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

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.

OVERCOMING FEARS – ONE AT A TIME

OVERCOMING FEARS – ONE AT A TIME

(PHOBIAS ARE MERELY STUMBLING BLOCKS ON OUR PERSONAL PATHWAYS TO SUCCESS!)
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Today was an absolutely GORGEOUS Fall day, complete with a clear sky of surreal blue color, light breeze wafting through the trees, & just the perfect hint of cool Autumn air teasing us out of Summer’s sultry stupor. Late afternoon, when I finally took a break from phone calls & paperwork, it was almost pretty enough outside to make me forget about the personal & professional disappointments I’d  encountered earlier in the day. I ran my errands for business, then stopped by the local Greenway for a walk.

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The trees hanging over the waterway were dappled with the day’s fading rays of sunlight when I set out for a few minutes of stress relief, so I quickened my pace in order that I might exit the park prior to sunset. 

There is just something about getting your cardio on that makes one feel a tad less stressed out, and I was feeling at peace as I finished my exercise for the day. I looked up and I noticed the Evening star, bright & shining just a short distance from a new crescent moon that was about as large as any new moon I have ever seen. It seemed as if I could just reach up & take hold of it. Always looking for a reason to be optimistic, it held my attention as I set out to run some personal errands, and I began to reflect on the meaning of new beginnings.

I reminisced about how, a little over a year earlier, faced with a major life change, I decided to conquer one of my three lifelong fears, which is the Fear of Falling. I  have had that fear ever since I was a little girl, and I was able to face it nose to nose when I rappelled off of the top of a 12 story building as a participant in a charitable fundraiser.

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I did a video which shows the process I went through to overcome that very real fear, in hopes that it might provide someone, somewhere, someday, a little inspiration. You can view that video here:http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KgLfwRnhp3Q

In addition to that fear, though I adore the water, I have a fear of being BENEATH the water. It was my intention to tackle that fear this past summer by taking scuba lessons, but alas, summer is gone, and somehow I never got around to that. So my mind wandered to that other fear, the one that causes me to cringe, feel nauseous, and has, at times, caused me some small amount of embarrassment. That fear, is almost a full blown phobia – it is the fear of rodents. Brought on by an adult with a deranged sense of humor who used to chase me with them when I was a very little girl, I decided that I did not care if I ever conquered that particular fear. I declared to all that would listen that it was my intention to go to my grave without ever having touched one of those nasty little critters.

But looking up at the hopeful moon in the Autumnal night sky, I decided it was time that I practiced what I preached, and set off to find a way to get over a fear that has literally paralyzed me for my entire life. I drove to a local chain pet store, found the rodent cages, & stood there staring at them.

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This was a feat in and of itself, because ordinarily I would never even set foot on those aisles. When a nice young man named Leo asked me if he could assist me in any way, I told him that he would think I was crazy if I told him how he could help me. In answer to his quizzical expression at my unusual reply to his rote question, I explained that I had gotten a divorce last year after 26 years of marriage, and I was determined to conquer all of my fears. Glancing at his name badge, I exclaimed, “I need for you to help me, Leo!” I told him that I wanted to hold this “cute” little gerbil. “Oh, no, you need a more sedate one than that”, he solemnly informed me. “Wait here – I will be right back to help you, as soon as I go catch some fish for these other people. ”

As I stood there waiting on Leo to get the other customers their fish out of the tank, I began to get cold feet. I thought how silly I was being by asking this young man to help me do this. But when a little boy whose head barely towered above me kneecap ran right up to the glass cage of the ugliest little rodent in the house  and animatedly proclaimed to me, “I just LOVE those little mice!”, I decided the time had indeed arrived for me to conquer this fear.

Still waiting on Leo to come back, I started to pace. I could feel the heat rising on my neck, and my tummy started to feel a tad bit nauseous when another young man named Antonio walked up and offered me assistance. When I explained what Leo was going to help me do, I asked Antonio if he would take a picture of me holding one of them, IF I could gather the courage to actually do it. “I am old enough to be your mother, and I hope to lick this fear once and for all, I told him.” He asked my age, and courteously said, “Oh, you do not look that old, AT ALL!” While I knew he was only trying to be polite, it nonetheless made me feel a bit more relaxed. He was so encouraging, and he was like my own personal cheerleader, egging me on, and telling me that I could do this. 

Finally, Leo came back, and there was some debate between my two new friends as to exactly which rodent I should attempt to handle. Unfortunately, they both agreed that the one I had been intent on petting was not the best choice, so they started me out with a guinea pig.

As Leo held him, I petted his fur, noting that it was soft like a bunny’s, and trying to ignore the comments that rabbits are rodent-like. I have always liked bunnies, you see, and so touching them has never been an issue. Finally, I held the thing, and I was amazed that the earth did not open up and swallow me whole, the critter did not bite me, and I actually thought he was kind of cute!

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Next, it was on to a rodent that had a long, slinky black tail and beady, blood colored red eyes. Leo scooped him up in the plastic thing that served as his bed, and I asked if I could just hold the plastic thing, which I did. They two young men tried to get me to allow the vermin to crawl all over my hands and arms, but I would hear nothing of that. All of a sudden, my worst fear was realized when the bony little fellow made a big leap out of the plastic container in an attempt to break out of jail and escape. Apparently, work release was not for him! Thankfully, Leo’s quick reflexes caused him to catch the rodent in mid-air.

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I was most appreciative of this, because thoughts of him running right up my pants leg were flooding my mind. About that time, Antonio chided me for not holding the little thing in my hands. I reminded him that I DID hold him in that plastic thing, but he assured me, “That does not count!” 

Taking a deep breath and praying that I would not pass out or hyperventilate, I said to Leo, “Oh, just give me the thing right now before I run out of here!” And he did!

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That little gray thing was so bony, and his tiny claws were digging into my hands. He squirmed and wiggled and tried to get away. I am not sure which one of us had a heart that was beating faster, but I am sure that he did not like me any more than I liked him. But I held onto him long enough for Leo to take some pictures on my phone.

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At the end I remember the fearful feeling vanished, and was replaced by a victorious feeling instead. Similar to the time I rappelled off of the top of that building. After Leo put him back in his bed for the night, he began opening another cage, and said, “Now, it is time for this one!!!” I gasped as I looked down and saw a HUGE rat! Leo laughed and told me that he was only joking, that not even he liked to handle that one, and whenever a customer makes me take him out, he always washes his hands afterwards. Which made me wonder about potential diseases. Even thought the sign said that they were “Vet checked”, do the veterinarians there REALLY examine those pesky little rodents???

I immediately spread hand sanitizer all over my hands, just for safekeeping. Then I both thanked and hugged my helpers. I am sure I was probably the talk of the store after I left. I sat in the parking lot, and texted my kids what I had done. Thankfully I have the photos, or else no one will probably believe I actually did that. After all, I once locked myself in my study when my son chased me with a plastic toy that I THOUGHT was a rodent; I stood atop a chair and screamed when someone thrust a gerbil in my face at an adult Sunday School party; and I was the laughingstock of a restaurant in New Orleans recently when a mouse ran under my chair.

But I DID IT! I faced my fear in the face, then I kicked it in the butt!! I left with a wonderful feeling of self satisfaction. And while I doubt I will be looking to hold any rodents any time in the near future, at least I now know that my imagination about them was much worse than the reality, Isn’t it that way with most things?

Now, where can I take scuba lessons?

 I challenge you, no matter what your age or fear, to go out and face it! You will be glad that you did so! As for me? I will be the lady decked out in a wet suit, holding a rodent in one hand, and a rappelling rope in the other, as I scoot down the side of a cliff!

The day I went over the edge of that building, I had a team of professionals supporting me, as well as a crowd of about fifty onlookers consisting of my family, friends, colleagues & acquaintances who all came out to encourage me. But the night I went into the pet store, I only had myself, the store employees (who I KNOW think I belong in the Looney Bin). But BOTH times, I had God standing right beside me, & that was enough. “I can do ALL things through Christ, who strengthens me.” ~ Philippians 4:13

~ L.L.S.