Nightswimming: September is Coming Soon

            “Nightswimming deserves a quiet night . . .

            Turned around backwards so the windshield shows . . .

            Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse . . .

            Still, it’s so much clearer . . .”  lyrics from, “Nightswimming,” as performed by

            R.E.M.

 

 

 

 

           I heard the stirring sounds of oboe and strings.  Immediately my hand, momentarily, went to my heart as my mind raced towards the youthful summers of my past.  Reaching down for my phone as I drove, I waited until I reached a stoplight before snapping a picture of the song title.  Later, I would use that picture as a reminder to not only add the song to one of my Spotify playlists, but also as a potential source of inspiration for a later written piece. 

 

 

 

 

            I continued listening, and even replayed it later, a few more times, allowing random images of the past to flash through the movie screen that is my mind’s eye.  Nonsensical was the order as memories from all different ages hit me: The scent of green beans and sliced tomatoes; the summer soundtrack of cricket chatter offering background sounds to a quiet conversation with one of the neighborhood boys as we sat on his family’s wooden rail fence, seemingly late into the dark of the night, until my mom came to the front door to call me inside; the distinct metallic resonance of a water hose spraying car hubcaps on a sunny Saturday morning; hot rays of sun penetrating any exposed skin; the taste of Honeycomb cereal—a special treat courtesy of grandparents; kickball games and childhood tempers; family gatherings and church picnics; vacation bible school and late morning wake-ups; summer jobs and money to burn; roller skating and record playing; The Midnight Special and the discovery of album oriented radio (AOR); ice cream, French fries, corn on the cob, family treats of bottled pop guzzled alongside my three siblings to the sounds of music, laughter, bickering, and, yes, much to our Mom’s disapproval, burping contests . . .sweet, savory, summer.

 

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            By August, although though I would have never admitted it aloud, I was a bit bored and semi-ready for the routine and social aspect school brought with it.  It was always a new start, as ripe and juicy with possibilities as a July watermelon. Usually it began with several sleepless nights filled with anxious wonderings regarding teachers, classmates, classes, workload, and of course, the never-ending, but unspoken worry of my youth, “Will I fit in this year?”  

 

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            Updated clothes, newly sized trendy shoes (or at least as updated and on-trend as we could afford), unblemished notebooks, sharpened pencils classically scented of wood and lead; plus a new tube of bubblegum Bonnie Bell Lip smacker for pockets, and a pink bottle full of Love’s Baby Soft Cologne—these were the shiny, sparkly implements waiting to be used on that first day.  Inevitably the bus stop would be chaotic and competitive, the bus ride smelly and hot, schools halls redolent with scents of newly applied floor wax and cooked cabbage or other such malodorous vegetable. Then, there was always that first step into the classroom, the moment of truth, the feeling of dread, or hope. Who was your teacher; and, more importantly (at least at the time), who was in your class?

 

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            Crossing the threshold, summer’s enchantment crumbled like chips in the bottom of a foil bag, and the new reality began to itch slightly as if bitten by one mosquito only to later mercilessly feel the irritation of numerous bites waking you in the middle of the night.  This was what happened, or so it seemed, between day one and day six of school. First days made it all seem manageable, fun, and even lighthearted, followed by homework, tests, and requirements that started building in crescendo-like fashion until finally reaching the climax at the end of a grading period, only to begin once more with the next.

 

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           And yet, in between, in between the raindrops of assignments, and storms of essays and exams, there were those moments, those times, when you just knew, just felt you were either going to rock this world or be crushed by the world; and this unknowing, somehow felt exhilarating, tantalizing, and even breathtaking. The world was filled with an endless array of possibilities, potential, and even dangerous, but tempting, pitfalls. It all seemed right there, alive, and at your fingertips for the taking.  Drunk on youth, heady as it was.

 

 

 

 

            Looking back through the rear windshield of time, I sometimes grow nostalgic for that spine tingling longing that is uniquely part of youth.  Oh, it’s not that I am dissatisfied with my life. Quite the contrary. It is merely that I truly did not know what I had when I was young; but then again, none of us truly do until we are years removed it.  

 

            If only I had known to slow down, savor the moment.  If only I had known to really sip from the cup that is youth and relish every drop of its intoxicating effects.  Ah, but such is life. . .

 

 

 

 

             Perhaps that is why my husband and I still teach, still go out on dates, still workout, and still hold hands.  Perhaps that is why we are drawn to conversations with young people, allowing us to bask in their energy and vivaciousness. No, we are not trying to be young again, nor are we trying to relive our youth.  Rather, it seems to me, as if we are appreciating the NOW, the now of the moments we are living, and the now of the relative health we possess.  You see, we have caught glimpses of the other side, the next step of progression as it were, and now own the life-wisdom to know—to know and to appreciate bursts of energy found in exercise; to linger a bit longer over date conversations; to savor the comfort, and tingle, that comes from holding hands, embracing, and even kissing.  We value the vibrancy and vigor of youth and allow it to fill us with inspiration, laughter, and hope—endless, boundless hope. After all, hope, it is said, springs eternal.  

 

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           Goodbye, summer, my dear friend.  Even though, I know by calendar-time, you will linger a tad longer. I must leave your dreams, your reverie, your romance, and return to a new reality. A land filled with the sights of unblemished whiteboards and post-it notes of reminders; the feeling of a busy, new schedule and a rushed routine; the scent of floor wax and dirty gym clothes stuffed in a locker; the taste of rapidly thrown down lunches and vanilla or mocha coffees; and, the sound of blaring early morning alarms and the banter of middle school students.  A new school year, a new start, as ripe, sweet, and prickly as the blackberry brambles of mid-July, begins this week. 

 

            “These things, they go away

            Replaced by everyday . . . 

            September’s coming soon . . .” lyrics from, “Nightswimming,” as performed by

             R.E.M.

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On Mistakes, Lessons Learned, and the Power of Kind Words

             “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” ― Mother Teresa

 

            “Many times what we perceive as an error or failure is actually a gift.  And eventually we find that lessons learned from that discouraging experience prove to be of great worth.”—Richelle E. Goodrich

 

            I reread the client’s text in disbelief. How could I have made this mistake? I looked at my Google calendar.  Nothing there. I looked at the business app. Yep. It was there, but I had not checked there. On a hunch, I glanced once more at my calendar, but ahead one week.  Insert face to palm as I felt a knot begin to form and constrict my insides.

 

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            I once learned that there are three default modes for humans when reacting to a so-called “threats:” fight, flight, or freeze; and, I have years of experience with freezing—absolute glacial freeze. Inside my body, it feels as if the great glaciers of the ice age are tying, twisting, turning and tearing their way through my gut; while on the outside, starting at my extremities, and moving across my outer skin, I physically become cold to the touch.

 

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            How could this have happened?  I am 53 years old. In addition to 31 years as a teacher in various schools, I also worked at a number of other locations from an early age.  For years, as a teenager, and into my 20th year, I worked as a part-time opener for the local McDonalds, which meant, depending upon which job I was assigned, I had to be at work between 3:30-5:30 am.  Never. Never did I miss a shift. Never have I not shown up for work. Ever. Until age 53.

 

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            What happened?  I had accidentally plugged the date into my Google Calendar for the following Friday.  I could feel my face growing red; my heart pounding in my chest. I could feel that icy sensation crystallizing like shards of glass on a window pane across my epidermis as my innards became more bound up like wet, sweaty socks balled up and stuffed inside a sports shoe for later retrieval.  Was it too late for me to be retrieved and cleaned, or was I stained for life?

 

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            My current employers and clients don’t know me—at least, not my work history and work ethic.  They don’t really know my passion and drive regarding the ridiculously high bar for which I set for myself.  Honestly, what do they know about me other than my visible outward work behavior, which, up until this point, had been taintless?  Now, this mark, this failure, this complete and total mess-up by me—was now part of my work legacy.

 

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            That’s when the tears hit.  My heart shattered. I made my way to my bathroom, turned on the sink water, then slumped to the floor in a heap and cried.  Tears of regret. Tears of remorse. Tears of, “if only I had.” Salty, briny, bitter tears.  

            This began all over again when I received the typewritten censure.  Here was a young lady, still in her twenties, having to reprimand me. ME!  It was more than I could I take. Great sobs of failure racked my body. I had let the team down.  I was a disappointment. Moving forward I would be asked to . . . , I felt the weight of my error

 

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            The clients, though, were nothing but nice when I communicated with them.  Words like, “Everybody makes mistakes;” or, “It’s no big deal;” and, “I still love you and the business,” only made me feel worse.  Not because I thought they weren’t sincere, I think they were, but it still only pointed out more, at least in my mind, that I was a complete and total failure, a letdown.   

            Hours later, as I studied my home Armstrong email inbox, which had contributed to the problem—I did not receive my typical reminder email regarding substitute teaching.  Earlier in the week, for some inexplicable reason, my emails began appearing in a jumbled, random order; and, it now appears that I am not receiving all of them either. I continued examining the inbox, hovering over one tab, and then another, in an attempt to find a way to correct the issue, when an email popped up—of course, in the middle of the inbox, rather than the top, from an unknown name with the subject saying, “Your columns in the Herald Dispatch.”  Hmm . . .

 

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            As I moved, like a distracted squirrel to grab this little nut of possibility, another email popped up—also, not at the top, but toward the bottom of the inbox—with the subject, “On wearing purple,” the name of my most recent column.  Now, I really felt like a squirrel in Ritter Park during the autumn months when acorns are abundantly available. Which should I grab—click open—first?  

 

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            Then, my sense of order kicked, strengthened only by years of a teacher schedule—first period, is followed by second period and so forth—I clicked open the one that entered chronologically first!

            Wait, what?  I could not believe what I was reading.  Without revealing the content of the emails, let me just say, I found myself once more teary-eyed—this time from the sheer sweetness of the thoughtfulness of a stranger’s words.  They did know of my epic-failure that occurred earlier that morning. Neither did they know of the so-called stain upon my reputation—they only knew the heartfelt words that pour out of me week-in and week-out.

 

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            Writing this piece, after a mere two days of reflection, I recognize, first, that a lesson in humility is NEVER a bad thing. Additionally, heading into a new school year, this was also an extremely VALID lesson for me to have experienced what it means to make a real mistake, so that I can better empathize with, and teach, my incoming 6th , 7th, and 8th graders.  Human beings err, fall short, and make mistakes.  No one is perfect—not even at age 53.

 

            Thus, I have learned three lessons, so far, from this experience. (Though I suspect there will be more.)  First, be humble—in word, deed, AND thought. Who was I to pretend to be Stephanie Supersomebody who would NEVER _______ (fill in the blank)?  How haughty of me! Secondly, humbly admit a mistake, not only to others, but also to yourself; learn from it (double check dates when inputting to Google calendar, and check your business app daily—rather than relying on memory) in order not to repeat it again; then move on, offering yourself forgiveness.  Lastly, and I think, perhaps most importantly, while actions do matter, so do words. All spoken, written, and thought words influence us–often imperceptibly.  Therefore, not only is it important to take the time to speak, or write, positively to others, but also offer yourself, in thought, kind words—even in the midst of so-called failure.   After all, in the words of Henry Ford, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learning nothing.”

 

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Purple landslide and the Undertow that is Life

            “ Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love? Can the child within my heart rise above?”— from the song, “Landslide,” written by Stevie Nicks

 

            “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple . . .”— from the poem, “Warning,” written by Jenny Joseph

 

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         “It’s been a good life,” he said as he leaned in kissed me.  

            

            Inquisitively, I gazed at John, my husband, now of 30 years.

 

            “What are you thinking?  What prompted that comment?”

 

            “Just thinkin’,” was all he said.

 

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Maddie’s very first meaningful painting–painted in May of 2003. It’s called, “The Beach.” If you look, you’ll see the, “happy beach sky with sun; Daddy, Mommy, and Maddie on the beach.”

   

        “Well I’ve been afraid of changing . . .”

             Had he been reading my mind from earlier in the day, or were we both wrestling with an underbelly of life’s newest current.  Hours prior, I had been completing routine chores around our home. My mind wanted to drift with the undertow of thoughts awash in my head, but instead, Stevie Nicks’ song, “Landslide,” became a sort of cerebral soundtrack on repeat, with an odd intermittent interruption of the famous first line of the poem, “Warning.”  I began to wonder if this random monopoly of my mental loop was worth further mental investigation. Of course, as a yoga teacher, I recognize that, like leaves on a tree, thoughts come and go, and aren’t necessarily reflective of reality. However, I have also learned that there are times when seemingly arbitrary thoughts are whisperings of my soul’s search for a greater understanding of a deep seeded emotion trying to surface like a bubble rising to the top of a carbonated beverage.  

 

 

            “Cause I’ve built my life around you . . .”

             I recalled a last minute, hastily planned, vacation with John, and Madelyn, our daughter.  It was the first of August, and we decided to travel to the four-wheel drive beach of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  We stayed in a tiny house near the edge of the Virginia border. There was no ocean view from the vacation rental, but the cabin was cozy, inexpensive, and perfect for the three of us.  We would load up our 4-wheel drive vehicle with our beach gear: three boogie boards, towels, sunscreen, and chairs, and drive to and from the beach—usually twice per day.  

 

 

      

      “But time makes you bolder . . .”

                         This trip was made special by the fact that John, Maddie, and I spent most of the days boogie boarding together on the rough OBX tide.  Of course, the fact that the temperatures hovered near 100 degrees daily encouraged us to get in, and remain in, the ocean. Once our vehicle was parked on the beach, and beach chairs placed in front of the open hatch, we’d awkwardly push, pull, work our way past the low breaking waves, boogie boards in hand.  Together, we’d catch a good wave, and ride it to shore, laughing hysterically, at the person whose board had been flipped–usually me! Then, without really gazing at the shoreline, we’d push, pull, work our way back out to those bigger waves. Eventually though, one of us would notice that one of OBX’s famous undertows had sent us on a northward drift from our starting point. We’d stand calf deep in the water, just feeling the edge of tide’s pull, and marvel at the great distance we had drifted, and yet we had not realized it until that very moment.   

 

          Images from Maddie’s current bedroom–a mix of childhood favorites, stuffed with memorabilia from elementary, middle, and high school as well as her now former school, Bethany College. 

 

            I paused mid-stride in my house hallway. Oh my heavens that was it! I was standing calf-deep in the waves of my life, my boogie board has just been flipped, and only now do I realize that the undertow that is also life, and its constant ebb and flow of changes, has been carrying me along with waves–waves of joy, waves of love, waves of wonder, waves of struggle, waves of sorrow, waves of regret, waves of  . . .well, time. And, now, as I catch a glimpse of the shoreline, I see that I have drifted into a new phase of life.

 

           One night, Maddie jokingly prayed for a snow day, then she placed a spoon under her pillow for added security; the next day her prayers came true. She and I had played in snow all day, and when we came inside, I made her purple snow cream.  Later, we painted our toes in front of the fire that John built.  

    

        “Even children get older . . .”

             I mentally tick-off the inventory of recent changes.  Maddie is now changing universities, transferring to Marshall, and she is switching from a Biochemistry/Chemistry major with a minor in Art to a Visual Arts major with a minor in chemistry.  She is moving out of our family home and into a rental. Even now, as she prepares for the move, her bedroom is often empty for long spans of time as she stretches her newly found wings of adulthood.  

 

 

            Meanwhile, our house is in the flux of a gradual remodel as John and I prepare for the next phase of our life.  This phase will ultimately mean we, too, will leave this house, our home, for another. How much longer will we be here?  One, two, three more years? There is no definitive answer.

 

 

            “And, I’m gettin’ older, too . . .”

             Furthermore, John and find ourselves in new roles as more and more of our family members have passed, moved away, and/or changed in ways we could have never predicted when we first married.  Divorce, death, disease, and departures, of one sort or the other, seem to occur with more frequency than we care to admit. We are no longer defined by our daughter’s schedule, but by new roles, for which we feel, at times, ill prepared.  Just as when we first arrived home from the hospital as proud new parents, but without a parenting manual, neither is there a manual for, well, AARP living, for which we are now official members—though not retired.

 

          Even though he wasn’t a human member of the family, saying good-bye to our Rusty-boy truly broke our hearts. 

 

            “Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?”

             When I was younger, I knew, with a fair amount of predictability, that junior high would be followed by high school, which would be followed by college, which would be followed by a career.  Later, I felt confident, that in all likelihood, a Masters degree would be followed by more educational hours, that marriage would be followed by at least one child, which would, of course, be followed by parenting. Then, as I parented alongside John, we were keenly aware that one developmental stage would follow another, and so on and so forth; but, not this–not this sea of unknowing, this sea of no control (As if I ever had control?).  

 

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My mom had these images framed for me years ago from Maddie’s Kindergarten graduation. Her artwork was the cover of the program.

 

            “Can I handle the seasons of my life?”

             John’s parents are now gone.  My parents are older. Maddie is leaving home.  We will, one day, leave this home too—both literally and metaphorically.  How long will our careers continue? Where will we live? What paths will Maddie take?  How long before the next change? What does the future hold? How much longer will the newspaper continue to publish my words? Will I ever write a book, or will I continue to express myself creatively through other written means, such as my website? Does this writing help anyone other than me, or is it a selfish pursuit? How much longer will I have my loved ones and friends? For heaven’s sake, when shall I wear purple?  And, in the end, will my life have mattered? Will I have mattered to my parents, my siblings, my husband, my in-laws, my daughter, my friends, my colleagues, my students, to anyone at all?

             I hope so.

            “Ah, take my love . . . And, if you see my reflection in the snow covered hill 

Well, the landslide will bring it down.”

             

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Rootbound: A Lesson in Limiting Beliefs

            “You can do it, you can undo it, and you can do it differently.”—Sri Swami Satchidananda

 

            “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Romans 12:2

 

            I smiled as I took in the view of the 17 plants, nearly two flats, of ajuga, often known as carpet bugleweed. It is a beautiful ground cover that, well, carpets land by underground runners that root the plant into the surrounding soil.  Ajuga is perfect for crowding out weeds; it thrives in poor soil, doesn’t need regular attention, possesses a colorful, shiny foliage, and it’s late spring to early summer bluish to purple blossoms are bee, butterfly, and bird favorites.  In fact, our beloved dog, Rusty, who has since passed over to his eternal yard, loved to sit in the middle of the ajuga blooms, snatch the bees into his mouth, and eat them! (He always was a one-of-kind dog!) Shaking my head out of the Rusty-reverie, I settled down to the business of planting.

 

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Rusty, on our front porch, after snatching all the bees current in the late spring ajuga, looking pitifully up at John, my husband, as if to ask, find more bees for me–I just can’t help myself.

 

            Sliding on my purple gardening gloves, I glanced around at the bright begonias and geraniums that were recently potted, pruned, and plucked of dead or yellowing leaves and buds. The new plants’ cheery reds and glossy greens radiated with the joy of roots freed to spread, expand, and grow.  It was as if they came home from a hard day of work at the green house, put on their comfy pants, and sighed an audible, “Ah . . . .”   

 

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Free from the constraints that once held them firmly in place, the roots are free to explore and expand beyond their former boundaries.

 

            Grabbing a trowel, I went to work.  Digging holes 8-12 inches wide, not too deep, I began by persuasively coaxing each plant out of its pot. Once out, I observed that the roots were tightly bound.  In fact, it took quite a bit of hand strength to pry and unbind the roots for planting—so tightly were they clinging to their former pot shape in which they were contained.  As I developed a planting rhythm–digging holes, vigorously shaking free plant from pot, firmly clasping and pulling apart bound roots, gently placing in prepared hole, tucking in soil over and around roots—my mind, like the newly planted ajuga roots, was free to expand and roam.  That’s when Divine Providence began to trowel up a lesson for me.

 

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17 newly planted ajuga, also known as carpet bugleweed, have room to carpet new territory and explore new space because their roots are no longer tightly contained in pint-sized containers.

 

            Many people, myself included, become root bound by limiting beliefs about self, faith life, career path, education, community, and so forth. Often, these beliefs are seeded in early childhood by well-meaning adults and the knowledge those adults possessed at the time. These views are sometimes further propagated by schools, churches, and/or societal “norms’—again functioning with the best information these groups have at the time.  Additionally, the soil, or culture, into which we are planted, may not be as fertile as others—either damp with too much emotion, or dry and devoid of all support. Thus, we can become bound up by beliefs, attitudes, and even tenets that keep us from thriving with the unbridled vibrancy I noticed in the flowers planted days earlier. 

 

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This plant only had one way to grow as it was in a crowded flat in a container the size of a school lunch milk carton tightly surrounded by other like plants. It will be interested to watch its shape change and shift over the coming months.

 

            Ironically, even when planted into new circumstances with nurturing support that welcomes new thinking, new ways of being, new ways of expressing, living, loving, learning, and so forth, internally we are still remain bound, restricted, and constrained.  Whether intentional or not, the pot into which we grew, so tightly bound us, that we may not realize the expansion and possibilities that wait for us if we would only allow our roots to release the shape into which they so tightly grip. 

 

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Despite their freedom, these ajuga roots still hold tightly to the shape of the former container that limited their scope.

 

            In order to get each ajuga plant out of its container, I had to robustly shake it free.  Once free, the roots remained in the exact shape of the pot from which it came. In fact, in order to get the roots to release their grasp of this shape required forcible, almost violent, pulling apart. Once broken free though, the roots seemed to comfortably sink and settle into their new environment with relative ease. And, isn’t that like life?

 

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In order to free the roots, I had to forcibly pull apart the bound ball of roots to allow them to properly develop runners and expand into new, more natural way, of living.

 

            For some of us, it takes a negative, blunt force experience, or even trauma, to break us free from our tightly bound self-imposed constraints.  However, for others, it’s as simple as waking up one day and realizing what Satchidananda was saying in the quote above, we can recognize that we are living one way, because at one time, it seemed right for us, but it now no longer fits our need for growth.  Therefore, it is within our power to undo past paths, and expand in a new direction, keeping in mind the lessons from the past.   

 

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While this is the perfect size container at the time of planting, eventually, this plant will begin to outgrow this container, and will require new territory in which to expand its need for growth–just like humans.

 

            Like the newly planted ajuga, begonias, and geraniums around my porch, we can choose to unbind our roots, prune off the decaying, limiting beliefs, and allow our minds to be renewed–transforming and beautifying, not just our own life, but all of humanity in a new way.  While the ajuga only produces flowers once per year, its blooms not only beautify the location in which it is planted, but also its flowers attract bees, butterflies, birds, and on the rare occasion a random dog, from miles away–taking bits of its beauty with them wide and far.  Furthermore, even once their flowers are gone, the plants’ foliage seems to take on a whole new sheen of color and vibrancy as if they glow from not only giving back to the world at large, but from the new found freedom of their underground runners use in order to expand—allowing them to cover more ground and offer up new shoots of growth—and new possibilities for replanting and expanding.

 

                        We can choose to release and prune decaying and limiting beliefs. 

 

            May our roots be unbound, so that we can cover more ground, offering more love, beauty, and peace to the world. Heaven knows the world could use it!

 

            

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Backwoods Blackberry Boogie: Lessons on Connectedness

            “When the blackberries hang swollen in the woods, in the brambles nobody owns, I spend all day among the high branches, reaching my ripped arms, thinking of nothing, cramming the black honey of summer into my mouth; all day my body accepts what it is.”—Mary Oliver

             “ . . .purple as the stain blackberries leave on the lips, on the hands, . . .”—Marge Piercy

 

            “Ouch!”

 

            Smack.  Rub. Brush.

 

            “Ow!”

 

            Whack.  Ruffle. Shake.

 

            “Ah, dang it!”

 

            Wipe. Smear.  Reach.

 

            I smile as I decide to give my shenanigans a name, the “Backwoods Blackberry Boogie”.  Truth-be-told, while I should be in the woods, I am actually standing in our yard. Several years ago, a bird must have “dropped” a special package amongst the shrubs planted along one side of our home; and now, some years later, we have a large blackberry bush blossoming each July just around the corner from my front door.

 

            Should we have cut it down?  Probably. Perhaps, we should have dug it out instead.  Then again, there were always chemicals we could have use; and yet, we did not.  Lazy? Not really. Distracted? Certainly. Distracted with life—caring for loved ones; working long hours while juggling a few part-time gigs; and, spending time with our child—initially running with all of her sports/activities of high school, to now, making the four hour drive each way to her college several weekends per year . . . the list goes on. Bottom line, we no longer should live on five acres of land, much less own a large yard; and so, a blackberry bush grows in one small part of it.

 

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            Whether the choice was intentional or not, the point is moot now; and honestly, we don’t have the heart to uproot, cut down, or destroy our yard-growing blackberry bush.  Most likely, it will come down at some point—either by us or future owners—but, for now, blackberry juice, which ironically looks like blood—will not be on my hands. Well, actually it is on my hands, but not due to the death of the bush.

 

       While I did have blackberry juice stains on my hands, it was NOT from killing the wild bush in our yard.

 

            If a big ol’ blackberry bush is gonna grow wildly in my side yard, to the scorn of aesthetics—I can only imagine what a realtor would think—then, I am going to at least make the most of its brambles. When life gives you lemons, or in this case blackberries, why not make blackberry cobbler, right?  Therefore, in the cool shade of a quiet July 4th evening, well before the noise and mayhem of fireworks, I peacefully, well as peacefully as one can be in blackberry bramble, picked berries.

 

            As I live alongside a main route in Lawrence County, OH, the late afternoon/early evening hours are typically filled with the sounds of cars zooming by as residents traverse home from work, head to town for dinner or errands, and even zip down the road for a summer joy ride.  However, on this night, there was little to no traffic, allowing bird song, insect buzz, and the mewing of the neighbor’s cat to provide a soothing sort of lullaby as I piddled, prodded, and picked. My mind floated, like a lotus flower on pond water, despite distractions from the prickling thorns and the overbearing bites of the aggressive blood sucking summer bullies.

 

 

 Picking blackberries

One by one

Thinking of him.

Papaw taught me

How it was done.

Not in the heat 

Of the summer sun, but

Early morn’ or evenin’ cool.

Pick ‘em ripe and

Leave a few

For feathered friends—

They gave ‘em to you

 

Plucking blackberries.  

One by one.

Carefully selectin’

The darkest of clusters

Purple blemish on hands.

Blood blots on limbs.

Mosquitoes buzz and bite.

Birds scare and scatter

While a nearby rabbit skitters.

Plunk, plink, plop

Bowl fills.

Did I leave enough?

 

Cleaning blackberries.

One by one

Thinking of her.

Grandmother taught me

How it was done.

Search for crawling critters and

Random leaves or stems.

Add some sugar.

Bake it up.

Summer bursting,

Exploding with goodness

Memories in my mouth.

 

             Divine Providence served up part fruitful lesson and part sweet memory on that evening that continues to linger in my mind as a sip of good wine on the tongue.   Sure, there are the obvious lessons of thorny times; brambly messes of unexpected life events; and the fruits produced by our labors. However, beyond that, at least for me, there was the lesson of connectedness—not only to my past, but also to nature, my life, and the roots of my faith.

 

          The thorns and bramble of blackberries are often like the thorns and bramble of life.

 

            My grandparents, the three that I knew well, were deeply influential in my life in their own unique ways. While I spent more time with my maternal side, all three planted within me the belief of God and the magic of summer that our Creator provided.  From summer church revivals to extended summer sleepovers at one of their houses; from the proper time to pick a tomato to green bean stringing techniques; from flower watering to bird watching; from garden planting to good ol’ Appalachian summer cookin’; and, from berry pickin’ to pie or cobbler bakin’, they taught me that summertime was God’s magical show for adults and kids alike to savor, sip, and share.  

 

Rinsing batches of blackberries in the kitchen sink when I noticed a hitchhiker that I had to send back outside!

 

            A bird drops a seed.  One tiny seed. The rains come, and frost covers. The sun warms, and a sprout grows.  The mower misses, and the busy family doesn’t notice. Bees flit about its early blooms.  Slowly, quietly it grows, rooting, spreading, and sprouting—just like my faith, just like my grandparents’ love, and just like life.

 

            As I rinsed the blackberries carefully, their astringent, but sweet, aroma rising from the sink, I plucked a fat berry from the colander and plopped it into my mouth. I bite.  Juice explodes upon my tongue. I am again a child–drifting between–Grandmother’s kitchen as she prepared to bake a cobbler, humming a hymn, while Papaw could be heard in the basement below, hand-cranking ice cream; and then over the hill to my Mamaw’s front porch after she’d watered her multihued zinnias and gathered their seeds, the squeak of the to and fro of the green and white metal glider, upon which we sat, provided the ambient seasonal sound, and the scent of her baby powder mixed with her VO5 hair product filled my nostrils as we waited for the fireflies to dance, and listened for the whisperings of God. 

 

         Blackberries in grain-free granola and topped with chia and flax seeds with a splash of non-dairy milk.

 

          I thoughtfully chew the berry, closing my eyes, knowing at that very moment, birds are once more nibbling away at the remaining blackberries in my yard, and somewhere, in a Raceland, KY, cemetery, rest in peace all of my beloved grandparents eternally bird-watching, cradled in the arms of the Creator.  My heart burst with connectedness, and I offered up a prayer of gratitude.

 

            Who knows, whenever we do leave this house, maybe the next owners will keep the blackberry bush too?

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Blackberries and hemp hearts on a freshly made garden salad, drizzled with fresh made Dijon Date Dressing. 

 

 

 

 

 

            

 

            

 

The Sweetness Follows–the Story of Healing

            “Love one another and help others to rise to the higher levels, simply by pouring out love.  Love is infectious and the greatest healing energy.”—Sai Baba

 

            “You enjoy the white writing because there is a black board behind it.”—Sri Swami Satchidananda

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           As a young girl, and later, as a newly minted educator, I savored the look, feel, and sound of printing neatly, and as precisely as possible, on a clean, black board.  I wrote slowly and meticulously because I did not want to have to erase a mistake. Erasing meant a fine white cloud would not allow the writing to pristinely stand out against the dark background. However, the immaculate look of the black board never lasted long—not with students to teach.  Eventually, the board became overcast, gray, and dull by day’s end, requiring a fresh shower of water to wipe the slate clean.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

            I have been reminded of chalkboard writing this past week as I have watched my vibrant, gregarious daughter, Madelyn, succumb to the darkness of the painful healing required of a tonsillectomy as an adult.  She had been warned that the procedure came with a difficult recovery. However, she moved forward with her commitment to the procedure and the promise it offered of improved health. As is often the case in life though, knowing that an event will be grueling, and actually experiencing the pain in real time, are two different matters.

 

            Without going into great detail, I have watched her suffer through what appears to be excruciating tenderness, gurgling/choking sounds during fits of sleep, fever spikes, chills, flashes of heat, and the rejection of most forms of liquids and food.  She’s given up on Percocet, the prescribed, temporary form of pain management as it knocks her into a sleep-induced fog, but doesn’t seem to reduce the pain much. Instead, she relies on acetaminophen, which dulls the pain, but never fully allows it to abate. The usual offerings, recommended by well-intended people, such as popsicles, Gatorade, and ice cream are either too acidic—which sets her throat “on fire”; or, in the case of ice cream, offers too much milk fat—causing her to cough, which is not only painful, but can also cause her scabs to come off too soon.  Even her favorite soft foods, such as pudding, mashed potatoes, and noodle soup are all irritating and difficult to swallow according to Maddie. Therefore, I am often coaxing her just to eat a small something in order to take the prescribed steroids.

 

 

 

            Meanwhile, John and I do what we can to make her comfortable and distracted from the pain.  Caring for sick adult child, however, is different than when she was little. Gone are the days of pulling her into my arms, cradling her closely, gently swaying back and forth, humming, and using a free hand to lovingly stroke her hair off her forehead as if the action was a sacred healing ritual.  Instead, I now try to balance not hovering in an overprotective/reactive manner, with being an available and present source of compassion, concern, and consolation. Furthermore, I find myself imploring Divine Providence for the wisdom to know when to encourage her to push and persevere through the hurt versus when to back off and let her be.  I want to make her feel better, but experience has also taught me there is growth in the anguish of the ache.

 

            Like the classroom black board of years ago at the beginning of the day, Maddie’s life board has barely begun to be written upon.  She will have to endure repeated erasings/do-overs, clouds of confusion, and experience the dullness of the drills demanded by her own education/training.  The spring showers and the new blossoms of her budding career and new way of living will come, but not without the dust, dark, and dimness of the work and pain required to achieve her future adventure.

 

 

 

            One of the tenants that my faith, my yoga practice, and life experience teaches me is that nothing is permanent.  Nothing. Not my body, not my various life roles, not my home, not my job, not my circumstances, and certainly not the challenges and pain.  Change, and the temporary nature of circumstances, whether perceived as good or not so good, is the one real constant. One cannot get the satisfying white writing on the chalkboard without the dark side; there is no real joy filled experience without sadness; and, of course, there is no healing without pain.

 

 

 

            Two weekends ago, we stayed in Cincinnati for two nights celebrating Maddie’s 20th birthday.  My brother, Scott, and his husband, Mywon, joined us for both days; whereas my mom, and Mywon’s mom, were only able to spend Saturday with us in order to see the production of Maddie’s childhood favorite, Cats.  We gathered for meals, relished the joy of the theater, and shared numerous laughs. We immersed ourselves in the bliss of the moment—no work, no studying, and no real challenges.  And yet, even with all of the happiness of the moment, life still managed to dose out a few challenges, difficulties, and discomforts. Ironically though, as I look back through the pictures, it appears to be a picture-perfect weekend.

 

 

 

            This past week, as I attempted to offer comfort to Maddie by means of foot, neck, and/or back rubs, a song, “The Sweetness Follows,” by R.E.M., repeatedly echoed in my mind.  The enigmatic lyrics and haunting cello music, I have read, are one of the most misinterpreted songs by fans. Regardless of the true meaning of the lyrics as intended by the songwriters, I believe there is a reason this song, and in particular, its title, became an earworm in my mind’s ear . . .   

 

            My dear, darling daughter, the sweetness will follow.  No, you will never be able to avoid the pitfalls, pains, and problems of life, but there is always sweetness following, even within a seemingly unrelenting, difficult situation. Life requires perseverance, fortitude, and sometimes even, doggedness, especially as a woman, but there is a sweetness to savor.  Messy—Neat; Stormy—Calm; Exhausted—Energetic; Black—White; and yes, Pain—Ease. You cannot have one without the other. Therefore, look for the sweetness—the sweetness in an unexpected gesture; a kind word; a stranger’s smile; a friend’s visit, call or text; and even in a caring caress and touch of a loved one . . .

 

            While I cannot take away the painful events of life, may you always have the ability to find the sweetness . . . for it will eventually follow.  

            

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          Maddie and my Mom having a little fun in honor of Maddie’s birthday!

 

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I cannot recall photo-bombing a picture before, but in the frivolity of the moment, I hopped into view.  Fortunately, there’s another photo of this beautiful moment of my brother and mom without me!

 

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LOL In the age of selfies, I still haven’t mastered it, probably because I do not take selfies that often.  Maddie laughs (and I am sure rolls her eyes) whenever I attempt to do a selfie with her when she is home, then she grabs my phone, and takes the picture for me as was the case here!

The Greatest of These is Love

           “The most important thing in the world is family and love.”—John Wooden

 

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These hearts were found on a set of abandoned steps that must have one time led from a bayside house to a private dock.

 

           As I sat seaside, this past week in Naples, Florida, I watched the tide’s water flow one direction and pull back in opposition; wash in over one child’s sand sculpture, and soon another was built; gush forward over one set of footprints, roll back and a new set of imprints were created. I part-heard/part-felt the cacophony that is the shoreline–equal parts of water resonant, birdcall, breeze, and the tinny of playful, relaxed voices. Clear, bright blue waters melted into vivid green. Vibrant circles of color, as if part of an artist’s palette, dotted sparkling sand.  Dappled areas of bare sand, except for the wooden stakes surrounded by yellow tape, were interspersed throughout the colorful landscape–protected turtle nests.

 

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Protected sea turtle nests dot the shoreline of Naples, FL. Here is one such example.

 

           On June 17, 1989, I married my husband, John.  I was a mere 23 years old, but viewed myself as MUCH older; and, John, at age 27, was positively pushing the needle towards the “old” mark!  Feelings of elation and excitement regarding our future coursed through my soul’s veins. Looking deeply into John’s eyes during our ceremony, I saw an ocean of love in those blue green orbs, and I was overwhelmed with my own reciprocal feelings as we publicly proclaimed our vows.  I tried to clasp the moment . . .

 

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  John and I on June 14, 1989.

 

           Back in Naples, I scooped up water along the shoreline and tried to hold it in my hands.  I tightly sealed my fingers, and still, the water flowed—much like thirty years. 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992 . . .and on the years streamed over smooth, sandy bars of happiness and rough, rocky outcroppings of life challenges.  One house rented was soon left for a mortgage and a new address. One degree earned, was followed by another, followed by still more schooling. Tides of life rolled in as one event followed the outward flow of another.

 

 

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           Ebb and flow.  Inhale and exhale. Sunrise and sunset.  

 

           Soon it was the end of September 1998; something felt different. Habitual morning coffee suddenly became nauseating.  Strong scents, once easily ignored, were now sending me scrambling to find the nearest restroom. Emotions surfaced with more frequency and greater intensity.  What treasure was the tide rolling in our way . . .?

 

 

           Once more, in Naples, I clasped another scoopful of water.  Again, I pressed my fingers firmly together, determined to savor the warmth of the water and not allow it to seep away–similar to the way in which I tried to cling tightly to both pregnancy and our soon-to-be-born daughter, Madelyn.  

          

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           The end of September flowed into the fall of October and November, followed by the winter months, and on into spring. May came and went, and in spite of doctor’s best predictions, the tides of life had not yet revealed the small, sweet person growing within my womb.

           Much in the manner of a sea shell seeker scouring the beach, serenely waiting for the tides to reveal its hidden treasure, so too were John and I instructed to remain patient, potentially for up to two more weeks.  June 1, June 2, June 3 . . . and on the days continued to stream.

 

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Me, June 13, 1999.

 

 

 

           Ebb and flow.  Inhale and exhale.  Sunrise and Sunset.

  

         June 14, 1999.  Sweat drips. My hand entrusted into John’s.  Those eyes, those same eyes from ten years prior, still filled with an endless ocean of love, gaze strongly into mine, sending currents of strength.  Whispered words of encouragement. Clasping onto to those loving words . . .

          Dusk fades into dawn, which gives way to day. One hour followed by another . . .

           Her eyes, alert and curious, met mine for the first time and locked on.  I gazed up at John and back to her. Love at first sight. Unbelievable joy.  A precious baby girl was placed upon my chest as my arms carefully cradled around her.  

 

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This ribbon proudly hung from our hospital door June 14, 1999.

 

           Baby cries and coos part ways for songs and words.  Crib evolved into a toddler bed, which became a double bed.  Board books and storybooks are soon replaced by novels. Bright, primary colored toys give way to dolls and outside play.  Childhood calls as the back door slams. Trees climbed. Flowers picked. Tears and boo-boo kisses. Giggles and laughs. Snuggles and hugs.  Puzzles and games. Creative art corner ever expanding. Textbooks and paper. Prom dresses followed by cap and gown.

 

 

 

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           Ebb and flow.  Inhale and Exhale.  Sunrise and sunset.

           In Naples, turtle nests are protected. Eventually, these eggs will hatch, and the newly born turtles will attempt to make their way to the sea. Many of the turtles will not make it to the water—due to predators, dehydration, and other obstacles.  Those that do make it to sea are not guaranteed survival. From birds to sharks, or other big fish, and from ingesting tar balls to ingesting plastic, only one out of 1,000 baby turtles survive into adulthood. And yet, these nests are ceremoniously protected—to at least give the hatchlings a fighting chance.  

           Truth-be-told, we are all navigating this ocean called life–through smooth, placid waters, to large waves of storms; and from predator-free, wide open currents, to dangers lurking within each undercurrent and sandy shoreline. Just as the sea turtles cannot clasp and remain still in safe waters, neither can we.  Ceremonies, traditions, and rituals often buffer early stages of relationships and families, but these do not guarantee survival. Genuine effort, thought, patience, dialogue, plus a good dose of humor—in addition to love—are just a few of the many tools, humans must employ in order for family relationships to survive.

 

 

         In spite of my best efforts at the beaches of Naples, I was never able to hold onto the seawater for very long.  Similarly, our sweet baby girl and beautiful daughter will no longer be a teenager when these words are read, and she now spends more time away from John and me than with us.  Meanwhile, wrinkles line both John’s and my eyes. Gray incessantly sprouts along my temples and part-line; and John’s hair, once curly and dark, is mostly missing.

 

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           Ebb and flow.  Inhale and exhale.  Sunrise and sunset.

           I still seek, find comfort, and see much love in John’s eyes—those same eyes into which I gazed in June of 1989.  I love those eyes, and the person behind them, even more now. Equally, I am filled with abundant love for my brilliant, beautiful daughter whose eyes locked into mine and overflowed my heart with joy twenty years ago.

           Happy Anniversary, John!  Happy Birthday, Maddie! I love you, both . . .to the moon and back.

             Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.—1 Corinthians 13:4-7

 

           

           

           

 

Don’t Quit: A Story of Scaffolding.

           “Be alert. Stand firm in the faith.  Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.”  1 Corinthians 16:13-14

           “Achievement builds character.  People striving, being knocked down and coming back . . .this is what builds character . . .. In Romans, Paul says that adversity brings on endurance, endurance brings on character, and character brings on hope.”—Tom Landry

           Recently, I was talking with my students about the “scaffolding” they bring to the stories they read.  We were discussing a short story, “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson, that the students had just read. As is often the case with students upon reading this story for the first time, there was great confusion.  In their mind, the word, “Lottery” has a positive connotation. What’s not to love about winning money? However, in Jackson’s story, the students soon come to realize that the word, “lottery,” doesn’t necessarily mean winning money.

           After explaining the notion of scaffolding to my students, as it pertains to reading and writing, I attempted to invite them to see how each person brings to a story their own unique reading and life experiences. If, for example, they had never before heard the word, lottery, used as a negative, then the brain is left to scramble-around trying to make connections of understanding to from their prior experiences to other parts of the story.

 

think outside of the box
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

 

           Leading the discussion further, I probed their minds for examples.

           “Have you ever read a story and been reminded of a similar situation, or a similar character, or a similar setting?”

           Heads nodded around the room, and sidebar discussions ensued.

           “At the end of “The Lottery”, it reminded me of the premise of The Hunger Games books and movies.”

           “Yeah, well, that woman’s youngest son made be think about my brother in kindergarten.”

           “Oh, yeah. Totally.  That women who was stoned made me think of that story in the Bible about the woman about to be stoned, and Jesus saves her. . .”

           It occurred to me later, as I was in a conversation with my brother, Scott, how this same notion of scaffolding is true for life.  With each new situation, experience, and/or person we encounter, we bring our own life experiences—even baggage– and make certain assumptions about what will occur. More often than not, these assumptions are often wrong, or at the very least, off-target; and, if we truly pay attention and maintain an open mind, our scaffolding—our understanding—shifts and even expands.  However, if we avoid new situations, new people, new skills, and/or avoid trying new things, then our scaffolding, like those attached to work sites, remain fixed and rigid.

 

newly make high rise building
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           I am reminded of the scaffolding along the multi-storied federal building in Huntington, WV, the town in which I work. Several years ago it was renovated for security purposes.  Local traffic along 5th Ave and 8th streets was often altered due to the ever-changing scaffolding. With each phase of the renovation, the shape of the scaffolding and the space it filled varied, changed, and, at times, grew.  It rarely stayed one shape or one level for long. The same is true for us when we try new things, meet new people, or dive into new experiences. Nonetheless, this does not occur without some risk for negative experiences.

           The scaffolding used today in construction looks and is made differently than when high-rise buildings were first built. Accidents, falls, and tragically, even deaths, informed engineers on how to design stronger, safer, more durable, and more reliable scaffolding. The same is true for life.  

 

 

           Does heartbreak hurt? Does injury create pain? Do failures, break-ups, accidents and so forth create misery and/or heart ache? Yes. Yes. Yes.  And yet, it is these very events that teach us the lessons we need in order to grow stronger, more durable, and perhaps even, more dependable, creating greater empathy/understanding, and perhaps even. increase one’s capacity for love.

           A month, or so ago, a friend sent me a devotional-style story that focused on Tom Landry, arguably one of the most successful professional football coaches.  As I read the story, it talked of Landry’s experience with adversity. It described the way in which Landry was treated when he first arrived at Dallas, and the team was not winning.  He was much maligned, vilified, and disparaged for his team’s lackluster performance. However, when his team began to experience success, Landry became the hero in this same public’s eye.  

           The author’s lesson was that Landry was the same person.  He had not changed. Landry had courageously stood firm in his convictions and loved his work, regardless of what others said or thought. While I wholeheartedly agree with that take away, I also think the author skipped another point:  adversity increases personal perseverance, which increases one’s character. Landry knew this; and though the author of the devotional story did not state this, I later read an interview in which Landry made this very point to a reporter.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           The tendency of human beings, including me, is to resist change, resist pain, and discomfort as well as avoid challenges. And yet, no matter how much we resist and avoid these negative experiences, life still has a way of forcing us to experience these.  Heartache, physical and emotional pain, as well as loss, are all a valid, and important, parts of life. Without them, not only do we lack opportunities to increase our stamina/perseverance, but we lack understanding, empathy, and compassion. Like those first attempts at high-rise construction scaffolding, we are weak, inflexible, and lack strength.  When Landry and his players experienced loss, criticism, and failures, they grew stronger as individuals and as a team. It was from those negative life experiences, that they grew as individuals and as a collective. The same is true for all of us.

           We do not have to be a professional football coach to experience adversity, criticism, and challenges.  These are all part of the human experience. However, we can have faith that if we remain strong in our convictions, act with courage in the face of difficulties, work and interact with others with great love/passion for what is right, our ability (endurance) to withstand difficulties strengthens–expanding our character and increasing our hope.  After all, isn’t hope one of the biggest driving forces throughout history as well as through our own personal story, your personal scaffolding? As the old Japanese proverb says, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”

 

Whatever you are going through, Dear Reader, don’t quit.  Don’t. Quit.

           

Students from St. Joseph Catholic Middle School, grades 6-8, recently at an end-of-the-year neon-themed dance.  With each new experience, including this dance, students are developing their scaffolding, understanding, of life.

Mother’s Day Musings 2019

           “In my daughter’s eyes/ I can see the future . . .and though she’ll grow and someday leave . . . When I’m gone I hope you’ll see/ How happy she made/for I’ll be there/ in my daughter’s eyes.”–James T. Slater as sang by Martina McBride

           Driving home from Ashland Brown Dog Yoga on Saturday morning.  I had just finished teaching two classes, and the upbeat attitudes of the participants never fail to enthuse and infuse me with positive vibes. Therefore, I was floating on good energy during my 30-minute traverse along OH243, mentally creating my checklist for when I arrived home.

           Quick bath. Add toiletries to overnight bag. Grab lunch from fridge to eat while John drives.  Gather towels to wash Sunday upon return home. Refill water bottle. Set dishwasher to run after midnight.  Unplug . . .Oh, man, I should call Mom. She had a couple of doctor’s appointments this week . . .

 

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My mom, Dolores Scherer, and my daughter, Madelyn together taken in January of this year.

 

           Talking hand-free to my mom as I continued my drive, we flitted in and out of multiple topics, meandering away from one subject, but then circumnavigating back to other unfinished subjects as if each topic was a colorful strand of a woven tapestry—typical of our mom-daughter conversation style. It occurred to me as we talked, how she and I communicate much in the same manner as my daughter, Madelyn and me.  In fact, I had just talked to Maddie only moments earlier upon exiting BDY.

           “Okay, Mom, I just want to update you on the plans for today and tomorrow.  I’ve already talked to Dad; and, oh, before I forget, did you know . . .”

 

Pictures from the early days/experiences with Maddie at Bethany college.

 

           John, my husband and Maddie’s father, and I would be heading to Bethany College about thirty minutes outside of Wheeling, WV as soon as I arrived home and was ready.  Maddie is winding down her second year of college; and, with the approach of finals, we were making the four-hour drive to gather most of her dorm room supplies to bring home.  This would allow her to bring the last little bit of her belongings home in her compact car once she completed her finals during the middle of our workweek.

 

 

           Maddie and I had spoken several times throughout the past week figuring out how to best coordinate with her schedule as she had several events to attend at her sorority house over the weekend as well as the fact she needed to study for two finals occurring on Monday.  As is often the case, John and I have learned with the whole college experience, it best to not attach to one plan as these are often fluid every changing/ever moving. Kind like parenting . . . Kind of like the conversations I have with my mother . . .with my daughter . . .like I used to have with my grandmother . . .

 

         Eating at El Paso Mexican Grille the night before we packed most of Maddie’s things for John and I to bring home while she stayed on and finished finals.   Pictured:  John and me; Jillian (Maddie’s room mate) and Maddie; me and Maddie getting silly.

 

Moving day on Sunday morning: Jillian, Gigs, and Maddie at the ready to load up John’s truck.

           Listening to mom’s story about her last doctor appointment of the week.  She talked of losing her family doctor, the same one she has had since she married, Jim, my stepdad.  It was nothing personal, in fact, the doctor had expressed to mom her deep sorrow for leaving Jim and mom, but she needed to move on to another position in order to improve her work-life balance.  

 

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My mom, Dolores Scherer, and her husband, my stepdad, Jim Scherer taken a year or two earlier.

 

           “Who can blame her?” mom said.  “I remember being in my 50s and juggling multiple jobs.  After a while . . .” mom’s voice trailed off. Soon she veered into a seemingly unrelated story about her doctor and her daughter’s fondness for the musical, Wicked  . . .

           “Leaving her office,” Mom said, “I put my hand on her shoulder and said, ‘Because I knew you. . .’”

           Tears filled my eyes as I understood the reference.  Mom, Maddie, and I had seen Wicked a couple of years ago in Cincinnati.   One of the most beautiful songs, and our favorite, in the musical is entitled, “For Good.”  

           “Let me say before we part/So much of me/Is made of what I learned from you/You’ll be with me now/Like a handprint on my heart/And now whatever way our stories end/I know you have rewritten mine . . .”

 

         Maddie, my mom, Dolores Scherer, and me saw Wicked in the fall of 2017 in Cincinnati.

  

         We talked some more, reflecting of her numerous trips with my Dad to pick me up from Ohio University in Athens, and that led me to briefly flash back to my two years after college living my grandparents. Refocused, we talked more about her doctor’s parting recommendations. Yes, she had already spoken to Mom’s new doctor.  Mom was assured Jim and she would be in good hands. “Handprint on my heart. . . .”

 

    Recent photos of my mom with Maddie, my younger sister, Rachel, and one of my nieces, Naomi.

 

           Her words led my mind to quickly wander back to an earlier moment of that morning.  I had looked down at my hands during the course of teaching yoga as the lyrics of, “In My Daughter’s Eyes,” began to fill the studio’s sound system from the songs of my class playlist, and in that moment, my eyes had also filled with tears at the significance this song once held, and still holds, in my own life.

 

           “In my daughter’s eyes . . .I know no fear/But the truth is plain to see/She was sent to rescue me/I see who I want to be /In my daughter’s eyes . . .”

 

           For my mom, there is no mom to call; and, yet, when I look at my mom, I see my Grandmother’s eyes there.  No they are not as milky as Grandmother’s were in the end, but it’s in the way Mom’s eyes light up at the sight of her family, her kids, her grandkids . . .the way I hope mine do when I see my daughter; and Maddie says, “Aw, mom, you’re not going to cry, are you?’

 

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My mom’s mom, “Grandmother,” my sister, Traci, me, and my Mom taken many years ago.

 

          I am forever changed by these remarkable women.  Their voices, forever a resident in my heart: Grandmother Helen’s, “Stethie, I’ll let you go get that for me at the store” . . ..  Mom’s, “Stephanie Rene, have you finished straightening your bedroom yet? What are you still doing in that closet looking at those books?” . . . . Madelyn’s, “Hey, mom, I’ve just got to vent for a moment. Listen to this . . .”

“I love you, Grandmother” . . .”I love you, Mom” . . .”I love you, Maddie” . . . .

         “ . . .It’s hanging on when your heart has had enough/ It’s giving more when you feel like giving up/I’ve seen the light/ It’s in my daughter’s eyes.”

“. . . You’ll be with me/ Like a handprint on my heart . . .”

           Happy Mother’s Day to all.

 

 

           

           

 

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.