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

 

 

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

17

 

In my mind, seventeen is the number of the day. Seventeen years ago I was about to have my omega child. As I kept reassuring myself that the multitude of human civilization came to be through birth, I felt panic, pain, and exhilaration of becoming a mother once again. So when Rachel Abigail Alley came into the world big eyed and screaming, we were so elated. I was ever so loopy from the meds with my glasses askew atop my head wanting a glimpse of the newest addition. I saw a fuzzy black-haired baby embraced by an overjoyed father. As I was drifting in and out, I heard him say, “Sarah, look. She is so beautiful.” My nurse and family friend Carrie said chuckling, “You’re wasting your time. She’s out of it. Take her to see her family.” She was right.

As I mentioned “Abbey” was our third together and Ken’s fifth child. She was our little Disney World souvenir from our July 2002 family vacation. With the anticipation our little souvenir, I felt more confident as a mother and I’m sure Ken felt it was second nature. We were older and according to our boys way too lenient. Being the youngest definitely has its perks. One of those is being enveloped in love by siblings. Those older may chide you a bit much, but the love is there even if they feel the discipline is too lax. This is often a supper table debate. All of that aside, we cherish our “Chuck.” Her personality, voice, and achievements make us all so very proud.

The years have flown by from zero to seventeen. All of our children have been such gifts from God. It’s hard to imagine our last is on the cusp of adulthood. She left for school today after Sal the Show Tunes Gal serenaded ABBA “Dancing Queen” to her much to Ken’s ears distain. Today is a special day when we are thankful for all things Abigail.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Chuck Lovin’ Gal

Dedicated to Rachel Abigail Alley.

 

My prayer for our birthday girl is this:
Always be humble and know from where your gifts come; the Spirit has blessed you with fruits galore.
Brace yourself for adversity and know you are stronger still; understand that those times are blessings that help your heart to grow even as your tears flow.
Beauty comes from your soul; seek to nurture it from within.
Enjoy the moments of each season; you never know when they will end.
Yearn for being the good even when it causes pain; it seems that good deeds often are punished but remember to try to smile anyway.
Thank you God for our youngest child. Allow us to stay with her a bit longer if it is your will. We will cherish each moment given.
Amen

Quotes of the Day:
“It’s the Abbey show!”
Ben Alley

“You are the dancing queen
Young and sweet
Only seventeen
Dancing queen
Feel the beat from the tambourine, oh yeah
You can dance
You can jive
Having the time of your life
Ooh, see that girl
Watch that scene
Dig in the dancing queen!”
ABBA

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

 

I Can Only Imagine

 

 

I Can Only Imagine

 

In my mind today I’m thinking about how spring break engulfed me. Boy, students I really took a sabbatical. Back row, that means a huge break. I indulged myself in watching college basketball, making out tournament brackets, and reading. Oy vey! I made out twenty-five different tournament bracket predictions. The perfect holiday for Sal the Life-long Learning and Basketball Loving Gal. I’m now disappointed in myself. I didn’t write like an aspiring author should. Topics kept nudging me asking to be penned, but I let leisure have its way. Today is a new day and one for writing!

I noticed that a new movie is out in the theaters called I Can Only Imagine. I’m sure it will bless so many just like the song blessed me many years ago. It made me revisit a tough season in my life that my heart has nudged me to share.

In 2001, I was encouraged by my mother to go back to college to earn a masters degree. I had just given birth to my last baby and she retired to keep her. I can still hear her saying, “Take this opportunity to get your masters degree while she’s young and I can help you.” So, I sacrificed and started an 18 month program the following year in 2002. Sadly after I decided to start the program, we also discovered my father had cancer. I learned so much more than a masters degree in those 18 months.

As I reflect back on this time, I see clearly all of the times I was carried by God. I had just switched school systems and grade levels in 2001. I was not a very astute fifth grade teacher. I was used to teaching older students and boy there is such a difference. I struggled emotionally and intellectually to do my best. I switched the familiarity of a loving school and being very competent in my academic curriculum area for becoming the “new kid on the block.” I felt lonely and inadequate. I had to study every night to hone my skills in an unfamiliar curriculum. Crazy. Crazier still I had a 17, 11, 8, and an infant to come home to each night. I was on the verge of mutiny. What happened? God surrounded me with God warriors. My new teaching partners were amazing people of great faith. They enveloped me in “TLC.” My wonderful husband was my number one cheerleader. He was on board from the beginning. He wanted me to excel. He promised to manage the older kids on my Saturday class days while mom helped with Abbey. So my acquisition began.

On the commute to complete my master’s degree, I learned so much from one of my God warriors and teaching partner, “LuLu.” She was in the learning cohort thanks be to God for real! She’s one of those natural teachers. Her brain amazes me. She has a brilliance for creating and teaching that has to be heaven sent. Besides teaching, she taught me how to pray in everyday moments. For example, if she would see an ambulance on the interstate, she would pray. She taught and inspired me so much about faith. We travelled the interstate, prayed, listened to contemporary Christian music, and became “soul sistas’.”

On one of our trips, we talked about death. She said, “Listen, this is a song I want played at my funeral.” It was “I can only Imagine” by Mercy Me. It became a mantra for me especially because my father was dying of cancer. There were Sundays during this busy and hectic 18 month season when I would weep bitterly during mass because my children’s Poppa was dying and I couldn’t do anything but plead for more time so my youngest would remember him. I know many parishioners thought I had lost it. During this season, God kept me so busy, but he also gave me comfort. The song helped me grieve, believe, and let go of my earthly father. It helped me believe there is more. Imagine.

Each morning, I would drop Abbey, the youngest, off at my parents’ house and head to work. Even though my mother was a hospice nurse to my father, she still valiantly kept Abbey as well. Momma told me Daddy would hold Abbey and say, “Rachel, it’s just like having Sarah again.” I was his baby girl. Abbey grew to help care for her “Poppa.” He and my mother would hold her and nurture her each day. When she learned to walk, she would help by carrying his ketchup bottle to him at lunch time. I chuckle because my daddy put ketchup on everything he ate. She spent almost everyday from 6 months of age until she was 2 years old with my parents while I worked and went back to college. God gave me a strong amazing mother who always keeps her promises. I’m still so blessed from being Rachel’s daughter.

It was the first of June 2003 when I literally succumbed to my crazy season of grief. I remember dropping Abbey off and talking with my Dad. He wanted me to stay. I told him the kids at school were waiting. I pulled myself away. I cried all the way to school that morning. I cried as I greeted my students. I couldn’t talk. My God warriors at work hugged me and made me go home to my Dad. I was so sad. I stopped by my sister’s office before heading to my parents’ house. When she saw me she said, “What’s wrong! Is Daddy gone?” I sobbed, “No, but what if he dies on my birthday?” She hugged me and said, “When you were born, it was one of the best days of his life.” I pulled it together and headed to my parents’ house. He had slipped into unconsciousness and didn’t ever regain consciousness again here on earth.

In the late hours of my birthday on June 3rd 2003, my mom, my sisters, and I took turns praying with my dad. I held his hand and promised to take care of my kids and do be the best person I could possibly be. I told him, “I get it Dad. God is Love. Please go home and rest. I’m going to be okay.” I sang the lyrics of “I can only Imagine” asking him through tears what was he going to do first. Would he dance, sing, fall on his knees, or be in awe? We all then decided to call it a night. We went in around 11 PM to kiss him goodnight. He was taking his last breath as I bent down to kiss him on my birthday. He had begun his new season.

I didn’t want to see the coroners come take him away. So I hugged my mother and sisters and headed to my car. I learned later they arrived there around midnight to officially say he was gone but he left for heaven on my birthday. This was a beautiful gift. I could only imagine what a wonderful adventure my father was having. His soul was released and light. His broken body shed. No more pain or suffering. Imagine. I got in my car to go home. That late night on my birthday when I started my car the song “I can only Imagine” was playing on a contemporary Christian radio station, K-Love. My tears dried. I looked up and said “Thank you God.” My Daddy made it home.

This was a tough and fruitful season in my life. God was in and all around me. My new teaching partners literally completed the end of school year for me from report cards to records because they were Jesus’s hands and mind for me in a time when I couldn’t focus. “LuLu” and I almost had a nervous breakdown but her amazing skills pulled us together and we finished and presented our masters project. I learned that God is always there no matter the obstacles I could imagine. I never knew until a few years later that the song by Mercy Me was written for a band member’s father who died of cancer. Now as I start a new God given spring, I can only imagine the gifts from God that will be given to me in this season of my life. If you’re dying, broken, or scared just try to imagine how God will use and bless you. Don’t be scared. Just imagine.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the I Can Only Imagine Gal

Dedicated to Andrea, Clarissa, & Mandy for being my TLC Crew.
Mom and Judy for their example and motherly love.
My husband for being so unselfish and supporting me besides being an amazing father.

Quotes of the Day:
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”
Albert Einstein

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
Albert Einstein

“The power of imagination makes us infinite.”
John Muir

Be Not Afraid

Be Not Afraid

In my mind today, I have lots of situations in Sal the ALS Gal’s world that need attention. There are loose ends which need tied everywhere! I need to make calls, make lists, organize my calendar, and run errands. Ack! I’m drowning! I had to literally force myself to open my meditation materials first before diving into the tangled web of loose ends that are looming over me. I hear the back row snickering because Sal the Cool as a Cucumber Gal is having a bit of a meltdown.

As I read and cleared my mind, I read about Jonah being tossed into the raging sea, a person being forgiven of a huge debt then messing it up by choking someone who owed him a small sum, and forgiving those who hurt you not just seven times but infinity times seven. Here’s the kicker. We need to forgive them even if they hurt us over and over in the same way. I hear you back row. Sometimes people make you want to choke them and toss them overboard. Here’s the big BUT; we have to act with humility, kindness, forgiveness, and mercy. I heard someone say, “This is whack! Why?” The more we open our hearts to humility and mercy, the better person we become. It’s not for the person hurting you but for your salvation. Yes front row it does sound like an oxymoron. Look it up back row!

While reading and thinking, my worries began to literally shrink in importance. I reminded myself that I just needed to focus on one loose end at a time. Then I read something that “shook” me. Do you know what words Jesus said more than any other? My guess was to love your neighbor as yourself. Wrong! It was “Be not afraid.” When I read this Sal the Show-tunes Gal immediately started sing the hymn “Be not afraid.” He does go before us always. If we come to Him, he will give us rest. He is with us tangled in the loose ends of our daily struggles. Call me crazy or Sal the Cuckoo Gal, but I not only believe this I feel it. So many times He comes to my rescue to help me tie my loose ends. One thing is for certain, I will not be afraid of loose ends, sickness, or death. Do you have problems looming over you? Is it at work? Is it a loved one fighting cancer? Has someone hurt you in any way? Have you had to let go of a loved one as they traversed to the other side of heaven? Is your schedule overbooked and you feel like giving up? Whatever the loose end or situation you are in I encourage you to “Be not afraid.”

Sarah Alley
Sal the Fearless Gal

Dedicated to Quintella “Nessie” Dyson Rest In Peace sweet friend. You lived an amazing, big-hearted existence. You always had my back on the basketball court.

Brenda, Teresa, Kelly Jo, Julie, Tracy, and the many other amazing, hard-working, loving people fighting to “Be not afraid” as they look cancer in the face. You are heroes for all of us.

Quotes of the Day:
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”
Marcus Aurelius

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”
Steve Jobs

“When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.”
Tecumseh