Teacher, we wish to see a sign. (Matthew 12:38)

Ah, today is the beginning of a new school year in my little town of West Tennessee. It’s the week of inservice before the students begin. I had twenty years of inservice before my health forced me to retire. The excitement of it always made me giddy.

Inservice can be such a dirty word. Teachers listen to speakers, work on curriculum, and have several meetings. Often we are anxious to get on with it. We want to be in our classrooms preparing not being idle. Try to be patient and glean something. Try to treasure this respite. This week eases us into the routine slated for the next 180 school days to do our best. The education of so many souls depends on our attitude and gratitude to lead them.

Everyone knows I’m a nerd and really loved inservice. I was so grateful God had placed me in a vocation that never seemed like work. As a former colleague and I talked over lunch recently, we concluded that our classroom was our church. It really was. It was where we not only educated the mind but also hearts. It’s so true that students observe every aspect of your character. Your actions are deafening, so take heed. They also can sense if you genuinely care about them and their futures. What’s your message?

Now more than ever, our children need teachers that are invested in them. I know we as teachers have our own families and children and are stretched too thin. It’s hard to look at thirty faces and try to be all they need you to be. Take a deep breath. Take up your cross. Be grateful God called you to be a teacher. You are so priceless.

I hoped I would teach until I was 70, but God had other plans. This week when you’re attending inservice whisper a “Thank you” to the one above and remember “to the least of these.” Each child has a story and a name. It’s your job to know them and be a light. Each of them is looking for a sign. Will you be that positive influence? Unceasing prayers are coming from Sal the Retired Teaching Gal for your success.

Sarah Anderson Alley

Dedicated to teachers everywhere

Quotes of the Day:

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
William Arthur Ward

“One good teacher in a lifetime may sometimes change a delinquent into a solid citizen.”
Philip Wylie

“Of all the hard jobs around, one of the hardest is being a good teacher.”
Maggie Gallagher

Grace, Mercy, & Love

Think of times you are given gifts. It feels really good when others think of you. As a child, you expect gifts. The more you receive the better. Right? In my adult years, I’ve always been bashful about receiving gifts. This drives my husband crazy! He is just so thoughtful and always has been. I can’t pinpoint when “stuff” became so unimportant to me.

I remember as a child I always was doted on especially by my father. He always tried to give me special surprises. I can remember when he would come home and I would run to him and say, “What did you bring me Daddy?” It may have only been a candy bar, but he always had something for me. Even during his alcoholic binges he would appear with gifts for me. I have a vivid memory of him showing up reeking of alcohol and bringing me the brand new bicycle I had been dreaming about. It was on display at a local hardware store downtown. It was a sparkly blue and best of all it had a banana seat! The seat was striped with blue and yellow. It had a white plastic woven basket with three pink flowers across the front. Boy, I loved that bike. I remember my mother coming out on the front porch and saying, “John, how did you get that bicycle?” Remember, I said he was on another binge. That always coincides with lost or quit job, running around with drinking buddies, and no money. I can’t tell you how many times my sweet, beautiful, hard-working mother had to endure this cycle. It breaks my heart. Well, my mother went to the phone and called the store. The bicycle was put on her credit account. So now she had to figure a way to pay yet another bill, keep our house, and feed all of us while my Father swooped in and gave me this lavish birthday present. She did and 42 years ago I got the bike of my dreams. It took about seven more years but my Dad was able to overcome his addiction. That was one of the best gifts of all.

This year a few weeks ago, Ken asked, “What do you want for your birthday?” I really have it all and it’s not materialistic. It’s Grace, Mercy, and Peace. I have been gifted the Grace to roll around, head high, and be oblivious to the condition of my physical self. I have Mercy which showers me and strengthens me knowing that the selfish me no longer controls my choices. I am comforted with an inner Peace. I know from where all of my gifts come and they are freely given to anyone only if they embrace them. This life has been and still is so fruitful. I still have many miles to roll, places to see, and moments to live. You do, too. God will see to it. Be brave. Have Faith to accept your gifts of Grace, Mercy, and Peace.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Gift Loving Gal

Quotes of the Day:

“I believe that God has put gifts and talents and ability on the inside of every one of us. When you develop that and you believe in yourself and you believe that you’re a person of influence and a person of purpose, I believe you can rise up out of any situation.”
Joel Osteen

“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”
Maya Angelou

“Each day provides its own gifts.”
Marcus Aurelius

 

Moral Compass

Moral Compass

I’ve been on earth almost half of a century. My life has had many highs and several lows. To stay sane you have to just roll with the changes trusting that whatever storm we are facing will pass just as those fun, love-filled times did. Through it all we have to put our best foot forward and finish our race. Which foot should we use? What pace should we run? All these come from our moral compass.

When I read headlines or catch a glimpse of the news, it troubles me. Something has gone terribly wrong. There are children hurting so badly that they open fire on each other. There’s human trafficking to fill perverted sexual desires. The abundance of children living with a parent who love getting high more than their precious children. The need for people to escape the reality of this world through chemical means. Are we mentally softer or weaker than generations past or am I imagining things? When the going gets tough we go searching for something at the pharmacy to right it. Is being made of sterner stuff a thing of the past?

There is so much hate and confusion. I read scriptures and pray each day for God to use me. I want to be like Jesus. I want to empty myself and spread love. I want there to be love left everywhere I go. Remember in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis when Aslan comes back and everywhere he prances flowers and plants spring to life? That’s what I envision me doing in my wheelchair. Me embracing my moral compass and everywhere I go leaving a trail of beauty behind me as I roll! Then, I will come to my end and step into eternity and be at peace. It’s urgent for us to dig deep, clean out the garden our souls, and use those compasses that God gave us.

What the world needs now more than ever is to grow our moral compasses. We are currently at a huge crossroad. Everyone wants to be right. Everyone feels they have the knowledge and discernment to be the judge on so many moral issues. We have lost the intimacy of being humans. Sharing meals and taking time to listen to our children and spend time with our elders. Don’t get me wrong. I depend on technology for so much, but the access of so much too soon is a problem. It’s literally poisoning the minds of our children, promoting immoral behaviors, and making everything a world of me not we. We are in this together. Just one kind gesture at a time and we can begin to move toward decency. It costs nothing to be kind and considerate. Being cruel or mean is never an option. We have to find our moral compass or I fear the human race will be lost forever.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Moral Compass Gal

Quotes of the Day:
“I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values – and follow my own moral compass – then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”
Michelle Obama

“Conscience is a man’s compass.”
Vincent Van Gogh

“Families are the compass that guide us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter.”
Brad Henry

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

 

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

 

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