QUICKSAND

QUICKSAND 

She had crashed and burned, but somehow she didn’t die.

For a while she could only just sit there, and wonder why?

One day she had an epiphany, though, about that man.

He was like an ostrich with his head buried in quicksand.

So immersed he was in the days of his past

He couldn’t see that quicksand foundations just don’t last.

For her, she was born to soar above and yes, to fly!

She didn’t just want to hover, she wanted to fly high.

Would she, rising from the ashes of what was once love

Stay in that empty nest, or would she rise up above?

Would she be like that azure feathered blue bird,

And sing aloud the sweetest songs ever to be heard?

Would she be more like the little hummingbird

Whose faith knows impossible is nothing but a word?

Or would she be like the noblest bird, a majestic eagle,

Whose attributes can only be best described as simply regal?

No, she’d be no ostrich, bluebird, eagle or hummer,

For she longed to march to the beat of another drummer.

Her survival had left her with feathers like a peacock,

Beauty from the ashes, and strength as hard as a rock.

As she took flight, she saw him struggling, way down below,

And down, down, farther into the quicksand did he go.

He could not escape, though he had definitely tried 

But she had to leave behind the buckets of tears she’d cried.

It was a gorgeous day, favoring a new adventure,

And no more would she be tied to his tragic indenture.

The warm Winds of Change began to blow in her direction,

And with it they carried a change of her affection.

In the best epiphany she had ever received

She recognized that her heart was now relieved. 

She was free to do and be and see and become anything

All she was leaving behind a bittersweet memory thing.

Up, up, up, she climbed, higher and higher still

And glanced back once as she reached the crest of the hill.

What was that she saw sinking in QUICKSAND?

Was it an ostrich or someone who didn’t understand? 

Sighing, she shook her head in one last poignant goodbye,

And with that, the indomitable Phoenix really began to fly!

– Lou Lehman Sams

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, fiancĂ©, 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 

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

FLY HIGH, BUTTERFLY

This morning, I am contemplating change. Both good & bad. The good changes are personal & professional ones. The bad changes are the things like wildfires & tornadoes. 

Like many others, I have written things about butterflies as symbols of change, growth, & metamorphosis. We all know that the caterpillar has to spend time inside a dark, uncomfortable cocoon before it can complete its transformation, after which it is more beautiful, & free to fly. I recall seeing a butterfly outside my hotel room window on the 14th floor of the Park Vista Hotel in Gatlinburg, two years ago, & I marveled at that, because I had no idea that they could go that high!! I do not know if it is the season for butterflies up there right now, but if so, I hope that they were able to fly higher than the fires! 


You know, I have never heard of a story of a butterfly, once it flew up into the beautiful blue sky, the feeling of the warm air beneath its wings, the warmth of the sunshine on its little antennae, never once have I heard of one of them crawling back into its cocoon!!! Wonder what would happen to them, though, if they got scared, decided that they were afraid of heights, or just felt uncertain about their abilities, & crawled back in there? I am pretty certain that the cocoon, though tight, cramped, & uncomfortable, provided them some sense of security, nonetheless. However, I also am confident that they would probably die in there, without fresh air, water, & the right kind of sustenance. 


At some point, a butterfly’s destiny is to FLY! To shed that cocoon which restricts them from being what they were designed to be, which is beautiful & free!! No, butterflies, with their tiniest of brains, are smart enough to know not to return the dark cocoon, once they have found escape from it. For if they did, they would surely languish & die there!!! And they would not be able to fly above that fire, for sure. 


Why, then, do people do that very thing? Abuse victims return to their abusers. Unhappy spouses reunite with those who have cheated on them time & time again. Drug users return to their addiction. Recovered alcoholics fall off of the wagon. Kids quit school. The list goes on & on. 


You were not born to live shrouded in darkness. You must not return to that which holds you back in life once you have escaped from it. The cocoon had its place in your life, but once you break free, you are supposed to fly!!


So go ahead, don’t look back. Escape the fires burning all around you. Flee from the negative things that are keeping you down. Step out into the sunshine. Feel the wind on your face. Soar above it all!! 


To keep the world from seeing the butterflies’ beauty by remaining in that cocoon is against nature. And so it is with you. Fly, Butterfly, Fly High!!!


– Lou Lehman Sams 


“Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things have passed away; behold, all things are made new!” – II Corinthians 5:17

CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS

CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS

As the storms raged, the winds whipped through the back yard, thunder shook the china cabinet, & lightning illuminated the darkness outside, I carried them in from the garage, the red Rubbermaid containers marked “Christmas”, along with a few old, beaten cardboard boxes labeled the same. If I’m not going to be able to sleep, I might as well do something productive, I thought. 


As I reached inside one box, & then another, I was dismayed at the disheveled mess. Many years previous, my Christmas ornaments would have been stored in an orderly fashion, each one gently & lovingly wrapped in tissue paper. But that is one of the ravages of divorce: regardless as to how badly you want the divorce, the signing of final papers right before the holidays makes it difficult to get into the proper holiday spirit. That first Christmas after my marital ties were severed, I rented a townhouse, & because I was still unpacking, I only had a table top little tree, so no need to sort back through all of the ornaments. The second Christmas in the townhouse, I was dating a man who had asked me to marry him, so though I was spending a lot of time at his house, since he had school aged kids, I did put up the small artificial tree I’d inherited from my marriage, using some ornaments from my former life, along with a few new ones. The third year into my divorce, having broken off that relationship, & having moved into a house by that time, I was not feeling particularly festive, so I once again did a table top tree. Those depress me, quite frankly, because I have always loved Christmas, along with all of its ornamentation. But I did not want to buy another artificial tree, because it was a reminder of the ex boy friend who had told me to get rid of mine when I moved, since we both loved real trees, we would always have a real one, & he volunteered that he would help me get a live tree for my own home until such time that we tied that proverbial knot. So I once again did a table top tree, because I did not want to look at painful memories of a lost love that would be invoked by a new artificial tree, seeing as how I had given my perfectly good one away to one of the movers from the moving company. Therefore, all those ornaments collected over a quarter of a century laid dormant in the garage yet again.


Last year brought all the hopefulness of a new love interest, & finally, a renewed sense of holiday Spirit. I snuggled up against the strong arms of my new boy friend, & together we planned an excursion to the local Christmas tree farm to cut down a tree for me. The day arrived for us to do so, & I was brimming with excitement, because we were both sentimental souls, & I knew it would be a memorable day. I could almost taste the dollar cup of hot chocolate served in a styrofoam cup. But he called me at the last minute with a big plumbing emergency at his place. I set about trying to figure out who among my many friends I would feel comfortable asking to help me get a tree. But my own pride at not wanting to ask anyone for anything stood in the way. So I started surfing the net & calling to see who would deliver one. It would not be the same as picking out a tree with a loved one, but at least I would have one before my son came home from college. I knew that I could enlist his help, but neither of us had the right type of vehicle. It turned out that the places that would deliver wanted almost as much as the cost of a tree itself, & I could not justify that on my single woman’s budget. So after a couple of days of being unable to coordinate a time to reschedule with the guy I was seeing, I drew a big sigh, & lugged the boxes of ornaments which I had gotten out back to the garage. I sat on my sofa, & as I surfed Facebook, I held back tears at the sight of all of the beautifully decorated trees of my friends. Even if I got a tree, what ornaments would I use? I did not want memories from my failed marriage or that other relationship to sully my new life. 


Finally, after much contemplation, I resolutely decided I would find a way to get a tree. I asked my older cousin if she & her husband could help me, & she arranged for her brother & one of his friends to meet me at Lowe’s. Not wanting to intrude upon them longer than necessary, I grabbed the first tree I saw – after all, they were taking time from their families to help me, & it was the holidays. It was not the best looking tree I have ever had, but it was enough. I bought some new, inexpensive, but nondescript ornaments to use, & wrote a blog post about the ordeal of getting it into place. 


This year I am not seeing anyone exclusively, & so the burden of a tree falls squarely to me. It is not expeditious to put a tree atop my little car, so more than likely I will have to do either a table top tree, or buy anther artificial one. As I contemplated what to do, I decided to pull out the old ornaments to see what type of tree I would like to have. Once upon a time I had a very large tree in the living room, a small artificial tree on the landing of the stairs, & another larger artificial tree in the Rec room of my old house. After the divorce, I threw away some ornaments, & gave some away. What did I even have left?


As the storms threatened to blow the house away, I began unwrapping the haphazardly stored ornaments – they were a mess from where I had hurriedly gone through them in preparation for the move out of the custom built house I had shared with my ex husband. But the last four years of storing them in the garage has taken its toll on them.


I slowly peeled away stuck on tissue paper from cookie dough ornaments which apparently had baked a little bit over the hot summers. Too bad they were not edible. I tried to recall each Craft Show I had gone to when they were en vogue. I had my little children by the hand for many of them, & we always enjoyed going from booth to booth & sipping samples of hot spiced apple cider while we shopped the handmade gifts & ornaments displayed. I always let each one of them choose an ornament. My hands unwrapped one of the family cookie dough ornaments which we got every year. You know the ones: four reindeer, or snowmen, or Santas in a sleigh, beneath a fireplace, or whatever, with each family member’s name hand written in permanent marker below one of the characters, & the year written on it, as well. Why did we think that those were the bomb? But for many years, they were all the rage.


No, definitely not using those. But what to do with them? Pack rat that I am, I find it hard to get rid of things that I spent much time selecting, & much money buying. If I relegate them to the trash can, I would inevitably suffer guilt, but that chapter is over, & I do not particularly like that style of ornament anymore, so what would it matter?


Next up were a couple of Baby’s First Christmas ornaments. Those need to be kept, & given to the kids, but not going on my tree, if I figure out how to get one this year.


Then I unwrapped Happy Meal ornaments that used to go in the kid’s rooms. Had I really kept those all of these years? I decided to trash them but that I would contact my daughter before doing so, because she had written a heart wrenching blog post that had dredged up times I was not yet ready to face about holidays past recently. But not even she wanted the Mickey D’s plastic Barbie dolls in sleighs, so into the trash they went.


I discovered that I still have about a third of my Santa Claus ceramic & resin collection. Some went straight to the trash can, like the one where Santa’s boot was broken off. Yes, a couple of years I actually had a an entire tree with Santas on them. I kept a handful of them, wondering if I could incorporate them into some other themed tree, for I do still believe in Santa, even if he has not helped me get a Christmas tree the last four years.


Next up was a glass ornament – a relic of a more elegant tree that I did for many years. It was scratched up a bit, & I thought that I had discarded all of those when I got my divorce, so the lone ornament that used to be part of a bigger collection went into the trash with the cheap kiddie ones. 


A whole little box of handmade paper ornaments lovingly crafted by the kids was my next perusal. I knew that I must not sit down & look at them each one individually, or else I would surely cry the crocodile tears of a mother whose babies have left the nest. But of course, I must keep them. I made a mental note to find a better way to preserve them, for they were not faring well in that little cardboard box. Yet I had always heard that plastic was not the best means for preserving paper mementoes. I do not know, but as in years past, this was a chore better left for another day. So back into the box they went.


Then there was the potpourri of special ornaments that were kindly gifted to me by a variety of friends & clients over the many years, none of which had any resemblance to the next one. A small quilted angel, a huge plastic snowflake, a carved wooden Willow Tree angel, a stained glass angel, a Crimson Tide ornament, a Lenox snowflake, a designer candy cane, & many more. But the tree would look very mismatched if I decided to use nothing but those, so I set them aside, as well. Maybe I could do one of those eclectic, non themed trees? 


Ah, how about these Precious Moments ornaments? Santa had left one in each kids’ stocking until they were twenty one years old, & they used to grace the rec room tree. My son could care less about them, but I have his entire set, in case his wife or kids or someone wants them one day. My daughter’s set was, last time I saw them, in my ex husband’s house. He was not ever one for sentimental displays of any sort, so I hoped he had not thrown them away, but that was between him & our daughter. No, I do not want a tree with my son’s childhood ornaments on it this year, either.


I still love the hand painted (and in some cases machine painted), wooden ornaments. Brightly colored in the traditional reds & greens of Christmas, they remain some of my favorites: a train from when my son was into Thomas the Tank engine, a reindeer, a sled, & of course, a Santa, some in good shape, & all reminders of a different era in time. What to do with those? I discarded the ones that showed wear, & set aside a couple for contemplation.


I really want a live tree, with brand new, expensive glass ornaments on it, but I cannot justify spending that much money to entirely outfit a new tree this year. I glanced at the ornaments I bought at the home store last year: I had gone with a simple assortment of gold & silver balls. They were all new, indicative of my new lease on life, if not necessarily my taste. Maybe I can just use those again, assuming I get a tree at all? Maybe …?


My hand fell upon a glass ornament that was bought in Gatlinburg the year my ex boyfriend took me there for my birthday. The two of us had purchased many ornaments together that year for the tree at his house that would presumably be our tree in future years. They were lovely, & I remember them well, because we spent considerable care & time selecting them together: a little girl holding a cardinal & a Santa Claus with a cardinal on it, among others. Cardinals stand for faithfulness, they are monogamous, & they mate for life. Except that did not exactly work the way it was supposed to do so, in this case. I briefly wondered if those ornaments will grace his tree this year, as he is with someone else now? But the key word is briefly. As I held the ornament I had taken home from that trip, I felt nothing other than a twinge over the fires that were, at that very moment, threatening to consume the little shops where they were purchased. But there was no longer any wistfulness or sorrow over what might have been. Not over what might have been with him, or my ex husband, either.


Feeling nothing is different than feeling numb, for numbness implies that feeling still lies beneath the surface, once the nerve endings that have been temporarily blocked reawaken. Nothing is what one feels when one runs a finger along a scar that has fully healed. The thickness of that scar does not invoke the sensations one feels when that same finger traverses tissue next to it that has never suffered injuries. Nor is it the same as if that finger traces a wound that has not yet healed.


So without any emotion whatsoever, I was able to make the decision that the ornament not only did not belong on my tree, but it does not belong in my life, either. What’s done is done. But as I reached in the box to grab the next surprise, my hand caused a little bell to ring, & for one second in time, I recalled the silver bell which I had given that former love as a peace offering after a disagreement. We had sat in the little coffee shop, each of us with tears in our eyes, as we decided we were far better together than apart. Will his hand cause that bell to ring as he places it on his mantle, as he did that year? Or has it, like so many of my old ornaments, made its way into the bottom of the landfill somewhere? Funny, when I thought about that, it was idle curiosity, as opposed to sentimentality. Yes, by the a grace of God, I am healed. Not a single tear slipped down my face, though the ghosts of the past teased & tempted me. And until you have been haunted by the ghosts of the past, you cannot really appreciate it when they lose their hold on you. But when they do, you feel as if an invisible grip has finally been pried from your heart, & no matter how many bells you hear ring, they will not ruffle your feathers.


Yes, the storms threatened outside as I slowly realized that I had finally found peace inside. If my house, like those relationships, blows away & takes those ornaments with it, they are only pieces of the past. Like the many things that have been destroyed by the wildfires in Tennessee, they are only reminders, & no fire can ever cancel out or destroy the memories they hold, for the memories will forever live in our hearts, no matter what we do. Yet we do not have to allow those memories to define us, for memories live in the past. Like old photo albums that one takes out once every few years, they do not inhabit our every day lives. Nor would we want them to do so. 


My eyes fell to the box that houses my Nativity set. Oh, how I had longed for that before I was able to get it, finally, by hosting a Home Interior party all those many years ago. I set it proudly out on the coffee table, with firm instructions to my kids not to touch it, for all of the ceramic characters are fragile, & very breakable. Of course, within a few hours, Joseph’s head had managed to somehow mysteriously break off. Fortunately, I was cognizant of the season, & although I offered up further admonition, I quietly used super glue to help Joseph’s head get back on straight, & laughed as I thought about how the real Joseph must have come close to losing his head on that fateful night which we still celebrate over two thousand years later. Yes! The Nativity set is, as it has for the last twenty years, going to grace my home this year, for with it comes the true meaning of Christmas. It is the one decoration that truly means something, that stirs my heart with a hope for better days, rather than a remorse for the human condition which caused relationships to go astray. 


And I am going to put the goofy little stuffed reindeer with Christmas lights strung in his antler that sings “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” whenever you press the button hidden on his foot on the bar, as he has been for over a decade, for he makes me laugh. And the little Grinch who sings the song that bears his name that used to make my little son squeal with delight, he can come out this Christmas to play, also. My grandmother’s Christmas handkerchief, I’ll place on my dresser, for it brings to mind her loving care of me throughout my childhood. I’ll buy candy canes to stuff in the ceramic bunnies (I know, that sounds odd). I’ll put my wooden Merry Christmas sign beneath the TV in the hearth room. In other words, I will salvage the good, but push back the bad memories. Christmas is about peace, love, & happiness, & there is not any reason whatsoever to do anything that causes anyone sadness. And that includes me. I am learning, for the first time ever in my life, to take care of me. That is what we need to do every single day we live – hold fast to the good, & let go of the not so good. 


I meditated on these things as I hunkered down in the hall bathroom, under a Tornado warning. Just like the near miss traffic accident God spared from happening, or the recovery from a mystery illness I battled recently, He saw fit to keep me safe in the storm, though the tornado did touch down about two miles or so, as the crow flies, from me. I know that the people affected will be traumatized today, & I am thankful that God spared them. I hope they realize that the roof, the shed, or whatever else was damaged are, like the Christmas ornaments, just things, & that the real joy in life comes from the unseen Hand that stills the storms. Though we have to endure them, they never last forever. Afterwards, we must sort through the rubble, & find the good, while throwing out the things that were irreparably damaged. 


I may not have a husband, a fiancĂ©, or a boy friend, to help me get a tree this year, but I am going to figure something out! Santa, I’ve been a very good girl this year, so I know you are, in your magical way, going to help me out with this! 


I may not be cooking the big dinners for the extended family that I always loved hosting on Christmas anymore, but maybe someday I will get to be a part of something like that again. For now, I will be content to look at my Nativity scene, remembering the only thing that is really supposed to count on Christmas, and that is that “God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son …” His love is the one love that has never failed me, & whether or not I have a fresh cut tree or fancy ornaments, I know that it never will.


I pray that all of those affected by the storms, wildfires, & other tragedies of late will feel His love, through those who were fortunate enough to be spared, this Christmas season. Offer a helping hand, a listening ear, or maybe just a new Christmas ornament, to those in need, to help them realize that despite lost homes, possessions, relationships, or loves, someone does care. 


God bless …




– Lou Lehman Sams




FEAR OF LOSING CONTROL

Fear of Losing Control

People are AFRAID to surrender because they will lose CONTROL. But LETTING GO is the only way to really CONQUER FEAR, & getting rid of fear is when you actually GAIN CONTROL of your life, because it is then that you FIND FREEDOM to truly LIVE. Funny, what a PARADOX this is, because it is backwards from what we believe. 

We THINK that if we stay in that miserable relationship, we can control the outcome by controlling the person; however it is when we let go of the toxic people in our lives that we find the freedom to be with those who make us happy, & the ones who make us happy are the ones who love us enough to let us be ourselves. We convince ourselves that if we change careers or jobs that we will lose control, because we will have to learn something new & leave the familiar behind, but it is when we step out of our comfort zone & the things to which we have clung, but which we have outgrown, that we allow ourselves to be open to new, exciting, & daring adventures, & it is those adventures that provide us a chance to figure out who we really are, thus giving us control. We assume that if we do not tell our children what to think, feel, see, do or be, that they will mess up their lives, but in reality, when we do not allow them to become who God inspired them to become, that is when we mess up their lives for them. We imagine that if we do not fold the towels, take out the trash, or cook the roast beef the same way that we always have done, that the outcome will be undesirable, forgetting that perhaps there might be more space in the closet, less litter on the street, or a much more savory dinner if we will but surrender our old ways to new ones. 

Letting go, surrendering, & losing control, are difficult things to do, because we conjure up illusions to support the need for us to be in charge, & our fears prevent us from true freedom, wherein lies peace. We can frantically fight the waves until we are totally exhausted, yet find ourselves in exactly the same place in which we started, or we can calmly ride them & not only enjoy the ride, but end up in a tranquil spot, safely back at the shore. I have done all of these things. I have no regrets, but if I had it to do over again, I would have had more trust in God to protect my babies & left a most miserable existence far sooner. 

Sometimes clarity only comes after the storm has died down. If only I could have seen then, what I see now. But I did the best that I could do at the time, given my understanding of life & the situation. Since then I am proud to say that I have conquered many fears: I was afraid first & foremost of not doing my best for my children, but also I was afraid of potential illness, of being alone, of falling, of crashing, of lack of financial resources, & yes, of rodents. And since that time, I have been each & every one of those things at some point or another in my life, but I have survived every single day of my life. Once I finally had enough sense to let go & conquer my fears, I have found that is where I gained control of my own life, & that, my friends, is all we are really called to do. 

God created us each with our own unique gifts, callings, & desires, & whenever we allow the issues of others, the demands of controlling people, or the fears of failure to rule us, we are chained to those things. It is time to break free, to lose the chains that bind us to addictions to the past, to toxic people, to substances, & yes, to the addiction of the need to be in control. Freedom lies in letting go. Peace lies in freedom. Gravitate towards those that love you, not the ones that control you. Turn towards the challenges that excite you, not the ones that weigh you down. Choose to be in the relationships, jobs, or places that make you happy, not the ones that make you miserable.

 When you live in misery, fear, or under someone else’s control, you are not in any shape to live out your life according to God’s plan for you. Just as a fish cannot thrive if it is constantly pretending to be a dog, neither can you thrive if you are constantly pretending to be happy. Conquer your fear of losing control by letting go – I’m looking forward to finally seeing the “real” you – the person you were destined to be!

– Lou Lehman Sams 

BENEATH HER RAY BANS

BENEATH HER RAY BANS

  

 

As she whizzed about her yard on her bright green riding lawn mower which had an equally bright yellow seat cutting the straggly weeds down to size, no one would have guessed that a gathering of tears lay pooled beneath the Ray Bans perched on her face. Though the sun was not out, she wore them anyway, presumably to keep the crow’s feet at bay, but on this particular day, more so to hide her sadness. For with each pass of the mower, she collected more than grass clippings, but also thoughts. And with each pass, she mowed down the memories of the past that were akin to weeds down to size.

Learning to operate & maintain a riding lawn mower, a weedeater, or a blower were never on her Bucket List. But that is not why she was sad. She remembered that he had promised to do this very thing for her. But when she had realized that he was not able to cut down his own memories of the past – even though they were like pretty weeds that, though they bore little blossoms that appeared to be attractive, would inevitably choke out all of the good from him – she had cut him loose. She knew, down deep in her being that to watch him surround himself with those weeds until they overtook his very essence, well, that was a scene she could not bear to watch. She had helped water the garden of his soul, & she had seen him blossom & come alive before her very eyes! She knew how beautiful he could become when he was loved the way God intended. 

But she had also seen the pervasive intrusion of the weeds as they spread silently yet persistently & overtook his life in such a manner that one day, all you could see was the weeds – you could not recognize him at all any more. Was he really even still there, beneath those weeds at all? Or had those weeds killed him?

She kept going back & forth, back & forth, excising the weeds from her own yard, all the while remembering when she had to be strong & firmly but decisively remove some tenacious weeds from her own life. She had to grasp them, take hold of them, & yank them out by their very roots, for to allow any small portion of them to remain would have been giving them permission to grow & take hold of her life again, & weeds have no place in a proper garden. 


One Wikipedia definition of a weed is “a plant considered undesirable in a particular situation, ‘a plant in the wrong place.” That is exactly what she had seen happening with him, for she saw that these weeds of his were in keeping with the definition in the Oxford Dictionary, which said a weed is a “plant not valued for use or beauty, growing wild & rank, & regarded as cumbering the ground or hindering vegetation.” And though she well understood obligations, as she was always diligent to honor her own commitments, she knew, whether he realized it or not, that the weeds which he allowed to overtake him were cumbersome to him, & indeed, they were hindering him from becoming the man that God intended. She knew this, because she had seen a glimpse of that man, & the picture of the garden that they had planned to plant together still lingered in her mind. Oh, how she wished she could use the water from those tears that still lay pooled beneath her Ray Bans to refresh his soul & nourish his garden. IF ONLY …


But she had to, as occasionally happens, remove him from her garden, as one must once in awhile rid their garden of good vegetation along with the bad.  Sometimes the two are so entwined that you accidentally or intentionally have to remove the good in order to eliminate the bad. And so it had to be. She could not allow the aggressive & unsavory weeds that were dragging him down to choke the life out of her.  She sighed, remembering how beautiful their days had been – except for those weeds! They were gone now, & as she kept cutting those memories down to size, little tears slipped from her eyes & trickled down her face until those pools beneath her Ray Bans were no more. Gone, like the tops of the weeds she had just mown down. But there was more work left to do: she knew that in order to grow her own garden that she had to dig deeper, & kill the very roots that remained beneath the surface. And so she did so. 


She dug deeper. And after all had been done, there was a barrenness  to her landscape. There was a void where those dreams used to bloom. So she planted more seeds, & stood back, & waited for them to take hold, grow, & bloom. She would be sure to nourish & cultivate them. 

  

One has no responsibility to care for weeds. Those people that plant themselves out of place in our lives, & who do not belong there, will only choke the life out of our dreams if we allow them to continue to take hold of us. No, no more weeds remained. She smiled as the sun burst forth over her head. The gentle breeze dried the lingering traces of sadness where once the tears had trickled down her cheeks. And now, the only thing that lay beneath her Ray Bans were smiling eyes that were filled with hope for the future. 

She could not wait to see what would spring forth from her garden! She hoped that there would be luscious berries, red tomatoes, all sorts of vegetables, bright buttercups, fragrant roses, & peonies. She loved peonies! Once in vogue, but then relegated to the common man’s yard, she adored their hardy beauty, because no matter how many times you chopped them down, they always seemed to come back, bringing with them their large, bountiful, & difficult to ignore blooms. Sort of like the story of her own life.


 And her garden would have NO WEEDS! She cared about it too much to allow that. Besides, his garden had enough weeds for the both of them. And though she felt a twinge of sadness for him because he allowed those invasive things to overrun him, there would be no more tears beneath her Ray Bans for him.  With a tad of irony she recalled how fastidious he was with his own lawn – he liked everything to be so perfect for the passersby to see. But she knew his secret: inside his carefully camouflaged front door lay a mess of tangled weeds that were choking the heart & soul out of him. She thought about that time that they had made fun of all of the little purple weeds that had overtaken some of the lawns in his neighborhood as they had strolled past them, hand in hand, one warm Summer’s Eve. Those weeds had made such a significant blanket of purple that it was almost as if they had been intentionally planted there, but they had both known that it was not by design. Yet the homeowners had chosen to ignore them & let them take over their yards, sort of like he had done with his personal life. But it was his garden, &  that was his choice to make. 


As for her, she dreamed of that house with the wrap around porch, the acreage with the gazebo that stood on  a dock extending out into the pond, the park bench beneath the weeping willow tree, the porch swing rocking back & forth, the workshop for special projects, the fire pit for chilly nights, the Japanese maple for fiery Fall colors, the fragrance of the Southern Magnolia tree, the little vegetable garden out back, the sunny rose garden with a dozen different varieties of Jackson & Perkins roses, & the screened porch overlooking the swimming pool out back from whence the laughter of yet to be conceived grandchildren would one day ring out. 

All of the beatiful pieces of the patchwork quilt of the future they’d talked about sharing floated through her mind, & she felt their loss in the pit of her stomach. Though they had never materialized, they had still become an integral part of her, & she had mourned their passing. Finally, she realized that though he had chosen to allow the weeds in his life to choke out his dreams, that the only way that those weeds would destroy her own dreams was if she let them. And she was determined not to let them! 


Everything that she had imagined was hers for the taking. All she had to do was take care of the garden of her own soul, & God would bring the rain & the sun, & all of the rest would follow. She was sure of that. So she turned off the ignition switch to that big John Deere mower which she had bought so that he would not have to work so hard cutting the grass, & was thankful for the unexpected blessing that she had in it. Though it had been an extravagance to her budget at the time, she had purchased it for him, because she could not stand the thought of him laboring so hard to cut both his & her lawns after working so hard all week long. She had bought it for him, not knowing that one day it would make her own job of eradicating  weeds all the more easier. 


As she reached up to adjust the green John Deere cap atop her head, she recalled with a faint smile the day that she had ordered it. When she had bought the new mower she  had received something in the mail saying that she would get a free John Deere cap, & that she could choose whether she wanted it to be pink or green. He had laughed at her, & said that pink does not go with John Deere!  He had teasingly threatened that he would take a pink John Deere cap outside & shoot it if she got that color. So she had ordered the green one instead. Not because he  had said to do so, but because she had wanted & intended to give it to him, one of many little expressions of her love & appreciation to him. That green & yellow cap finally had arrived a couple of weeks after she had broken it off with him. She could not bring herself to wear it at that time, because she had hoped for a while that he would come to his senses & decide that he would rather have someone to help water his garden, rather than fill it with weeds. Finally the time had come for her to pull that cap out of its hiding place in her closet, & though she had absolutely never seen herself as a John Deere kind of girl, she had stuck it on her head as if it was some sort of badge of honor. 

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 She adjusted that cap, & then she removed her Ray Bans, & sat there with her face lifted towards the blue sky, & as she breathed a sigh of Thanksgiving, she wondered what must the neighbors be thinking of her now? But it did not really matter, as she was busy planning the things that she was going to plant in her garden …

And when she walked back inside, there in the mirror she saw the smile that lay beneath her Ray Bans!!!  

– Lou Lehman Sams