Saturday, January 31, 2015

Autumn Leaves

Autumn has always been my favorite season.  There is a very good possibility I feel this way because my birthday falls during this chilly season, but that’s only a piece of it.  There was a drive I used to take with my family in the fall.  I’m not even sure what it is called or if it even exists anymore.  We lived in Colorado so really anywhere you went you could see the autumn leaves changing color from their characteristic green to their new attire of blazing orange and ruby red.  All I had to do was look outside my window and I could enjoy this phenomenon.  However, the drive was extra special.  The trees extended and hugged each other creating a canopy of fire.  When the wind blew, tiny sparks of leaves would fall to the ground that would leave me mesmerized.   It was my most favorite thing, and if I close my eyes I can still see it. 
One fall we went for our annual drive, but due to hectic schedules, we had to take it a little later in the season than we usually did.  Most of the leaves had already fallen, and were brown by the time we took our journey.  I was so upset at the sight of the bare trees.  They looked dead to me, and I couldn’t understand that these were the same beautiful trees that I engraved in my memory. 
            Sometimes in life, I feel very much like the bare, vulnerable trees after all my color has been blown off by life’s cold and harsh winds.  Although the fall is my favorite season to watch out my window, it is not the season in life I enjoy the most.   Everything just feels wrong.  Piles upon piles of things seem to go wrong, and it is never ending.  Just when I feel a life start to blossom something else happens, and it’s gone before it has even had a chance to grow.  I feel sad, and helpless.  I feel alone and vulnerable because there is nothing I can do during this time.  The only thing I can do is wait it out and trust in spring.  I have to trust that although the sun isn’t shining, and the warmth is limited, its still there.  And it will get stronger and stronger.  My leaves will return again.  The harsh winds of fall will slow down, and eventually fade.  A new season will begin, bringing with it a new beginning.

            Fall is still my favorite season.  And just like the beautiful drive we once took, there is something amazing in every season of our life.  We just have to look a little harder to notice it.  Because every season has a purpose and so much beauty. 


Friday, January 9, 2015

On the Road

By Susan 

There is nothing like traveling to show us our true characters.  It brings out the best and the worst in people.  My family and I took a small vacation to West Texas last week.  My sixteen year old son had done all the research and had planned a wonderful four day tour of Alpine, Marfa, Big Bend and Fort Davis.  We set out, trusting the weather reports that promised the temperatures were rising and the rains were stopping.  We shouldn’t have.  We hit the first snag when three hours out of Austin and on Highway 29, the roads became icy.  When we saw a guy putting chains on his tires, we realized maybe we should turn around.  At this point we all realized that there is hardly any cell phone coverage outside of cities in that part of the world.  That means no Google maps or Internet searches.  My husband who never travels without a paper map realized that he had left our Texas map on the dining room table at home!  Someone had a map downloaded on a phone, so we found another road to take us to I-10.  But I-10 was slowed down to a crawl as rain and sleet continued.  We made it to Alpine two hours behind schedule, checked into our hotel and went to find something to eat.  At close to 9:00 p.m. most of the restaurants in this little town were closed.  A brand new establishment near the train station looked open.  When our party of seven walked in, the young man who was acting as the host looked panicked.  He seated us in a tight corner of the restaurant and said: “We are a little lost right now but someone should be with you shortly!”  No one knew what to make of that.  Maybe it was the fact that the bathrooms were out and one by one we went across the street to the Holland Hotel to use the services.  I guess they found themselves pretty quickly, because we were served a delicious dinner not too long after that. 

The freezing rain continued during the night and we woke up to a beautiful but impassable landscape. 

By now I had noticed that no one, including myself was complaining.  Everyone from my mother, to my brother to my three children ages 16, 18 and 22 was just going with the flow, which impressed me.  We hung around the hotel that morning and watched as snowplows went up and down the highway.  By late afternoon, it looked like we could get out and go to Marfa as planned. Kent’s meticulous plan was for us to eat dinner in Marfa and stay to watch the famous Marfa lights on the way back to Alpine.  But because the temperatures were falling again and it was still raining on and off, we decided to head back before dark.  That night we decided to try a little metal box diner for dinner.  The place was packed, which is usually a sign of good food.  But the one guy who was doing all the cooking in slow motion and the one very skinny waitress who was doing her best to take orders, wash dishes and serve, could not keep up. I don’t know why we waited an hour and a half for the forgettable food. Maybe it was the cold outside or lack of too many more options. At one point the waitress confided in us that she also worked at a Mexican restaurant that we should be sure to try!

The next morning we woke up to a beautiful sunny day, dry roads and temperatures above freezing.  According to our plan we were headed to Big Bend.  My older son however, was not feeling well and decided to stay behind and rest.  One of the consequences of the storm had been downed power lines.  That meant no gas at the gas stations in Alpine.  So we drove to the next town, Marathon to fill up on our way to Big Bend National Park.  It turned out there was no power in the entire 50 mile radius.  We had to return to Alpine and forgo the much anticipated hike.  That was a big disappointment.  I worried how Kent was feeling.  He had spent so much time planning this trip for us and hardly anything was going right.  But he reassured me that he was fine.  Back in Alpine there were long lines at gas stations, where there was still no power and in some cases no gas.  

Just as we were contemplating cutting the trip short and heading back that afternoon instead of the next day, the power came back on and we were able to fill up and at least head to Fort Davis to the McDonald observatory and their star party.  We called Safaa back at the hotel to see if he was feeling better and could join us.  He was feeling worse, feverish and with chills.  I decided to take him to the hospital while the rest went on to Fort Davis.  The Big Bend Medical Center was having a busy day.  The storm had caused all kinds of problems for people.  There was an elderly gentleman who had slipped on ice and broke his head, an elegant lady in a fur coat with an oxygen tank on the back of her wheelchair, and a young woman with her suitcase, obviously suffering from the flu while traveling.  And they all knew each other.  After a four hour wait at the clinic, Safaa was diagnosed with the flu and prescribed some Tamiflu but were told that there were no pharmacies open in Alpine past 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays.  We would have to drive to Fort Stockton on Sunday to fill his prescription.  They did give him one dose of the medicine, which helped greatly.  I have to say, everyone was so nice and apologetic for the long wait and the bizarre pharmaceutical situation. Heading back to the hotel, we could see that the power was restored in town. Until we got to our hotel and saw it in pitch black.  It looked like the work crews had not made it out there yet.  An almost deserted hotel in the dark is pretty spooky.  Safaa and I just sat in one room and looked out the window at the full moon, waiting for the power to come back on.The rest of the family had a blast at the observatory, found a lovely place for dinner and even went back to see the Marfa lights.  They did bring us some delicious macaroni and cheese, parmesan crusted chicken and mashed potatoes.

The power never came back to the hotel that night or the next morning.  We were headed home anyway.  The trip back was uneventful.  Safaa was feeling better, the roads were dry, the sun was out.  We kept looking back at how almost nothing had gone the way we had planned it, but that still we had thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.   I know for me the best part was seeing my family at ease, enjoying the moment, laughing with each other and bending in whichever way was necessary. 

Years ago, when Ben and I were just getting to know each other, we were on a trip with a group of friends where nothing went according to plan.  Actually it was I who had planned that weekend and I was feeling pretty frustrated.  Ben, as calm at 23 as he is now, pointed out that if things always go they way you plan it, how would you know God has a hand in your life?  Over the past 32 years together, I have come to appreciate the wisdom of those words over and over again. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Burden of the Blessing by Carolyn

The Burden of the Blessing

A few weeks ago, I used the last paper towel on the roll. My dogs love to chew on paper and cardboard, so I made a gift of the empty paper towel roll to Beara, one of my Yorkie-Poos. (It probably isn't good for them to chew on cardboard, but it felt like the benevolent-mom thing to do.) Anyway, Beara was thrilled with her unexpected gift and immediately clamped down her jaws on the precious cardboard treat. She is a fairly small dog, so the ends of the paper towel roll stuck out about five inches on each side of her mouth. I expected that she would quickly find a private spot (so she could evade her doggie siblings) and begin chewing on the roll, her usual M.O. when she gets a treat. She did not.

Strangely, she began to wander around the room in circles, still holding the tube in her mouth. She made no move to settle in anywhere, or to try to hide her treat from Finn and Rennie. Several times she came up to me, her precious burden still clamped tightly in her teeth, staring into my eyes with an expression I could only interpret as anxiety. I tried a couple of times to take the empty paper towel tube from her, in case that was what she wanted me to do to solve her problem, but she resisted. This odd unsettled behavior continued on for several minutes; Beara still was unable to roost anywhere to enjoy her treat.

It suddenly occurred to me that the roll of cardboard was so large that Beara did not know how to handle it, literally and figuratively. My perception of Beara's thinking was this: "This is too much of a good thing. I can't handle this much. But I can't put it down because someone else might steal it, even though I am not enjoying it. This blessing feels like a burden."

Once I had figured this out, I had to take action to help her. I knew she would not let me take the paper towel tube out of her mouth - she was not about to loosen her grip on the oversized treat - so I grabbed a pair of scissors and snipped the cardboard on either side of her muzzle. Now there were three cardboard treats, one for each dog. The hunk of the tube Beara still carried in her mouth was apparently now just the right size. She hurried off to a nice, comfortable spot on the rug and began chewing, totally happy with her treat. I gave each of the other dogs their share of the cardboard tube, and they quickly followed suit. They all chewed contentedly within a few inches of each other, not in the least concerned about what the others had, which doesn't happen often. It seemed as if sharing her blessing had enabled Beara to finally enjoy it, and, coincidentally provided a blessing for others, too.

I began to wonder what parallel there might be in our human behavior. Was it possible that what we first perceive as blessings, like the treat I gave Beara, might end up as burdens to us? Are we sometimes uncomfortable with blessings when we know that others do not have as much? Or maybe we become overwhelmed with the responsibility that often comes with blessings? That reminds me of the passage from the Bible that says, "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required." (Luke 12:48a)

I had to talk this over with the other three writers in my group, of course. (We often get quite philosophical during our meetings.) Andrea pointed out that there might be a lesson as well in the idea that Beara did not make any progress with her dilemma until she asked for help. She wisely came to the one other being in the house who was perfectly equipped to help her - the human with the scissors. If she had asked for help from the other two dogs, the results would not have been at all satisfactory! Is there a moral for us in this, too? Maybe when we are faced with something overwhelming (even a huge blessing), we should think carefully about seeking help, and choose exactly the right one to help us enjoy the blessing - or burden? - we have been given. Or maybe it isn't a person at all, but a higher being we should consult?

Then, too, I think there may be a correlation for us to ponder in the notion that Beara did not, could not, enjoy her blessing until she had shared it with others. Maybe I am giving too much credit to Beara's doggie brain when I ascribe thoughtful benevolence to her actions, but it did seem as if she only gained enjoyment from her blessing when she had given up part of it to Finn and Rennie. Wouldn't it be great if all of us humans were to think that way - that blessings are not enjoyable until we share them with others?  I know some people do have that mindset, but I know it is difficult for many of us (myself included) to give up any part of our blessings to others. If we did, maybe we, too, could finally settle down and enjoy what we have been given. Surely the world would be a much better place if we all shared the burden of our blessings with others.