Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

“Lord, help me overcome my biases. I want to be able to see you in every person I meet.”

As I read my devotional this morning, I smiled thinking of the message. I remembered as a child watching the PBS program Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and singing along. Decades later I would watch the show with my children. Of my children, Ian liked it the most. I chuckle when I visit that time in my mind. I still hear him saying as a toddler, “Momma, I want to play the piano (he pronounced it pee-an-do with all long vowels of course) like Mr. Rogers when I grow up.” I thank God for these precious memories of my children. I thank God for those messages that helped shape me as a child.

After reading the parable of the Good Samaritan, I realized the relevance of it in our modern lives. Today, I think we can substitute Samaritan and Jew for many disgruntled “neighbors.” Here’s the shortlist: Republican vs. Democrat, Muslim vs. Christianity, Jew vs. Muslim, Pro-life vs. ProChoice, Gay vs. Straight, Catholic vs. Protestant, & Black vs. White. Whew! I could add more but you get the idea. Would you care for your neighbor like the Samaritan did? Would you use your arms to hold this dying adversary? Could you open your mouth to give a kind word? How about untying your purse strings to give a meal to a starving foe? Use your body to shield them from hateful slurs and threats? Or do we continue to be consumed by hate believing that they deserve to be chastised and hurt? See. We are all called to be a “Good Samaritan.” I hear my back row students squirming in their seats. It is very hard to love those who hate and persecute you.

In this present time our lives are so influenced with confusing messages like “If it feels good, do it” or “It’s all about me #YOLO.” It’s true we only have one earthly life to live. Sadly, those who choose to act morally are often chided in our culture for their weaknesses. They don’t fit in to the popular social circles. After reading the scriptures about the parable of the Good Samaritan, I felt nudged to implore you to find a way to help that wounded person on your life path. We all have at least one person we can choose to help. Imagine if we all encouraged one person a day for a year. Wow! Today, seek out a neighbor to love and serve. Let’s make the most of this beautiful day!

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Neighbor Loving Gal

Quotes of the Day by Mr. Rogers:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like “struggle.” To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of.”

“There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.”

“Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

Aches and Pains

Morning, noon, and night I cry out in my distress, and the Lord hears my voice. —Psalm 55: 17 (NLT)

Today is one of my pity party days. My body is crying out in distress. I think every inch of me has an ache. The super, quick road trip to Vanderbilt in Nashville and back is the worst. My body is breaking down and I have to face it. By the time I arrive home, I’m on the brink of a mental breakdown, sore, and dehydrated. No fun. So, I cry out in distress and He hears me.

Today is the Assumption of Mary on the Catholic calendar. The short version is that Catholics and some other denominations believe that Mary was welcomed in to heaven upon the end of her earthly life. If anyone should get a “fast pass” to heaven, it should definitely be Mary. We all have to die to our earthly life. Reading about this today made me long for heaven. It made me long for an end of my earthly distress. Then I remember I’m not quite finished regardless of my aches and pains. So I put it on God’s shoulders and put on my big girl dipe. I begin to pray for those who just lost their daughter in a tragic car accident and remember her grieving friends. I pray for a father who left for heaven too soon leaving behind his daughters and parents. I pray for a friend who lost her beloved father. I look around and realize my earthly chapter is far from over. I need to cry out and move forward with the gift of life I still have. There is so much left to do. Will you join me?

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Aches and Pains Gal

Dedicated to Cowboy, Alaina, and Clint who started their next chapter and for the hearts of those left here.

“The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.”
Charles Dickens

Moral Compass

Moral Compass

I’ve been on earth almost half of a century. My life has had many highs and several lows. To stay sane you have to just roll with the changes trusting that whatever storm we are facing will pass just as those fun, love-filled times did. Through it all we have to put our best foot forward and finish our race. Which foot should we use? What pace should we run? All these come from our moral compass.

When I read headlines or catch a glimpse of the news, it troubles me. Something has gone terribly wrong. There are children hurting so badly that they open fire on each other. There’s human trafficking to fill perverted sexual desires. The abundance of children living with a parent who love getting high more than their precious children. The need for people to escape the reality of this world through chemical means. Are we mentally softer or weaker than generations past or am I imagining things? When the going gets tough we go searching for something at the pharmacy to right it. Is being made of sterner stuff a thing of the past?

There is so much hate and confusion. I read scriptures and pray each day for God to use me. I want to be like Jesus. I want to empty myself and spread love. I want there to be love left everywhere I go. Remember in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis when Aslan comes back and everywhere he prances flowers and plants spring to life? That’s what I envision me doing in my wheelchair. Me embracing my moral compass and everywhere I go leaving a trail of beauty behind me as I roll! Then, I will come to my end and step into eternity and be at peace. It’s urgent for us to dig deep, clean out the garden our souls, and use those compasses that God gave us.

What the world needs now more than ever is to grow our moral compasses. We are currently at a huge crossroad. Everyone wants to be right. Everyone feels they have the knowledge and discernment to be the judge on so many moral issues. We have lost the intimacy of being humans. Sharing meals and taking time to listen to our children and spend time with our elders. Don’t get me wrong. I depend on technology for so much, but the access of so much too soon is a problem. It’s literally poisoning the minds of our children, promoting immoral behaviors, and making everything a world of me not we. We are in this together. Just one kind gesture at a time and we can begin to move toward decency. It costs nothing to be kind and considerate. Being cruel or mean is never an option. We have to find our moral compass or I fear the human race will be lost forever.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Moral Compass Gal

Quotes of the Day:
“I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values – and follow my own moral compass – then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”
Michelle Obama

“Conscience is a man’s compass.”
Vincent Van Gogh

“Families are the compass that guide us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter.”
Brad Henry

54 and So Much More

54 and So Much More

In my mind today I’m focused on my first cousin. I attended her wake this past Monday. Her precious mother sitting there receiving visitors to give condolences for losing her oldest child. Aunt Linda is now a member of the “Parents who outlived their child club” or as I like to call it “The Eternal Hole in My Heart Club.” Heart-crushing.

Brenda was her first child. The child that is usually the strongest. This child has to experience a mother figuring out how to be a mother. They grow and learn together. There is such a strong bond between mother and her first fledgling. The first child is the brunt of a lot of learning experiences of which some are wonderful but sometimes are tough. Typically the first child survives and thrives often becoming strong and very protective of his or her mother and siblings. This was the case of my Aunt and her first, Brenda.

As I watched the slideshow of my cousin’s life, I saw her seasons of sun. Her unbeknownst physical beauty that encompassed an elegant, selfless soul. She grew into a fierce protector and provider for her mother, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and siblings. I can’t remember a time when she didn’t work. She started at the tender age of 14 years old working in a restaurant. The first big purchase she made was a beautiful, warm coat for her mother. She always worked with a servant’s heart. She never coveted money, wealth, or materialistic things for herself. She always provided for others never thinking of herself. Selfless.

She had battled cancer almost 10 years ago. She won. Two months ago cancer came back for round two. Two months ago she went to her mother’s home and asked, “Mom, can I stay with you? I’m so, so tired.” In her heart and my Aunt Linda’s, they knew the C-word was back. This time it had brought multiple tumors and seeped into her bones growing and spreading with each passing day. My Aunt Linda then did what she does best; she helped her strong daughter pass with love and dignity to her new season. As cancer consumed her physical body, her fear of death subsided and her faith grew. The love of her siblings grew. Her children’s compassion, respect, and love for her grew.

We all knew our strong Brenda was going to go before us. It hurts to think of someone so young battling cancer. When I look at the news, social media feeds, and prayer petitions, it’s flooded with loved ones facing this earthly life stealing disease. Although cancer steals years, it can’t steal our joy, spirit, and love. These are eternally carried within our souls and not touched by cancer. I can give cancer one compliment. It helps us declutter our selfish lives, live in the moment, grow in gratitude, and realize there is so much more even if someone you hold dear is like our strong, beautiful Brenda who was given only 54 earthly years. There is so much more.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the I HATE CANCER Gal

Dedicated to Brenda Darby Reed, Kelly Jo Blair Hicks, Callie Cupples DeSpain, Tracy Cupples, Linda Darby, Kim Toombs Evans,Teresa Archer, Cindy Enochs, Rhonda Mayfield, Penny Guthrie, Java Renyolds Stanley. Moody Thompson Permenter, George Hancock, Colt Lemons, Jeremy Maze, Gerald Darby, George Wesley Anderson, Logan Anderson, & all of those touched by cancer.

Quotes of the Day:
“I will thank God for the day and the moment I have.”

“Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

“If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

Jim Valvano

 

Joy, Joy, Joy

Joy, Joy, Joy

In my mind I’m thinking of joy. I’ve been experiencing a lot of joy as of late. Joy in the warm spring days. Joy because my garden fairy niece is milling around in my yard. Joy of spending time with my precious niece and great-nephew. Joy with the chances I’m given to be useful. Joy in my abundant friendships. And especially, joy in my children.

About three months ago, my oldest child came into my bedroom while I was doing my daily reading, praying, and reflecting. He said, “Momma, will you pray for me to get this job I’ve applied for with Canadian National Railroad? I really want it. This is my dream job.” I told him I would get right on it. I then thanked God because this was a huge leap for him.

I knew this was a dream job indeed. He has always loved trains. When my sister kept him as a toddler while I worked and went back to school, she would take him daily to watch the train come by her house. Then of course we collected everything “Thomas the Train” from train tables to video tapes. In elementary school, he would draw trains with his friend Grant. Of course, now he collects model trains. My sisters still today call him their “Engine, Engine number 9.” I was so grateful he had discovered a vocation and opportunity. Watching your child struggle is so painful.

When it became evident that Ken and I were going to be fighting and struggling to stay on this side of heaven to see our children into adulthood because of our health situations coupled with losing a child, their older brother, at 26 years of age and an estranged older sister, they became bitter. All of the years we attended church and lived our faith dissolved for them. They were so angry with God. Many times they would ask me, “How can you love a God that took Nick and allowed you and Dad to be terminally sick?” I would tell them this is my cross to bear. Your father and I know that there is more than this life on earth. So Ken and I fight to be here despite end-stage emphysema and ALS. God and prayer has helped sustain us. This bitterness has been lingering for several years and my boys refused to enter our church because they wanted no part of a God who let their brother die and parents have emphysema and ALS. I can hear them asking, “Why won’t your God get you out of that chair? Where’s your miracle?”

My oldest has been desperately floundering for the last two years. He had given up his teaching career. He was searching and trying to find a vocation. Nothing was going his way. So for these last two years he has done odd jobs from climbing under trailers fixing broken sewer pipes to climbing on top of houses patching roofs. He’s come home bruised, cut, and covered in filth from head to toe never complaining. Always searching. At supper each night we hold hands while I pray aloud for each of their futures and give thanks for our blessings whether they want to hear it or not. We endure always.

I marvel at the gifts of my children. I know now I have been given miracles through them. Ken and I both have. You see, we are still here because of the deep love they have for us. That is a direct gift from the God that they don’t understand. He is always for this little Alley Clan even as I roll in my chair and Ken drags his oxygen tanks to work each day. Yes, we struggle but never in vain for he sends us little miracles through family and friends every day. So when Ian came and asked me for prayer a few months ago, I began to cry and pray thanksgiving.

Ian went to Illinois to an all day interview for the railroad on a wing and lots of prayers this past February. He started sliding in the pew beside us on Sunday mornings at church. That first appearance my youngest told me, “Mom I started crying when I saw Ian’s car in the parking lot at church.” He helped me and the youth group Palm Sunday with the Easter Egg Hunt and pancake breakfast. The past few Sundays he has been playing guitar again in the choir loft. Yesterday, I wept tears of joy as I heard his guitar improvising with the hymns. This Saturday, he leaves to go to school in Chicago, Illinois to start his seven week school training for his dream job. My God does give miracles. I will not cease to pray for my children’s futures, but I’ve given a big thank you to my “Sky Daddy” for answered prayers. I’ve got joy, joy, joy down in my heart.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Joyful Gal

Quotes of the Day:
“Peace is the beauty of life. It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth.”
Menachem Begin

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.”
Richard Bach

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”
Buddha

“When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”
Tecumseh

“Where’s your Sky Daddy Sal?”
Ian & Ben Alley

Opportunity

 

In my mind, I’m thinking of how 50 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It makes me ponder if we are any better for it today? What would MLKJ think of our country? Watching a PBS presentation at home with my kids the other night, I shuddered. Watching the blatant displays of hate, it made my stomach hurt. When I taught as a white educator, this was a tough but fruitful unit for all of my students. We realize the fight for a better world was for all. We all bleed red. We are a family of humans. We all deserve love and respect. We all want to finish this life as best we can. Humans are not geared toward solidarity existence. We all have gifts to share. We all are capable of building up one another. We all have a purpose.

I always asked, “What did MLKJ fight for: blacks, the poor, or equality? This was a tough question. As we viewed historical footage, my students recognized that among the vast marches there were blacks and whites marching side by side. All colors were martyred for the cause. Doing what is right in any situation is always the tougher path. It’s not for the weak of heart. Dying for something honorable takes sterner stuff indeed.

I ask again, “What was the Civil Rights Movement all about?” I’m just a mere educator but this is my take on it. It was for opportunity not hand-outs. It was to be able to compete in the race of life not with a head start but with a chance to compete. The only problem is who are the score keepers? This is where opportunities become muddled. This is age old regardless of ethnicity. Your birth comes with limitations whether rich or poor, nurtured or neglected, educated parents or not and in your life race you have many hurdles to leap in order to compete well. Opportunity. It’s crucial to being able to compete. Will you seize your opportunities?

At some point every April 4th, I revisit the “I have a Dream” speech. I am always stirred within my soul to “Dream” of a world where love and service trump hate and selfishness. I will embrace all in my path. I will take the opportunity to be the best version of myself. Be a peace maker. You have only to accept the opportunities given to you each day.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Opportunity Gal

Quotes of the Day:
“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Authenticity is everything! You have to wake up every day and look in the mirror, and you want to be proud of the person who’s looking back at you. And you can only do that if you’re being honest with yourself and being a person of high character. You have an opportunity every single day to write that story of your life.”
Aaron Rodgers

“Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play.”
Mike Singletary

“I hope everyone that is reading this is having a really good day. And if you are not, just know that in every new minute that passes you have an opportunity to change that.”
Gillian Anderson

 

Take this Cup from Me…

Take this cup from me…

 

In my mind today I’m thinking of Holy Week on the church calendar. Sal the Youth Minister Gal is weak and weary. I had a very long, busy week and weekend. I could barely hold the communion cup at mass Sunday. We pulled off a pancake breakfast and egg hunt between services. I’m so proud of my church and the youth. It is melding into such a group of loving servants.

This was Palm Sunday when we reenact the wretchedness of turning Jesus over to the chief priests and then chant “Crucify him!” It makes my heart squeeze knowing that we are all wretched just like the mob demanding Jesus be put to death when days before we lauded his entrance into town for the Passover Feast. This is a tough week to be a Christian. We examine more closely our motives and actions. We realize that we are not worthy of such a BIG love. So as we sang our hymns I felt those tears find the path of wrinkles down to my cheeks.

As the disciples slept and we do too sometimes in church (back row,) Jesus poured out his heart and asked God to take the cup from him if it was His will. He cried saying, “Not my will but yours be done.” So he kept the cup and we were delivered from our wretched humanness. The suffering was for the greater good. I totally relate to this.

What about you? Do you find yourself praying God take this cup (insert cancer, addiction, death, divorce, financial ruin, ALS, etc.) from me and my family? Sure you do. I have many times closed my eyes and prayed, “God if it’s Your will, get me out of this chair. Strengthen my arms so I can write with a pencil again and give those backbone crushing hugs. How about just strengthening my diaphragm a bit? So I can breathe easy without my machine for longer periods.” Then I think of Jesus and add, “It’s all about you God and not me. I’m your servant. Use me for your purpose. Your will be done.” I don’t feel sad because I’m still waking up partially paralyzed. I feel grateful I’m given another day to be used in bigger purpose.

This week reminds us we all have “cups” to bear. Living is part of dying. Heartbreak is part of true love. Sin is part of redemption. We want to skip the tough parts and get on with the parties. Life just doesn’t work like that. The “cups” we graciously bear are what build our virtues and character creating a lighted path for others. We become strong warriors although we may wear diapers and sit in wheelchairs wearing a Darth Vader mask to breathe. I also whoosh around like BB8 or R2D2. Go ahead and laugh students. I am! This Holy Week, bear your “cups” for Jesus. Offer up all your suffering and pain. This is all temporal, fleeting. We are not bodies with a soul. We are eternal souls with a body. Take your cup this Holy Week.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Cup Bearing Gal

Quotes of the Day:
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
MLK Jr.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
Helen Keller

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
Khalil Gibran

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”
Helen Keller