Thorns

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In my thoughts today I’m reminded of thorns. Thorns come in all shapes and sizes to the human existence. We have emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical thorns to deal with all throughout our lives.

Summer is the time of relaxing, holidays with family, and lazy days. I’ve had some wonderful lazy days this summer. I haven’t written as much but I’m reading a lot. The mornings are spent reading and studying. This particular morning I read: A thorn in the flesh . . . (2 Corinthians 12:7). I feel ya Paul. Oy vey the thorns already. In this beautiful season there are thorns growing rapidly in the gardens of our hearts. God help us.

Thorns are not always so visible. Everyone can see the thorn I bear. Paul’s thorn he bore is still a mystery to us. I think that was part of the Holy Spirit’s plan. We all have some type of thorn to bear. When God doesn’t relieve Paul of his thorn, it speaks so loud to my own heart and soul. I feel God’s Grace and power and feel the Holy Spirit minding the garden of my soul. Every little thing is gonna be alright. I know that.

I’ve seen several horrific thorns as of late. Parents on meth and children suffering their parents choices. Parents separated from their new born child. People dying from incurable diseases like cancer. Thorns. I’m praying hard that God will remove these thorns. My heart literally aches within my chest when I witness such sadness.

I will embrace my thorns. I will continue to pray. I will trust His Grace is sufficient. Every prayer is answered but not always in ways we want. The plans God has supersedes anything our small minds can fathom. The answers may come to us on the other side of heaven. When your thorns become unbearable, remember the answer Paul received and take heart. It is what speaks to my heart each morning.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships,in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Embrace your thorns and be glad.

Sal the Thorn Gal
Sarah Anderson Alley

Quotes of the Day:
“If you enjoy the fragrance of a rose, you must accept the thorns”
Issac Hayes

“Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.”
Voltaire

“Truths and roses have thorns about them.”
Henry David Thoreau

“Although the life of a person is in a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”
Pope Francis

They Kept the Faith

In my mind today, I’m pretty rattled. In all truth the past few weeks have been full of grief. A classmate and former student of mine started their new chapter in heaven. This earthly life is one of many questions and uncertainties. Keeping the faith is so hard when sadness is all around. My prayers lately are “God help me keep the faith. I know I’m but a wretched sinner myself and do not deserve all the good that you give me. Just use me as part of your plan and please forgive my mean words, thoughts, and actions.” Yes, we all have chinks in our character, me especially.

This morning I read about Peter and Paul. It helped to remind me that all is not lost. We all remember Peter’s big declarations, “Lord, I could never deny you!” Then the old cock crows and he is scared and his faith is shaken. In these tough times, I feel Peter’s pain. I know you do, too. Then after the resurrection he tells Peter to tend and feed his sheep. He understands our two big W’s: weakness and wretchedness.

Then we have the Persecutor Saul/Paul. He was super wretched. He was responsible for many deaths of early Christians. God took his sight so he could be able to see the real truth and meaning of life. He became one of the best vehicles for spreading truth and light into our muddled world. The letters of Paul never fail to ignite my heart.

I want to think that today our lives are the worst they’ve ever been. People dying of cancer too soon, brokenness of families, suffering children, and rampant addictions coupled with ignorance make me want to just give up. Toss it all away and just take care of my family and forget all of the nuts out there. My faith just wavers some days like it has the past few weeks. I want to be like Peter and run or roll away in my wheelchair. I make myself pick up my devotional, Bible, and spiritual reading and whisper prayers “God help me. God protect my loved ones. God help me. The world is getting to me. Please hear me. Let me be a light. Don’t let me give up. Help me understand that this life is not all that we have. Thank you for listening.” Your Wretched & Weary Gal Sal
Amen
I keep the faith. Why? It’s all we really have. The world has always been a mess and will continue to be so because humans are broken. Here’s the objective kids: In keeping the Faith, doing good deeds, and creating a culture of love, we win the race. We finish well. Each of our little lives matter in the big picture. I’m trying hard not to give up. Don’t ever give up and walk with me by Faith and not by sight.

Sal the Rolling by Faith Gal
Sarah Anderson Alley

Dedicated to:
Kelly Jo Blair Hicks
Teresa Hughes Milligan

Quote of the Day:
“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”
Mother Teresa

“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”
Rabindranath Tagore

“Our last earthly breath is the beginning of happily ever after.”
Sarah Anderson Alley

Where I See God

I see God in nature. As a child, I would refuse to go inside on a pretty day. My mother told me that at two years of age my best friend Clayton and I would head out with our pails to rescue bugs. When we moved to a neighborhood and had a nice sized yard, I would find holes filled with toads. I would take them in to our bathroom, place them in the sink, and shut the door. I then would head out to find more. Whoever opened the bathroom door would be in for a big surprise. It was usually my mom. I can hear her saying, “Sarah Anne, what in the world are you doing?”

I cried when people killed bugs. Sometimes my older brother did it just to torment me. He would pull the legs off of a grasshopper and ask, “You want me to put it out of it’s misery?” In my mind I envisioned a little hospital crew reattaching the maimed part and quickly said, “Yes! Please help it.” He would proceed to stomp the poor insect while I wailed and sobbed. Another evil tactic was talking my grass-hopper collections and tossing them into spider webs as I screeched. Traumatic times indeed. Boys really are made of “snakes and snails.”

I remember walks with my dogs discovering snakes, gullies, riverlets, and ponds. The adventures were always satisfying eating wild berries and snatching fruit from neighbors trees to serve as a makeshift lunch. I would explore for hours and heading home in the gloaming which is still a favorite time of day for me. Everything glows and seems lucid to the eye. These walks continued until being ambulatory was stolen away by by ALS. My dogs and I explored the woods around my home. We’ve flushed squirrels and deer. Watching the hounds bay and chase is a beautiful sight. Of course, no one was harmed. The joy is in the pursuit which is a good thing because my girls never caught anything. Watching them rush to ponds to swim and flounce their sodden coats as they came back to me on our adventure always made me smile.

Today, I roll and still commune with nature. It’s limited to my yard but it’s a sanctuary to me. I trek in my scoot watching birds enjoy my feeders, birdhouses, and trees. The butterflies and bees scurrying and harvesting from my flowers. My dogs follow me and rest at my feet as I look up dreamily into the trees I planted as mere saplings. Their girth a treasure I thought I would never see. I spend hours watching and listening to nature. From toddler to death, I will enjoy my sacred time with God in his roofless sanctuary.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Nature Gal

 

 

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