Please and Thank You…Say It With Me

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From a young age, we are taught to say please and thank you. Over and over, we are told to use our manners, thanking someone for inviting us over for a playdate, thanking someone when we are given a compliment. We are encouraged to say thank you when a treat is bestowed upon us and we are expected to say thank you when we are given a gift.

And yet, as we grow into adults focused on getting through a busy day, we throw out “thank yous” without truly meaning them. We often go through the motions, rushing to the next appointment, meeting, deadline without really seeing all the little moments we have to be thankful for, the little gems throughout our day, our week. We fling a thank you in the general direction of the person wishing us a good day, throw out a quick thank you to the one who paused to hold the door open for us.

The slightest smile when we’re having a rough morning can change our mood if we allow it. A few words from a  friend, letting us know they’re thinking of us is something to cherish. We read them, smile, let them wash over us and warm our heart, yet often quickly move on after hitting send on the little eight letters that make up T-H-A-N-K Y-O-U, the response that has likely brought a smile to the recipient.

Trees, Landscape

Looking back, I would like to thank ten people who have made a difference in my life this past week, big or small. I challenge you to do the same!

1. To the doctor who really listened to me and ran the proper tests to help me find answers. I thank you. It makes a huge difference to find a doctor who cares enough to listen.

2. On that note,  I am thankful for the medical system in the United States. After having experienced others firsthand, I will no longer take this one for granted.

3. To the school bus driver who made it a point to wish me a good day every morning when picking up my son. It’s a nice start to the day. Thank you.

4. To the stranger at the grocery store who complimented my hair. I’ve been having good hair days since moving to a less humid climate, but it is always nice when someone notices. Thank you.

5. To my husband, my other half, who was home all week instead of traveling. It’s nice to have you home sharing the responsibilities of this exhausting thing we call parenting. Thank you for being my partner in life.

6. To the people at Nordic who make treadmills, thank you for making mine. It has been a savior as I try to ease myself back into exercising as I continue to recover from my fractured foot.

7.  To my daughter, I thank you for wanting to sit and talk to me about your day every, single, afternoon. I cherish those conversations with you and it warms my heart that you ask me to stop what I am doing and sit at the table with you for our afternoon snack.

8. To the trash guys who must be so sick of picking up my numerous empty moving boxes. I’m almost done. I promise! Thank you.

9. To my son, I thank you for your humor.  Your laughter is contagious and you make us all laugh when we need it most. I treasure the fact that you still enjoy cuddling with me and can’t walk past me without stealing a kiss or wrapping your little arms around me for a quick hug.

10. To God, who has blessed me over and over again in so many aspects of my life. I can’t thank you enough. My heart is full because of you. Thank you.

 

Link up your Ten Things Of Thankful Post here!

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Grandmother's Cross, Faith

The Tiny Gold Cross

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Today, I’m featured over at Our Life Songs  a non-profit organization designed to inspire, heal and motivate women who are struggling with disease, depression, anxiety and other difficult issues. I am honored to be a part of such a worthy mission. Please take a moment to visit them.

 

I sat across from her unable to take my eyes away, entranced by the weathered hands whose long, slender fingers wrapped around the tiny gold cross hanging on her neck. She slid it side to side, left to right, over and over again and I was mesmerized by the repetitive motion. I watched the cross swing on its matching gold chain at times of its own volition, others with a purpose it seemed only she understood. Much time would pass before I understood the meaning of it, not the meaning of the man who died on a much larger scale of the small cross, rather what it meant to the woman who loyally wore it.

Grandmother's Cross, Faith

As a little girl, I found myself looking for the hint of gold against her chest each time I visited. I walked closer to greet her, my eyes searched for it. As she held me at arm’s length, steps before I reached her, commenting on how much I had grown since the last time she saw me, I looked for it. Younger still, I can recall my small hands reaching for it as she held me in her lap and rocked me to sleep. She never pulled it out of my grasp the way other adults yanked things out of reach of a young toddler for fear of destruction. Instead, she let me soothe myself to sleep, my tiny fingers rubbing the gold until I drifted off into peaceful slumber.

Through the years, it was always there. And, as I got older I noticed she not only held onto it during the happiest of times as though thanking the Lord for all he had blessed her with but also in the saddest of times like when we learned of my father’s cancer diagnosis. She held it as she watched her daughter, my mother, absorb the news. And, as she watched my mother I watched her as the pain in my mom’s eyes reflected in her own. I leaned forward a bit as though in so doing I would be able to make out her plea as her lips moved in unison with the motion of the swaying cross. Back and forth, left and right, over and over again she slid the cross, her lips rapidly moving in a whispered prayer.
At those times, she seemed to wrap her fingers around it a little tighter, begging for it to provide more. More what?

Strength?      Hope?      Faith?

I would sense the urgency in the way she held the cross, and desperately slid it back and forth on its chain. By then, the once smooth skin it had rested upon when I was a child, was now etched with line upon line – each representing her walk of faith, her life’s journey. At times, the lines intersected on her wrinkled skin. I sat and wondered if perhaps there were paths that led her to other paths, each presenting a trial she was meant to endure, an experience that would shape the woman she became. Some lines seemed to have no direction, no beginning and no end, as though they consisted of choices left unmade or decisions changed at a certain point in time. However, it was clear to me even then that each line told a bit of her story, perhaps, because I can’t recall an occasion when I didn’t see it on her.

My grandmother always had it on her person, close to her heart and often reached for it. I think it kept her grounded, a constant reminder of her faith and something greater than her in this world.

Years later, as I entered the hospital room and approached the bed in which she was taking her last breath, my eyes immediately searched for the tiny gold cross. At that point, I needed the strength it always seemed to bring her. I needed the feeling of peace I had seen on her face after she held that symbol of faith in her hands time after time. As I looked at her chest where the hospital gown was pushed back a bit to reveal a hint of gold, I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. The lines were now many, blanketing her body like a road map of sorts and I like to think that’s exactly what they were. A road map of her life, her experiences, but most importantly her undying faith. And as I reached for the tiny gold cross that had become a symbol of comfort in my young eyes, I realized that it was so much more than that. Seeing it now through the eyes of a woman, I understood what it meant to my grandmother and in my times of doubt, during moments of desperation, I find myself holding the tiny cross that sits close to my own heart. I can’t help but pray that in the end my life’s road map is as beautifully etched as hers.

 

Kmart Christmas, Paid in Full, Holiday Tradition, Random Act of Kindness Pay It Forward

Christmas – Paid in Full

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“Lord, give me strength.” She pulled up to the house in the dark of night, cut off the engine, and leaned her head back against the seat. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. And so began her nightly ritual as she arrived home from her second job each night. She reached across the seat and grabbed the small bag containing toilet paper, toothpaste, a gallon of milk, and a loaf of bread before exiting the car. She prayed it was enough to hold them over until Friday when she would once again stretch her small paycheck like a magician pulling colored scarves out of a hat.

She quietly entered the old house, treading lightly across the creaky old floorboards so as not to wake anyone. After placing the milk in the fridge, she willed her tired muscles to carry her up the stairs, knowing once she reached the top her exhaustion would be forgotten as she stopped in for a glimpse of her sleeping angels. Her life wasn’t always that of a single mother with three children, but life doesn’t always turn out the way we once dreamed. She was living proof of that. And yet, she wouldn’t trade it for all the money in the world if it meant erasing the three greatest blessings in her life. As usual, she found the twins cuddled up together in one twin bed as though reverting to the comforting days of the peace they experienced in the womb. She covered them with a second blanket, kissed their foreheads, and made her way down the hall. She passed Jacob’s room, knowing she would find her ten-year old son asleep in her bed once again. She no longer moved him back to his own bed, taking as much comfort from sleeping with him as he did with her.

As she did every night, no matter how late she arrived, she filled the tub and soaked for a bit. Surely, it made more sense to take a quick shower and jump in bed, but she needed these baths. It always felt like a cleansing of sorts as she imagined washing away all her troubles before laying her head on her pillow. Otherwise, she knew her worries would circle her mind and sleep would elude her when she needed it most. Thank goodness she still had her mother with her to stay at home with the kids while she worked. She wouldn’t know what to do without her help, but she also knew she was getting older and that wouldn’t always be the case.

This time of year was always the hardest and loneliest for her. It was when she seemed to feel the full brunt of being a single mother the most. She wanted a magical Christmas for her children, but she had stopped believing in magic long ago. How do you continue to help your children believe when the world has stripped you of your hope, your dreams, your faith? As she lay beside him, she watched her son sleep and realized the tranquil look he once possessed was beginning to fade even in his dreams. “Lord, please give me strength.”

She woke before the sun. Gathering the envelope labeled “Savings” in her nightstand before heading out once more. She hoped to make it back before the kids woke up. As she pulled into the Kmart parking lot, she ran the numbers in her head and knew she would have to choose only one item on the list for each of her children. She didn’t have enough for the rest of the items she had placed on Layaway, but Christmas was just days away and she had to have at least one gift under the old Charlie Brown tree in the living room.

She asked the Layaway attendant to please pull up her list so she could select the items she could afford. The list wasn’t long, although she had surprised herself that day by allowing herself to dream for a bit, imagining she actually had the means to give her children the items they asked for this year.

The young girl hit a few keys and said, “Paid in Full.”

Kmart Christmas, Paid in Full, Holiday Tradition, Random Act of Kindness Pay It Forward

“There must be some mistake,” the woman said and repeated her name. The young girl gave her the biggest smile she had ever seen. “I was working the evening shift last night, when a couple came in with their two young children. I heard them explaining to their kids the meaning of putting something on layaway and how blessed they were to be in a position where they had never had to do that. They then asked me to pull up a layaway list that included children’s items and paid it in full. When I asked them if they wanted me to contact the person, they said no. Just tell them we said, Merry Christmas and God Bless.

The young lady then proceeded to hand the items over to the woman who stood motionless, tears streaming down her face. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” The young lady handed over the final item and said, “Don’t thank me, that family gave me faith that magic still exists. Merry Christmas to you and your children.”

This is our yearly tradition with our children, and all of us have come to look forward to it more than any other aspect of our holiday season. The story above is just one of the versions I’ve imagined in my heart throughout the years. Do you have a family tradition during the holidays?

Through the Door – The Power of Prayer

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Life has a way of transporting us from one moment to the next in the blink of an eye. A certain smell, a song, a glimpse of a photograph can make our senses come alive and take flight like a mother bird from its nest in search of that elusive something that will feed our soul. As I walked toward the sound of frantic whispers, I knew who it was, and looking back I must admit I knew what he was desperately pleading for before I ever stepped through the door to my bedroom. I slowly crept closer to the door, holding my breath and carefully placing each foot down as though I might avoid the inevitable land mine I was sure awaited me through that half open door. In slow motion I crossed the threshold, and what I saw is forever ingrained in my heart.

My seven-year old son was on his knees next to my bed, tiny hands barely reaching the top of the mattress, clasped together in fervent prayer. He begged God to allow us to remain in our home in Texas, rather than have to board a plane the next morning and head back to Puerto Rico where his daddy’s job awaited. As I knelt down beside him, and placed my arm around him, my own tears fell. My heart broke to see my little boy hurting, but it also swelled with pride that in his moment of need he sought comfort in prayer. He didn’t seek out his father, his sister, or even myself. He got down on his knees and prayed. We may be miles away from the tiny church we fell in love with eight years ago, but my son has carried the power of prayer with him across an ocean and hopefully a lifetime.

photo credit: littlemisswordy

photo credit: littlemisswordy

As I exited my bedroom, and gently closed the door behind me I entered a bedroom I haven’t stepped foot in since I was seventeen years old. The queen size bed with the faded brown comforter still held the small tear in the bottom right corner I tried to hide from my mom after my siblings and I repeatedly bounced on the bed in an attempt to touch the ceiling. If I look up I can see the water stains on that very ceiling, the same ones my dad and I would make up stories about when I would cuddle up beside him in bed. One day it was a ship at sea, another day a fire-breathing dragon, each a lesson in possibilities. Yet, the vision of my son on his knees has taken me back to the day I realized my dad wasn’t invincible. I was just a little older than my son is now, the house was quiet, and not one to miss a nap with my dad I walked toward my parents bedroom in search of him.

As I approached the door to the bedroom I could hear frantic whispers. I inched toward the door, not daring to enter, but needing to confirm what I knew in my heart. I saw my father on his knees on the side of the bed, tears streaming down his face, begging the Lord to save his older brother who was dying of cancer. I stood rooted in place though my legs wanted to run the other way, down the hall, out the front door, and back in time to a place where I still held the innocent impression that my father, my hero, was untouchable.

Through the years, I have held that vision of my father as he knelt in prayer and surrendered himself to a higher power. It taught me that none of us are invincible, that in our darkest hour we need to believe in something, that the power of prayer can give us hope no matter whether or not we get the answer we so desperately seek.

This post was written in response to the Weekly Challenge: Through the Door

Spotlight On The World

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Words, when they come to life are an amazing thing. Whether their effect on us is through something we’ve read or by word of mouth, when words come to life they are amazing. When they linger with you for days, tumbling around in your heart and mind like the delicate cycle on your dryer, in constant motion gently nudging you to take a closer look, you must. I have had a string of words shared by a complete stranger floating and twisting around as though windblown for some time. They come close to being still and landing as though the wind died down, yet before I can grasp their full meaning, they again take flight.

photo credit: littlemisswordy

photo credit: littlemisswordy

These are the words: God has given each of us a light. It is up to us to shine that light on others. If you only use your light as a spotlight, you are not using your light to its full potential. If the sun only shone on a small number of crops, all the other crops even those closest to the light would wither and die because they were not touched by the light. As uncomfortable as it may make you, as difficult as it may be, you must shine your light on others.

This week’s events have been disheartening in so many ways. I don’t often watch the news because it depresses me to see so much evil being reported. After the bombing at the Boston Marathon, I’ve been watching the news quite a bit. Just as I was about to retreat back into my bubble, having had enough of the horrific news reports, I heard about the explosions in West, Texas, a town just north of Waco where my son was born seven years ago.

Again, I become glued to the news and what do I see upon further inspection? I see those words come to life. I see spotlights in the midst of tragedy so great that not too long ago would have been something seen on a movie screen or written in a book you can’t put down…something we could imagine because to believe it could truly affect us in the real world was impossible. The longer I watch the news the more those spotlights expand, shining a light so great it reaches out and blankets all of those affected, breathing hope into those left behind to face our reality.

I wasn’t planning on writing about these tragedies, believing there was nothing I could contribute that hadn’t already been shared, believing I could not bring words to life that would offer comfort, believing there was nothing I could say to shed new light on the subject. Maybe there isn’t, but not sharing the words of this complete stranger would be the equivalent of turning my own spotlight off.

Island Boy Finds His Once Upon A Time

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The sound of the waves, the sand beneath his feet, the warm ocean breeze were all a part of him, ingrained into his very soul. He was a true island boy, climbing palm trees in the blink of an eye to retrieve a coconut, catching fish with his homemade spear in the most primitive manner. It was the only manner he had ever learned…not from his father, as he had never met the man who had given him life. His mother never spoke of him. He carried his questions in his little heart, the one place they couldn’t cause the fleeting glimpse of pain he sometimes saw in her eyes…the pain she thought she hid so well.

He studied the only photo of his father he possessed, memorizing every detail. Even when he closed his eyes he could still see the way his father looked in his uniform, the way he slightly leaned into his military jeep as though someone had caught him on his way somewhere. Where was he going? Who held the camera that provided the only piece of the puzzle that was his life, his story? He held the tiny black and white photo, yet held not a single memory of this man…a stranger to him.

Mikes Dad in Antigua Circa Late Mid 1940's

It came as no surprise when the little island boy grew to be a soldier as well. He and his mother moved to the United States so he could join the army at the age of eighteen. It wasn’t long before the island boy fell in love, married and had a family of his own. His young bride, wanting to know everything about him would ask him to tell her about his father. She wanted to know if he ever thought of him, if he ever wondered what became of him, if he was ever curious to meet him. His response never wavered. He had a good life, a loving family, and no need for anything or anyone else. After years of seeing the hint of pain in his eyes, she stopped asking him. Many years would come and go before she would tentatively broach the subject once more.

Mike and Mom Rita early to mid-1950's

It was the age of computers now, when the internet was becoming all the rage and she had embraced the technology. She loved being able to communicate with all the friends she made during their numerous military relocations. And, she had become interested in a genealogy website where she could build a family tree. Once again, she asked her husband about his father. This time, he handed her the tiny black and white photo his own mother had placed in his small hand a lifetime ago. She scanned it, placed it on the site and listed her husband’s name as someone looking for his father. Neither one of them thought anything would really come of it. Yet, life has a funny way of making connections so intricately weaved, they leave us mere mortals astounded.

Across the ocean, a secretary at a military base happened on that very website. She gasped when she saw the photo and immediately printed it. Her boss arrived shortly after, and headed straight to his office. The first thing his eyes landed upon was a printout of a tiny black and white photo of a man in military uniform. There was no mistaking it was his father. He immediately took the contact information his secretary provided, and made the call that would forever change the life of a little island boy. He never doubted for a moment this man was his brother. Their father had shared a story with him, and the time had finally come to share it with his brother.

Their father had been stationed on a small island and had fallen in love with a young girl. He had returned home at the end of his assignment, but headed back to the island during the first military leave he had only to find that young girl gone. He questioned friends, family, neighbors to no avail. In the end, he found one person willing to talk. The news he was given was heartbreaking. The young girl died giving birth to a baby boy who also didn’t live.

Their father had refused to believe it. In the following years, he made several more attempts to find what his heart believed to be true, but all attempts ended the same. With a heavy heart, he returned home, went on with his life, married and had children, never returning to that island.

Somehow his heart knew what no one was willing to tell him when he sought answers so many years ago. His son lived, and one day he would know their story. He had hoped to look in his son’s eyes, and share this history with him, hug him and let him know he had gone back for them. While on his death-bed, coming to terms with the fact he would never get that opportunity, he shared this story with his youngest son. Their father requested when the brothers finally found each other, the story be shared with the son he never met.

There was silence on the other end of the phone line as a lifetime of questions were finally answered. The island boy, whom my husband calls Dad and my children call Pappa, found a family he never knew he had and a story he never believed could be his own.

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Words I Have Never Spoken Aloud

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“I am a runner.” “I am a writer.” Words I have never spoken aloud. Why? I guess because I don’t truly believe them. Yet. I’m working on it, but it is still a work in progress. I am still a work in progress. What words have you never spoken aloud because you don’t truly believe them?

Running - I don’t run fast. I don’t run far. I don’t win medals. Yet, I do compete. With every step I take and every mile I run, I compete against myself. Every night I set my alarm to get up and run in the morning, giving myself a little pep talk that I can/will do it. Every morning, when the alarm goes off I give myself another pep talk that I can/will do it. It is hard to get out of bed. However, I face the terrain, push myself mile after mile, uphill, downhill, and back home. I run because I love the sense of accomplishment I feel when I’m done, not because I feel like a runner. I try to lose myself in my music, headphones on, drowning out the voices in my head and my heart that tell me I’m not a runner. Recently, I’ve acquired a new running partner. He doesn’t accompany me on every run, but when he does I find I run better. I still wear my headphones, but solely for the music. This little person beside me doesn’t allow me to believe I’m not a runner…even for a minute. When I run beside him, I am a runner.

Why? He is my inspiration. I want my son to believe he can do anything as well. I want the voices in his head and his heart to always tell him he can/he will. I want to be his inspiration.

kids finish tri copy

Writing - I’m not a famous author. I haven’t been writing long. I started this blog only five months ago. I don’t have books sitting on bookstore shelves waiting to be purchased. Writing isn’t effortless to me. I have to carve out time to sit and let my thoughts find life on my computer screen. Even with interruptions, as my fingers hover over the keys I work to translate thoughts to keystrokes to full-blown ideas on the screen. I write because I love to write. I write because when I do I lose myself in my thoughts and my words. When I write, I drown out the voices in my head and my heart that tell me I am not a writer. I write because I love the sense of accomplishment I feel when I’m done, not because I feel like a writer. Recently, my daughter has decided she would like to write a book. She says she wants to be a writer like her mom. I watch her sit with her laptop, a faraway look on her sweet face, her fingers traveling over the keys bringing her own thoughts to life. This little person beside me doesn’t allow me to believe I’m not a writer…even for a minute. When I see myself through her eyes, I am a writer.

Why? She is my inspiration. I want her to believe she can do anything as well. I want the voices in her head and her heart to always tell her she can/she will. I want to be her inspiration.

An (unedited) excerpt from Olivia’s book:

It was an ordinary day. Taylor was in her room texting her friend, Hannah. “Want to come to my party tonight?” said Hannah. “Definitely, but I’ll have to ask my parents!” replied Taylor, so off she went down the stairs. She went into the kitchen to see if her mom was there. Sure enough there she was making tuna casserole. “Um mom?” said Taylor “Can I go to a party tonight?”  “Absolutely not!” replied her mom “we are going to have a nice family dinner!”  “But mom please?” said Taylor. “No and that is final!” said her mom. Taylor stormed off outside to think. “If I’m not at that party I’ll be a total loser!” thought Taylor. Just then a portal-like thing appeared right in front of her! Before she knew it she was inside of the portal! She screamed, cried, and whined for help! “Mom!” she cried, but no one could hear her! Just then, she fell onto a bed of grass and flowers, but she wasn’t alone.

Tons of villagers had heard some commotion, and wanted to see what was going on. The villagers were angry! They were holding pitch forks and torches. Taylor immediately got up and ran ( even though she had no idea where she was going ). She ran into the woods and cried for help. “Help! Mom! Save me!” she screamed, but no one came. She kept on running, but she tripped over the root of a rather large tree. She fell to the ground, but immediately got up and kept running even though she was hurt. She soon realized the villagers stopped at the beginning of the woods because those were the woods that belonged to “The Destructor”. Taylor stopped and sat down. Her leg was throbbing in pain. When she took a look at her leg it was bleeding heavily. She grabbed a leaf and wrapped it around her leg. She looked at the size of the leaf and wondered ” Where am I?” Taylor didn’t know what to think. As far as she knows she was just sucked into a portal, and ended up in a weird placed where there were angry villagers. She was very tired, so she decided to leave the thinking for tomorrow and go to sleep. She curled up right then and there and went to sleep, but little did she know that The Destructor was on his way towards her.

Taylor woke up and saw a little creature sitting by her leg. It was about as big as a puppy. It was very fluffy and looked like a very small mammoth! It had purple ears and legs with an aquamarine colored fur. Taylor stared at the little guy with curiosity. “Ok now this is just weird!” she wondered aloud. She thought for a moment. Then she realized “If I follow him I’m sure to find water and food!”  Taylor had a little backpack that she always carried with her no matter where she was. She pulled out a little note pad and drew a sketch of the little animal. “Are you ok?” Taylor heard someone say. “Did you just say that?” Taylor asked the little creature. She looked up and saw someone, but it was no Destructor it was just a little boy. The little boy was wearing jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt, and some sandals. He looked about six or seven. “Yes I’m fine, and who are you?” said Taylor. “I’m Peter, but the animals call me Pete!” Said the boy. “The animals?” said Taylor ( who thought the boy was insane and should just go home). ” I know what your thinking Taylor” said Peter.  “You what?” said Taylor. “I’m not insane.” said Peter. ” I can read people’s and animal’s minds, and that is why I said the animals call me Pete” said Peter. ” Oh I’m so sorry Peter” said Taylor. ” Follow me!” said Peter. So Taylor packed up her things and followed Peter through the woods.

As Taylor followed Peter through the woods she saw old abandon houses, broken down factories that looked like they had never been opened, she even thought that she saw a sparkle behind a tree or two. In other words, these were not the woods you would want to be in when you are alone. “Are we almost there?” asked Taylor. ” I think so…” Peter trailed off. “what’s wrong?” asked Taylor. “I’m not sure we are safe here, I-I can feel it” said Peter. Just then something jumped out of the bushes and took Peter. Taylor screamed, “Peter!!! Don’t leave me here!” Peter didn’t answer. He couldn’t answer because he was so scared it was like the whole world froze itself. Taylor knew she didn’t have to save him. It wasn’t her responsibility anyway, but Peter reminded her of someone who she couldn’t quite remember the name of. Taylor didn’t have all day! She decided to run after that beast that took her friend. Was Peter her friend? He never really seemed like one, but in a way he did. As she ran she heard a scream, a scream so loud it could make you completely deaf. Taylor stopped. It was the sound of a screaming boy.

Identify Your “Training Wheels” And Smile!

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We’ve all met at least one person who treads a little lighter than the rest of us, who grabs life with both hands, experiences it to the fullest. It’s not that they are irresponsible adults. It’s just that their approach to life in general is different from most grown ups. They don’t allow themselves to get caught up in the details. They don’t over think. They just breathe in life’s moments, filling their lungs with each experience, and letting every inch of their body feel the joy life offers. Is it a personality trait inherited from some gene passed down to them from a life loving parent? Or, is it something they learned along the way?

As a kid, I remember being fearless. Yet, now I over think riding a Roller Coaster as I imagine endless frightening scenarios all of which leave my two children motherless in the end. As I climb aboard, buckle my seat belt, then check and double-check it, I’m silently berating myself for being so careless as to agree to this irresponsible joy ride. I am a mother for goodness sake, not some free wheeling teenager doing pop-a-wheelies on her mountain bike (ah those were the days). Nevertheless, I settle in and after a quick plea bargain prayerful talk with the man upstairs, I make a conscious decision to enjoy the ride. It isn’t long before the cars pick up speed, I feel the wind in my hair, and the sheer exhilaration of feeling free! In that moment, nothing can stop me and I feel like I can take on the world!

My kids: cooling off and smiling from the inside out after a long bike ride. photo credit: littlemisswordy

My kids: cooling off and smiling from the inside out, after a long bike ride.
photo credit: littlemisswordy

Do you remember the first time you learned to ride a bike? It’s that same feeling I’m referring to here. No matter how we approached that bike for the first time, the end result was the same. Once we got going and felt the wind in our hair, we could take on the world. There was no hiding our smile as it traveled from our mind to our face, until it took over every fiber of our being and shone like a Fourth of July sparkler beckoning the world to smile with us! Why do we reserve that full body joy as something to be experienced only by a carefree child?

When I taught my oldest how to ride a bike, her little brother was her biggest cheerleader as she fearfully gave up her training wheels. Olivia approached this challenge in her usual fashion. With much detail, she proceeded to delineate each and every way she could fall off her bike, and each and every injury that was possible. I gave her some space, addressed her concerns accordingly, and eventually she faced the latest challenge in the life of a six-year-old — with determination and a few meltdowns. On the other hand, Evan watched Olivia the first day as he circled her on his Spiderman bike WITH training wheels, and like a good brother and little knight, cheered her on at the appropriate moments. However, on day two he adamantly demanded I take his training wheels off.

Evan’s approach to learning to ride a bike was much different from his sister’s approach. Fearless and with complete faith in his abilities, he not only wanted to go fast but didn’t want me to hold him back. Not a single thought to consequences, injuries, etc. he quickly progressed to riding without assistance in a mere thirty minutes. Their approaches were different, but their end result was the same. They both experienced the same sense of freedom, wind blowing in their face, head tilted back, smiling with their entire body.

This left me thinking about how we approach life. What are our “training wheels” and how much do we depend on them? Training wheels aren’t a negative thing, but definitely aren’t meant to permanently carry our weight. Do the training wheels in our life show up in the form of our friends, our family, our career, our doubts, or the dreams we’ve put on hold? Why do some of us hang on to our training wheels longer than others? Is it because they’ve become so much a part of us that we don’t even realize we’re leaning on them? Are we too afraid to remove them even for a moment for fear of failure? Are we allowing our training wheels to hold us back from that sense of freedom?

Wouldn’t it be great to experience that smile from the inside out…the kind that makes you literally jump for joy just like when you were a kid? Whether it’s a roller coaster, a bike, or life, inevitably the moment arrives when we have to ride all on our own, feel the exhilaration as we pick up speed and confidence, tilt our heads up to the sky, and welcome that cool breeze on our face.

 Weekly Writing Challenge: Truth is Stranger than Fiction

How Big Do You Love Me?

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Like many families, the kids and I have a game we’ve played for years. It’s called “How Big Do You Love Me?” and the way it’s played is we try to outdo one another with descriptions of how big our love is for each other. For example I would say, “I love you as big as a rainbow” and one of the kids would say, “I love you as big as a mountain” and so on and so forth. I think the most creative example of Olivia’s love for me at the age of two was when she responded, “I love you as big as the tallest tree with the biggest elephant sitting on top of it.”

Through the years, a similar game has presented itself in my life. This one I call, “How Big Is My Faith?” I’ve encountered this game many a time and have found it more challenging than the one I just described. This game has pushed me to the next level during my dad’s illness and ultimately his painful death, during the trials and tribulations of relationships, when close friends have chosen a path separate from the one we were so blissfully traveling on hand in hand, and even when life has presented me with the difficult choice of stepping back and allowing a loved one to find his way without my constant guidance. It has also presented itself for my family and I when we’ve had to take a leap of faith in a move to what is undoubtedly the equivalent of a foreign country with unfamiliar customs.

However, the real test of “How Big Is My Faith?” came in the form of “The Ultimate Challenge” round. Maintain your faith while giving up everything familiar to you, including a church you called home not only on Sundays, a rector whose sermons stayed with you from week to week, and a family who might not have been related by blood but who came together in happiness, sorrow and everything in between. Your assignment should you choose to accept it is to walk away from that and enter a realm of the unknown, find a new church, a new inspiration, a new way of spiritual satisfaction. Not easy, but that’s why they call it “The Ultimate Challenge” and why if you complete it the satisfaction is greater than anything you could ever imagine. I set out to finish the game, beat the boss, complete the challenge and found many an obstacle in my way.

What I learned through it all is that my faith is bigger than a church and bigger than a sermon, but not bigger than God. I have had more time for reflection and have found inspiration within myself and in places I never dreamed of looking when I was sitting back and letting others feed my soul. I finally embraced my passion for writing and it has become an outlet for me in so many ways. It has fed my soul in ways I could never imagine when I was comfortably contained within my comfort zone. I am walking through life with my eyes more open than they have ever been, and allowing life’s smallest of details to inspire me. When I sit down in front of my computer, and let my fingers travel over my keyboard taking on a life of their own I know I’m feeding my soul and possibly others in the process. I know God is smiling down on me. And, as for “How Big Is My Faith?” well let’s just say it’s definitely as big as “the tallest tree with the biggest elephant sitting on top of it.”

For my friends whose life circumstances have left you feeling tired, like life has beat you down. For those of you who feel like your faith is not as strong as it once was and may question it and even God. We’ve all been there, but don’t be afraid to look around you, to dig down deep. Be open to new churches, new friends, new ways to inspire yourself and feed your soul. And know that as long as God is present in your heart, he will always be present in your soul.

One of my favorite Christian songs is by an artist named Nicole Nordeman. She wrote it for a close friend of hers who was in a place in his life where his faith was lacking or maybe even nonexistent. I leave you with her lyrics and video.

What if you’re right?
And he was just another nice guy
What if you’re right?
What if it’s true?
They say the cross will only make a fool of you
And what if it’s true?

What if he takes his place in history
With all the prophets and the kings
Who taught us love and came in peace
But then the story ends
What then?

But what if you’re wrong?
What if there’s more?
What if there’s hope you never dreamed of hoping for?
What if you jump?
And just close your eyes?
What if the arms that catch you, catch you by surprise?
What if He’s more than enough?
What if it’s love?

What if you dig
Way down deeper than your simple-minded friends
What if you dig?
What if you find
A thousand more unanswered questions down inside
That’s all you find?

What if you pick apart the logic
And begin to poke the holes
What if the crown of thorns is no more
Than folklore that must be told and retold?

You’ve been running as fast as you can
You’ve been looking for a place you can land for so long

But what if you’re wrong?

What if there’s more?

What if there’s hope you never dreamed of hoping for?

What if you jump?

And just close your eyes?

What if the arms that catch you, catch you by surprise?

What if He’s more than enough?

What if it’s love?

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If you’re interested in spreading A TON OF HOPE, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Write about something that makes you feel optimistic.
  2. Post MONDAYS. Start the week off with a positive outlook.
  3. Grab a badge by going to your dashboard and clicking the IMAGE widget. Adjust pic size 200h x 200w. The image URL: (http://keepingitrealmom.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/project-optimism.jpg)
  4. Link over here and invite blogger friends to join in.
  5. Encourage the person who linked up before you. Kindness is contagious!

How Much Stuff Do We Really Need?

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Every year we kick off the holiday season with Thanksgiving, a day when we stuff the turkey, stuff ourselves and give thanks for all the people and stuff in our lives. We’ve barely had time to digest the Turkey before we’re out the door to be the first ones in line to get more stuff to place under the Christmas tree for our family and friends, more stuff to ensure we are the most decorated house on the block, more stuff to find a place for, more stuff to dust, and more stuff to ultimately ignore. When is it enough? When is it too much?

In this video, Father Scott J. Brown references a family in Ethiopia who seems content with twenty-eight possessions in a 360 square foot hut, a very different picture from the average 2500 square foot American household. At what point do we have enough stuff in our lives?

Sarah Book Publishing

Sarah Book Publishing

Scott J. Brown is also a children’s author. His latest book, a must read, tells the story of three kings who face the dilemma of (gasp) having to come up with a personal gift fit for a king when the shops were already closed for the day. Purchase The Gift of You here and share the story with your children this season.