Judge Less Not….
In my mind, I try always to be understanding and open. Everyone has a story. The world all treats us in unique ways. Sometimes we draw the short straw and aren’t blessed with a secure, loving family. We are all born with our own life path. Bad situations encounter us as we walk through this valley on earth no matter what faith we choose to guide us to our eternal life.
As humans, we are born flawed. We have so much potential for good, but in turn we can also do just as much for evil. This is where my heart begins to ache. I’m Catholic. My family is Catholic. In the South, it’s tough to be Catholic. People are so suspicious and we have several myths that surround our faith: We worship Mary not Jesus, we worship statues or idols, and we are not Christians. These are the top three myths in my little town. I’m sure they vary region to region. Here’s my best explanation. We admire Mary and believe she is in heaven. She is special. We do have statues but those are to remind us of the holy ones who are now in heaven. We are Christians, the first after the death of Jesus to be exact. We celebrate communion, the Lord’s Supper, just as the first apostles did and believe this sacrifice tradition with prayers is God in the bread and wine through Transubstantiation. This is also the tradition that sets us apart. The Eucharist is not a symbol. It is Emmanuel, God with us.
In light of the recent trials, being Catholic has yet another battle to face. As I mentioned, humans are flawed. The recent events were committed by men who used my wonderful faith to harm others. This shattered my heart and inflamed my spirit. I’ve had to pray so hard. I pray for those victims. I pray for the souls of the ones who abused them. I pray for my faith and others whose faith that has been shaken. These horrible tragedies occur much to often in the name of God. What can we do?
Almost 30 years ago, I found Catholicism. I had been searching my entire life for a church home. Every church I had attended did not speak to my soul until I attended a Catholic mass. I immediately felt at home. The entire service was so intense and focused on one thing, the Eucharist. I noticed as they processed to the altar such a reverence. There was such a hodgepodge of ethnicities. I felt no judgement only light. Rich and poor all gathered to share in one thing, Jesus Christ. My heart yearned to be part of this body of Christ. It took a few years before I was able to take the walk with my brothers and sisters to receive His precious body in communion, but when I did my life was forever altered. My life has been so full and blessed. The hard times have been made bearable. I have an inner peace that can only come from God. My inner compass is always pointed toward its true North.
I ask myself once again, “What can we do?” Horrendous tragedies have befallen our faith, our churches, and our communities. The Catholic Church, my church, does so, so much good in the world. I don’t want to disregard those events, but I know they were not from God. Jesus is still at every mass waiting to meet us and to heal our wounds. I still believe in the Eucharist, Jesus. I will never stop believing in and receiving Christ at mass until I am called to my eternal home where all questions will be answered. Until then, I will pray for those victims and their trespassers . I will pray for the healing of Christ in our fallen world. I will continue to “Be Bold and Be Catholic.”
Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Catholic Gal
I believe in God,
the Father Almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
He descended into hell;
on the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic Church,
the communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
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.”
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
“The power of imagination makes us infinite.”
In my mind today, I’m thinking about addiction. Addiction is when you forsake everything for something you desire. Regardless of the harm you inflict on others, the acquisition is all that matters.
Recently the kids and I were talking about a popular tv series that has a notorious alcoholic as the protagonist. My IV Specialist was here and she watches the same series. I asked her if she had a “Frank” in her family. She said, “Gosh, no!” I was astounded. Heck, my family and my husband’s have at least one “Frank” and multiples in some generations. Addiction is hereditary.
Last night as I was trying to go to sleep I kept thinking about addictions. I love watching documentaries and biographies. In grade school my favorite books were biographies. Anyway in a documentary I watched the other day a famous musician had to move to another country to escape the cocaine culture and create music with a clear mind. He had been so “high” for years he had become numb to living in reality. Numb. That’s the word that kept turning over and over in my mind as I wished for sleep to come last night. Addiction numbs you. One doesn’t want to deal with the trappings of life or doesn’t know how to deal with real life situations. The past sometimes prompts you to search for something to mask the pain. The pain must never surface lest you risk feeling. It’s so, so sad that people want to be numb. The musician began again, but this time he could “feel.” He experienced life even heartbreak but it steeled him. He released an amazing album. Out of his stupor, he grew. At the end of his life dying with a excruciating cancer, he didn’t enjoy the “highs” of his medication. He wanted to feel every minute of life he had left. He had conquered addiction.
In a reflection I read it clarified addictions so well. It actually gave insight to the mindset of a person addicted. As I read it I thought, “What a great blog this would make? Addiction.” So many of us today are touched by chemical addiction. Heroine is making a huge comeback. It’s creeping from urban areas to little burgs like mine. Opioids, hydros and pain meds, are recking havoc in our families. I’m praying the “meth” phase is dwindling amongst our population, but sadly it’s becoming more prevalent. Addiction. It is exhausting and heart wrenching when people you love are numb. The addicted continue to deceive not only us but also themselves. Most addicted people feel they are doing great. They use the blame game when cornered or the “At least I’m not like ________, they are doing ________ which is so much worse than me.” Sound familiar? I hope not for your heart’s sake. There’s only one way to truly heal from an addiction. Allow yourself to feel and deal with what drives your pain and thirst to be numb. Then allow something greater to fill your heart and fuel your spirit. That something is God. I pray you’re fortunate to never have to deal with addiction. If you do, know it is in God’s hands.
Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the End Addiction Gal
Quotes of the Day:
“But they are living on a fundamental self-deception which nothing could cure except the extraordinary advent of God’s love and forgiveness.”
Fr. Herbert McCabe, God, Christ and Us
“Ashes to ashes,
funk to funky
We know Major Tom’s a junkie
Strung out in heaven’s high
Hitting an all-time low”
“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.”
“Addiction is a hugely complex and destructive disease, and its impact can be simply devastating. All too often, lives and families can be shattered by it.”
“No one is immune from addiction; it afflicts people of all ages, races, classes, and professions.”
Patrick J. Kennedy
For Heaven’s Sake
In my mind today, I’m thinking of Heaven. You know the polar opposite is Hell. Quit snorting and giggling back row. Yes, I said Hell. When I found out my timeline was going to be drastically shorter than what I expected, I started reading and researching Death and Heaven. I read several books about people who had literally died and been revived. I read books by hospice workers who had experienced people leaving this earthly chapter. My kids thought I was a bit touched in the head and morbid when I discussed my latest book at the supper table. What I found was a common thread of weightlessness, bliss, light, angels, and seeing people who had crossed over sometimes years ago.
Are people just fantasizing? I really don’t think so. There are just too many experiences to explain it all away. I remember in one book the author entered in a place of bright light with the most amazing music and welcoming people but then was told, “It’s not your time. You have to go back.” He was jolted back to earth in a shattered and disabled body. He wasn’t happy about it but eventually saw the purpose for staying earthbound hence his book.
One book I read was written by a hospice nurse. She had been comforting people as they crossed over for more than 30 years. In most of her cases, the person saw angels or people from their past before crossing over. She developed a sixth sense of when death was near.
Can you imagine seeing an angel or multitudes of them? What about seeing loved ones of long ago? Think about seeing God the creator. Wow! What a feeling that would be.
Can you imagine heaven? I can and do often. In church on Sunday, I do. I close my eyes, listen to the music, hear all the people proceeding to the altar for communion, and envision heaven. Just like mass, there will be beautiful music as we all process toward God. All shapes, sizes, and colors of people. It’s beautiful. Usually tears start falling because for those precious minutes after I receive communion, my mind and heart are lifted to heaven. I know there’s more.
I know my students are ready to call the paddy wagon to come take Sal the Mediation Gal off to the “Cuckoo’s Nest.” So, is there more? Is there a heaven? Yes, that’s your assignment today: ponder Heaven. It’s for you to decide if Heaven exist, but for heaven’s sake I hope you do.
Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Seeking Heaven Gal
Quotes for the Day:
“On earth there is no heaven, but there are pieces of it.”
“A happy family is but an earlier heaven.”
George Bernard Shaw
“I think I will be able to, in the end, rise above the clouds and climb the stairs to Heaven, and I will look down on my beautiful life.”
“Joy is the serious business of heaven.”
C. S. Lewis
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
Two of the many books I read about 5 years ago:
Glimpses of Heaven: True Stories of Hope and Peace at the End of Life’s Journey by Trudy Harris
90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life by Dan Piper
Laughter, Lights, and Love
In my mind today, I’m thinking about Laughter, Lights, and Love. God blessed me with two of the best biological sisters this little sister could ever ask for. We love unconditionally. When one hurts so does the others. I’m so grateful for the hearts my mother nourished in each of her children. Through her strong belief, faith, and hope in God, she created something stunning from her strife as a predominately single mom. She helped us to laugh at our troubles as we grew. She shined her love-light in so many ways that gave us examples of kindness. She showered us with a fierce love that soaked into our souls. God has also granted me sisters in Christ. I have been given writing & book-loving buds, childhood comrades, college cohorts, Alley Alliance warriors, committee cronies, Parish pals, teaching chums, neighbor friends, and Bunco buddies. In each season and chapter of my life, I have and am still blessed beyond measure.
Last night we had our Christmas Bunco Blast at another “sister’s” new business, Holy Cow. It’s located in the quaint, cozy town of Trimble, Tennessee. This group of Bunco “sisters” has been playing together for one score and two years. Students, remember how many years are in a score? Back row, I’m not talking about a Monday night football score! Listen! That’s right front row! Twenty! Add the two and voila, we have shared twenty-two wonderful years together. We’ve been “sisters” through having babies, divorces, retirements, deaths, job changes, moves, our kid’s going to college and getting married, and now our season has the joy of grandchildren. A couple of Bunco Buddies have great-grandchildren. Our age range is a broad spectrum, but that just adds to the spice of our crew. Our little group has shared so much of each other’s pain, happiness, and love. We are the “Ya-Ya’s” of Bunco and we have oh, so much fun.
Last night, the Light of the season was in us all. I laughed hysterically at our antics. Tears of happiness rested in my eyes the entire night. My heart was filled with so much Light, Laughter, and Love for these “sisters.” I’m ever so grateful for each one of them. They are each unique and wonderful in their own ways. While my weakness in my body continues, our sisterhood grows stronger still. You see when you face life’s hardest moments true friends stay. The rest of the world may sadly walk away in the face of adversity, but not my Bunco Ya-Ya’s. They have walked with me through my “new normals” of ALS/PMA. From putting up temporary ramps to feeding me, they brain-storm ways to keep our Bunco Train chugging. I know they will for as long as I have breath in me. We are “Sisters” to the end.
Students, I pray you find God-given siblings in this life. They are truly priceless. If you have some, make time this advent to spend precious moments with them. If you haven’t, then get busy and reach out. Embrace those around you at work or church. Start your own Ya-Ya group! Before you know it, the Laughter, Lights, and Love will traverse scores of time.
So students, this week’s theme for Advent is Light of the Holy Spirit. As we journey through this week of activities, obligations, and bustle, don’t just plug in your Christmas lights on your trees. Be sure that the one you light up first is the Light from above, the Holy Spirit. It was a gift given to mankind over 100 scores ago. It’s in your heart. Be sure to plug it in and let it shine.
Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Heart-light Gal
Dedicated to all of my Bunco Buddies
Thanks for Dot’s message and reflection from her latest retreat!
Quotes of the Day:
“Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.”
“Friends are the siblings God never gave us.”
“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”
“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
In my mind today I’m thinking about how we can survive this life. Just like the old saying, “No one gets out alive” the truth hurts. As we trundle down our life lines, we have many hills to climb and sometimes when you’re lucky you catch some effortless down hill coasting. This reminds me of my biking and running seasons. Those coasting moments are refreshing.
Our book club just read The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin. It has just been made into a major motion picture. It was a great read about survival and love. Just like in life, we encounter mountains. The mountains can be literal like in our book but also figurative. We have mountains to climb in our personal lives, workplaces, peer groups, families, and especially our spiritual lives. We slip, fall, get lost, and sometimes tumble over the cliff wall. The most important thing is that we give our all so we have no regrets. That’s when we are able to lift our eyes up to see the Glory of the blessings we have given and received in our lives. When the mountain seems too steep, use blind Faith to get you to the top. This whole “life” is so much bigger than we mere humans can fathom.
I ended our Book Club meeting with a quote by a wise, beautiful woman. I was lucky enough in this life to meet her and hear her sing. The quote paralleled the motifs of our book. “To succeed in life you need three things, a wishbone, a backbone, and a funny bone.” Your wishbones are your dreams. Your determination is your backbone. Your sense of humor which is ever so important is your funny bone. If you can find humor on your steepest mountain climbs, you’ll be at the summit before you know it. Today as you begin your weekend and Thanksgiving holidays, find your wishbones, backbones, and funny bones.
Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Mountain Climbing Gal
Dedicated to Reba McIntire for her beautiful spirit, inspiration, and strength.
Quotes of the Day:
“To succeed in life you need three things, a wishbone, a backbone, and a funny bone.”
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”
“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”
“Patience and Diligence, like faith, remove mountains.”