intend to spend the rest of my time on earth ... however many days or months or years that may be ... being thankful for every second, every breath, every person. I am beyond blessed to be alive, my friends. I have the most amazing kids, grandkids and extended family who love me to the moon and back again. I have friends who will be there for me through thick and thin. I am indeed beyond blessed to be alive.

Yesterday was my 59th birthday, and without a doubt I can promise you this ... it truly is a wonderful life. Without even the tiniest shred of doubt, my dear friends, I can promise you this ... it truly is a wonderful, wonderful life. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

What Color is Love?

The excitement in my daughter's voice danced through the phone when she called me a few weeks ago to tell me she and my son-in-law had received a call ... a call they had been waiting on for months. There were children in need of a place to call home ... children needing to be fostered by parents who had the intent to formally adopt them. Four children, to be exact ... four siblings ranging in age from 2 to 13, three boys and one girl. Four children... yes, four children. Not one, not two, not three ... four. Four siblings who were on the verge of being sent to separate homes because … well … because it's difficult to find foster parents who want to adopt a group of four kids. Without ever having met the children or even seeing a photo of them, my daughter and son-in-law said yes and within a few short days, they were picking up the children and bringing them home. Even though it's only been several weeks since they joined our crew, these four precious children are already teaching our entire family a whole new way of loving.

As you may have guessed from the title of tonight's post, the four new additions to our family don't have the same skin color as the rest of us. They are of Sudanese descent, which means their skin color is dark … a rich, flawless, beautiful dark color. They are tall and slender, another trait possessed by many Sudanese people, and all four have quite gorgeous dark brown eyes. It will be obvious to people who may see my daughter and son-in-law out and about with all their kids in tow that they are not their biological children. Without a doubt, there will be times when my kids will be questioned about how the six of them became a family, and I know that they will happily provide the answer ... faith and lots and lots of love.

In the midst of the deep joy I feel about these four beautiful little humans joining our family, I am also keenly aware that we live in a world where traits such as integrity, honesty, depth of character, respect, compassion and love often seem to be the exception rather than the rule. A world in which what is considered to be acceptable behavior is judged based on the level of depravity, anger, deceit, greed, abuse or hate rather than how much integrity, kindness, honesty, generosity, compassion or love a person possesses. When I consider what the future may hold for each of my six grandchildren, that is without question a fear that permeates the very depth of my soul. The fear that we're becoming immune … that we're growing numb … that we're embracing complacency … that we're accepting that the new standard of measurement for right and wrong is coming from the mentality of choosing the lessor of evils. You bet that keeps me awake at night ... it keeps me awake and it terrifies me for my grandchildren and the world they are growing up in.

I truly believe that the only hope we have for the future is love. It is imperative that we find a way to love and respect one another, friends. No matter the color of our skin or what gender we are or whether we are rich or poor or what political party we choose to support or what our sexuality is or any of the plethora of other things we use every single day to create division among us, we must love and respect one another. The only way to overcome a world filled with depravity, anger, deceit, greed, abuse and hate is to do band together in the commitment to love one another more than we love ourselves. That's a tough ask, I know, especially in the times we live in, but deep down in my gut I know it's what we have to do if we want things to change. I know it, and my guess is that many of you know it as well.

I'm sure by now you're on the edge of your chair waiting with bated breath to know my answer to the question posed in the title of my post, so here it is ... love isn't any color. I don't believe that love ... true, deep, abiding, selfless, unconditional love ... is any color. It's not black or white or any other color in between, or at least it shouldn't be anyway. The kind of true, deep, abiding, selfless love I'm talking about doesn't give a dinosaur's behind about the color of people's skin or if they're male or female or how much money they do or don't make or whether they're straight or gay. Wait ... maybe I was wrong to say that love isn't any color. Maybe, just maybe, love is actually a million different colors.

Colors like listening when someone needs to talk ... buying lunch for a friend who's struggling financially ... puppy sitting for the people you love (even though you know that puppy will pee on your carpet) ... reading to an elderly man who is losing his eyesight ... telling someone who is lonely and depressed that she matters to you … baking cookies for the new neighbors ... wiping a friend's tears ... giving a coat to a kid who doesn't have one ... forgiving the person who hurt you, again and again and again … cheering your kid on at the game ... saying please and thank you and opening doors for old women like me ... caring, really and truly caring, that what you say and do affects others in ways, both good and bad, that you can never imagine or see coming.

What color is love, friends? It's saying yes to four children who need your love and a place to call home. Welcome to the family, kids ... we're so glad you're here.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Before and After

If you know me at all, or if you've read my posts during springtime weather season in Kansas, you know that I have a perfectly normal, healthy, realistic, not-in-the-slightest-bit-debilitating fear of tornadoes. I also won a gazillion billion dollars in the lottery and bought myself the original Magnum P.I. red Ferrari I've always dreamed of owning. Not. There's not a shred of truth in the words you just read … not one itsy bitsy shred of truth. I most definitely, beyond the shadow of any doubt, did not win the lottery or buy the sweet red sports car driven by Mr. Selleck himself all those years ago on the famous TV show. And, though it pains me to admit it, my fear of tornadoes remains completely, totally, unequivocally, over-the-top irrational in every way.

While I know exactly from whence my desire to win the lottery and own a red Ferrari comes, I cannot definitively say what prompted my overwhelming fear of being sucked up into a tornado and whirled to death. I suppose I could attribute at least a portion of my irrational tornadic fear to the classic film "The Wizard of Oz," which I first viewed on a Sunday evening when I faked being sick so I could stay home from church and watch it. After all, directing partial blame for my current over-the-top fear of the massive swirling storms toward a movie I played hooky from church to watch 50-some-odd years ago does quite appeal to my Southern Baptist upbringing regarding the consequences of lying. I do find it difficult, however, to justify in my adult mind that a loving God would consider instilling such a debilitating fear of tornadoes within me for all time as just punishment for lying to my dad about being sick so I could miss church and watch TV. But alas, I digress.

Last weekend, I traveled with my son Brad to the town of Greensburg, Kansas, to attend the funeral of my son-in-law Barrett's father. I had never been to Greensburg before and it was every much as small-town America as I had imagined it would be. The people were friendly and eager to help us in any way they could, and the shopping opportunities were quite limited. Brad ventured out to the town liquor store shortly after we arrived in search of beer, and upon returning with a case of Bud Light, my beer-loving son sadly recounted that there was only one cooler for beer at the town's sole alcoholic beverage retailer and that his choices were substantially less than what my city boy is accustomed to. But, as I said, the townspeople were very kind and helpful, and they welcomed us with open arms. Which, in my opinion anyway, matters far more than Bud Light being the town's king of beers. 

Some of you may remember seeing images on the national news of the town of Greensburg, Kansas, after it was basically destroyed by an EF5 tornado a little more than 11 years ago. The tornado leveled 95 percent of the town, and 11 people lost their lives. The massive funnel was estimated to be 1.7 miles in width, wider than the town of Greensburg itself, with wind speeds approaching 265 miles per hour, traveling for nearly 22 miles. Miraculously, my son-in-law's parents' home was one of only a handful that sustained no damage whatsoever, and both Barrett's mom and dad survived the storm without injury ... really and truly a miracle on both counts.

I've never seen or experienced tornado damage up close and personal, but my son Brad has. He traveled as part of a film crew to Joplin, Missouri, just a couple of weeks after an EF5 multiple-vortex tornado struck the city in 2011. I well remember the multiple phone calls I received from Brad during the time he spent in Joplin ... some in which he cried as he tried to recount to me what he was seeing. My young son had never seen or experienced such tremendous loss or devastation as the people of Joplin, and the magnitude of it all was at times completely overwhelming to him. I also well remember the moment I received the photo below from Brad ... I sat at my desk and wept as I realized the danger my boy was in. His note that accompanied the photo said, "We had to tie our shirts around our faces because they ran out of masks, Mom. They said it wasn't safe to breathe the air in directly." The closer we got to Greensburg last weekend, the more I thought of how Brad would most certainly see the town through an entirely different set of eyes than I would.

As we neared the town of Greensburg last weekend, I couldn't help but notice the change in the terrain ... there were fewer trees and the ones that were there were much smaller than the ones we had seen 20 miles or so out of town. People often talk about how flat Kansas is, but there's a vast difference between land being flat and land being barren. Even though the people of Greensburg have rebuilt the town as the first "green" town in the nation, you don't have to look far to see reminders of the storm that tried its best to wipe the little town off the map more than a decade ago. Trees without limbs or bark still stand as guardians over the small town, beacons as to what the people of the town survived on the stormy night of May 4, 2007.

The barren and broken trees aren't the only reminders you'll find in Greensburg of the EF5 tornado that tore through the town. I quickly discovered that many of the residents who chose to remain in the small Kansas town following the massive storm (more than half of the population moved away) mark the passage of time as before and after the night the tornado touched down. Several times while I was there, I heard people say, "That was before the tornado," or "That was after the tornado," and those words have been pulsing in my mind all week. And generally when I get something stuck in my brain like that, it means there's something I'm supposed to learn from it. Or there's something someone else is supposed to learn. Or I'm just crazy and no one, including myself, is supposed to learn anything. Nah ... that last one can't be it ... there's a big lesson in those words for me, and maybe for you as well.

In thinking about those words from the people of Greensburg, I've been thinking about the tornadoes of life by which many of us measure our lives in terms of befores and afters. Tornadoes like getting divorced or getting fired from our job or being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or experiencing the death of a loved one or being betrayed by someone we trusted or losing a furry friend or a plethora of other storms that come along. Storms that often threaten to destroy us ... to devastate our faith in ourselves, our faith in others, and even our faith in God.

It's so hard at times not to define ourselves by the befores and afters in life, at least it is for me anyway. And I think that maybe sometimes that's not such a bad thing, you know? Maybe recognizing the befores and afters in ourselves can serve to make us better people in the long run. Maybe it can cause us to seek shelter when we need to ... maybe it can encourage us to ask for help when we need it ... maybe it can spur us into action when we see others in danger. Maybe, just maybe, it can help us help each other ... care more about each other ... be kinder to each other. Maybe, just maybe, the befores and afters can make us better people if we let them. Maybe they can indeed, my friends ... maybe they can indeed. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

No Time Like the Present

If anyone would have told me when I was fresh out of college that I would spend the golden years of my career working in the advertising business, I most likely would have said that he or she was completely off his or her rocker. Not because working in the ad biz is a bad thing, mind you, but because my dream was to move to a little town in Colorado and be a reporter for a small-town newspaper, perhaps writing a weekly "from the heart" column that was dearly loved by all the townspeople. But life, however, led me down a different path than the one of my youthful dreams and I have thus spent the last 25ish years working as an editor in the fast-paced world of advertising … which I imagine is pretty far removed from what life as a writer in a little mountain town would have been. 

I often wish I would have thought to keep a list of all the young people I've worked with over the years and where their journeys have taken them since they moved on. I'm blessed that quite a few of them still keep in touch with me ... some, believe it or not, for more than 20 years ... and I always love it when I hear from them. From landing a gig in California as a screenwriter to going back to school to study nursing to deciding to be a stay-at-home parent to teaching English in China to taking six months off from the daily grind to travel the country in an old refurbished Chevy van, so many of those young folks have gone on to not only chase their dreams but to find them. Even though I know my part in their journeys was only miniscule, I still feel much like a proud mom every time they fill me in on where they are and what they're doing. 

Last week, I had a conversation with a young man who decided it was time for him to leave the company and walk a different path. Knowing how smart and talented this guy is, I assumed that he'd been offered another job that would further his career quest and had chosen to take it. His answer to my, "So where are you heading?" question, however, wasn't at all the answer I was expecting. The young man told me he was going back to his hometown so that he could be close to his family, in particular, his parents. He said there had recently been a death in his family and that losing that person had made him do some serious soul searching about what was really most important to him. In searching his soul, a truth that some of us never glean became quickly apparent to my young friend ... there is nothing in life that matters more than the time we have with the people we love.

I heard someone say recently that death makes us think more about living, and I think that's very true. Tonight, my son-in-law is sitting by the bedside of his dad who's in the last days, and possibly even the last hours, of his life. Both of my siblings are in their 70s, and they're fighting serious health issues. My 34-year-old great nephew has ALS and spends most of his days in a wheelchair. I've already attended more funerals in the first half of this year than I have in the last decade, and I come home from each one with a stronger determination to do a better job of living. I tell myself that I will do things, go places, meet people ... I tell myself to remember how very short life is and that I need to make the very most of the time I have left. I tell myself I'm going to change, be more in the moment and savor what precious time I have left on this planet.

I too often forget that I don't have forever ... I always think I can do it tomorrow. I can apologize tomorrow. Tomorrow, I can forgive those who have wronged me. Tomorrow, I can reach out to someone I know who is lonely. Tomorrow, I can stop allowing the people who don't value me to crush my spirit. But tomorrow isn't guaranteed, friends. Heck, not even my next breath is guaranteed. The truth is that I, probably along with many of you, need to realize that there's no time like the present. I need to embrace with everything in my being that there's no better day than today to start living. I simply must find a way to live every single moment of every single day with the understanding that I may not get another chance. I need to let that truth soak into the crevices of my soul and I need to pour it into every area of my life ...  work, home, relationships, even playing with my little 11-year-old wiener dog. I need to fully and completely comprehend that today may be my only shot to be kind, to be forgiving, to be loyal … that today may be my only shot to genuinely, deep-down to the bottom of my tiny little heart love and care about other people. It's way past time that I get it … way past time that I get that there really, unequivocally, beyond the shadow of any doubt is no time like the present.

There really is no time like the present to rid myself of the hurt and pain that others have caused me ... no time like the present to make things right with someone I've wronged or someone who's wronged me … no time like the present to do the right thing ... no time like the present to set out on a new adventure … no time like the present to build others up … no time like the present to invest every ounce of love that I have into the people I care about … not time like the present to write from my heart … no time like the present to listen … no time like the present to care … no time like the present to live.

My son Brad posted a beautiful photo recently of the sun rising over Kansas City. I'm stealing that photo along with the words he wrote to accompany it to close this post. My boy gets it … he really gets that there's no time like the present to live.

"Good morning, Kansas City. Remember our world is beautiful, and be good to each other out there."

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Shush No More

There are some childhood experiences you never forget, and one of those unforgettable experiences for me took place during a Sunday morning church service at Alpine Baptist Church. I don't remember how old I was, but I do remember I was old enough to know that when my dad told me to do something, I needed to do it ... and do it pronto. All these years later, I still feel the need to apologize to whichever preacher was preaching on that auspicious Sunday ... sorry, sir, for wrecking your sermon with my belligerent and obnoxious behavior. And I might as well go ahead and apologize for what I'm about to say next, but whatever you were preaching about that day must have been incredibly boring to a young kid. So boring, in fact, that it made me willfully disobey my father when he told me to shush my whining and complaining and saying I wanted to go home. I don't remember how many times Daddy told me to shush, but I do well remember what happened when he decided he'd said it enough. He hefted me out of the pew and hauled me down the center aisle and out the back door of the church with me kicking and screaming all the way.

On Tuesday, I posted these words on my Ears Wide Open? Facebook page:

"She was only 55. She was wealthy. She was successful. She was a wife and mother. Her name was known the world over. Today, Kate Spade committed suicide by hanging herself in her apartment on Park Avenue. Today, everyone is asking why. Why did she kill herself? Why didn't someone see her pain or know that she was hurting? Why didn't she ask for help? Those haunting questions that are so often asked after someone takes his or her life. Help make those questions obsolete. Care. Reach out. Be there. Listen. See. Understand. Love. Again and again and again."

The death of Kate Spade is without question a tragedy, but it is also a devastatingly stark reminder that depression is no respecter of persons. Depression doesn't care if you are young or middle aged or old. It doesn't care if you are rich or poor. It doesn't care about your sexual orientation or your gender. It doesn't care what your job is or how many degrees you have. It doesn't care how smart you are, how likable you are, how many things you have to be happy about, how many people love you or anything else about you. Depression is an insidious disease that attacks your mind, your body and your soul, and it's a disease that scares the living hell out of those of us who fight it every single day of our lives. Even on our "good" days, weeks, months or even years, we live knowing that the wolf is always just outside the window ... we live knowing that at any moment, without warning or reason, the growling, snarling, hungry beast can shatter the glass and rip us apart before we can even blink.

As is always the case when someone famous commits suicide, the media has been hard at work pumping out story after story about Mrs. Spade since her death on Tuesday. Her death was the top news story around the world ... for a couple of days. Today is Thursday ... only two days after a woman of Kate Spade's status hung herself with a scarf ... today, Kate Spade's suicide has already become just another story. Every time someone famous takes their life, we want to believe that theirs will be the death that changes the world's views on mental illness. We want to believe that this person losing their battle with anxiety and depression will be the final catalyst that sparks a much-needed change in our society regarding mental illness. We want to believe it will end the stigma that causes those who struggle with depression to remain silent ... to be afraid to ask for help ... to fear the judgment that so often comes when we are open, honest, real and transparent about our illness.

Yesterday, a young gal I work with did a very brave and courageous thing ... she posted on Facebook about her own personal battle with depression. I sat at my desk and wept as I read her words ... so honest, so real, so unexpected. Had she not written those words, I would have never known that she, too, works hard every day to keep her own wolf at bay. To do what she did ... to open up and share her story ... took guts. If I haven't learned anything over the last five plus years, I've learned that many people get super uncomfortable when I talk about having major depressive disorder. Just a few weeks ago someone told me it makes people worry about me when I talk about my personal struggle with depression and that I should ... well ... just shush up and not talk about "those kinds of things." Reading this young woman's open, honest, real and transparent confession of her battle just reinforced what I've known to be true for a while now. Knowing that I am expected to remain silent about my struggle with depression ... to say, "I'm good," if someone asks how I am ... to smile on the outside when I'm dying on the inside ... those types of expectations serve only to exacerbate the stigma, isolation and loneliness I, and countless others, have to fight against every single day.

With her permission, I'm closing tonight with some of the words from my young friend's post. We must do whatever it takes to make those questions obsolete, friends. There are lives depending on it ... we need to follow my young friend's example. We have to shush no more ... we absolutely have to shush no more.

"Hi friends, with all of this discussion on mental health recently, I figured it was the perfect time to share my story. I'm depressed. Surprise! 

Depression doesn't discriminate. It floods over you when you least expect and you feel as though you can't shake the constant feeling of sadness. 

I'm sharing this because of the reason that I am on the up and up, and that reason is: I asked for help. 

Mental illness, like many other illnesses, is out of your control. It is nothing to be embarrassed by, and speaking up can literally save a life. 

So please, if you ever feel like you're stuck in a hole and can't climb out, talk to someone! There are so many resources to turn to but never feel like you are alone. You're on this earth for a reason, and sometimes you just need to be reminded what that reason is. #endthisstigma"

Friday, March 30, 2018

A Year Without Ties

"No matter how far you travel, the memories will follow in the baggage car." 
- August Strindberg

When I was a kid in elementary school, my mom worked as a bookkeeper at a furniture store that was just a couple of blocks down the hill from my school, close enough that I walked there every day after school. I got to hang out in Mom's office and "help" her for an hour or so until my dad stopped and picked me up on his way home from work. I remember Mom letting me stamp the backs of checks ... don't laugh ... being a big enough kid to hold the big metal stamper thing and stamp those checks was a big deal to me. I made paper clip necklaces, played with the old metal arm-operated adding machine, separated rubber bands by size and drew pictures for Mom and all of her co-workers.

Having the run of all those office supplies was like a dream come true for me as a little kid, especially on the days when the manager of the store would send me home with a bag of office goodies, including my most favorite office goody in the entire universe ... a giant-sized pink eraser. And when I say giant-sized, I do mean giant-sized ... those suckers were about the size of a modern-day iPhone and as thick as my favorite Nancy Drew mystery. Yep, those erasers were definitely my favorite of all the office goodies for sure. Those giant-sized pink erasers could erase any mistake I made ... on paper anyway.

I'd wager that many of us, perhaps even most of us, have times we wish we could erase ... times when we would give all we have for a giant-sized pink eraser that could magically wipe away the things we don't want on the paper of our lives. Some lucky folks may only have moments they want to get rid of, but my guess is that many people have more than just moments ... many have hours, days, weeks, months or even years they wish they could erase from their lives and remove from their memory. Unfortunately, as much as I was there was, there's not a giant-sized pink eraser for real life. We make mistakes that can't be corrected. We inflict hurt that can't be healed. We say and do things to each other that leave marks and lines and scribbles all over our hearts ... marks and lines and scribbles that stay on our papers forever.

It took five decades for me to finally step out of the closet and tell the truth about who I am. Five decades of trying to be the person other people told me I was supposed to be. Five decades of living in fear of what would happen should I ever slip up and let the people I loved see the real me. Five decades of pretending to be someone I never was. Five decades of hiding. Five decades of worrying that someone would uncover my secret. Five decades of thinking there was something terribly wrong with me. Five decades before I understood that God loves me just the way I am. Five decades before I finally had the courage to be the real me. Five decades before I was able to do something I'd wanted to do for as long as I could remember ... wear ties and suspenders and not be ashamed.

The last time I wore a tie or suspenders was one year ago today ... a day I surely wish I could erase. What happened that day isn't important, nor does it matter to anyone but me. I can wish all I want that I could erase certain events of that day, but my wishing is nothing more than just that ... a wish. I wish I could turn back time or jump into another dimension in which erasing that day last year involved nothing more than snapping my fingers or waving my hand, but I can't. I miss my ties and suspenders a lot, but there's something I miss so very much more than the pieces of fabric or the metal snaps. I miss the real me ... the me who wasn't afraid ... the me who didn't hesitate to reach out ... the me who believed in myself ... the me who believed in others. Where the heck is that giant-sized pink real-life eraser when I need it, eh? Where is it indeed?

Oh, one more thing ... I did wear my Ellen/gangster/coolest shoes ever today. Hmmm ... maybe there's still a little of the real me left in there after all.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

If I Should Die Before I Wake

My guess is that most people don't climb into bed each night and think "I wonder if I'll die while I'm sleeping tonight." I'd guess, too, that most people don't wake up and have their first thought of the day be "I wonder if today will my last day to live?" I am convinced that the thing we humans most take for granted is life itself. Rather than appreciating the gift of every single breath we take, every precious moment we have with those we love, every additional night we do indeed not die before we wake, we believe we will always have more time. More breaths. More moments. More nights. More days. More time.

In case you're newer to reading my blog, The Tree House officially turned 10 on February 19, 2018. A special thank you to those of you who messaged to remind me of the significance of reaching that particular milestone, even though my writing has waned greatly over the last year. Those of you who've been following my journey for a while may remember the post "Easier to Die" from January 1, 2013, without question the most difficult post I've written throughout those 10 years. In that post, I came clean about a couple of sort of big things in my life ... at least they're big to me anyway ... one of them being that I had come within minutes of committing suicide back in 2012. I had no idea at the time just how much that one post would change not only my life, but the lives of so many others as well.

I've learned many things in the five plus years since I first openly talked about my battle with depression and my plan to take my own life, not the least of which is that talking about death makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. At first I thought the uneasy feeling I sensed from others when I talked about reaching the point where I no longer wanted to live was because of my inclusion of the "s" word ... suicide. It didn't take me long, however, to understand that the feeling wasn't as much about me talking about my desire to end my life as it was about me talking about death in general. I quickly learned that we humans don't want to talk about death, be it our own or someone else's ... we don't want to talk about it and we really don't want to listen to anyone who does. And yet, despite our avoidance and our belief that we will always have more time ... more breaths, more moments, more nights, more days, more time ... death is inevitable for each one of us. 

Today my children and I attended a celebration of life service for a man who was one of the first people we met when we moved to Kansas City. A man who, along with his wife and two daughters, became our first real friends in a city where we knew no one. A man who welcomed us into his home when our house caught fire only two weeks after we moved in. A man who taught us the word "gadzooks" and who had an infectious laugh and an ever-present smile. A man who stood solidly behind me and my children as my marriage disintegrated. A man who treated us as family. A man who included us. A man who had a kind and gentle and compassionate heart for the marginalized, the weak, the lonely and the discarded people of the world. A man whose life was honored today by the people he impacted so deeply during his short 63 years on earth. A man who left behind a legacy of love ... love for God, love for his family, love for his friends, love for the people he worked with and love for people around the world.

I hugged Brad and Meghann and Barrett a little more tightly when they left to head back to their homes today, and my time on Skype with Matt and his family was a little longer and even more precious to me than usual. And as I end this day and ready myself for bed, one thought pulses through my mind ... if I should die before I wake, I hope and pray the legacy I leave behind will be one of love. A legacy of a love that isn't just heard in the words I say, but one that is seen ... one that is felt ... one that is proven in the life I live.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Man I Met at Walmart

First things first ... to those of you who've written to inquire about how Max dog is recovering following his joyful romp through my fridge a couple of Saturdays ago and helping himself to a full container of delicious bacon-wrapped green bean bundles held together by wooden toothpicks, he's back to his normal no more pooping toothpicks self. I must agree with my son Bradley that Max's latest refrigerator raid does indeed prove that he has a stomach and intestines of steel. Seriously though, thank you for your concern about my big chocolate granddog and rest assured that the next time Maxie comes to stay with me, my fridge will be sporting a new child/Maxproof lock on the door.

I certainly don't consider myself to be rigid when it comes to planning out how I'm going to spend my time on the weekends, but there are certain things I pretty much have to make sure I allow time to do every Saturday or Sunday. You know ... semi-important things like making a trip to the store to buy food. Which, more often than not, ends up being trips plural because I go to different stores to buy different things, depending on which retailer has the best prices for the week. I'm guessing some of you are giving me a nod of affirmation right about now because you do the very same thing ... trot around to different stores to save a few bucks here and there, I mean.

On the Saturday that shall forevermore be known as "Max Dog Does Toothpicks Day," I hadn't exactly factored spending several hours of my day sitting at the emergency animal hospital into my schedule for the weekend. I should pause here and tell you that I do not like going to Walmart on Sundays, and I especially do not like going to Walmart late in the day on Sundays. Why, you ask? Going to Walmart on either day of the weekend is something no one in their right mind should ever even consider doing, you say? Hold the phone ... maybe I should retract that "someone in their right mind" part, especially as it applies to me. We all know I crossed that bridge a long, long time ago. But I digress way too far ... spending a chunk of my Saturday at the animal hospital meant that I put off going to Walmart until late in the day on Sunday, along with what seemed to be most of the population of Kansas City. 

By the time I was finally ready to check out, I was far, far away from happy camper land. I was tired, I was cranky and I just wanted to be done and go home. Of course there weren't enough checkout lanes open, so I chose what I hoped would be the quickest one, got in line and waited not so patiently behind the people ahead of me. It wasn't until I reached for the little divider stick thingy to put on the conveyor belt to separate my groceries from those of the person in front of me that I got a glimpse of the older gentleman in line behind me. I smiled a halfhearted smile and started unloading my groceries.

"I--I--I--I l--l--l--like y--y--y--your d--d--d--d--dog, m--m--maam," stuttered the man with the shaggy beard, worn clothing and faded felt hat. "H--h--h--he r--r--reminds m--m--m--m--me of--of--of o--o--o--our J--J--J--Jimmy. I--I--I b--b--b--b--bought h--h--him f--f--for m--m--m--my w--w--w--wife w--w--when sh--sh--she g--got s--s--s--s--sick."

"This little guy is a pretty good boy. He's my pal for sure," I said as I turned back to the task of getting my groceries out of my cart.

"J--J--J--Jimmy d--d--died on--on V--V--Val--Valentine's D--D--Day," the man said softly.

I turned and looked at the old man ... really looked at him ... and said, "I'm sorry for your loss. It's never easy to lose a furry friend."

A faraway look crossed his face as he said, "J--J--J--Jimmy j--ju--just cou--coul--couldn't g--g--go o--on w--w--w--wit--without h--her. H--h--he pa--pa--passed a--a w--w--week af--after my--my--my Cla--Clara."

I don't know if the gentleman could see them, but I sure felt the hot tears that began filling my eyes. As I blinked and blinked with the hope of stopping them, I noticed that the man only had one grocery item ... a frozen pie.

"Come go ahead in front of me," I said. "You only have that pie to pay for ... please go ahead of me."

"A--A--Are y--you s--s--s--sure?" he asked.

"Of course," I replied as I stepped aside so that he could get around my cart. "I'm sorry I didn't notice sooner ... come on up here and go ahead of me."

"Th--th--that's v--v--v--very ki--ki--kind of--of y--y--you, m--m--maam," he said with a gentle smile. "B--B--But I--I--I'll on--on--only g--g--go a--a--ah--ahead of--of y--y--y--you i--i--if y--y--you'll l--let m--m--me pe--pet yo--you--your d--d--dog," he said as his gentle smile broke into a full-on grin.

"Deal!" I said and lifted Ollie out of the shopping cart. Ollie being Ollie, he was more than willing to plant a big old kiss on the old man's chin when he leaned in to pet him. The man then went ahead of me in the line, paid for his frozen pie and stepped off to the side and waited for me to finish my own transaction. At first I thought the old guy was just waiting so that he could thank me again for letting him cut in front of me in line, but when I realized he intended to walk out of the store and toward my car with me ... well ... it creeped me out a little. Which is why I stopped as soon as we got outside and said, "Nice to meet you, sir ... have a good night," and then turned to walk away.

"Ma--ma--maam," the man stuttered. "Th--th--tha--thank y--you f--f--for tal--tal--tal--talking to--to--to m--m--me. I-I'm ta--ta--taking th--this p--p--pie to--to--to m--my f--f--fr--friend Bi--Bil--Bill. Doc--Doc--Doc--Doctors s--s--say h--he dos--dos--doesn't h--ha--have m--m--much t--t--time le--le--le--left a--an--and h--he l--l--l--l--loves p--p--pie. B--B--Bill sa--sa--sa--said h--he'd s-say he--he--he--hello t-to Cla--Cla--Cla--Clara a--a--and Ji--Ji--Jim--Jimmy f--for m--m--me wh--wh--when h--he g--g--g--gets t--to hea--hea--heaven if--if--if I--I--I'd co--co--come g--get h--h--h--him a--a--a p--p--pie."

"Stupid tears," I thought as I took off my glasses and brushed my sleeve across my eyes. It was a very short hop for me to go from being creeped out by the old man with the scraggly beard, worn clothes and faded felt hat to wrapping my arms around him and hugging him. Yep, right there just outside the door of Walmart in front of God and everybody else who saw me ... right there, I stopped and hugged that old man. I thanked him for talking to me. I thanked him for petting my dog. I thanked him for making me see.

"Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it." --- Confucius