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

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

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‚Äôs 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

 

Reckonings

Reckonings

 

 

In my mind today, I’m thinking about Lent, wisdom, and forgiveness. A wonderful by-product of aging is hopefully becoming wiser. In my readings, the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon and was amazed at his wisdom. Remember he asked God not for treasures, victories in wars, or long life but wisdom. How do we become wise?

Lent gives us time of reflection and renewal. Jesus wandered the desert for forty days being tempted. He wrestled with much and stayed the course. After the forty days, he began his purpose. So as we wrestle with ourselves during Lent, I hope we find the strength to stay the course of our own purpose. We become older and hopefully wiser. Hopefully, we will have reckonings.

Forgiveness should be freeing. It frees our souls from pettiness, resentment, greed, and strife. When you truly forgive, you become lighter in mind and spirit. You become closer to your creator. You have a reckoning. The reckoning we have is to love others and forgive past hurts. The anger in our hearts bind and blind our hearts to the heaviness of hate. Are you ready to stop competing, comparing, criticizing and complaining? Life is too short.

I’m studying faithfully this Lent. I’m searching for knowledge and wisdom. I’m trying to find ways to be inspired and to inspire my students. The world is a complicated mess for me and my students and I’m praying for wisdom like Solomon. Like Solomon, we have our weaknesses. We are all perfectly imperfect. That’s another reckoning. It’s okay. God loves each of us and in our imperfectness. We have a purpose. It is to be the best of ourselves. I’ll ask again, are you ready to stop competing, comparing, criticizing and complaining? Let’s look upward in prayer, inward and mind our heart health, and outward to help others this Lent. Let’s find a reckoning.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Reckoning Gal

Quotes of the Day:
“And above all things, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you at your own reckoning.”
Isaac Asimov

“There is a time of reckoning in all our lives.”
Lorna Luft

“Morality without religion is only a kind of dead reckoning – an endeavor to find our place on a cloudy sea by measuring the distance we have run, but without any observation of the heavenly bodies.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“The anger in our hearts bind and blind our hearts to the heaviness of hate.”
Sal the Reflection Gal

 

Obstacles

IMG_5174

Obstacles

 

 


In my mind today, I’m thinking of obstacles. I’ve had lots of obstacles lately but haven’t we all? I’ve been desperately wanting to write, but life has gotten in the way. I’ve had to deal with my youngest having Influenza Type B, DSCC fundraiser, Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, book club, and Vanderbilt doctor appointments. Whew! Obstacles.

Finally, I’m here to write and it’s Lent. I was thinking maybe God wants me to give up writing for Lent? Nah. My back row students need this time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving instruction. We have discussed prayer and we are going to do more of it for certain, right back row? I saw that paper wad flying back there. Let’s begin.

Fasting is not only about food. It can be giving up a habit or desire. Lots of us are so immersed in the digital realm from television to social media. I observe when I’m out and about the multitude of humans attached to electronic devices. Back row quit grumbling, we are not giving up our electronics. Hey, I’m guilty, too. Let me make a point here. I want you to fast from the future for Lent. Yes, the future. I’m talking about living in the moment, second by second, minute by minute. I know things have to be planned like doctor appointments, but starting NOW make a conscious decision to choose good in each moment. You, my students, are given thousands of choices every day. Focus on each moment and make the best, honorable, wisest decision that you can. Here are some examples: cheat on a test or not, exercise or play on your phone, say something cruel or keep your mouth shut, eat junk food or choose something healthy, and argue or agree to disagree. We are bombarded with choices each second so focus on your choices in each moment. That’s it and yes that’s an assignment. We miss many moments or chances to do good, build character, and foster our happiness not being in our moments. Yes, that’s a fact Jack!

After a wonderful outing Friday, sitting with my flu infested daughter Saturday and Sunday, doctor appointment Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, and book club last night, I’m Sal the Rolling Stone Gal. I’m pushing onward. I’m trying to be in the moments. Sitting at mass Wednesday waiting on my ashes, I saw so many opportunities for doing good. I urged the non-Catholic who sits with an elderly parishioner to go get her ashes. I was able to give words of love to a beautiful friend who just lost her husband. I grabbed and held the hand of a friend with Parkinson’s and whispered “God Bless You.” I prayed for a sweet cousin who just got diagnosed with the C word. I shared a sandwich and conversation with parishioners who gathered for fellowship in the parish hall after mass. So thinking, reading, and writing helped me reflect. Am I Sal the Teacher Gal practicing what I’m preaching? I’m trying really, really hard and I hope you do, too. Life is so very fleeting. You only have your moments to act. Regardless of the obstacles in your life, make the most of your moments.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Live in the Moments Gal

Quotes of the Day:
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
Buddha

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”
Omar Khayyam

“The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it.”
Richard Bach

“Friends can help each other. A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself – and especially to feel. Or, not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at the moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what he really is.”
Jim Morrison

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