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 

WHY I AM STILL SINGLE 

WHY I AM STILL SINGLE

If you are a student in high school, they ask, 

“Where are you going to college?”

If you are a college student, they ask,

“What is your major?”

If you are a single graduate, they ask,

“When are you going to get married?”

If you are a young married, they ask,

“When are you going to have a baby?”

When you have your first baby, they ask, 

“When are you going to have another one?”

When you have had all of your kids, they ask,

“What are your kids doing?”

When your nest becomes empty, they ask,

“When are you going to retire?”

And my LEAST favorite question of all is …

When you become “Single Again”, they ask,

“WHY are you ‘still’ SINGLE?!?”


The inflection is as if being single at my age is a disease of some sort. I assure you, it is not! I am single by choice. I am single because I still believe in love. I am single because I refuse to settle. I am single because I would rather be alone than use a man whom I do not love for a big house, vacations, clothes, cars, & a Meal Ticket. 


Here’s the thing:

I’ve had the custom built, 3,700 some odd square foot house in the neighborhood that had a swimming pool, tennis courts, and a fishing pond. But I can do without all of that. I’d sincerely be content in a little log cabin by a quiet stream, so long as it was warmed by love. 


Like most readers, I like nice things. I always wanted both a beach house getaway & a cabin in the mountains. I could do without the regular house, if I had those, because I find so much peace in the beauty in nature. 


As I was going through my divorce, during which period I refused to date, I spent a lot of time with female friends, playing BUNCO, going out to eat, & indulging in Girl Talk. Sometimes I would cry, & tell them that I knew I was not as young as I once was, & I wondered if I would ever get a date, once the divorce was final. They always asked me what I was looking for in a man.


So I comprised a list, which I delivered tongue-in-cheek, akin to a mini Comedy Act. It went something like this:

“The first thing I need is TEETH. I DO live in Alabama, you know, & if you take a look at the guys at the gas station, many are missing teeth. I want at least a dozen! As a former Dental Hygienist, this is important to me!

Next, no beer bellies. I don’t do beer bellies, & if they look like they are about to deliver a baby at any moment, they are not the one for me. 

A sense of humor is mandatory! If they cannot handle my sense of humor, they won’t be able to handle me.

They need a brain, too. It is even better if they know how to use it!

And I understand that hair is optional at this age, but I do like hair! Preferably not a toupe that is about to fall off.”


That was it. By injecting humor into the whole topic of what I was looking for, I was able to entertain the inquisitor & change the subject at the same time, because inevitably we would get off on a side topic, like why people do not floss.


Finally, the divorce was final, & I had to describe, on a dating site, what I was interested in from a man. Totally different answers!! They went something like this:

“Loyalty is non-negotiable. A sense of humor is mandatory. Communication is key. Chemistry is essential. Everything else in a relationship can be navigated.”


Though I have always had a thing for blue eyes & biceps, I was mature enough to realize that those things are superficial. My first boy friend post divorce, did in fact, have a small belly, but he had other attributes that counterbalanced that. After two failed relationships in 3 years, though, I had to add that I would prefer it if they do not have any crazy exes lurking about. Those make for very stressful relationships, to say the least. 


After getting hit on by men I’d never even met from ages 25 to 75 who were proposing for me to jump in my car & meet them at the beach, the mountains, or wherever, I started adding that I am not interested in a one night stand or a hookup. Really. Had to specify that to keep them at bay. Then, had to add that I do not want to communicate privately with married men, or those whose divorces are not final yet. Such  is the world in which we live …


Eventually I have added that the potential suitor himself must not be crazy, either. But that is a mental note. Can’t exactly put on your dating profile that narcissists, sociopaths & psychopaths need not apply. As an Empath, I am a natural magnet for these guys, it seems, but it does not take long to figure it out.


I have now been “Single Again” for 4 years. I have learned so much about myself, such as the fact that I was pretty naive when I got divorced, & had no idea how to date in the modern world, but that is a story for another day. I know that everyone in these shoes has baggage & some of it I am willing to help carry, but some of it needs to be checked at the door. I am learning the difference between these men being physically &  emotionally available – two very different things! I have learned that there are some bizarre fetishes out there that were beyond the realm of my wildest imagination. To be clear, I do not even kiss on the first couple of dates, but some of these guys will just throw these things out there over appetizers on the first date! Yikes!! I guess that is really important to them, sort of like not dating a crazy person is important to me. Truly, I did not come this far in life to end up chopped into little pieces in the deep freezer of someone’s garage!!! (Maybe I should be nicer to those crazy exes in the future …?)

Finally, it has occurred to me, the most important criteria I seek, the one reason I am single: The key to my own heart lies hidden within His heart. 

What I mean by that is that my heart’s desire is a man who desires to have a heart like God’s. I am not talking about a “Jesus freak”, per se. And while some of my very happiest memories were Sunday mornings spent holding hands or sitting with a man’s strong arm about me in Church, I realize that organized religion is not for everyone. My beloved grandmother, as long as she was physically able, never missed a Sunday morning at Church, while her husband, my beloved  grandfather, stayed at home, drinking strong, black, coffee from the percolator & reading the Sunday paper. But he read his Bible, along with excerpts from the encyclopedia, every day. He had a quest for knowledge, a love for learning, and he definitely knew God. 

I want a man who knows God. Who relishes the laughter of children. Who appreciates sunsets and storms and the wind howling through the trees. Who can find contentment walking along the beach or working with his hands. Who gives of his time freely to help others. Someone who is kind. Who understands that no one is perfect, not even himself. Someone who is not angry at the world every day, but who makes allowances for others. Someone who loves unconditionally, is fiercely protective, and who can laugh at themselves and life’s curve balls. A man who means it when he says he will, “always love, always protect and always take care of me.” One who honors his word, rather than just giving lip service. One who spends his free time golfing or hunting or volunteering or doing something productive, rather than surfing Tinder.

Please understand that I have met some fantastic, kind, caring, and wonderful men since my divorce. I am blessed and proud to call many of them my friends! I am thankful for what they have brought to my life. Although I frequently make jokes about my search for the “perfect man, I am all too cognizant that no perfect man – or woman – exists on earth. And if one did exist, I would not want him, for I am far from perfect! 

But I am a one man woman, and I will settle for nothing less than a one woman man. And as much as I do still love blue eyes & biceps, I now know what I REALLY want: I want a man who, though it is impossible to achieve here on earth, strives to have a heart like His.

Until he finds me, I will be content with the One who ALWAYS keeps His word: He ALWAYS loves, ALWAYS protects, & ALWAYS takes care of me!! ALWAYS!!! Therefore, I do not have to settle for less than the best, for I already have it! That, my friends, is why I am still single. My guy is out there, somewhere, getting excited about hearing the laughter of little children at the upcoming holiday dinner, or helping a neighbor repair storm damage, because he is working on having a heart like His. The rest of the things – the hair, the eye color, the car, the house, the clothes – do not matter. My heart’s desire is to have His heart. 

(P.S. Not sure if I can give up on those teeth, though. Lord, let him have at least a dozen, please???)

– Lou Lehman Sams  

AN OLD SOUL, YOUNG AT HEART

“An Old Soul who was Young at Heart, she never wanted to grow up, if growing up meant pessimism, negativity, & becoming boring. But grow up she must, for it was part of the cycle of Life, & not growing up meant not learning Life’s lessons. There is a distinct difference in being reponsible & being dull.

No, her Old Soul would remain forever Young as she would always, at least in her heart, climb the peaks so she could see the view, feel the breeze, & breathe in the freshest of air. The sound of her laughter would always engage others to do the same, & though many viewed her as prim & proper, as she was when occasion dictated, whenever the music played, she would dance, or at least find a way to discretely tap her toe.

Finally, amidst the naive revelry of her journey, she realized that she had to take responsibility for her own heart, life, path, & soul, & if that was a part of growing up, she was emotionally mature. No one & nothing would cause her unhappiness. The broad grin of a baby, sweet song of a bluebird, smell of fresh cut grass, feel of raindrops on her forehead, frolicking of a puppy, & sight of the sun sinking beneath the horizon brought her all of the happiness that she needed.

The adventures with friends, texts from a beau, & visits with her kids were awesome & amazing, but in the middle of the night she was alone with her own soul, just like everyone else on the planet, & her soul turned to God, & it was enough. She drew her strength from Him, & that strength made her laugh with abandon, dance with joy, befriend the friendless, & smile at strangers. She worked hard. She loved deeply. She Lived Life Out Loud! She was an Old Soul, but she was Young at Heart …

– Lou Lehman Sams

JAR OF BLESSINGS

Last night I was asked to write an article on Thanksgiving for a veteran’s newsletter. “Piece of cake!” How many times over the course of my life have I written about Thanksgiving?!? Beginning in first grade with feeble attempts to express what I was thankful  for with my oversized number 2 pencil & lined elementary paper, to speeches where I have raised money to feed the hungry, to private missives in prayer journals. I am very familiar with the theme & its variations. I was ruminating about this right before I fell asleep last night. Perhaps that is what caused me to dream about my Jar of Blessings. But I had it on my mind when I awakened this morning, as well. I went back and read the piece that I wrote many long months ago, to see if it would be easily edited for that article. Unfortunately, I do not think that is the appropriate venue for that. But after praying about it, I have decided to share it with you. Perhaps someone needs to read my words.

Be warned: They are raw & real emotions that took place over the course of a year or so.We cannot change it, the past is the past, & no eraser is strong enough to entirely blot it out. But we can choose which pages to re-read from time to time. This one, the one where I discovered how full my jar of blessings was despite my perceived loss, is one that I need to carry forward into the future, as a memorial. ALWAYS, EVERY SINGLE DAY, THERE CAN BE FOUND BLESSINGS!!!  May you be blessed today!

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JAR OF BLESSINGS

At the beginning of the year last year, I saw someone post online an idea about filling up a jar with all of your blessings for the year. It works like this: You get a jar, & each day you write something that you are thankful for on that day, a blessing, if you will, then place it inside of that jar. Since I had given up the habit of writing my prayer requests & praises in a journal after I destroyed all of mine after my divorce, I thought that this was a fine idea. I re-posted the link to whomever originally put it out there (wish I could recall, so I could give credit), & declared that I was going to do just this very thing for all of 2014.

I went out & purchased a large honeycomb shaped glass beverage dispenser, for I was optimistic that God was going to send me many blessings throughout the year. My intention was to purchase some decorative paper, so my jar would look festive & attractive sitting in my kitchen, but I got busy, & practicality won out. So I started filling my jar with slips of paper cut from a legal pad. Not festive looking at all, so I moved the jar into my bedroom. It was a little incongruous looking, with its spigot for dispensing lemonade hanging over the edge of my bookshelf, & the plain white strips of paper with blue lines on them do not exactly make the presentation for which I was striving. But the inside of that jar? Well, it is a very beautiful & wondrous thing, for it is full to the brim of a year filled with reminders of God’s gifts to me.

I had set my alarm to go to Church this morning, but when I tried to place my feet on the floor to walk to the bathroom to get ready, I was in excruciating pain from where I pulled or strained a muscle yesterday at the gym. I took an anti-inflammatory, & listened to a couple of Bible study lessons by a well-known evangelist online instead. They contained good messages; however, they left me feeling unsatisfied. That is just not the same thing as going to Church & lifting your voice in praise. I needed to clean my house, but my leg was just hurting too much, so I limped into the kitchen, made myself a cup of coffee, & sat down in bed to read. Then my eyes feel upon my Blessings Jar. Noting that it is full to the brim, I decided it is time to empty those pieces of paper in order to make way for the blessings of 2015. And thus it is so with life – you have to let go of the things of the past, even if they were huge blessings to you, in order to make room for the new blessings God wants to give you.

I dumped out those ugly, non-uniform slips onto the comforter beside me – all 365 of them, for I had one for every single day of the year. I began to unfold & read them. Obviously, they were in random order. There was one in September, where I was thankful that I got to attend a lovely concert with a friend. (I always started the slip with these words: “I am thankful for …” Then, I would write 1, 2, 3, or 4 things that I felt God had blessed me with that day.) One day I simply wrote that I was blessed by my 2 awesome kids. Sometimes the simplest things made me feel so thankful: “Thankful I spent the day with X. We went to Church, visited the daVinci exhibit, cooked dinner at his house & watched the Super Bowl. Talked to my son, & I am thankful he is making good grades.” Ah, what a fond memory! I would have forgotten that series of events that day, had I not had my jar. Over & over again, I found slips where my greatest blessing for the day was an ordinary, every day thing, like watching a ball game with my son, giving a donation to the Salvation Army, giving out food to the homeless, lunch with a girl friend, successful closing of a sale, spending time with my kids (which becomes all the more precious once they leave home, like mine have done), finding a home for a dog, thankful for a referral, thankful for a new client, safety from storms, a successful negotiation, etc. Sometimes the slips contained things that we routinely take for granted, like the one where I penned: “Thankful I have heat!!!” This was after I had been without it for a couple of days! Conversely, one day I was thankful for A.C. (Yes, I had several days in different seasons without heat or A.C.)

Many of the slips had the same person’s name on them, over & over. He was an integral part of my life for the first 5 months of the year. I was thankful for the fact that he helped me move; thankful that he cooked me dinner; thankful that we watched a football game cuddled on his sofa together; thankful for an AWESOME weekend in Nashville with X; thankful for a card he gave me; thankful that I held hands with X while worshipping at Church; thankful for dinner with him & his kids; thankful I got to feel X’s arms around me; thankful I went to X’s son’s ball game; thankful X loves me; thankful for a FUN April Fool’s joke on X by me & his kids, & thankful for X’s good sense of humor; thankful for a WONDERFUL Easter with X, my daughter, & my son-in-law; thankful for sitting on his back patio, watching stars, & talking about life with X; thankful I took BBQ to X, & had a pleasant evening with him & his kids; thankful I could take X on a date night to Outback & to see Saving Mr. Banks; thankful our puppies love to play together; thankful that X came & prayed with me at the altar; thankful for a boy friend that calls me every night when he is on night shift; thankful I have X to love; thankful that God gave me X; thankful that X cut my grass for me; thankful for an INCREDIBLE, romantic dinner with X at the little Italian restaurant at the Opryland hotel & that we got to see Rascal Flatts at the Grand Ol Opry; thankful for volunteering at Panoply with X; thankful for an AWESOME, FUN day preparing for Easter with X; & some days I just wrote “Thankful that I got to spend the evening with X.” I even wrote once that I was thankful for a hot dog dinner with him & his kids, & I do not even particularly like hot dogs! But I WAS thankful for that time with them.

As I read more & more of these slips, tears began to fall in streams down my face. I have, for the most part, healed from that relationship which we ended months ago, but oh, those sweet memories brought me tears of joy. But I realized something, & that is that most of my slips of paper at that time revolved around that one person. And God wants us to recognize ALL of the things that He blesses us with, not just have tunnel vision about one of them.

I started finding the slips from those less than stellar 2 months of 2014. Those were the months when I was grieving the loss of that relationship, & I broke my promise to God: I was heartbroken, & as I nursed my broken heart, I did not have it within me to write out any blessings to place into my jar. I went for about 2 months without writing a single slip. One day, through much prayer & contemplation, I arrived at a place of healing where I realized the error of my ways. God HAD been blessing me, even in the midst of my sorrow, & I was negligent in not keeping my promise to Him. Please do not misunderstand: All during that time I was going to Church almost every single Sunday, reading my Bible daily, & praying without ceasing. I was thanking God in the sanctuary, in my back yard, & out in nature. But whenever I looked at that Jar of Blessings, it reminded me of broken promises, & I just could not bring myself to add to it. Until finally, one day, it hit me that God had not broken HIS promises to me, & neither should I break mine to Him. I determined to make right on my word – without it, what is a person, anyway? If one cannot be counted on to keep their word, even over something as seemingly silly as this, then what does that say about one? Over the course of several days’ time, I went back & re-constructed those 2 months, & I found something, using my calendar & social media posts, that I was blessed with on each of those days.

“Thankful my son had travel safety.” “Thankful for chat on phone with my daughter.” “Thankful for a good sermon at Church.” “Thankful for beautiful weather.” “Thankful for discount on premium television channels for my son this summer.” These are the things I was able to remember about some fairly dismal days. Looking back, I was able to find some good in every single one of them.

I vowed to begin my daily slips again. Not going to lie – sometimes I get busy, & will fill out 3-5 slips at a time, for the preceding days. But still, I write something every single day. It was interesting to me that, as I recovered from my hurt, some of the things I was thankful for changed. On the days when I did not feel particularly blessed, I would sometimes just write things like these: “Thankful for the breath of life.” “Thankful that SIRI made me laugh so hard.” “Thankful for the feel of the sunshine on my face.” “Thankful for a God I can pray to.” “Thankful that God forgives me.” “Thankful for inspirational books.” “Thankful for my life, even though it is hard right now.” “Thankful that I can still have fun with friends, even though my heart is broken.” “Thankful for tears to release SORROW.” (I only let negativity slip onto a slip those 3 times. I suggest that you limit all negativity, if you elect to do your own Jar of Blessings.) “Thankful for a heart that loves God.” I could see a pattern developing. It was as if God called me away from a person whom I had given too much of my time & attention in order that He could have more of my devotion. Now, the entire time I was in that relationship, I prayed, went to Church, worshipped, & read my Bible. However, I did not spend a lot of one on one time with God. And I know that God wants that from each of us on a regular basis. I am reminded of a plaque that a client once gave me that spoke to finding balance in life. It was one of those type of picture posts one would post on social media to encourage others, & she gave it to me because, at that point in time, I was working 12-14 hours per day, every single day. She was worried that I was a workaholic. (Really, I wasn’t, but such were the demands of the real estate market at that time.) Anyway, I think that God is trying to tell me to find better balance in life. As I looked at these slips of paper, there was the time when I was in a relationship, time when I was grieving, time when I allowed healing, & finally, time after I allowed healing to take place. Last year, I had four seasons of my life that were as distinctive as the seasons of weather are supposed to be.

Like the traditional seasons, each of my seasons had different blessings. As I sat there in the bed, finally feeling the pain medicine bring relief, I began worshipping God for ALL of the things He had brought to me. I am thankful that He has given me the conviction to look for something to be thankful for every day. Examples of small things: I was thankful for my work out at the gym; for time alone with God, taking pictures of His creation; support & encouragement of a friend; dinner with friends; thankful for so many invitations to weddings, parties, business & social events; thankful for opportunities to minister to others; thankful for new friendships & renewal of old ones; thankful for FUN with family & friends; thankful I am learning to pray with greater expectancy; thankful I have someone to sit with at Church; thankful for FAITH; thankful for sunsets; thankful for God speaking to me through various means; thankful for Snickers to watch TV with me.

And finally, I saw my slips as they reflected yet another new beginning in my life: “Thankful for the courage to move forward.” “Thankful for inspiration found on Facebook.” “Thankful that I painted my hallway by myself.” “Thankful I made it down to that swimming hole all alone without encountering any bears.” “Thankful that I live in the USA, & I am FREE!” “Thankful for optimism.””Thankful my son is coming home for Christmas break!!!” “Thankful I get to see BOTH my kids at Christmas!” “Thankful for HOPE!” “Thankful God forgives my mistakes.” “Thankful for a nice walk on Monte Sano.” “Thankful for nice walk around UA campus with my son & his friend.” “Thankful for Church.” “Thankful my posts helped encourage someone today.” “Thankful for Church on TV.” “Thankful I did not ruin my lawn mower.” (Although it smokes when I start it, & nearly new riding mowers should not do that – hopefully God will bless me with a friend to help me figure out that issue when mowing season rolls back around .) “Thankful for God’s provisions.” “Thankful I was able to repair the loose brick on the step in the garage by myself.” “Thankful for ME!” (I meant I am thankful that God has made me who I am – I sometimes get flack for being so open with my life, especially my personal life, but it is by sharing that we give, & it is in giving to others that we receive the greatest blessings of all.) I have quite a few slips stating that I am thankful for safe travels (I have done a lot of traveling alone this year) & for safety on my walks (Snickers, my miniature dachshund, is not a very intimidating guard dog) & for safety for my kids.

Interestingly, except for the trips I took, ball games I attended, & the new car my son got, none of my slips included many physical things. I may not have the biggest house, my Mommy-mobile may be getting older, & I may not have a lot of expensive jewelry, but I have SO MUCH for which to be thankful. Including the trips & ball games was more for the experiences & camaraderies than the monetary values. And the car? Well, my son needed reliable transportation, & who does not want their son to have something good? And of course, I had slips where I was thankful for answered prayers where friends survived surgeries, for healing, & for other things God has wrought in the lives of those I love. For I also feel blessed when God blesses those that are near & dear to my heart.

So what now? I am going in search of another, different blessings jar. I want a new one, for it will be holding new blessings. I think I shall use this one for its intended purpose – to serve beverages. And I am going to find PRETTY paper strips for 2015, as well. I am trying to decide exactly what to do with these slips of paper – do I shred them as I did all of those old prayer journals? Do I set them ablaze in my fire pit? Do I bag them up or place them in a box to be viewed some other day? I shall pray about that. But I do know that there is something inexplicably wonderful about looking back over a year’s worth of blessings. As for those people whose names were on slips as having blessed my life in 2014, but who are no longer a part of it? The good news is that, once you have given a blessing, you can never take it back, so those blessings will forever remain a part of my story. I still miss them, but realize that they are busy offering the gift of blessing others now. I pray that whomever they are blessing, that those people will be just as thankful for every little ordinary and every day thing, like watching a ball game, or a hot dog supper, as I was. I am looking forward to seeing what sunsets, ball games, friends, dinners, moments with loved ones, Church services, & ordinary & every day things make it into my new Jar of Blessings for 2015. Maybe, just maybe, I will be lucky enough to get 1 or 2 extraordinary miracles thrown in, as well.

Won’t you consider starting one of your own? Even on those days when the only thing you can think to be grateful for is the fact that you are alive, you will be glad that you took the time to write that down. And this time, next year, even if you do not feel compelled to share how you have been blessed in a blog, I will rejoice with you over the many great & wondrous things that God has done in your life!!

I realize that some of my co-workers, business colleagues, family, friends & acquaintances do not understand why I write such personal things. And that is okay, because God calls us each to different things in this life. My calling, it seems is to write & speak. Other writers & speakers understand. Other people do not. I also recognize that by my writing these things out for people to read, I am probably limiting my dating pool significantly – it takes a special man to be able to handle someone as open & honest as me. But that is all right, too, because I deserve nothing less, & if a man cannot handle my need to write encouraging things for other people, well, I guess he cannot handle me, either. I suppose it is a little like my Jar of Blessings – sometimes my heart just gets to be so full that I must empty it out in order to allow other things in. Therefore, I pour out my thoughts, readying my mind for the next ones God wants to plant there. And I pour out my heart, preparing it to receive whatever else God has in mind to place inside it.

Today, I am thankful for the courage to do the things I feel that God calls me to do, even when I feel fearful, do not want to do them, & do not understand why I am called to do them. I am thankful that He has a better way than me.

Lou Lehman Sams
January 2015

Postscript: I regret that I did not follow through & begin a new jar of blessings for 2015. But I have had MANY blessings this year!!! I hope to start a new jar in 2016. Or better yet, perhaps I will just pull that same jar out of the pantry & use a legal pad again. It was not the look that was beautiful, but the sentiments, anyway. Sometimes the prettiest things come in the plainest wrappers … L.L.S.

THE GIFT CARD

THE GIFT CARD

Once upon a time, a young teen bought her father an ITunes gift card for Christmas out of money that she had earned on her own, working retail after school & on weekends. The man carelessly threw the gift card into a basket where he deposited his keys & spare change after work every day, & there it sat. And sat. And sat. 

For months it sat there, until the young lady finally asked him when he was going to use it to buy the music that she had desired he have in order to brighten his days. That was her intention, not for the card to sit there & collect dust. For whatever reason, the man stubbornly refused to spend any of the money on the gift card, leading the young lady to think that he did not appreciate her gift to him. It may not have been a lot of money to him, with his large salary, but it was a very large sacrifice for her to make out of her small pittance earned working for minimum wage. 

A year went by. Then another. Periodically, she gently reminded him of her gift, & made it clear that she really hoped that he would use it as it was intended, rather than miserly storing it away. Yet another year passed, & with sad resignation, the teenaged girl, who was by now a young adult, accepted the frustrating fact that the man was probably never going to use his gift for its intended purpose. It disappointed her, & made her feel that he was ungrateful for what she had done for him. But she had grown up enough to know that there was nothing that she could do to make him use it. The very thing that she had given to him in order that he might experience some enjoyment was just going to go to waste, but she understood that it was his choice as to how or whether he spent the gift card. 

It is that way with the gifts that God gives to us. He gives us talents that He wants us to use to enhance & better our own lives. But many of us toss them aside & leave them to gather dust, like the gift card in the coin basket. How must our Father in Heaven feel as He looks down, wishing that we would pick up those gifts & find the pleasure which He intended, rather than letting them go to waste? How must He feel when He sees that our free will is interfering with His best for us? I imagine it must be a little bit like that girl felt. I imagine that He must feel a wistful resignation as He watches us walk right past the gifts that are within our reach, yet without a thought, leave them untouched & unspent.

What about you, my friend? Are your gifts being used, or are they going to waste?

“Life was meant to be spent, not saved,” – D.H. Lawrence 

– Lou Lehman Sams 

Waiting in the Presence of Saints

Back in the day when I was a Dental Hygienist & managed a dental office, people would sometimes schedule appointments for cosmetic dentistry. Perhaps they needed a crown or veneers on one or more teeth. They wanted these things in order to protect their teeth or to improve their appearance, & self-esteem. The dentist I worked for did a good job with cosmetic issues such as this, & the end results were usually very esthetically pleasing, with the patients being happier & more content. They were able to chew their food better, or smile more easily, or express themselves in a more confident manner, or sometimes, all of these. However, there was a PROCESS involved in getting to this place of satisfaction. That entailed getting a shot – ouch – did I say that word out loud?!? To re-phrase, they had an injection of anesthesia to numb the affected area, so that they could not feel the pain that was about to ensue as a result of drilling out tooth decay, removing bits of tooth, or filing & smoothing rough surfaces. They had to lie prone in an uncomfortable position, & be totally still for a time that was undetermined by them. They could not even get up to go to the restroom unless the dentist was at an appropriate stopping place, for fear of messing up the procedure. They had a bright light shining down onto their faces, so that, while the dental professionals could see everything going on with them very clearly, they could not see very well themselves. And since they could not turn their heads without being instructed to do so, they could not even see everything that was going on in the room around them. Sometimes they had to make 2 or 3 visits in order to get everything done. At those times, they were given temporary crowns, ones which were only a facsimile of what the real crown would look like. The patients would get tired of holding their mouths open in such an awkward, uncomfortable & unusual manner for such an extended time. Some of them were so very fearful of the entire process that they were given nitrous oxide, a.k.a. laughing gas to help ease their anxieties.

But the choice to have the procedures done was always theirs – they were not forced into the chairs, tied down, or held down by chains. They could have, if they really wanted to do so, gotten up & walked out at any time. But they made a choice, these adult patients, to be still, & let the doctor do his work. They trusted him to do a good job, in as short a time possible & that they would be pleased with the end result. And sometimes they had to wait for extended periods of time in the outer waiting room, just to get in & have the procedure begin in the first place. But they did wait. For they wanted what the doctor had to offer them. They wanted to look & feel better. Once in a great while, there would be a patient with an abscessed tooth or something who did not follow the doctor’s prescribed treatment. What right did that patient, who refused the antibiotics, who refused to have the decay removed, who refused to allow the doctor’s hand to work on him, what right did that patient have to complain when they eventually lost that tooth? In my eyes, they had no right to complain at all.

No patient in their right mind would have squirmed, wiggled, or otherwise wrestle while the doctor had his drill actively engaged inside their mouth, for they knew that to do so might cause him to slip & cause them further harm. And I had occasion to act as the doctor’s assistant on procedures ranging from cosmetic improvements to oral surgery. No one ever enjoyed any of these uncomfortable experiences. And I hated that for them, but I tried to be as reassuring as possible to them while they were being worked on. No one ever begged to get onto the calendar, wished for a cavity, or volunteered for surgery unnecessarily. Going to the dentist was, for most people, considered to be an unpleasant experience that they would just as soon avoid at all costs. Yet still they came.

They sat as still as possible & allowed the dentist to do his work. Most of them did not speak unless spoken to, for that meant further delay in getting through the procedure. They were never left unattended, as either the dentist or his assistant or both were in the room with them at all times. One of the jobs of the assistant was to reassure the patients, & for those who were really anxious, sometimes this meant literally holding their hand while they were being worked on. The patients could not see everything going on around them – the times the assistant turned her back on them to mix a bonding compound, or when the drill bits were being changed out, or when an x-ray was being developed. But they could hear sounds, were cognizant of activity, & knew things were being worked out on their behalf. They simply trusted that the doctor knew exactly what he was doing. They listen for his directions about what to do next – which way to turn, when to rinse, how wide to open, etc. And they followed his directives without question.

So why then is it that we have such a difficult time sitting still & letting the Great Physician perform His work in our lives? Perhaps there are times when He must make us lie still, be uncomfortable, or be temporarily blinded by something external in order that He can remove decay, transform something ugly into something beautiful, or smooth off rough spots within us? Perhaps we are made to feel numb about something that has transpired in our lives because otherwise the pain would be far too great for us to bear? Perhaps we are not supposed to see every little movement that is occurring around us on our behalf? Perhaps …

I have always been a very good patient – in the physical realm. I guess that is because not only was I a dental health professional, but so was my aunt & my mother, so I was trained at a very early age that things will go a lot more smoothly & quickly & comfortably if you will lie still when needed & just relax & trust the doctor. Why then, do I have such a problem with this in my spiritual life? Why do I have such a difficult time when I feel God working on me? I KNOW that the end result will be a new, improved, & better me. Yet I squirm. I wiggle. I protest. I get impatient with waiting. At times I even get up out of that chair & start to head out the door before the procedure is completed.

I hate that bright light shining down on me, exposing all of my flaws! I abhor being confined. I detest being still for extended periods. I dislike not knowing what is going on around me. I deny that I have decay that needs to be removed.

But I know that I will not be happy with the end results if I do not allow him to finish. I know that, if the decay is not removed, excessive pain will result that will eventually cause a part of me to die. So I endure that discomfort. I listen for directions.

Yes, sometimes I misunderstand those directions. Sometimes the anesthetic wears off enough that the pain brings tears. Sometimes I get really, really frustrated with having to lie there for so long, thinking about all of the other things that I want to be doing. At those times, a soothing voice calms my spirit, or a warm hand clasps mine, or I feel a gentle squeeze on my shoulder. Sometimes those things are from the Master Himself. But when He is busy preparing things on my behalf, sometimes it is His “assistants” that help me through.

I am so very thankful for all of the Godly men & women that God has sent to me to help me be still, keep calm, & be quiet when I was having a hard time doing so by myself. For the ones that dried my tears & reassured me that everything was going to be all right. For the ones who sat in that Waiting Room with me, until it was my time to be seen, & for the ones who were assigned the task of helping me through the procedure.

Yes, waiting is very hard, especially for someone as active & hyper as me! My best advice for waiting? Surround yourself with the presence of Godly people who will wait with you as you trust in God to make the restorations you need in your life. But wait on the Lord – He knows what He is doing. Trust Him. The end result is worth the wait.

And if you know someone that is being told to lie still while God is working? Perhaps you can be the one that waits with them. Pray with them. Talk to them. Listen to them. Pray for them. Reassure them. Soothe them. Distract them. Most of all, just be there to wait with them! Be present for them!!

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God;
I trust in the mercy of God forever & ever.
I will praise You forever,
because You have done it:
And in the presence of Your saints
I will wait on Your name, for it is good.”
-Psalm 52:8-9

~ Lou Lehman Sams

FINDING BALANCE

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A soft drink does not taste good if the syrup to carbonation levels are out of balance. Your washing machine, ceiling fans, and tires will not work properly if they are out of balance. Your body will not function properly if there is an imbalance of chemicals, vitamins, or electrolytes. Your mind cannot find peace if it does not receive the right mix of rest and stimulation, nor can your spirit be joyful if it is too busy to find time for prayer and meditation on the spiritual things in life. Many articles have been written citing how studies show that proper balance is crucial to leading a calm, steady and enjoyable life.

Where is your life out of kilter today? Are you placing too much emphasis on your job, Church, volunteer work, or other areas of your life so that you are neglecting things in a manner that will make you appear to be distasteful to others, your body to not work right, your mind to be in turmoil, or your relationships to be dysfunctional? If you want to have a good career, healthy body, strong mind and fulfilling relationships, you must nurture each one in its own right, not neglecting one for another.

Let’s say you decide to grow a garden full of vegetables, hoping at some point to prepare a feast from all the different things you have grown. So you till the soil and plant a variety of things: tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, okra, string beans, lima beans, potatoes, carrots, squash, and perhaps even a few melons. You dream of the harvest, and the day when you can prepare and sit down to a special meal which includes each of the items that you have so lovingly planted. Yet as the summer progresses, you get tired of watering the tomatoes, so they begin to wither beneath the hot summer sun. You are too weary at the end of the day to weed the cucumbers, so thistles and thorns choke them out. You completely forget about the corn, and crows come and eat the ears before you get a chance to harvest it. Then, to top it all off, strangers come in the middle of the night and steal the rest of your crops, except for the potatoes. Because you took it for granted that the crops would be there whenever you decided to pay attention to them, they disappeared. Therefore, you have only potatoes left, and while they serve their place in your diet, and provide some of the nutrients that you need in order to be healthy, they do not supply them all. Not only that, but the constant diet of only potatoes leaves you wanting something more. At the end of the season, you are left with a disappointing table that leaves you dissatisfied, not to mention that it does not even fill your basic needs.

Now apply that analogy to life. Whatever it is in your life that you have planted that you tend to the most will be the thing that thrives, and while that thing may beautiful, if it is at the expense of the other areas of your life, you will find yourself hungering for the things that you have to do without because you did not give them the attention that they needed, when they needed it. Once the growing season ends, it is too late to go back, as those things will be dead to you, and the winter of your life is not the time to plant a new garden. 


You will reap what you sow in your garden, so strive to find that balance whereby you can take care of each area of your life simultaneously. By doing so, you will hopefully in the end have a bountiful feast to enjoy – mementoes of a career to be proud of, memories of time spent playing with your kids to warm you, friendships to sustain you, and the comforting arms of someone who loves you to hold you in their arms when it comes time to draw your last breath.

TRUE HAPPINESS LIES IN FINDING YOUR BALANCE! You must make time for yourself, and your own relationships, as well as time for the other things that compose day to day living. Make time to pray, exercise, maintain a healthy diet, work hard, play with your kids, spend quality time with the one you love, and be a friend to someone,  in order that your days will be balanced, and your harvest will be bountiful.

“I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” ~ Jeremiah 17:10

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~ L.L.S.