54 and So Much More

54 and So Much More

In my mind today I’m focused on my first cousin. I attended her wake this past Monday. Her precious mother sitting there receiving visitors to give condolences for losing her oldest child. Aunt Linda is now a member of the “Parents who outlived their child club” or as I like to call it “The Eternal Hole in My Heart Club.” Heart-crushing.

Brenda was her first child. The child that is usually the strongest. This child has to experience a mother figuring out how to be a mother. They grow and learn together. There is such a strong bond between mother and her first fledgling. The first child is the brunt of a lot of learning experiences of which some are wonderful but sometimes are tough. Typically the first child survives and thrives often becoming strong and very protective of his or her mother and siblings. This was the case of my Aunt and her first, Brenda.

As I watched the slideshow of my cousin’s life, I saw her seasons of sun. Her unbeknownst physical beauty that encompassed an elegant, selfless soul. She grew into a fierce protector and provider for her mother, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and siblings. I can’t remember a time when she didn’t work. She started at the tender age of 14 years old working in a restaurant. The first big purchase she made was a beautiful, warm coat for her mother. She always worked with a servant’s heart. She never coveted money, wealth, or materialistic things for herself. She always provided for others never thinking of herself. Selfless.

She had battled cancer almost 10 years ago. She won. Two months ago cancer came back for round two. Two months ago she went to her mother’s home and asked, “Mom, can I stay with you? I’m so, so tired.” In her heart and my Aunt Linda’s, they knew the C-word was back. This time it had brought multiple tumors and seeped into her bones growing and spreading with each passing day. My Aunt Linda then did what she does best; she helped her strong daughter pass with love and dignity to her new season. As cancer consumed her physical body, her fear of death subsided and her faith grew. The love of her siblings grew. Her children’s compassion, respect, and love for her grew.

We all knew our strong Brenda was going to go before us. It hurts to think of someone so young battling cancer. When I look at the news, social media feeds, and prayer petitions, it’s flooded with loved ones facing this earthly life stealing disease. Although cancer steals years, it can’t steal our joy, spirit, and love. These are eternally carried within our souls and not touched by cancer. I can give cancer one compliment. It helps us declutter our selfish lives, live in the moment, grow in gratitude, and realize there is so much more even if someone you hold dear is like our strong, beautiful Brenda who was given only 54 earthly years. There is so much more.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the I HATE CANCER Gal

Dedicated to Brenda Darby Reed, Kelly Jo Blair Hicks, Callie Cupples DeSpain, Tracy Cupples, Linda Darby, Kim Toombs Evans,Teresa Archer, Cindy Enochs, Rhonda Mayfield, Penny Guthrie, Java Renyolds Stanley. Moody Thompson Permenter, George Hancock, Colt Lemons, Jeremy Maze, Gerald Darby, George Wesley Anderson, Logan Anderson, & all of those touched by cancer.

Quotes of the Day:
“I will thank God for the day and the moment I have.”

“Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

“If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

Jim Valvano

 

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’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

 

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

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

 

Addiction

Addiction


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”
David Bowie

“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.”
Carl Jung

“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.”
Kate Middleton

“No one is immune from addiction; it afflicts people of all ages, races, classes, and professions.”
Patrick J. Kennedy