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

In the Pursuit of Happiness

In Pursuit of Happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Happy Gal

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

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

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

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

 

Impulses

Impulses

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Impulse Gal

Quotes of the Day:

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

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

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

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

‘Till Death Do Us Part

‘Till Death Do Us Part


In my mind today, I’m thinking about true partnerships and commitments. Yesterday was a dear friend’s birthday. We’ve know each other for years, but as of late we’ve become “soul sisters.”

Our lives have eerily paralleled. We married young to older men who had children. We love being a mother. We put love into creating and sustaining our marriages. We both deal with health issues of our spouses and our own. Thirty years ago when we fell in love with these men, we never envisioned the mountains we would climb. We both know where we draw our strength to push forward relishing every grandchild and moments of true love.

It’s not all roses and we both have our crying days. I know that I can be real with her. We both miss so many of the same things. We let each other know it’s okay to grieve our healthy years. With the help of our amazing husbands, we’ve grown to understand and cherish “In sickness and in health and until death do us part.” Would we change any of it? Never.

She recently had a birthday. In the wee hours, she awoke to another bout of sickness. In the mist of cleaning up after her physically challenged, dearly loved husband she found a letter he had written to her before the “stomach bug” attacked. She read it to me and I felt tears fall down my cheeks. How lovely to be cherished and loved so, so much. Even better is to know and realize God’s blessings amid the storms of life and be so blessed with true love. This is truly what life is about.

Happy Birthday my friend. You are the wind beneath so many wings. Like the wind, you go unnoticed but always felt. You always are thinking of ways to serve others unbeknownst. I love and treasure my “soul sister.” Thank you for being that wind beneath my wings when I feel like giving up. Happy, Happy Birthday!

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Soul Sister Gal

Dedicated to Tracy

Quotes of the Day:
“You need a lot of luck to find people with whom you want to spend the rest of your life. Some people manage to find their soul mate. Others don’t. I think love is like a lottery.”
Kylie Minogue

“There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.”
George Sand

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
Lao Tzu

“Thank you for teaching me the true meaning of family.”
R.W.C.

“I love you more than peach milkshakes, enough said.”
R.W.C.

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

 

Snow Days

Snow Days

In my mind, I’m thinking about snow days. In my healthy, ambulatory life as a teacher, I lived for snow days! Last night as our little burg buzzed about the cancellation of school, a part of Sal the Snow Day Gal was giddy. When the alert dinged my phone informing us about the cancelling of school, I was ecstatic! This morning after my husband was ready for work he came to my side of the bed, jerked off the covers, and raised my head with the remote. I fuzzily opened my eyes and said, “Why are you waking me up? There’s no school. It’s a snow day.” For a brief moment I had forgotten I was Sal the ALS Gal. I was going to relish an icy, cold day sleeping in and the romping in the snow with my kids, friends, and dogs. Then, I remembered. I have to get up every day at 6 AM because that’s the routine for Sal the ALS Gal: up, meds, coffee and toast, potty, suction my lungs, back in my chair, read, pray, and write. This happens every day but Saturday. On Saturday I get to sleep until around 10 AM.

Don’t you love snow days? I hear the back row mumbling for me to zip it because I’m ruining their snow day! Since you’re already awake, let’s talk a bit. This morning the story I read was about the paralytic that was lowered through the ceiling so Jesus could heal him. It doesn’t mention this paralytic man having great faith. Who was full of faith? That’s right front row students, his friends knew if they could just get their crippled friend to Jesus, he would be healed. I hear you asking, “Was he healed?” Yes, students, he was. Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven. Rise, take your mat, and walk.” The point is we all need “faith-full” friends. Friends that know your struggles and have faith God is fighting with you. Sal the ALS Gal has so, so many faith-full friends and for that I’m so blessed.

I joke with my children that I need tire chains for my scoot (wheelchair) on days like this. Man, I could really cut up on this snow and ice if I did. Sal the Fast & the Furious Gal I would definitely be! Vin Diesel who? Of course you have a lesson on this snow day! What kind of teacher do you think I am? Today, get out there! Get out of the digital world! No video games or tv until you do at least three of these assignments. Here they are! Take your fur babies on a hike in the woods. Go sledding with your children and friends. Drink lots of hot chocolate with extra marshmallows. Make a snow angel. Make and eat snow cream. Hey, snow days are for FUN! These are some of Sal the Snow Day Gal’s favorites. What are you waiting for? Bundle up and get out there!
Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the I LOVE Snow Days Gal

Dedicated to all those who love snow! Especially, the Snow Queen of West Tennessee, Ann Carson.

Quotes of the Day:

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”
John Ruskin

“Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood.”
Andy Goldsworthy

“A snow day literally and figuratively falls from the sky, unbidden, and seems like a thing of wonder.”
Susan Orlean

 

For Heaven’s Sake

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.”
Jules Renard

“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.”
Yayoi Kusama

“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.”
Jesus Christ

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