Encouragement is a verb

           “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encouraging one another; especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”  Hebrew 10:24-25 (NLT)

           “One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.”—Simone De Beauvoir

           They have arrived, via text, nearly daily for two weeks.  Daily devotionals sent my way courtesy of a family friend.  Some of the readings are better than others, but all brighten my day simply because this person is trying to offer a bit of positivity and inspiration into my day.  However, there are times, due to their length, that I cannot read them at the time they are sent because my schedule varies significantly from his. Therefore, I often do not read get to read the devotional until bedtime.  I figure, regardless of the time of day, it is still a worthwhile task.

 

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           Task: job, chore, responsibility, undertaking . . . My day is filled with mental and written lists of things to do.  In fact, I start my day by looking over the post-it note of goals for the day and week listed the prior afternoon/evening before leaving work. Even still, driving to work, my mind is already scrolling through thoughts of what I will do when I first arrive, followed by what I will do next, followed by the next task, and so on.  The same is true for my planning period without students, my time after school, my time driving home. However, the one so-called responsibility that I most value is that of encouraging.

 

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           To that end, however, there are times; I am so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of paperwork, computer tasks of documentation and communication, and the constraints of deadlines and times, that I misplace my priorities.  Thus, one recent night, as I rested in bed before turning off the light, finally reading the daily devotional sent to me, I came to face-to-face with what I love to preach, but allow the noise of the must-dos to hypnotize me into forgetting: encourage is a verb.

 

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           Reading the words from Hebrews 10: 24-25, there was my reminder in black and white.  “Let us think of ways to motivate one another . . ..”  Boy does the world need that now, more than ever.  Distractions abound all around. From the dings of texts to the bleeps of another email filling the inbox; from a screen flash of a calendar reminder of an upcoming event to another job-related task/deadline added to the reminder app; and, from rushing off to fulfill another commitment/appointment to bustling away from the work desk in order to acquire at least some time to maintain certain living rituals, it seems everyday life often creates both outer and inner noise that fill, and sometimes even, numbs us to the value of a kind word, a gentle pat/hug/embrace, or even a genuine smile that truly offers a moment of encouragement.

 

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         Two days later, after mulling over this devotion, I was seated in a yoga class, that I was teaching, sharing the following words before beginning the practice:  “You are not there.  You are here. Be here.  Be all here.”  As I saw the words sink-in and resonate with the students around me, I began to shift inwardly as my own inner ear perked up. Hmm . . .I hate it when my own words teach me as the weight of what I was sharing wrapped around my heart like my favorite warm, softly fuzzy sweatshirt. Be.  All. Here. And, how does that fit into encouragement as a verb?

 

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           As that day progressed, and really, into the next day, the words kept returning like the peal of the 5:00 pm church bells along 5th Ave in Huntington, WV.  Family, and a couple of my daughter’s friends, was gathering at my home that evening. Be. All. Here. Encouragement.

           I would like to write a picture perfect ending stating that I spent the rest of the weekend in perfect presence with all who were visiting my house.  Additionally, I would like to say that I floated about my home offering wise words of wisdom and encouragement to all. Cue the rousing and heart-wrenching music, but that would NOT be true.

 

           Still, I was keenly aware of the sweet sensation of an arm around a waist, the warmth of an embrace, the way smiles and laughter are contagious, and the special buzzing sensation that comes with conversation among and between people who are genuinely interested in supporting and uplifting one another.  By the last good-bye around noon on Sunday, as John smiled broadly, wrapped me up in his arms, and said, “Ah, Steph, this was a good weekend,” it felt full-circle-good.

 

 

          We had done nothing great, nothing fancy, and offered no great life-changing words.  Instead, we opened our home, we offered our hearts, we shared a simple meal or two, and swapped a gaggle of stories and laughter. That is the magic dust for forming memories.  My stack of ungraded papers never changed. This piece I am now writing, had yet to be written. Several loads of laundry were still in need of tackling. Weeds still needed pulled. Dust and dirt weren’t disappearing.  And, somehow, none of it mattered . . ..

           Ok, so, yes, as I write this, I am already worried, anxious, and a bit stressed about the to-dos, but I would not change a thing.  Not. One. Thing.

           

          

           

 

Stolen Identity: A Divine Inspired Lesson

           “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”—1 John 3:1 NIV

 

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As seen on Instagram at oneminddharma.

 

          They are in my house again.  The two men with nasty sneers and malevolent eyes are ordering John and me to do things against our will. Both of us have been struck repeatedly.  John has blood trickling from his nose, and blood has filled my mouth from my banged-up bottom lip, still smarting from the latest smack I received when I screeched for them to quit.

            “Stop it! Stop it, now! You’re hurting him.”

           These thugs smell vile as if they have bathed in alcohol, tobacco, and body odor.  John is trying to resist their orders because he knows it is wrong. The one with the shaved head is wearing a black t-shirt with a red face emoji that has xxxx in the place of a mouth. He is the one who slapped me, and his coarse hands are now pushing me out of the room and into the bedroom away from John and the man with long, dark greasy ponytail.  I’ve got to get back to John some way. I’ve got to figure out how to get away from this man. His touch reviles me. His smell makes me want to vomit, but it is his negative, dark energy, emanating off him like the stream of dribbles left on the street by garbage trucks in the summertime, that most fills me with terror. Must. Figure. Something. Out.

 

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

 

           I hear John scream from our dining room. What has happened to him? Must. Get. To. Him. Now!  I open my mouth to scream, but I have no voice. No voice. Nothing comes out—not even a squeak. I am as voiceless as the emoji face on the evil man’s shirt. Meanwhile the stinky, rotten man laughs menacingly . . .

           Once more I try to shout, then my cat, Tippi Tail begins to walk on my legs, adjusting to get comfortable, and I am awake, soaked in my own sweat.  My heart is racing; my hands are tightly gripped.

           “Wake up, Steph,” I think reflexively.  Crawling out of bed, I grab a drink of water from my nightstand, and walk to the bathroom. It is the same basic nightmare I have repeatedly experienced for weeks.  Each occurrence has its own twist, but all end in me trying to scream, but I have no voice. How deeply symbolic.

 

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Photo by Rafael Guajardo on Pexels.com

 

           A month or so ago, many of our accounts were hacked.  From Facebook to Instagram, from Netflix to Amazon, and even one of our bank cards—all essentially stolen.  Porn was posted on my husband’s social media accounts. Netflix went from three users to five, all of whom required Spanish-speaking shows.  Numerous attempted purchases appeared on our Amazon and bank accounts. Thank heavens for our local, Chesapeake, Ohio, PNC bank branch in which Tammy, and all of the other employees, take great care of our family.

           Even with all of the great help/support from PNC, my husband has not yet returned to social media; and, we still cannot get Amazon completely corrected because trying to get an actual person who cares enough to truly help you at this big corporation is nearly an impossible task, we are finding.  The days and weeks that followed have left of us filled with much stress, worry, and many sleepless nights as we continue into week four of trying to get Amazon fully corrected.

 

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Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

 

           Stolen Identity.  While I am not sure if this is the exact title that would most accurately describe what happened to us, something was stolen nonetheless.  Life has been different since then—filled with a series of actions, follow through steps, waiting, hoping, and praying that everything will just return to normal.  And yet, the reality is that time has never, nor will ever, return to the-way-things-were. Life is in a constant state of flux. So why do we often think in terms of I-just-want-things-to-go-back-to-normal?

         Life, as illustrated in these pictures, is in constant change.

 

           This concept of stolen identity led me down the proverbial rabbit hole of thought.  What about other forms of stolen identity? For example, I am reminded of my Grandfather, whose personality, mind, and even bodily functions, were gradually overtaken by Alzheimer’s. In a similar vein, I have considered all of the athletes, both amateur and professional, whose lives are turned upside down and forever changed by injury.  Who are they if they are no longer an athlete? For that matter, what about the person who simply retires from a given career path? Who are they without their job?

           I am reminded of the few people I know who have experienced traumatic brain injury.  Often, they never return to their former self. Then, there are the numbers of people I have known who battled, or are battling, cancer.  I would conjecture that life with, and even after cancer, must be a forever-changing experience. The same must be true for those battling with multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s disease, and so forth.  I guess the point is, we are all one injury, one diagnosis, or even one event away from experiencing a so-called thief stealing our identity.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           All of these thoughts have been swirling around my mind and heart for weeks.  I think that is why I continue to have the recurring night terror. Then, this past weekend, my heart was quite literally and figuratively filled with a reminder.

           It came at the closing of a yoga class that I was teaching on Saturday morning in Ashland, KY at Brown Dog Yoga.  At the end of class, with eyes closed, I asked the students to place one of their hands on top of their heart. I shared with them the story of how I learned, during yoga teacher training, that each individual’s heartbeat is unique. Every person creates a signature ECG, and much like one’s fingerprint, no two ECGs are exactly alike.  

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           Adding the following words, “This means you are infinitely and beautifully inscribed as a child of God.  You are special. Only you can bless the world in the way God created you to do.” My own words, no doubt, Divinely inspired, provided a powerful reminder for me, and I hope for you too, Dear Reader.  

           No matter what changes life is throwing at you as you are reading this, please remember the following. Each of us is a singular, divinely created being.  There is no one like Y-O-U. And throughout all of life’s changes, something doesn’t change, and that is the fact that you are a uniquely crafted soul created and cared for by a Supreme Being.  No one else can be you. No one else can bring to the table of life what you, and your experience brings. So use those changes, use your Supremely created self to find your own way to bless the world.  Heaven knows, the world sure could use a blessing or two.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

           

           

Life is in a state of constant change, but in spite of all the changes, something doesn’t change, and that is the fact each of us is a Divinely inspired and unique creation.

 

Birdsong: A Tune of Spring Renewal

           “The Sun after the rain is much beautiful than the Sun before the rain.”—Mehmet Murat IIdan

           “Give food to the birds, you will then be surrounded by the wings of love, you will be encompassed by the joys of little silent heart!”—Mehmet Murat IIdan

           “There’s the robins,” my husband said recently in a singsong voice typically reserved for animals.  It is such a simple phrase that hearkens back to my childhood; and yet, plants me in the here and now.

 

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As seen on TrekOhio.com

 

           Before meeting John, there were two men in my life who introduced me to nature, my Papaw, as I called him, and my Dad.  As a child, I spent quite a bit of time with my grandparents. Papaw loved to watch the birds. He usually kept a bird feeder year round in his backyard, just outside the kitchen window.  During the winter months, he was often known to go outside and chase away the blue jays.

 

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As seen on All About Birds

 

           “The meanest bird there ever was,” he was fond of explaining.

           Ah, but the arrival of the robins got Papaw jazzed.

           “Stethie,” as he called me, “spring’s not too far off when the robins come back.”

           He would linger over the draining rack as he dried dishes that my grandmother washed.  Steam would be rising over the chilled window panes of glass as his eyes twinkled watching the robins.   

           “Lookie how red the breast is on that one.”

           “Notice how they sing even though it is still cold.”

           “Notice, look, lookie-here . . .”

           My Dad was also fond of birds, but he would sometimes take my siblings and me “on the hill,” as we called it, for Sunday afternoon walks especially in the spring and fall.  He would encourage us to notice the trees—their leaf shape, their bark texture; notice the moss—where it grew, how it felt, the different ways it could look; pick up and examine the seeds and nuts that were tossed pell-mell; notice the early spring flowers poking through the detritus of the forest floor . . .

 

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           “Did you hear the woodpecker?” Dad would ask us.  “Let’s see if we can find it,” as our eyes scanned the tree arms above.

 

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As seen in Ohio on FeederWatch

 

           Therefore, on a recent night this past mid-March week, as John, my husband, and I sat on the front porch enjoying the warmth, the sunshine, and the birds, my mind drifted to those feathered friends of Papaw and the hilltop hikes with my dad.

           “Listen to the robins sing, Steph.”

            “Look at those two robins in the grass fighting for mating rites.”

           I sighed, taking it all in.

 

 

           The multi-layered, billowy clouds above; the willows’ early greenings; the skeleton appendages of the other trees, full of dark buds just waiting to burst through; the bite of the breeze that caused John and me to shiver; it was all so glorious and grounding during the midst of a difficult week.

           “Look!” I exclaimed to John.

           “There’s a bluebird couple!”

           “No wait, there’s four blue birds on the line!”

 

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You have to look closely. Three of the four bluebirds are in this image. We always look forward to their return.

 

           As I crept from one end of the porch to the other, in order to capture a picture of them, I happened to see another bird couple, house finches, in our lilac bush. I motioned for John to come look, but he didn’t notice.  

           Therefore, I tried to gain his attention with a whispered, “Psst!”

           While it did gain John’s attention, it was too much noise.  A flash of both bright and dull cobalt blue fluttered into flight; followed in suit by a flicker of pinkish red and gray, one more vibrantly colored than the other.  

 

House finches, can be seen, if you look closely, singing in our lilac bush.

 

           Returning to my chair, John said, “Look, Steph, aren’t those gold finches with the dipping and darting flight you like so well?”

           Our conversation and observations continued until the growling of stomach told me, we needed to eat the dinner already prepared and staying warm in the kitchen.  John lingered a bit longer as I reluctantly, and yet, joyfully, parted from my porch perch. My soul felt grounded and renewed from those 30 or so minutes of observing, noticing, and listening—and, all those other verbs of nature-love Papaw and Dad taught.

 

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           Walking into the entrance of my home, I shook my head. Oh, how both Papaw, now in his eternal spring; and Dad, wintering in the Florida sunshine, would have enjoyed such natural theater of that evening. How very marvelous and precious the season of spring has become!  What a gift of time John and I shared on that rare March evening surrounded by hints of spring. Such a metaphor for life . . ..

           “God, make me brave for life: oh, braver than this.  Let me straighten after pain, As a tree straightens after the rain, shining and lovely again.  

           God, make me brave for life; much braver than this.  As the grass lifts, let me rise From sorrow with quiet eyes, knowing Thy way is wise.

           God, make me brave, life brings Such blinding things.  Help me to keep my sight; Help me to see aright That out of dark come light.”—Grace Noll Crowell

 

            

           

           

 

Come Back to Your Breath: A Return to Meditation

           “Breathing in, I am aware of my body. Breathing out, I release the tension in my body.”—Thich Nhat Hanh

           “Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives.  You don’t have to wait ten years to experience this happiness. It is present in every moment of your daily life.”—Thich Nhat Hanh

 

           “Come back to your breath.”

           It was a simple direction, but powerful nonetheless.  I was in the middle of a fairly intense yoga class. Could the instructor read my mind because I had wandered into thoughts; and thinking, for me, can be a source of positivity or, as is more often the case, a source of negativity and defeat.  

 

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As seen on Instagram at thichnhathanh.bot

 

          I often give a similar instruction when I am teaching yoga.

           “Focus on your breath.  If thoughts enter your mind, brush them away as if they are food crumbs on the table of your mind.”  

           And yet, how very often do I practice this? How often do I ruminate on lists of things to do for school and other work, for home, for my daughter, for my husband, for when-I-get-home, for when-the-weekend-gets-here  . . . On and on the mental post-it notes stick in my mind in the same way they adorn my work desk, my notebooks, and sometimes throughout my home. Must do, gotta remember, can’t forget . . .Oh, those lists; and I haven’t even made it to the lists of worries; the lists of things for which I should feel guilty; the lists of oh-I-wish-I-would-have-thought-to-do . . .. All this mental inventory and babble!  

 

Like the lists that adorn my notebooks, kitchen counters, and work desk, my mind is often filled with post-it notes of mental lists.

 

          Of all people, I should know better! After all, I spent a large portion of 2018 in yoga teacher training (YTT), which had a huge emphasis on mindfulness and meditation.   In fact, during this time period, I was an avid meditator with a daily practice emphasizing breath work. As a matter of fact, I had a couple of years of meditation under my belt before starting YTT, and yet, here I was standing in a yoga class with my monkey mind as it dashed, darted, and dipped.  

 

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As seen on Instagram at thichnhathanh.bot

 

           Momentarily, my racing mind, as if it were a bird in flight alighting upon a tree limb, landed on a phrase by Thich Nhat Hanh, the author of hundreds of books on mindfulness and meditation.  In fact, at the end of my YTT training, each student, in our group of 20, received a mini-book with excerpts from his numerous books.

           “This is an in-breath.  This is an out-breath.”

 

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Both the book and the heart were gifts from my instructors at the end of YTT training at Brown Dog Yoga. They are on my work desk as a reminder of what I had not been doing for nearly 3 months.

 

           As I repeated those words, my awareness shifted its focus to my breath.  So simple, yet so energy shifting. Without realizing it, I lost the words as I continued to follow the breath—which of course is the point. Lose the words along with the chattering thoughts. Albeit, it was brief, because my mind is so addicted to its thoughts, worries, and fears.  However, with the brevity came the recognition that in order to be of service to others, as well as myself, I needed to return to a regular mindfulness practice–one that included more meditation.

 

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As seen on Instagram at thichnhathanh.bot

 

          Yes, I had a whole routine of prayers, petitions, and points of focus that I did daily each time I drove first thing in the morning.  I mean, I even turn the radio off for heaven’s sake to ensure my mind is not distracted, so I can fully concentrated on my murmurings.  Plus, each week at mass, I also wholly devote myself to prayers and meditations—ok, ok, semi-wholly . . . ok, more like, well, like the squirrels that scamper throughout our school’s grounds skittering around from one thought to the next. Truth be told, I had been lying to myself for several month as guilt washed over me.  Great, another point to add to list of things for which to feel guilty!

 

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As seen on Instagram at thichnhathanh.bot

 

           Time to get back on the proverbial wagon. After honest reflection, I realized I could not make meditation-time another item on my many running post-it lists of things-to-do-for-the-day.  It would then run the risk of becoming a daily point of pressure for which to create an excuse for not doing—I don’t have time for twenty minutes, so why bother at all? What could I do then?

           “Come back to your breath.”

           Wait, could it really be that simple? What if I set a timer for five minutes in the morning before showering?  Then, for five minutes sit and focus on breathing-in and breathing-out; and, actually practice what I preach. If  . . .I mean, when, because I do know my mind . . .when thoughts enter my mind, I push them away as if they are food crumbs on the mind of my table—just for five minutes; or three minutes, if need be.  

 

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Could I set a time for five minutes and meditate?

 

           As I write this, I am three days in to this practice.  Ironically, I ended up sitting all three days for 10-15 minutes focusing on the breath and pushing away those pesky mental post-it notes of thoughts. Afterwards, I have felt more grounded, focused, and less anxious.  Oh-to-be-certain, all those lists were still there! However, for the time that I focused on the in-breath and the out-breath, they did not exist. And, that, for now, is good enough. That said, I fully recognize that there will be days when five minutes will be all that I manage, but this is how one returns to a habit that has been lost—at least how I know I can realistically.

 

There are numerous apps and youtube videos on meditations that can be of great assistance. . .if I would actually use them!

 

           In fact, this simple practice of focusing on breathing in and breathing can be accomplished anywhere, even at those dang-blasted red lights that prevent me from getting home quickly after a long day away.   As Hanh points out, “The in-breath can be a celebration of the fact that you are alive, so it can be very joyful.” And, while there are numerous other benefits from a regular meditation practice supported by science that can be found with a quick click of computer keys, I’ll start with a bit more joy!

 

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As seen on Instagram at thichnhathanh.bot

           

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An image my daughter, Madelyn, painted for me several years ago when she was just starting to explore painting–which is a form of mindfulness–and, when I first began to dabble in meditation.

 

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An OM, given to me by a dear friend, adorns my kitchen, and it serves as a reminder of the importance of meditation on the mind, heart, and soul.

Life, Like Lightening, Strikes Quickly

              “Here hyacinths of heavenly blue, shook their rich tresses to the morn.”—James Montgomery

              “Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.”—Marcus Aurelius

              Tuesday morning.  It was John’s birthday—my husband of nearly thirty years.  We had celebrated his sister, Jacki’s, and his birthdays earlier in the week, but as I wished him a “Happy Birthday” that morning, I was struck by the number of birthdays we had celebrated together in our marriage.  Later, that same day at school, when one of our much younger co-workers asked if John was 49 years old and holding, the look of amazement in her eyes when he stated he was 57, struck me as ironic. John and I were once the young staff members; now we are the veterans. The realization of this notion did not fully sink in . . .yet.

 

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Mike McCabe, left; John, center; and Steve McCabe, right pictured together at their annual get-together always right around John’s birthday. They have all been friends since high school.

 

              Thursday afternoon.  As I was waiting for a fitness class to start at Brown Down Yoga, I looked around the room.  There were women of all ages present, but I was struck by a pair of younger women who were clearly, based upon their conversation, teachers.  My eyes kept being drawn to how very young they looked. Surely, they were not old enough to have a college degree, much less already be current educators. Then, from a deep cavity of personal recollections, I inwardly smiled as I recalled the fact the fact that I had been like them at one time in my life. In fact, during my first year as a teacher at a local high school, many staff members, who did not know me, would ask for my hall pass. What a memory!

 

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A picture of me from my third or fourth of year of teaching.

              

              Friday morning. Our priest, Monsignor Dean, walked behind the pulpit to speak.  The school had surprised him with a gift after our weekly mass (church service) in honor of his 67th birthday. He spoke with a clear voice, but his face was unmistakably caught in a reverie.  His words were full of sentiment and wistfulness.

              Monsignor described celebrating his first birthday in Huntington.  He had been in third grade, and was home sick with the mumps—quite a disappointment for a young lad on such a highly anticipated event.  His dad gave him a hyacinth that year. With great emotion, he described how on his walk over to the church that morning he passed a hyacinth, newly sprouting from the ground and was reminded of his dad as well as the bittersweet taste of the passage of time.  I swallowed hard as I felt the powerful implication of this words when he added, “It seems like that was only yesterday when Dad gave me that flower.”

 

 

               After mass, I found a hyacinth outside one of the church doors.     

 

             Saturday morning.  I held and read the three names I was given: Hospitalman Luke Emch, KIA 03/02/20017; Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder, KIA 03/03/2006; and, Sergeant Joshua V. Youmans, KIA 03/01/2006.  I listened as other voices took turns reading 33 more names of women and men killed in action on March 1-3 since 2011 in the circle of remembrance. We were all preparing, in some way, to participate in an over 3-½-mile run/walk of the wear blue: run to remember Ashland community monthly outing. These names would be carried in our hearts as we took purposeful steps in honor and remembrance of their ultimate sacrifice.  Once more I felt the constriction of my throat as I fought back the emotion.

 

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wear blue: run to remember Ashland community for March: Front Row–Sandy Mers, Carrie Kyne, Kathy Dingess-Akers with Gus; Back Row–Debbie Davis, Melissa Colyer, Josh Skeens, Valerie Carson, me, Mark Gaffney, & Peyton Gaffney

 

              Who was I to complain about the quick passage of time?  Their families would give nearly anything to have more time to spend with their fallen loved one, no matter how many gray hairs or wrinkles acquired along the way.  How fortunate I was to be alive; to be present in that moment; to have spent nearly 30 years of marriage with my husband; to have both of my parents and step-parents alive; to have all of my siblings still alive; to have a beautiful daughter in college; to be able to work and contribute to society and my local community in a meaningful way . . .how very fortunate, indeed.

 

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Me with my daughter, Madelyn, on her most recent visit home from college.

 

              A couple of hours later.  Driving home from Ashland on US 52 I was struck by the number of times I had traversed this route over the years from age four until now—nearly fifty years of traveling this road.  Memories of driving to and from holiday and birthday celebrations in order to be with grandparents and extended family; church events; numerous visits to our pediatrician when I was a kid; years of driving to and from Ohio University; anticipating my latest haircut as I drove to Ironton; dates between my now husband and me . . . .how many more miles will I travel this route until it is my last?

 

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              Then, the song came on.  “Lightning Crashes,” by Live—the haunting imagery; its striking lyrics; the emotional voice . . . and, that is when the tears could no longer be held back.  It was a song from oh-so-long-ago. A song I often played when I first started writing in my forties to begin to crawl out of the deep despair of depression into which I had fallen after the death of one of my precious kindergarten students—the exact same age as my daughter.  I thought of his final trip down this highway. My mind raced to the final mile of the men and women whose names I had read just hours ago. What was their final mile? Was there an angel with each of them as they crossed over, calming their fear? I would like to believe this is true.

              I thought of the loved ones I have already lost in this life.  My dear grandparents and sweet mother-in-law, uncles, aunts, neighbors, friends . . . Do they know I still think of them?  Do they know they mattered? And, in the end, will my life have mattered?

              Tears flowed. The miles rolled.  Life streams through my clasping hands.

                             “Oh now feel it, comin’ back again/ Like a rollin’, thunder chasing the wind/Forces pullin’ from/The center of the earth again/I can feel it.”—Lyrical excerpt from “Lightning Crashes” as performed by Live

 

More images from the wear blue: run to remember Ashland community March event

 

              

              

 

Play Shuffle, Life

           “The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient.  One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”—Anne Morrow Lindbergh

           Remember when the IPod was introduced, and the way we consumed music was forever transformed.  Years of listening to the radio, or even an album, where another person controlled the sequence and timing of songs without, per se, personal input, was revolutionized.  The consumer could now choose songs for download, create personal playlists for any occasion, and if desired, could even shuffle all those songs, those playlists, those genres into a Golden Corral of sorts, where all types of music could be sampled, and if the appetite was big enough, voraciously devoured. And, like a buffet, one could simply skip over any song nugget that did not fit one’s current craving with the push of a button.

 

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          Along a similar path, I recall the days of typing papers.  Ugh! Even my master’s degree was completed with an electric typewriter.  Personally, I spent hours, taking random notes/facts and writing them on individual note cards with sources listed on the back as my long-ago high school English teacher, Mr. Wheeler, taught me to do. Then, I’d lay them all out on the floor, or dining room table, and begin the process of arranging, rearranging, and grouping these cards into potential sections of the paper. Next, I’d label each stack, and arrange them into what seemed like a logical order.  Finally, I’d used stacks of notebook paper to write out some semblance of a rough draft long hand style—and, yes, arrange and rearrange those pages. All of this before even sitting down to type! And, oh, heaven help my typing skills (Sorry, Tana Lewis, you tried to force my fingers to type 45-65 words per minute without an error in your Typing 1 class, but, alas, I am still an over-thinking-lack-of-confidence-error-ridden typist!)

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           The digital age has changed life in dramatic ways as I reflect over all of the rapid change I have witnessed over five decades.   I can now pay, or use a “free-version” (with, of course, commercial ads), of various music services, if I desire, rather than downloading individual songs or albums.   These services will even suggest songs I might like—allowing me, like that Golden Corral buffet, to sample a bit of this album or a morsel of that genre without increasing my cost.

 

 

           Furthermore, when writing and/or researching, I can copy, cut, paste, delete, and rearrange to my heart’s delight.  Multiple sources filled with facts, data, and anecdotal evidence can be easily and quickly be found, validated, and bookmarked.  No longer do I have to buy nearly a forest-worth of paper, note cards, and notebooks. I just click a key, touch a screen, or scroll with my finger, and voila, information in less than a second!  Why, it almost tempts me to go back to school just to research and write papers. Hmm . . . Stephanie Musick, Hill, PhD, does have a ring to it . . .wait a minute . . .nah . . . I think I’ll shuffle on to a different life tune.

 

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           My current rabbit-hole of thoughts regarding shuffling, cutting, pasting, and even buffets, led to me to a recent lesson—a lesson I am still struggling to learn:  l-i-f-e. Those playlists and even writing projects, such as this, can be carefully controlled. Click—add a song; click—no, delete it, and put it here; or likewise, click—change the word; click—find a quote; click—no, there has to be a better way to say it; click, click, click, click—delete the phrase; click, click click—ah, that sounds better this way.

 

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Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

 

           Life is not so easily arranged, manipulated, and/or controlled.  Sure, as humans, we like to think we are in control. We believe we can arrange our schedules, our goals, our days, and our lives into precisely sequenced time-slots of events. However, like the shuffle option on our favorite way to consume music, life is full of randomness.  Sometimes, we are lulled by days, months, or even years (if we’re lucky) of sweet sounding summer-like tunes like time spent with gentle surf, warm sunshine, and not-too-hot sand. Yet, even that ideal beach shoreline, continuously changes due to storms, rough water, high tides, strong winds, and pollution; and still, tourist go back year after year.

 

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As seen on Instagram by positiveenergyalways

 

           Like the beach of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s eloquent quote, we must remain open to the possibilities.  Grasping and attaching to “the story of life” as arranged by our mind, often leads to suffering, anxiety, and even fear–especially of the unknown.  And, while the sea of life, can certainly shuffle-in storms, debris, high-waters, and random pieces of trash, it can also offer up beautiful shells of memories for collecting, calm water moments for soaking, and the soothing sounds of comfort.

 

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          While we cannot create and sequence the so-called perfect a playlist or word-document of life, we can be open to the shuffle of it, the buffet of its opportunities, the ebb and flow of its waters; and in that openness, we can find songs of joy, words of praise, and a uniquely crafted, tension-filled story of adventure with its own dynamic soundtrack penned by the Ultimate Divine Hand of Creation offered to us with love.  

 

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As seen on Instagram @ postiveaffirmations101

 

           Life is unfolding and, well, shuffling, as it should.   I often forget this, but I know in my core, this is true.  And while I may never attain perfection in remembering this, I can work towards progress—progress of learning to accept, nibble, and even savor all the varied and unpredictable tastes life offers up.

 

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As seen on Instagram @ postiveenergyalways

A community to remember and honor

        “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”—Lao Tzu

        “wear blue: run to remember is a national nonprofit running community that honors the service and sacrifice of the American military. wear blue: run to remember creates a support network for military members and their families; it bridges the gap between military and civilian communities and it creates a living memorial for our country’s fallen military members. wear blue: run to remember exists for the fallen, for the fighting and for the families.”—excerpt from wearblueruntoremember.org

 

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       Aw . . .January . . .the month where many people begin or renew health and wellness goals.  Gyms, yoga studios, health clubs, and outdoor running/walking/biking paths are often overflowing with the vigor and excitement of New Year’s resolutions.  The gluttony of holidays is now replaced with better, healthier habits and goals.

 

 

 

 

        Personally, while I rarely, per se, establish New Year’s resolutions, I do find I have increased motivation and renewed excitement for my own personal health goals.  Additionally, I use the start of the New Year as a time to reflect upon my current habits and look for ways to refine, improve, and if needed, change/adjust current practices for physical, spiritual, and mental well-being.

        

        At one point in my adult life, running was part of my fitness regime, including running a local marathon to celebrate turning 50.  I loved that most races in which I participated benefitted a local charity, so that my training/running felt as if it served a purpose greater than my own personal gain. However, a back injury brought running to a quick and unforeseen hiatus.  While I dream of one day returning to the world of running, I fully recognize that most forms of movement, including walking, offer numerous benefits to the body, mind, and soul. Thus, I have learned to accept my current physical state and fully recognize that I still have the gift of life.  A back injury is a minor life setback compared to other more life-altering experiences. Still, I remember the challenge and the sense of accomplishment that followed the obligatory, once-per-week “long run,” that was part of any training plan/goal.

 

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Mindi Church Newell (left) smiles at sister-in-law, friend, and “cheerleader”, Sandy Mers, Coordinator of Ashland wear blue community, during the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington D.C.this past fall–a true long run.

 

        Thus, when Sandy Mers, friend and Coordinator of the Ashland wear blue community, shared a video with me from TedxTacoma of Lisa Hallett, Executive Director & Co-Founder of wear blue: run to remember,I was reminded of those once-upon-a-time “long runs”. As Hallett described the back-story that ultimately forged the foundation of her group, I was moved to tears. She passionately portrayed the way in which running, in particular, her once-per-week long training runs with her community of friends, provided her with much needed support as well as a healthy outlet for her grief following the loss of her husband/ best friend/ father of their three children (one whom he never met), CPT John Hallett, “who was killed when his Stryker was attacked with an improvised explosive device in South Afghanistan” on August 25, 2009.   It is from these friend/community-supported runs that the wear blue running community evolved.  Yet, from what I can tell, it is so much more than running . . .

 

www.youtube.com/watch

 

https://www.armytimes.com/video/2018/12/27/who-will-remember/#.XDIPRoZZz0g.email

 

        In fact, Mers emphasized the importance of all participants, whether running or otherwise, in the group’s first local event held this past Saturday at Central Park in Ashland, KY.  12 people, according to Mers, convened 8:00 am at the 17th street entrance. Then, at 8:15, participants gathered in a celebration circle where they took turns reading the names of 51 military personnel killed in action during the dates of January 4-6 from 2001 to present.  Then, some participants ran, some walk/ran, others solely walked, and still others remained at finish line to cheer for each participant as he or she reached their goal destination. Despite the fact it is called a run, each participant, emphasized Mers, offered “a purposeful step” for the wear blue community.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     Participants gather in a celebration circle for the inaugural wear blue: run to remember of the Ashland community.

 

        The Ashland community of wear blue established a distance of one mile for this inaugural event.  However, the goal for community members participating in the February “run” is two miles, and the goal for March is three miles—at which they plan to remain for future events, although Mers is not ruling out hosting longer events.   Of course, participants can always choose to do more, depending upon their training needs.

 

 

 

 

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        Sadly, I missed out on the opportunity to participate in this first event.  That said, as I read about this movement, I found myself yearning to once more get out there on a running path, even if it means walking; and what better motivator than supporting, honoring, and remembering those who have served and sacrificed while in our American military. As the wear blue website states, the  “wear blue is an all-inclusive organization that actively strives to bridge the gap between the military and the community.”

 

 

 

 

        Therefore, I have joined the wear blue: run to remember Ashland community, which can be found on Facebook.  It is a public group that is open to all. Each “run” occurs on the first Saturday of each month at 8:00 am at Ashland Central Park, 17th street entrance with the celebration circle beginning at 8:15.  The next event will occur February 2. For more information/inquiries, outside of the Facebook page, email: Ashland.community@wearblueruntoremember.org

 

 

 

Images of Mindi Church Newell from the Marine Corp Marathon held annually in Washington DC.  Newell ran in honor and remembrance of her late husband, “Tuc” Church who was killed in action in May of 2007.

 

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         In the meantime, won’t you consider participating in February and/or other future events? There is absolutely no cost; and, best of all, your effort, whether walking, running, a combination of both, or cheering pays tribute to those service members who have given the ultimate sacrifice.  Plus, as icing on the cake, you’ll reap physical, mental, and perhaps spiritual benefits. I hope to see you there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From the Facebook page of one survivor.

2018 Family Love and Reflections

           “Family is a unique gift that needs to be appreciated and treasured, even when they’re driving you crazy.  As much as they make you mad, interrupt you, annoy you, curse as you, try to control you, these are the people who know you the best and who love you.”—Jenna Morasca

           “To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there.”—Barbara Bush

 

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From Maddie, my daughter, and Johnny’s, my nephew, high school graduation party in 2017.

 

           I suspect there is a direct correlation with each increased year of age, but I cannot help but notice that I have a growing sense of appreciation for my family.  It is not as if I never before put value on my family, because I always have. However, like the warmth of the sun’s rays in winter versus late spring, the esteem with which I hold my family has likewise intensified; and, I further suppose will evolve in the same way spring’s warmth develops into summer’s heat.

           This past year, especially the holiday season, only convinces me more of the truth of this realization.  I more fully appreciate the gift of each year with my husband, John, now of nearly 30 years. Each moment with our daughter, Madelyn, in her second year of college, is more precious.  Conversations with my siblings and parents are also more cherished. Furthermore, I have a greater sense of loss with the passing of each friend and family member as, like my age, those numbers are also increasing.

 

 

 

           2018 was certainly a year of amplified awareness for me—an awareness of things left unsaid, words said in hasty anger, impulsive reactions, and/or a lack of action.  It seems time is flowing rapidly like our Ohio River after heavy days of rain; and, I am adrift on a log of emotions unable to reach the shore line.

           Thus, as the holiday season winds down, if you will allow me, Dear Reader, to indulge in a few lines of gratitude.  It is my hope that by sharing these thoughts with you, that perhaps you will join me in saying those words that need to be said; or, at the very least, begin to reflect upon the people Divine Providence has put in your own life.  

 

 

                      Images of my brother, Scott, and sisters, Traci and Rachel.

 

           To my brother, Scott, and sisters, Traci and Rachel, during the holiday season, I received the gift of seeing all of you! As stories were swapped and laughs were shared, I frequently heard tales of my childhood bossiness, although I prefer to think of it as my blossoming leadership skills!  “The kids,” as I thought of you, were in need of my guidance and advanced wisdom, I felt certain as a youth. Thus, while I am sincerely sorry for my pushiness, I hope each of you know that my actions were motivated from a sense of great love, pride, and protectiveness for you. I felt as if I was your third parent, and with that came a sense of responsibility for your well being—however misguided my intentions were.  I loved, and still love, each one of you. We share a unique history that bonds us like no other. You each formed me into a better person; and you each shaped/influenced the type of parent, teacher, and even writer, I am now. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

           To my nieces and nephews, while I was unable to see all of you, I was blessed to see six out of nine of you during the holiday season.  Furthermore, of the three great nieces/nephews, I was able to see one. What a blessing each of you are to our family and me! Each of you is bright, articulate, witty, and all possess beautiful and unique souls.  When I am around you, I feel energized, renewed, and full of hope for the future. May you continue to bless the world with your sense of humor, creativity, and raw honesty. I love each of you.

 

 

 

 

 

           Mom and Dad, while you were not a perfect match for one another, you each did the best that you knew how to do at the time.  I could have never managed to go to school, work, and raise four kids in my twenties; yet, you unbelievably did just that despite the obstacles! Each of you instilled within me the love of the written word, appreciation and drive for education, a strong work ethic, and a love of movement.  Mom, you gave me the gift of cooking and baking; while Dad, you gave me the appreciation for quiet time in the woods. Both of you also shared with me the love of the beach, the mountains, educational travel, and you tempered my leadership, aka bossy skills! I hope each of you know how very much I realize you sacrificed of your own happiness for us kids.  Your early adult years were not easy; and I was NOT an easy first child, but through your struggles I learned, and, even now, I continue to learn from you. I am more empathetic and sensitive because of you. I love you both; and, I am so glad you each are traversing your own paths of happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

           Maddie, my singular, miraculous, and marvelous child, you are truly a gift, not only to your Dad and me, but also to the world. Your quick smile, sensitive nature, and pure, honest soul heals and/or soothes all who come into contact with you.  I was, and continue to be, an imperfect mother that is for sure. However, from the moment you were born and our eyes met, I have felt a deep, abiding Iove and connection with you that is more fierce and true than I ever knew was possible until I became your mother. Furthermore, you are my greatest teacher—providing me with ample lessons of humility, strength, and fortitude.  I love you, and will continue to love you “to the moon and back again” as your Dad and I would assure you when you were quite young.

 

 

           

           John, you are my dear husband and truest friend.  From our very first conversation, I knew you were the love of my life.  As my greatest cheerleader, you have always encouraged me to pursue my dreams, however crazy they may seem to others.  You believe in me—even when my inner-demons of unworthiness raise their ugly heads of doubt and fear. I know that when we join hands, we are an unstoppable team that is able to face down any obstacle or challenge that life swerves our way.  Our nearly thirty years together have not always been easy, but just like the pains of birth, nothing worthwhile is born out of ease. It is through our challenges that we have grown, and they have only deepened my love and appreciation for you. You are, and always will be, my north star.  

 

 

           

           Finally, to you, Dear Readers, who faithfully read my words as I struggle to derive greater understanding, deeper meaning, and more positivity from life, thank you for joining me.  Whether you are reading my writing for the first time, or you are a follower and regular reader of my blog, you motivate me to continue this writing exploration as amateur as it is.  Your feedback, kind emails, and unspoken energy fuel this writing exploration. It is my wish that maybe, just maybe, in some small way I add a form of encouragement, optimism, and/or light to your life.  

           Here’s to 2019 and all its lessons, promises, as well as realities it has to offer us.  Namaste.

 

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Photo by Sonam Yadav on Pexels.com

 

A Christmas Sort of Story, 2018

           Most people never really sat down and get to know a homeless person, but every homeless person is just a real person that was created by God and it is the same kinds of different as us; they just have a different story.—Ron Hall

           There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control.  We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless and the sick exist, then we can help.—Jan Schakowsky

 

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As seen on Instagram at sbtbreathe.

 

          We were tired, our bodies ached, and we were hungry.  Our school day started at 7:30. After school, I spent time with students in my “Elevate Writing and Arts” Club until 5:15 or so. Afterwards, I joined the other St. Joseph Catholic Middle School Teachers who were already busily working away to prepare and decorate our school gym for a Christmas movie themed dance for 6-8 grades at both our school and Our Lady of Fatima School.  Soon, the students began arriving.

           Overall, the dance went well.  Kids seemed to have a great time, there was plenty of food, and their Christmas movie themed costumes were phenomenally fun! All in all, we felt pleased that everything seemed to come together without a hitch.  

           Of course, once students were safely returned to their parents, there was still the clean-up process.  When all floors, decorations, tables, and so forth, were sufficiently returned, each to its proper place, we were able to lock up the school, and walk out of its doors sometime between 10:00 and 10:30 pm.

 

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Heading towards Roosters located at Pullman Square in Huntington, WV

 

           John, my husband and co-worker, asked me if I wanted to grab a bite to eat since we had not yet eaten dinner.   We were both too tired to cook, but wondered if there would be any late night eateries open. Sure enough, Roosters, in Pullman Plaza was open until midnight, and served food until 11:30.  It sounded perfect as it was only located a few minutes from our school.

           Once there, J’lisa Kelly-Walker was our server/bartender.  She was quick with a smile and possessed an easy-going, friendly demeanor.  We sat in the bar as that is where most patrons this time of evening were dining.  John ordered a sandwich, and I ordered a salad. While we were waiting, we shared pleasant conversation, despite our overall fatigue as we took in the people around us.

 

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Entrance to Roosters at Pullman Square in Huntington, WV

 

           Not long after we placed our order, a dapper looking gentleman sat at the bar beside us.  Dressed in a suit, he gave off the appearance of having just finished his workday as well.  He was unassuming, ordered his food, and seemed content to sit quietly as he waited. While J’lisa seemed to know him, perhaps he was a regular customer; she respected his desire for solitude.

           As a long-suffering people watcher, this man’s purpose seemed one of efficiency.   He talked into a wireless headset occasionally while reading on his phone. He courteously interacted with J’lisa, and received his food around the same time we received our meals; however, he did not engage in active conversation with her as we were doing. (J’lisa is a mom of three beautiful children, and we enjoyed chatting with her.)

 

 

 

           While we were finishing the last of our food, the reserved man beside us, who had already paid, quietly slipped away into the chilly night.   Ten or so minutes later, just after we had asked for our bill, I noticed the same man re-enter Roosters, but this time, he had another man with him. The other man was a pale, stark contrast to his well-dressed, black companion, as he looked a bit disheveled with a visible line of black beneath his nails.  His hair was in need of some TLC, but he was civil and peaceeable. The more distinguished man seated his companion in the same area in which he once sat, whispered to him, and then motioned for J’lisa to come over.

           It a minute or two past 11:30, as J’lisa cheerfully asked the seated man what he wanted to drink.  I could not help but notice J’lisa giving him not one, but two to-go cups filled with Mello Yellow soft drink.  Then, she met the unknown businessman at the opposite end of the bar as the man talked softly to her and then gave her his credit card.

 

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As seen on Instagram at positiveaffirmations101

 

 

            J’lisa walked to speak with what appeared to be a manager.  I overheard the manager say, “The kitchen closes at 11:30, and it is past that time.”

           J’lisa, not to be deterred, sweetly and sincerely, smiled, and urgently replied, “But they’re not shut completely down, the other man is willing to pay, the guy is hungry, and it’s cold outside.  See if they will do for me.”

 

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As seen on Instagram at positiveenergyalways

 

           Though he wasn’t mad, he certainly wore the expression of inconvenience, as he walked in the direction of the kitchen, and soon returned to whisper in J’lisa ear.  I watched in focused anticipation and baited breath as John asked me what was going on.

           “I’m trying to figure out if the restaurant is going to do the right thing.”

           “What?”

           “Shhh . . .”

           Admittedly, I was taking people watching to an extreme, but my heart had a vested interest in this unfolding drama.  I watched as J’lisa walked toward the bar. Was the credit card still in her hand? I couldn’t see it! Oh no! The suited gentleman began to walk toward the other man, leaned in, whispered, and patted his arm. The seated man nodded, and turned slightly towards the other with the appearance of disbelief.  Meanwhile, my heart pounded as I wondered if he going to be fed?

 

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J’lisa Kelly-Walker, student, mother of three, bar-tender/waitress, and kind person to ALL.

 

           Suddenly, J’lisa appeared, handed the businessman his credit card as well as the bill.  Another hungry, alone soul would have warm meal in his belly before another cold night on the streets. John and I quietly walked away, and I felt tears sting my eyes with gratitude for bearing witness to the Christmas spirit embodied in the actions of this one man, followed by J’lisa, the Roosters management, and kitchen staff.  

 

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Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

 

           What if the man who owned the Inn, had turned Mary and Joseph away all those years ago?  I am sure that they, too, were disheveled with dust/dirt-covered clothes and skin as they had travel for miles on a dirt road.  It is certainly worth remembering and contemplating.

P.S.  Thank you J’lisa, Rooster’s staff and management, and unknown man-of-action for inspiring this story.  It is my hope it will ignite others into simple acts of kindness, not only during the holiday season, but also throughout the year.  Finally, my wish for the hungry man at Roosters is that he may come to know peace, love, and compassion; and, most of all, may he one day no longer need to be at the mercy of others for food and warmth.

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As seen on Instagram at spiritualmovement

           

           

           

           

 

Present Moment Flow

“When you are here and now, sitting totally, not jumping ahead, the miracle has happened.  To be in the moment is the miracle.”—Osho

 

“Life is available only in the present moment.  If you abandon the present moment you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.”–Thich Nhat Hanh

 

“Mrs. Hill, why did you only record a part of our dance? You cut it off!”

 

Maanasa was laughing as she looked at me from around her computer screen.  Her bright eyes flickered earnestly.  She had been reading about the Tri-State India Association Diwali celebration of which she had been a part, and about which I had most recently written.

 

“I know I only videoed part of it,” I answered and returned to grading papers.

 

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Maanasa Miriyala smiles for the camera at the TSIA Diwali celebration.

 

It was lunchtime, and my classroom had become a study hall for those who would rather study, read, and/or begin homework than go to lunch/recess.  Usually, during this time of day, my classroom is fairly quiet with only the crinkling of food wrappers, the clickety-clicks of computer keyboards, the crunching sounds of food being chewed, and the whispers of students conferring over work. However, this was the last day before Thanksgiving break, there were very few students in my room, and no one was pressed with much homework.  Therefore, I had no problem with the on-going conversation.

 

Maanasa, who had been part of the TSIA celebration, was showing a few of her friends my blog, with special emphasis on her images and dance piece.  She had already spent time correcting spellings of names, which I appreciated; however, she was still in her teasing-critique mode when she lightheartedly made the comment about cutting short the video of her.

 

“But, there was more!”

 

“I know.  I cut off all the video recordings after a minute if you would take time to notice other dances that don’t involve you,” I teased back.

 

“Why?” she queried with a hint of playful indignation.

 

“Because, if I spent the entire song filming you, or any of the other dances, then I would not have been present in the moment.  I cannot enjoy and remember what I am seeing when I am focused on making a video—a video that wasn’t all that great anyway because I was too far from the stage.  While I wanted to record the event, I also wanted to savor the experience too.”

 

Maanasa tilted her head from side-to-side, as if truly contemplating my words, then emphatically stated, “Oh, okay then.”

 

She giggled and resumed talking to her friends as she explained Diwali to them, continuing to show them pictures from my blog.

 

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Maanasa Miriyala dances in the TSIA Diwali celebration.

 

I’m not sure what possessed me to explain my present-moment-philosophy to Maanasa, but it was the truth.  While I enjoy looking at photographs of past events, I am often terrible about remembering to take pictures unless I am doing it as part of a piece I am writing; and even then, my husband, John, usually has to remind me to take pictures as I often get lost in the moment.   That is not to say, I do not future-think or past-dwell; believe me, I do, but during certain moments, especially those deemed, “special,” I often try to soak in all the goodness as if basking in the sun, rather than use my phone to snap pictures.

 

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Cheryl and Brooke Biddish Ranch, Lewisburg, WV

 

Likewise, I am often similarly guilty of doing the same thing with social media.  I have friends, and even family, who assume I know something about them because they posted it on a social media site.  When I confess that I have not seen their recent post, I feel both guilty and simultaneously selfish because they have seen that I have posted about something to promote my blog, yoga class, or students without taking time to look at their posts.  Then, I feel compelled to hop on social media and troll all the family and friends I have neglected, but then, I find, I am neglecting the conversation/event going on around me at the time.

 

It is a vicious cycle it seems to me, balancing the right here, right now moment, with staying connected to the world around me. I observe friends and family who appear to have the ability to successfully sit in social situations holding their phone as they appear to seamlessly navigate what is going on around them with what is occurring on their favorite media outlet.  In fact, I often feel inadequate that I cannot do that. Therefore, I try to be savvier like them, only to find I can neither fully focus on what is occurring around me, nor absorb what is occurring on the screen in front of me.

 

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Cheryl and Brooke Biddish Ranch, Lewisburg, WV

 

Even before the advent of cell phones (Yes, there was life before then!), I can recall events that I probably should have photographed or videotaped, but did not. There were the routine moments, such as changing my daughter, Madelyn’s, diaper—the way her little arms and legs kicked as she would tried to vocalize along to the songs I sang to her.

 

Then, there were those silly life moments, such as the “naked baby game,” as John and I affectionately called it.  This was the time period when Maddie was a newly walking toddler, and I would bathe her.  Then, once out of the bathtub, John would be waiting at one end of the hall outside the bathroom with a fuzzy towel.  As I attempted to dry her with another towel, Maddie would  “escape” and run stark naked from me to John as he wrapped her up in a big ol’ towel hug. She would then giggle, wriggle, and writhe her “escape” from him and run back to me. Her antics continued as she ran between the two of us giggling with that infectious toddler hilarity that is only present for a short number of months.

 

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Cheryl and Brooke Biddish Ranch, Lewisburg, WV

 

There are special moments, even further back, such as the night when I first met John . . .his smile, the way in which he talked to me as if I truly mattered . . .the yellow of his shirt, the way his sleeves were rolled up slightly . . . the sparkle in his eyes . . .

 

And still, there are older, precious memories with grandparents . . .drinking Tang from a green plastic cup with my Mamaw as we sat and watched the Rockford Files—her big belly laugh so good and pure.  The long fingers of my Papaw proudly wearing the green Ohio University sweatshirt for which I had saved money to buy him as he grabbed my hands, looked straight into my eyes with his ever twinkling, devilment look, as he said, “Now talk without those.” The strong, swollen, sure hands of my Grandmother . . .gripping my own hands tightly, not wanting me to leave her because she would miss me . . .”Stethie, your ol’ Grandmother loves you, you know that . . .”

 

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Cheryl and Brooke Biddish Ranch, Lewisburg, WV

 

Even earlier . . .the scent of my mom’s Estee Lauder perfume lingering in the air as I followed her around the kitchen, telling her about my day’s events as she let me help (perhaps hinder) her with dinner and laundry . . .the scent of my Dad’s freshly laundered shirt as a I snuggled closer to him on the couch as he read the Christmas story to my siblings and me on Christmas Eve  . . .the good baby scent of each and every one of my siblings as each shared a room with me when they were first born. . .their cooing, calling, or even crying sounds when they woke during night . . the light paddings of my Mom’s feet coming into the room to check on them . . .the warmth of their bodies beside me as I read to them at night . . .the emotional energy of our sibling rivalry and disagreements. . .

 

Window fans and summer nights

Fireflies flicker through curtain sheers

Sliver of light under closed bedroom door

Whispers and crickets

 Backdrop to sleep

 

Earth scented walks

 Carpeted with leaves

Red chapped cheeks and hands

Plaid purple jacket with hood

Winds a’blowin up good

 

Icy street, slip sliding along

“Hop on the Bus, Gus”

Is our favorite go-to-school song

 

Pungent aroma of spirea

Scenting signs of spring

Phlox creeping purple ‘round

My favorite hill rock sitting spot

 

Looking in window

Yearning to touch the past

Present moment is here

 Better hold on it while it lasts

 

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Cheryl and Brooke Biddish Ranch, Lewisburg, WV

 

I am not sure that I will ever be able to successfully navigate between the cyber world and the life occurring around me.  Maybe it is because I was born of another time, but given so many others my age, and older, successfully slide between the two worlds; it must be a personal flaw.  Nonetheless, my thoughts serve as a personal reminder to me, that memories matter, they have real weight and texture; and when one is truly present, more moments are added to the memory quilt of a life.

 

May this holiday season serve as a reminder that while it is valuable to photograph special moments, it is just as worthwhile to sit back, savor the sights, sounds, scents, touches, and tastes of the day, before the moment slips silently through time, never to occur exactly the same way again.

 

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Cheryl and Brooke Biddish Ranch, Lewisburg, WV