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.”

Dust

Last week the verse “And whoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when you depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” haunted me. I tried to interpret it into my own being. I have this flaw within me that wants to help and give until it becomes unhealthy. I have members of my family and friends that have addiction problems. Sadly, today this is not an exception. Many of you reading this are no stranger to drug addiction and it’s horrible consequences.

Too many children in our society are orphans because of this rampant epidemic. Drugs just hollow out a person. It takes their heart and leaves a selfish, insatiable shell. As a former teacher, I have seen so many children altered by this current epidemic. The neglect is rampant. The emotional abuse cuts so deep. Face it America, our family system is shattered. The children are lost in this shrapnel. The cycle of poverty is growing exponentially. When do we shake the dust from our feet?

I love working with children at our local library. There is a huge building beside it. This building stood for sale a long time. When I would go to the library, I always envisioned a safe house for children. A place they could show up on the doorstep and find immunity from their chaotic lives. A place where they could have a warm meal, a clean bed, and quiet place to read and study away from the drama of the world of addiction. You know going home from school hungry with only dry cereal to live on and no adult there to ask you about your day. Taking care of younger siblings while riffraff comes in and out of your house at all hours. Trying your best to avoid sexual predators. Surviving. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to take children home with me and give them the nurturing and love they deserved. To provide a place for them to thrive and grow and crush the cycle of poverty. The building has been bought and someone is renovating it. Such a dream.

When do we shake the dust and move on from those who continue to choose evil? We give them love, resources, and shelter but are we giving them God? Are we enabling bad choices at the cost of the lives of children? I think we are. These children are feral without any moral and spiritual guidance. Faith without works is empty but don’t you also believe works without faith is just as futile? These things haunt my thoughts. Money, nice clothes, and food don’t remedy the deep rooted issue we are facing. It’s a heart problem. Hearts of children harden by the minute because of this cycle.

Ironically our homily last Sunday was about “Dust.” For two weeks I had rolled the “shaking dust” verse in my mind. The priest had a beautiful message of “dusting” off our spiritual lives. There are ways for us to reach out and help be a “dust mop” to those around us. We need to not be scared to lend a hand and give hugs. Time is short. It helped me realize that although sometimes our love falls on deaf ears we need to shake off the dust and let some go, dust never sleeps. America has layers of dust and I need to move on with my mop to find new areas of need. If we all did our dusting, we could make America shine again.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Dust Hating Gal

Quote of the Day:

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”
Pablo Picasso

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

 

In the Pursuit of Happiness

In Pursuit of Happiness

In my mind today, I’m pondering happiness. Last Sunday I asked each of my students if they were happy. All but one said yes. Great! So, I asked them, “What makes you happy?” That was tough for them. What about you? Are you happy? If you answer yes, why? What drives your happiness? See. It’s very hard to articulate. It makes you feel like you’re back in Philosophy 101, right? Help me Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates!

Remember the famous line, “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?” Good old Thomas Jefferson borrowed it from John Locke, another philosopher. We all need to pursue happiness in this life, but how? Wealth? Popularity? Achievements?

My students and I are desperately seeking happiness, not Susan. I’m showing my age! I asked my students to try to mindfully do the right thing in each moment of each day during Lent. How do you feel when you choose to be kind to someone who is struggling? How does it feel when you help someone in class or at work? What about when you ask someone about their sick family member and then truly listen? When you let someone go before you in a long line does it make you feel warm and fuzzy when you see the gratitude on their faces? Or if someone is being harassed and you stand up for them do you feel better about the situation? I bet you know the answer. B-I-N-G-O! You are finding the illusive happiness.

Look what I found by another philosopher, “Mencius, a student of Confucius who lived 372-289 BC, believed that people were innately good and that society’s influence was to blame for bad moral character.” So if we mindfully choose to do the right and honorable thing in our life situations then those actions create goodness in our societies. Goodness is the seed of happiness. Good moral behavior is the cornerstone of good character. Some days I’m like Virginia asking not is there a Santa Claus but where are our good morals? Are they becoming myths as well?

My oldest brother told me recently he was happy. My brother is one of those men born into the world with burdens. He was cursed with uncanny good looks, an amazing personality, intellect, artistic and musically ability, and sadly the gene of addiction. He has struggled his entire 62 earthly years and recently gave in for good to his addictions. He told me he was happy. He was going to unabashedly indulge those passions of chasing a dragon with abandon. I’m sitting here in my wheelchair struggling to survive listening to him throw his life away seeking euphoria through his addictions. My heart literally breaks because he doesn’t know “happiness.” Happiness cannot be found in a bottle, pill, needle, or inhaled. Those euphoric times are temporal, fleeting, and extrinsic. He can’t see “the forest for the trees” and the tree is sitting in front of him in a wheelchair. This tree can’t drive anymore, can’t wipe my own arse, wears diapers, has to be dressed, fed, and put to bed. This tree is so happy with each breath because Sal the Happy Gal knows happiness is intrinsic. It is built of good morals. It is selfless. It has character. It chooses good when maybe bad would benefit my bank account or materialism. That’s happiness. I pray he finds it. That’s the deal kids. It can’t be given; it has to be reckoned within ones soul. I’m so very blessed. There’s nothing like ALS or cancer that jolts you and shakes you to your core. Those terminal diseases are amazing philosophers. They give such clarity in such a chaotic world.

I ask again, “Are you happy?” It’s never too late to pursue happiness. We all have the right. It’s not guaranteed. Let’s begin by building character within ourselves. Choose happiness.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Happy Gal

Quotes of the Day:
“Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.”
Kevyn Aucoin

“Every day is a new day, and you’ll never be able to find happiness if you don’t move on.”
Carrie Underwood

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”
Albert Schweitzer

“The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things.”
Henry Ward Beecher

 

Impulses

Impulses

In my mind today, I’m thinking about impulses. We all have them. We have bad and good impulses. That’s human frailty, but I’m focusing on good impulses. The questions are: where do they come from, should we act on them, and why do we get them?

I’ve always had impulses even as a small child. I remember seeing an older man desperately struggling to find something in a grocery store. I watched as he asked several people passing by, “Is this real orange juice?” Each of the women he asked shirked him off with a “humph.” I did notice he was unkempt and scruffy looking. I had an impulse to help him so I did. I was small and around 6 or 7 years old. I walked up to the man and pointed to the orange juice. I said, “Mister, this is orange juice.” He was so grateful and that’s the first time I remember giving mercy. Guess what? It felt good. On the way home I asked my mom, “Why would no one help him?” She said, “Sweetheart, he was poor, illiterate, and probably homeless.” My heart literally hurt for him.

I still get very strong impulses today. Do I act on them? Yes, I try to always act on them whether it’s a mother trying to decide what to put back at the checkout counter or a person sitting alone in a restaurant. I get impulses to act. Do you get impulses? More importantly can you act on them?

Not only have I acted on impulses but I’ve often been on the other side of mercy. Once on one of our many trips to Vanderbilt to my neurologist, I was given a beautiful act of mercy. If you know my Ken, he is a creature of habit. He has to be because I’m so willy-nilly. Bless him for dealing with me and my impulsive self. Anyway we always stop at the same Pilot service station to and from Nashville each time we travel. Often the same homeless man with his sign and dog are there. This particular day was a bad one for me. I was swollen, not breathing well, and literally dying. I usually stay in the van in my chair and wait with the ramp down so I can stretch my legs until they get back. The homeless man saw me. I smiled. As Abbey and Ken were loading up, he ran up the ramp and put a pumpkin in the van seat by me that he had carved the word LOVE onto with his pocket knife. He never utter a word. He quickly exited the van. Ken was freaking out. He said, “He stole that pumpkin! We could get in trouble!” I said, “He just wanted to spread love.” I left my stolen, impulse, mercy-love pumpkin proudly displayed in my classroom that fall and winter. Later that winter, I was hospitalized with a failing diaphragm from my disease and almost died. That homeless man saw my exhausted, weary body and acted on his impulse. I felt love and mercy.

So where do these gut-wrenching impulses come from? Sal the Spiritual Gal thinks they are urged of the divine within us: the Holy Spirit. I roll through this chapter of my life hoping to find more impulses or small ways to serve while I’m still here. That, my students, is why we get those impulses. They are calls to give mercy. Your assignment is to answer those calls of mercy or impulses as you go through each day of your lives. Listen with your heart.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Impulse Gal

Quotes of the Day:

“Most people think that shadows follow, precede or surround beings or objects. The truth is that they also surround words, ideas, desires, deeds, impulses and memories.”
Elie Wiesel

“Mistrust first impulses; they are nearly always good.”
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand

All these primary impulses, not easily described in words, are the springs of man’s actions.”
Albert Einstein

“One of the reasons why so few of us ever act, instead of react, is because we are continually stifling our deepest impulses.”
Henry Miller

Jesus Wept

Jesus Wept

In my mind today I’m thinking of one of the most profound verses for me: Jesus Wept. How powerful is this? I remember going over this section with my Sunday School class and thinking wow. This morning it was brought up again in my reading.

As humans, we have many times of weeping. Our lives are like roller coaster rides. It’s a wonder we make it out sane. Weeping is a big part of coping for us. We lose loved ones, our health, jobs, homes, faith, friends, and hope. When tragedy enters our lives, we commence to wailing, moaning, and weeping.

Jesus wept, too. He wept for the loss of a friend. He wept for the broken hearts of Mary and Martha. He wept also because of the loss of faith. Here is God in human form but yet you wail, moan, weep, and complain even when he says, “Hey, it’s going to be okay. I promise. Trust me. I’m God’s son.” How did they react? They replied, “Please don’t remove that stone. Our brother died and is rotting in his grave because YOU were not here.” See, they lost faith. Think. Do we lose faith and hope? I’m sad to report yes and much too often.

To have true, unyielding faith is very, very hard. We humans are broken in that way. We want to fix our own problems, take matters in our own hands, and be the rulers of our destinies. Guess what? This makes Jesus weep. His whole purpose was to cast light on the ways we should act, demonstrate truth and morals, and give mercy to each other. Choose faith, hope, and love. Choose to be merciful. Turn tears into dancing.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Weeping Gal

Quotes of the Day:
“Oh, I am very weary, Though tears no longer flow; My eyes are tired of weeping, My heart is sick of woe.”
Anne Bronte

“Come away, O human child: To the waters and the wild with a fairy, hand in hand, For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
William Butler Yeats

“There should be weeping at a man’s birth, not at his death.”
Charles de Montesquieu