FAMILY LESSONS 

FAMILY LESSONS

This may be a bit sappy, but it is straight from my heart. 

I come from a family of kind hearted, industrious, hardworking, pioneering, generous, loving, civic minded, patriotic Christians, & this evening several of them are on my mind, as they are ever in my heart: 

Pa-pa Lehman was the salt of the earth, & many who knew him have said the same thing about him, which is that he was one of the nicest men that they ever met. He sang me silly songs like “The Animal Fair” when he picked me up from school, he made me wooden, carved toys, cracked pecans from his yard for me with his hammer, & peeled & sliced small, sour green apples off of his tree in the back yard with his pocket knife, which happened to be the same one he used for innumerable things, such as cleaning his fingernails & tightening screws. He was a wizard with metallic gray duct tape, which is all that they made back then. He let me help him sow seeds, weed, & harvest in the garden out behind his house. We sat together, just the two of us, in the dark summer evenings & he pointed out the constellations to me, engaged my mind with the latest article he had read in the Encyclopedia Brittanica, & assured me that the bats flying overhead were not going to swoop down & harm me. He let me sit on the hood of his car, & as I leaned back against the windshield, he showed me the glory of the heavens. He allowed the scuppernong vines to sweep low to the ground in the grape arbor, for he knew that the grandkids loved to play house or hide & seek beneath its shaded arms, & he did not care if we left dozens of grape skins littering the ground after we had feasted on their sweetness. But I suppose the best lesson which he ever taught me was tolerance, for one hot summer day the neighbor kids were leaning through the wire fence & picking our hard earned baby tomatoes & running off with them, presumably taking them home to their parent’s dinner table. Pa-pa & I had worked all summer long together, just the two of us that year, in that garden, & I was very proud of its produce. Beside, I loved those “Tom-EE-Toes”, as we called them. So I shouted out to the kids, berating them, & warning them of possible consequences if they stole any more of our vegetables. I was so shocked when my Pa-pa fussed on ME for scolding them. It is the one & ONLY time that I ever remember him getting on to me about anything. But he actually raised his voice to me as he demanded that I “leave them alone, because they don’t know any better. Their Momma ran off with the postman, & their Daddy is trying to raise them all alone. They probably need those tomatoes more than we do.” With that, he abruptly took the hoe from my hands, & irritably went into his garage to sharpen it, leaving me to sob into my hands, standing alone amidst the okra, squash & cucumbers. It was not until after he had passed away a few years later that I fully grasped the lesson which he taught me that day. But he was, indeed, one of the nicest men that I have ever, even to this day, met.

My Daddy was a very smart, but very insecure man. He allowed his insecurities to cause him to drink more than he should, but he was a functioning alcoholic who always held down a job which took him away from home at times. When he was not drinking, he was a gentle man. We would, like I did with his father before him, sit out on the covered back porch, listening to the breezes blow through the leaves overhead, late into the summer nights, & have the most delightfully intriguing conversations on a wide & diverse range of topics. He had an Associates degree in Business, yet he turned down an opportunity to move up to Pennsylvania with a chemical company for which he worked in order to stay close to family. His mother’s family had settled North Alabama when it was still the Mississippi Territory, & he wanted to remain close to his then widowed mother. So his job as a fireman belied his intellect. But he was a very smart man. We talked for hours on end, & sometimes the only lights flickering in the darkness were the occasional lightning bugs & the glow of his Winston cigarette. He would get me to fetch him a beer, & I would drink my Dr. Pepper while we talked about God, the Universe, human nature, psychology, science, etc. We were estranged at the end of his life, but he taught me many things, & we loved each other. He had MANY friends of all walks of life, & he was extremely loyal to them. He loved children & could easily make them laugh. Though he no longer attended Church, he talked to me about the importance of loving God, obeying the law, about patriotism (he was a veteran of the United States Air Force), & about how I could make a difference in the world if I would just apply myself. He was a good encourager, & was always proud of my good grades. He always told me that I should grow up to be a writer. Alas, I have not done that, but maybe he would be proud of my sophomoric blog posts. The most important lesson my Daddy taught me, though, was not sitting out on that back porch beneath the big old pecan tree, but in his actions, for he was one of the most generous souls I have ever known. He would literally give anyone – family member, friend, or stranger – his very last dime, if they needed it. 

Aunt Helen was, by all accounts, “A Mess”, which was a Southern expression meaning she was “something else”, not that she was literally a mess. She was vivacious, a bit kooky, & had sparkling green eyes & a ready laugh. She, too, loved children, & to this day I have not understood why God in His wisdom did not allow someone who wanted a baby of their own as much as she did to have one. But Aunt Helen made up for the lack of biological children by loving on her stepson & nieces. When I was very small I would go & play at the country home of her & her first husband. She let me just be me. I could, without pressure, chase Monarch butterflies through the yard for no reason other than it delighted me to do so. She knew how much I loved to read, & so she arranged for her mother-in-law, who was the librarian at the local school, to bring her a big stack of books whenever I was going to spend the night with her. She was a Dental Hygienist by vocation, & whenever she cleaned my teeth, she would reward me for being a good patient by taking me for a piece of lemon ice box pie at Krystal. She is actually the one who taught me to drive. Unbelievably, my first few times behind the wheel of her sage green car were in the most narrow of roads at Maple Hill Cemetery – the ones that are so narrow that today they are blocked off from modern day, larger vehicles. It is a wonder I did not veer off & run over my great-grandparent’s graves, or worse yet, one of the “famous” Huntsvillians in the historic part of the graveyard. Aunt Helen had a zest for life that few possess. She showed me to always keep your spirits up, despite adverse circumstances, which in her case included two divorces from the same man. The most important lesson I learned from her, though, was not to be afraid to approach others & be the first to extend the hand of friendship. For wherever we went, whether it was the supermarket or the movie theater, she greeted everyone with kind eyes & a smile. 

Ma-ma Lehman had the most profound & lasting influence on my life of anyone who ever walked the earth during my lifetime. It would take an entire book to list all of the many things which we did together. She kept me during the summers & after school when my mother worked. She had a knack for making every single one of her ten grandkids feel as if they were the most special one of them all. She had countless friends, whom she was always ministering to in one way or another. She had that gift of gab, & I well recall many days when I, reclining on the wicker settee in the broad foyer with a Nancy Drew mystery book in hand, halfway listening to her as she sat across the room from me on the black telephone table with the vinyl seat, chatting on that black rotary dial phone, assuring one of her innumerable friends that everything would be all right. She took up money for flowers whenever someone in the neighborhood had a death in the family, & she took food to those who were ill. She made me grilled cheese with Campbell’s Tomato Soup & Pepsi whenever I had an upset stomach. She was my mentor, my champion, & my rescuer from an unhappy mother. She let me play dress up in her lace gloves & coat with the mink collar. She spent hours culling through old family photos with me, which she had stored in two huge blanket boxes from Montgomery Wards. She regaled me with tales of growing up on that farm in Big Cove, & how she eventually moved to town to work in T.T.Terry’s Department store. Though she was not a politician, she was heavily involved in politics. Her ancestors had been constables, County Commissioners, Justices of the Peace, & Postmasters who were well known & respected in the area. Her great uncle had even been a six term United States Congressman from Jackson County. How many times she must have said, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know  that counts!” She was the Queen of Networking before that word was ever coined. She could make beautiful dresses on her pedal driven sewing machine. She was a fabulous cook & I loved to stir the buttermilk cornbread or divinity candy – everything she made was from scratch, without a recipe or mix, & it was always perfect. She took me to Church every single Sunday, & let me carry her prized possession: her Bible. She was a country girl who “could out pick every man in Big Cove in a cotton picking contest.” She was a Christian woman who taught several local boys about God in Sunday School, boys who grew up to be preachers in well known Church of Christ congregations in the area. She was a mischievous prankster who delighted in entertaining people with the corniest jokes. A fastidious dresser who preferred the conveniences of city life to the rigors of the farm, she would nonetheless  lapse into her country vernacular & say that, “Funny things keeps you going!” She was a well respected community leader whose calls were taken & opinions valued by Governors, Senators, Mayors, County Commissioners, & City Councilmen alike. She was a force to be reckoned with, if you dared cross someone she loved. I owe my very life to her in more ways than one. But the most important thing that she taught me was this, “The good Lord gives, & He takes away.” That is a lesson I am still trying to fully grasp. But the faith which she instilled in me has resounded throughout the years, & I know that God only takes away something which we percieve to be good if He has something better in mind for us.

These & more of my God fearing family members have long ago passed on. But their legacy remains. They all loved God, country & family. They all valued good morals & hard work. They all believed in the sense of community, in giving back, that, “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” They all loved the innocence of children, valued friendships, lent helping hands to neighbors, enjoyed making others laugh, & had a song, joke, or Bible verse at the ready, if anyone needed their spirits to be lifted. 

My own children have grown up & moved away. But I am not alone, for like Aunt Helen, I meet no strangers, & have been blessed with an outgoing personality; like my Pa-pa, I survey the wonders of the Universe & my mind is occupied with thoughts higher than my own which make times of solitude enjoyable; like my Daddy, I understand that a generosity of spirit is returned a thousandfold by the respect of friends; & like my Ma-ma, I know the value of networking, & the power of God. So whenever I feel a wee but lonesome, I remind myself that I come from good stock. And I thank God above that He has blessed me with an abundance of friends. Though my biological sister died a very long time ago at a young age, I have women that I am proud to call my sisters, & a couple of those I claim kin, though we are not related by blood. I have friends who allow me to join in their family celebrations, & those who allow me to love on their kids, for my heart, like my family members I have written about, has always had a soft spot for kids & young people of all ages. Some of them even let me love on their parents & grandkids, too!

The most important lessons I have learned from all of this is that there really is not any substitute for loving kindness, & if being a nice, hardworking person who loved God, country, family & friends can one day be my own legacy, too, then I shall feel that I have lived my life well. 

I still miss you, Pa-pa, Ma-ma, Aunt Helen & Daddy. If y’all have any say so up there in Heaven, please put in a good word for me. One day when we are reunited, I want to hear all of your stories again, & hopefully I will add a few of my own into the mix. Meanwhile, I look for the good in people & situations, like y’all taught me, & “Funny things keeps me going!”

– Lou Lehman Sams

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BEYOND OUR CONTROL

BEYOND OUR CONTROL

The rising sun was blinding me on that Spring-like February morning last Friday, & I was thankful for my RayBans as well as for the beauty of nature as I navigated the road heading up Red Mountain towards a commercial real estate conference when suddenly, as I rounded a curve, I noticed what appeared to be several large, black trash bags haphazardly strewn across my lane. I felt a tad bit annoyed that someone had not secured them to their vehicle better as I double checked the lane beside me to make certain that it was safe for me to move over to avoid them.


I was horrified as I began drifting over, because as I drew closer, I noticed the bags were MOVING!! What in the world could possibly be in them?!? I was even more horrified as I hit my brakes & slowed to a crawl to match the traffic in front of me when I discovered that it was not a pile of trash bags, but a man – a motorcyclist – wearing all black leather, laying there on the road beside his black bike, writhing in pain! 


Traffic halted for an instant, & I assessed the situation. Several people jumped out of vehicles, including the drivers of the ones he had been sandwiched in between that had caused him to fall. I think someone had not been paying attention coming down that mountain curve, & rear ended him into the car in front of them in the slowly moving rush hour traffic. What the heck? The sun was in MY EYES, not the eyes of the people in the opposite lane! Was the driver texting? Changing radio stations? Taking a business call? I was filled with assumptions about how the accident happened, but my mind quickly shifted to the welfare of the victim.


As is my personality, I wanted to pull over, jump out of my vehicle, & somehow help him! But though I have had basic first aid training, I am no doctor, nurse, or paramedic. Had no one else been present, I would no doubt have tried to see if I could have helped in some Good Samaritan way anyhow, but a crowd was already gathering around him, & the sound of the emergency vehicle’s siren was rapidly getting louder, meaning they would arrive momentarily. No, it was best for me to keep on going up that road, as soon as traffic would allow.


Like a train wreck you did not want to witness, but could not seem to tear your eyes away from, mine stayed glued to the figure on the asphalt, who was still writhing in pain. He is someone’s son, I thought, & as my mind drifted to my own son who had just moved almost 600 miles away, I wanted to run over to him, cradle him in my arms, & tell him everything was going to be all right, that he was not alone. Why aren’t they taking off that black helmet, so he can get some air?? Oh, yeah, possible spinal cord injuries – best to let the emergency personnel do that always, I silently reminded myself. 


My mind flitted to the heartbreak I had during the past week: besides my son moving away & a relationship of sorts ending with a gentleman I had been seeing off & on for over a year, I had news that not one but two of my friends’ sons had passed away. My heart was broken over the voids that the deaths of these young people had left in my friends’ lives. Hopefully this biker would make it, I prayed, so that some other Momma’s heart would not be broken that day. Perhaps he was also a husband, fiancé, or boy friend? A brother? Or a father? As he twisted & turned on the black asphalt in the growing morning light, I did the only thing I could do – I prayed.

With trepidation I lifted my foot from the brake pedal as traffic slowly inched forward. I did not want to leave him. But it was not my place. I was not the best qualified to help him. I was powerless. So I moved on, praying as I left. 

The sun blasted my vision again! How could that driver have been so careless?!? I reminded myself that I had not witnessed the accident happen, arriving apparently mere moments after it did, instead. Maybe the biker was the one at fault, as he darted in & out of traffic, running late for an early morning appointment? Or perhaps no one was really at fault, because the sun, though it was in the other direction, was bouncing off some shiny object, blinding the driver in front, causing him to slam on his brakes? There were several potential scenarios, & I had unjustly been blaming the driver in the back in my mind. (Knowing that rear ending someone is the person in the rear’s fault, but acknowledging that there may also have been extenuating circumstances.)

Sometimes accidents just happen. Blame shifting would not save this man’s life, & it will not make our every day lives any easier, either. More important to assess situations, decide how we can help, & then spring into action. Or, conversely, to determine that our assistance is neither wanted nor needed, & that the best thing we can do is stay out of the way. There will arise circumstances out of our control – if not today or this week, then sooner or later we will each be faced with predicaments about how to act, what to do, & when to do it. 

When you have a heart for people, walking away from someone that is hurting can be very difficult, as it was for me,last Friday morning. And as it also was for me earlier in the week, when I had to walk away from someone whose destructive behaviors is slowly destroying themselves. There are some things which you just cannot fix, no matter how much you wish otherwise. 

I do believe that my God can heal, if He chooses to do so. I believe that he can redeem any man or woman, if they choose to accept it. But there is only so much that we, as limited human beings can do, & acceptance of that is a sign of emotional maturity. 

Typically outgoing, I have been described as vivacious, but I was feeling anything but that as I pulled into the parking garage at The Club. There is a cardinal couple – red birds – that have taken to visiting me every single morning in my backyard, & they are chirping even now, as I write these every words over my second cup of coffee. I feel it is an assignment I must complete before I can go sell some real estate. Though they are very cheerful & beautiful, I’ve almost started taking the daily visits from these birds for granted. But that morning I had awakened at a hotel in downtown Birmingham, & after the scene I had just seen, birds were the farthest thing from my mind. Yet as I pulled into the space in the concrete parking garage overlooking the treed mountainside, there he was, bright, red, & beautiful, a male cardinal, fluttering about in the trees a few feet before my very eyes! Once a person who literally despised birds because of  nightmares induced by watching a rerun of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, “The Birds” when I was a little girl, they have come to mean so much to me, as I have found not just God’s handiwork, but His timing, to be an amazing thing in the ways they have soothed my soul during my loneliest of seasons. 

You see, I once thought the cardinals, who are monogamous, & who mate for life, were a symbol to me of a mate that would never leave me. Yet here I was, breaking up with the second prospect for a serious relationship I had since my divorce, & those darned birds just kept coming to my yard anyway. Obviously the wrong interpretation I had! 

One day it finally hit me, though, that perhaps they were meant as a sign that God is the faithful one, the one who will never leave me. So when I saw that cardinal, I was reminded that, in each of the circumstances I have described – my son’s relocation, my being all alone now that my kids have each moved far away, the loss of a romantic interest, the deaths of my friends’ sons, & this dreadful motorcycle wreck – even in all of those things, God will be faithful!

I waited until the bird disappeared, & was thankful for the cold, crisp, morning air which hit my face as I got out of my car, because it made me feel alive. I went inside, checked in, & grabbed a cup of coffee, before scoping out a seat towards the back of the room. Normally one to be more towards the front, I was feeling a bit unnerved & out of sorts, & that seat not only afforded me a tremendous view of downtown Birmingham to lift my spirits, but it also was beside an outlet to charge my phone on. At breaks, many people would file right past me to gain access to the patio for fresh air, & as it turns out, I got many sorely needed hugs that day because of this seat, which I had chosen to, presumably, be alone, & go unnoticed. 

I only told two people at the conference, attendees from my own hometown, about the accident I had just witnessed, & by the time of the first break, I was feeling much more sociable. I have lived long enough to know that life goes on, whether we want it to do so, or not, so we might as well make the most of it. Grieve when we must. Lament loss as it happens. But we must never stop living. 

It was a good conference. I ended it with dinner with my son’s girl friend & friends, so it almost felt like I was with him. Though it had started out in a bad way, it ended up being a good day.

Though life may start out in a bad way, God will be faithful to see you through. Little things like unexpected red birds, hugs from acquaintances, & beautiful views can brighten your day, if you will but focus on them. You cannot prevent bad things from happening. You cannot fix every situation that goes awry. You cannot heal nor save those that refuse healing & redemption. 

But you can make the most out of the moments you have been given, & enjoy the sting of the cold, crisp, morning air on a Spring-like February day. Maybe you will be lucky enough to have a red bird serenade you when you are all alone, like me. Or maybe God will send you some other comforts to cheer your day. Watch for them! “If you seek His face, you will find Him!”

– Lou Lehman Sams 

LAST LOOK

LAST LOOK

Do you ever take that one,  quick, last look in the mirror before you head out the door for work or to an event? You want to look and make sure that your tie is on straight, or your hair is just right, or your lipstick is not smeared. 


Sometimes you’re very pleased with what you see, and you walk out the door with vim & vigor & confidence. Other days, you try to take one last blot at your lips or adjust your tie before rushing on out the door. But either way, bad hair day or not, you have to leave, because the clock waits for No One.


And that’s sort of what the dawn of the New Year is like, as well. We each look into the mirror of Our Lives, for one last glance before we head into the next appointment. For we all have an appointment with 2017, & like an impatient date, it will not wait.
There is nothing wrong with reflecting. In fact, it is necessary and cathartic for our souls.


Many are writing and posting about what a dreadful year 2016 was for them, and I am right there alongside of them. My horoscope at the beginning of the year said that it would be the luckiest year of my entire life. Ha! This year alone was enough to debunk any inclination towards believing in horoscopes. For it was unlucky for me in many ways. Or was it? Perhaps the opportunities that did not pan out, or the relationships that fell by the wayside were really  lucky things, instead of unlucky ones? Perhaps it was God saving me from something that would hold me back, keep me from fulfilling my potential, or in some way actually harm me? 

For me, as with some of you, I’m certain, the very best thing about this past year is simply that I survived it. Life threw me some completely unexpected curve balls, & though I may not have come out the most valuable player,  I’m a winner, because I’m still in the game. And so are you!


Whatever the case, there were many good things that occurred this past year as well: I made new friends and new co-workers. I got a new position with a new company about which I cannot say enough good things! I got to spend time with friends at the beach, visit my daughter in Oklahoma, & fly out to Texas and stay with my “sister” & her girls.  My son graduated college and got an amazing job which he will start in February! 


I got to spend time doing  one of my very favorite things, and that is  giving of myself in service to others and my beloved community. I chaired a task force for the Board of Realtors that resulted in a new committee being formed. I got to be on the planning committee for a Welcoming Home Ceremony for returning soldiers. I wrote articles for an online veterans newsletter, and did other volunteer work. I’m not listing these things to toot my own horn, but rather as a reminiscence of some of the things that brought me the greatest joy for the past year. For when I tell others that the best thing that they can do when they are feeling down and out is to go out and do something for someone else, I really mean it! I have lived it. 


At the end of the year, the epiphanies I had in relation to others which caused me not to continue down the path with them has not led me to be bitter towards them. But it has caused me to be better myself. For I have learned that it is indeed best to accept the things you cannot change. I have learned that I am stronger than I thought. I have learned that no matter how much you may care for someone, their destiny may not be intended to be your own. 


There are so very many other “negative” things that occurred in 2016, but a laundry list of them is unnecessary. It serves no purpose. Long story short, it was one of the most challenging years of my entire life. I think that every single aspect of my life had bad happenings. From having to get 6 new cell phones & 3 new laptops to being told I had a mysterious illness which debilitated me just as I was gearing up to go full steam ahead, and eveything in between, 2016 tried really hard to kick my butt. 

But looking back, I know that it was like being squeezed through a birth canal: the months of gestation in the cozy womb of my life compared to the pain and the process of transformation as I passed from one version of living to another one. I no longer lived within a safely contained womb where all of my needs are met. I had to learn to walk and talk and think again all on my own.


And is that not what we are all created to do? From the moment we are born, we are challenged with one hurdle after another one. We drink milk before we eat meat. We crawl before we walk. We walk before we run. I felt as if I was crawling along for most of 2016. But now, my friends, it is time for me to run!


If 2016 was also a difficult year for you, consider it a part of the transition process – that last painful push, to start you on your way to being a self-sufficient soul. For when you are free of that deep, dark, constricting place, then it’s time to breathe on your own. The very first thing you have to learn to do is just breathe. Sometimes, the deep, dark and constricting places in our lives are relationships, jobs, or addictions that we need to just leave behind.


This New Year’s Eve, I am taking a deep breath, and I am reflecting. For I know in 2016, the struggles that I have undergone this year were just a preparation for the race which I will be called to run in 2017. And that is exactly what I intend to do: I’m going to stretch my muscles, and start the real race for which I was intended. I look forward to seeing you at the finish line!

– Lou Lehman Sams 


THE PEOPLE IN LINE

THE PEOPLE IN LINE

I was having guests in my home for Christmas Day lunch – a group of people who, like myself, were single, & who had no plans to be amongst family. It was a last minute gathering, & I had forgotten to buy foil, which would be necessary for sending home leftovers. And though I do not particularly like beer, I knew that a couple of my guests liked it. Christmas morning I put the finishing touches on my makeup, & noting that I had a few minutes to spare, I called the local super store, then the local supermarkets, only to find that they were closed. On a whim, I decided to jump in the car & go in search of a gas station that might be open. Sure enough, one within 2 miles of my house was not only open, but had a constant flux of people who, like myself, were rushing to get to holiday gatherings.

As I approached the door, I felt a twinge  of guilt for patronizing a place that made their employees work on Christmas Day. But as I rushed up & down the tightly packed, crowded aisles inside the convenience store, I cringed even more as I overheard not one, but two people in a row say rude & hateful things to the elderly woman running the cash register. “How could they be so inconsiderate & demanding,” I wondered? But quickly I chastised myself as I was reminded of times in my past when I, too, had been perhaps a tad unnecessarily rude to workers when I was stressed to the max – facing illness, challenging issues at work, sick kids at home, deaths in the family, & going through a divorce are just a few of the things which we all face at some point in time, & which can cause us to be uncharacteristically short with others, even strangers.

I entered  the huge walk-in cooler where they sold a wide variety of beers, wondering which one my guests might enjoy? “No wonder the aisles are so crowded & hard to navigate,” I mused, “they allocated all of the floor space to this big refrigerator.” I stood there, tightly gripping the last box of foil that was left in that little store, & was a bit daunted by all of the beer choices. Light? Dark? IPA? What to buy?? What was the name of that one someone told me about the other night? I needed to get a move on, because one of my guests had arrived to watch a football game with me not too long before this day, only to find that I was still not home from the store! I remember feeling mortified when she called me from my driveway that day to see where I was, though I was only two minutes away. I did not want to risk that happening again!!

 It was so cold in there, & my search for aluminum foil had made my time run short, so I grabbed a carton of beer I saw that sounded upscale rather than redneck, & headed out to get in line. I lifted the carton up to the half dozen people that were in line as I passed, & asked whether they thought that would be a good beer to serve guests? But most of the hurried & harried customers in that line were frowning, & ignored me altogether. (Nothing wrong with rednecks, or redneck beer, either, but I was trying to make the dinner special by making my guests feel special.)  Finally, an older black lady smiled feebly at me, & said, “Honey, I don’t drink beer, but if I was coming to your house, I’d drink that. So nice of you to go to so much trouble for your guests.”

It was no trouble, but I was beginning to feel a tad bit troubled that I might be at the store when the visitors began arriving, & impatience was beginning to creep in. But my own lack of patience rapidly dissipated as I noted that yet another customer in line in front of me abruptly grabbed their merchandise, & quickly fled, ignoring the clerk’s bright & cheery greeting of, “Merry Christmas!” There were people lining up behind me now, but the line was moving smoothly & quickly. There was no reason, really, for all of these people to be so annoyed. 

Finally, it was my turn to pay. I looked at that older lady, & with an expression that was half smile, yet half frown, I said to her, “Thank you so much. I am so very sorry that you are having to work on Christmas Day, but I appreciate your being here for us to pick up last minute things. Thank you!!” Her mouth dropped open, & she stopped punching buttons for a moment, obviously startled, & with a wistful look on her wrinkled face, she replied, “Thank you for saying that. It’s my job. I’m just surprised at how many people are so very cranky on Christmas!” 

“I know. I’m so sorry. Maybe try to remember that some of them are sad because they have lost loved ones, or sad because they are all alone,” I gently reminded her. She did not appear offended as she replied to me, “I know. But some of them are downright rude. But I will try to remember!”

I felt a tug on my heart strings as she looked back down to complete my transaction. I wanted to give this stranger a hug, & invite her to join us for lunch. But I knew she had to work. Instead, I reached into my wallet & withdrew a twenty dollar bill. Still in divorce recovery mode, I really need that money, I thought. But as she placed my aluminum foil into a paper thin plastic bag, I decided that this woman needed someone to show her some semblance of kindness more than I needed to eat lunch out in the coming week. So I held out the bill in my extended hand as a Christmas gift & token of my appreciation. 

She stood stock still, mouth agape, & time stood still for a slight moment, as I waited for her to return my debit card to me, & take the money from me. In the minuscule space of that awkward, pregnant pause, I was painfully aware of the five people waiting in line behind me, cognizant that they, like me, might also be in a hurry. I turned to glance over my shoulder, but instead of scowls, I saw smiles.

“Oh, no! Thank you, ma’am, but I am not allowed to accept that. But it means so much that you would offer it!” She handed me my debit card, with a smile now brightening her formerly grim face. On impulse, without thinking that it might be inappropriate, I literally crawled halfway across the counter as I leaned in as far as I could, arms open, to give her a big hug, which she returned in full force. “Merry Christmas to you,” I told her. “MERRY CHRISTMAS, MA’AM!!” 

I grabbed my small bag in one hand, & the beverages in the other, & smiled to myself as I turned to leave. I heard her tell the next customer, “Merry Christmas!” But I turned to glance back when I heard that lady reply in like kind, & saw the remaining four customers in line grinning broadly. “Yes, it looks like this little lady is putting the “Merry” back into Christmas, one greeting at a time,” I thought happily to myself. 

As my car flashed back to life, I saw that I barely had a few minutes to get home before guests were set to arrive. I slid into the garage as if I was sliding into Home Plate, stuffed the beer bottles into the fridge, & ran to the back of the house to use the restroom. I hurriedly washed my hands as I heard the doorbell ring. It rang again before I could get to the door. There on my porch was the very lady whom I’d been late to meet a few weeks prior, along with another guest. As I flung open the door, the wreath clattered with the forcefulness of my hurried state, & with a small laugh she said, “There you are – I thought you might be at the store again!” Keeping my secret, I brightly said, “No, I’m here. Merry Christmas!! Come in!!”

Just as the first two guests were settling in, another one arrived, carrying a hot casserole. After she set that down in the appointed spot, I asked her what I could offer her to drink: “Poinsettia punch, cucumber infused water, bottled water, coffee, sweet tea, or BEER?” She reached out her arms to encircle me, & said, “I want a hug first!” Gratefully, I accepted it, before serving her some punch from my grandmother’s antique Christmas punch bowl. As I handed it to her, I wondered how many times my grandmother, with her twinkling eyes & merry spirit, had handed punch to her guests over the years. I bet my Daddy, my aunts, my cousins, & grandparents had shared Christmas cheer from those exact same punch cups over the years. That thought made me happy, for it made it feel as if my own family was, in a way, present with me, in this group of friends that I was entertaining.

More importantly, I felt that the true spirit of Christmas had been infused into my day. For I had been given smiles, hugs, & a sweet remembrance of loved ones long gone from earthly celebrations. 

Afterwards, my guests used that foil to take home leftovers. But that beer? It cluttered up my refrigerator, for no one opened a single bottle. Instead, they preferred the punch I made in the old punch bowl. Perhaps it was that sweetness of the Christmas spirit from Christmases past that it contained? 

But that beer was worth every penny, for it reminded me to be kinder & gentler to those who must serve  us on the holidays when most of us are off of work & spending time celebrating with family & friends. And there are many of them: convenience store employees, waitresses, utility workers, firefighters, & law enforcement officers, to name a few.

The holidays are not yet over. No matter how stressful our days, let us remember to be kind to those who are serving us, not just on the holidays, but every day of the year.

– Lou Lehman Sams

CAGE OF ACQUIESCENCE

CAGE OF ACQUIESCENCE

It was a gray Sunday afternoon in the Fall of the year, the sky was pregnant with cotton candy clouds, & there was a slight chill on her face when the Epiphany burst forth on her, like crepuscular rays from a cloudbreak. She looked down at her wrists & her ankles, & was amazed to see that they were unchained, that every single link to past disappointments, hurts & fears had finally been broken, & she felt the balm of forgiveness that can only come from above bathe her wounds like a powerful healing salve.

 Then she realized that, not only had her chains been broken, but that the door before her, the one which was opened with a key to her present, stood wide open, & that all she had to do was walk through it toward the road to the future which was just up ahead, steeped in a light far brighter than she had ever imagined. Slowly, she took a tentative step, but then she stopped, turned, & waited for him, as the deep compassion which enveloped her heart like a cocoon was tightly bound, & prevented her from leaving without him. But he took a step backward into his past, rather than one towards her, & her Epiphany revealed that, though God breaks every chain that binds you, it is up to you, & you alone to walk through the door to escape your prison cell.

 Rather than follow her into the light of day, he retreated into the darkness, where she was disheartened when she saw him deliberately pick up his chains & close the shackles back shut. He was too weak to flee the bondage of submission, & years of acquiescence had desensitized him to the joys & opportunities that were his for the taking, if he would just find the courage to break away. In his brainwashed existence, he believed that it was better to sit there, like an obedient puppy awaiting a command, than to think or feel things for himself. He had rather feel the pain & hurt of their friction than risk leaving them behind, & she felt the sting of a thousand sadnesses prick her spirit.

 But she had taken a step forward, & she knew that, once one has tasted Freedom of the Soul, anything else is just too bitter to swallow & very unsatisfying, as well. And she knew that she was finally free to love without exception, to be loyal without doubt, & to commit without reservation. 

So slowly, she walked out of that prison cell – it was far too small for more than one person, anyway. She felt the sunshine on her face for the first time in months, & the wind whisked away the sorrows that had taken their place like a heavy mantle that was too cumbersome to wear any longer. She turned once, intending to wave good-bye, but his chains were too tight, & she knew he was unable to reciprocate the gesture. Part of her wanted to stay there with him, to comfort him in his hour of misery, but her Life was beckoning her to go forth & explore & partake of the adventures that the Universe had set aside just for her. 

The single tear that silkily slipped unbidden down her cheek contained all of the remaining hopes she had carried within for so long, but when finally it splashed onto the ground at her feet, like a raindrop from a celestial sky which cleanses & washes away past regrets, she felt unburdened at last. A gentle breeze tickled her wings, & she knew, at that moment, that she was born not just to walk out of that cell, but to run, & yes, to fly. And fly she must, for to stay one instant longer in that place would have meant a return to prison, & she was tired of the confinements of the guilt, misery, & fears of each of them that had paralyzed her for far too long.

 Like a baby bird preparing for its first solo flight, she hesitated, then spread her wings, & off she went, into the expansive, limitless horizon of the sky, which was now the deepest cerulean blue, as that same wind which had blown away her cloak of worry had pushed the clouds away. As she began to soar, she looked down, & saw him there, still in his cell, chained to his past, & she offered up a little prayer that the next time God allowed his chains to be broken, that then he would, somehow, find his courage & thus his way out of that cage. She did not know what he would do, should that ever happen, but she did know that some people are afraid of the wind beneath their wings, & prefer instead the safety of the floor of the cage beneath their feet. 

But she was thankful that her own time had come, for she could never have flown so high with the chains of the past weighing her down, & oh, what a view she had now!! She could see things in ways she never had before, could see what treasures lay in wait atop the mountains she wanted to climb, as well as what lay on the other side of them. And, being unfettered, she was happy, for there were many roads from which to choose, & now she could actually see the choices that she had. She looked forward to, whenever she decided to do so, scaling the peaks that presented themselves in the near distance. But for this moment in time, she simply chose to FLY!!! And that is what she did!

– Lou Lehman Sams 

December 2014

TOO MUCH

TOO MUCH

Too shy, too bold
Too young, too old
Too hot, too cold.

Too weak, too strong
Too right, too wrong
Too short, too long.

Too happy, too sad
Too good, too bad,
Too joyful, too mad.

Too lovely, too plain
Too real, too feign
Too crazy, too sane.

Too little for anyone,
Too much for someone ,
Just right for the one.

– Lou Lehman Sams

10 THINGS I HAVE LEARNED ABOUT THE HOLIDAYS

1O THINGS I HAVE LEARNED ABOUT THE HOLIDAYS

1.) Being alone is no excuse for not celebrating the gift of life which you have been given.
2.) There is no such thing as too many ornaments on a Christmas tree.
3.) The smile on someone’s face is priceless, compared to the cost of the gift that you give them.
4.) An invitation is the single best gift that you can give to someone who is alone for the holidays.
5.) Calories which you consume in holiday goodies are especially stubborn, but are worth every ounce.
6.) It is not the number of parties in your life, but the life in the parties you attend that makes them fun.
7.) The best presents are sometimes disguised in the worst wrapping paper.
8.) Disappointments in people & events during the holidays can only happen if you do not manage your own expectations of them.
9.) It is not how you spend them, nor even who you spend them with, but the amount of love that you share with others that is what counts the most.
10.) Leaving Christ out of Christmas is like leaving the groom out of the wedding.

– Lou Lehman Sams