The Extraordinary

It was Robin Williams meets Dr. Seuss, meets Where the Wild Things Are, meets Pee Wee Herman, meets Nadia Comaneci, meets world-class musicians, meets a whole lot of other mind-blowing stuff. It was mesmerizing, hilarious at times, nerve racking, adrenaline pumping, engaging, weird, wacky, and wonderful. It was like a good old fashion acid trip, well, at least how I would imagine one to be. All of that, and then add steroids. It was my first Cirque du Soleil, and hopefully not my last.

Words actually fail me. Throughout the performances I kept thinking that I wanted all of my friends and family to experience what I was experiencing. How was I ever going to explain it? One can’t. I tried taking pictures, videotaping, anything to capture this masterpiece of artistry and creativity. But the retelling cannot do it justice. It must be experienced live at some point in your life. Promise me you will go. Because like me, if you’ve never done drugs and you don’t intend on doing any in the future, I’m guessing this is the closest you will come to having your mind taken to new places.  Don’t worry; it’s safe…. even for the kids.

It is a feast for the eyes, ears, and imagination. The colors, the sounds, and body movements that defy all human reasoning, tell a story that will transport you into a place you’ve never visited. If the fantastical visuals are not enough to draw you in (you’d have to be dead though), the music surely will. All the music is live, both instrumentals and vocals. This is top shelf talent. It cannot be touched.

I really was not prepared for how much I would enjoy the Cirque du Soleil experience. I’m so glad my friend knew and arranged for us to go. It got me thinking about the endless talent and creativity that lives out there in this great big world. It reminded me how intricately and differently we have all been created. It gave me an appreciation for those artists who think outside the box. Far, far, far outside of the box, and then invite us in to experience their masterpiece creations.

I tend to live in the ordinary. But there is so much extraordinary out there. When I sit at the feet of extraordinary, I feel more alive. I want to be a little extraordinary myself. I’m not quite ready to fly through the air like a swan, hang from a trapeze swing by five little toes for goodness sakes, balance on some dude’s head while holding a perfectly formed handstand, or put myself in an outlandish neon body suit that shows everything, but at least I’m managing to get a new blog post out. Baby steps. No one got to be extraordinary that quickly. Give me a break.

To experience the extraordinary is a gift. It leaves me thirsty for more. It forces me out of my little ordinary world and reminds me how much more is out there.   I’m grateful for friends who lead me there. And I’m grateful when God leads me there by dazzling me with a brilliant rainbow after a summer storm, or wooing me through little lives in their infancy and toddler stages. The chubby cherubs have the ability to bring a smile and laughter no matter what kind of day I’m having.

With all the sadness and tragedy we hear about from day to day, there really still is a big beautiful world out there. I miss it on so many days. Everything can seem so ordinary. Every day is not going to be Cirque du Soleil kind of extraordinary, but there is something extraordinary in each day. I just need to find it.  His masterpieces are everywhere.

Curtain Call

Curtain Call

She’s Ready to Fly

Every so often someone comes into your life that just fits. And it’s really special if they’re a co-worker because who else do we spend that much time with? Two years ago this sweet second year teacher Melanie came alongside me to teach. She was kind of quiet at first, but I knew we would be okay together because she was sort of extremely obsessed with Golden Retrievers, and well, so am I. How bad could she be?

It turned out to be a perfect working match. She has put up with all of my idiosyncrasies, never judged me when I was late for work…um…every day (okay, so I’m not really a morning person), shared the same humor, shared her peanut m&m’s, let me be her new puppy’s godmother (she really had no choice), kept track of my glasses for me, didn’t laugh too hard at my pop culture ignorance, always informed me when there was a little something in my teeth, and basically just allowed me to be my weird, juvenile self.

And that’s just the half of it….

She has held my hand through my technological challenges (because that’s what the younger generation must do for us), supported every big and small event in our program and school, walked me through our new evaluation process (because that involves technology), asserted herself in the most positive way with our students, invested herself into their lives and into the community, and has given above and beyond with her time and energy.

And now she is moving on to her own full-time school.  (insert sobbing)

I’m terribly sad. And I’m terribly happy and proud at the same time. I am old enough to be Melanie’s mother, but definitely not mature enough! I feel as though I’m watching my little girl go off into the big world. She’s all grown up and ready to fly. I’ve watched her evolve into a strong, confident, dynamic teacher over the past two years and so it just makes sense that she should be moving on. And the best part is, she is moving to the school where my mother taught, where I was a student, and where I had my first teaching job. I love it when life comes full circle. It kind of feels like God is winking and saying, “Hello, it’s Me. I’m the Master Planner and I’ve got it all under control.”  Who can argue with that?

Working relationships can be quite challenging. I’ve had my share of challenges over the years, but these last two years have been such a gift. Melanie has brought such joy to me, our team of Related Arts teachers, and our students and staff. Whenever I catch myself sulking over the change, I try to remember what that smart Dr. Suess said…

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

So I am thankful for these last two years, for the camaraderie, the laughter (oh, so much laughter), the support, and now a life-long friendship.

So proud of you Mel!

So proud of you Mel!

Melanie…. You’re going to be great my friend. I know you will soar. Be strong. Be confident. And the only other thing I can think to tell you is, keep plenty of peanut m&m’s within reach. Remember what I’ve taught you…..They are scientifically proven to aid in any stressful situation. They are every teacher’s perfect prescription. Really, they’re all you need.

The Break Up

It’s official. I broke up with February.   I actually took care of ending that relationship several days ago. I knew I had to move on. I flipped that page over on the calendar so that I could see the promise of brighter days. I could not take the abuse of February any longer. It’s been a bitter affair, robbing me of my joy.  I’m done. We are so over.

I don’t know if you believe in love at first sight, but I’ve gotta tell you, I’m crazy in love with March already. I know it may not make sense, but its lure is powerful. Even the sound of it….March, makes me weak in the knees.

A simple stroll through Target was all I needed to assure me that there is hope for a new season. Today I saw bright bathing suits, stylish sandals, and breezy spring clothing. Color was popping everywhere, from the clothing, to home goods, and all the way back to the garden center. Yes, the garden center is back. I spent quite a bit of time wandering around there while fantasizing of warmer days. Not that I use any of those gardening tools, but those grills….oh those grills. I could almost smell the aroma of steaks firing up, and at one point I had a clear vision of corn on the cob with dripping butter. There was no need to buy a thing. Simply gaining a visual of all things Spring and Summer was therapy alone. Unexpected cheap therapy. I emerged from the store with my chin held high.

March offers so much promise. Longer days, a little bit of warmth, the return of songbirds, and a few more colors on the palette. Not so much grey. I know grey is the hype right now. Everyone wants their walls painted grey. And everyone is talking about some Grey movie. Whatever. Grey is not for me.

My arms are wide open for March. March can knock me right over with its ferocious winds and I’ll be okay with that. . I don’t even care. As long as it’s not freaking grey and it brings sweet April right behind it.

The truth is, I allowed myself to be beaten down and scorned by February. But that is in the past. I’m ready to move on to healthier relationships. I’m trusting March will provide a lot of love. And I will receive it. Vitamin D soaking into my skin, walks on my favorite trail, blue skies and chirping robins, daffodils and cotton-tailed bunnies. It is resurrection time. New life will be exploding everywhere and I want to be a part of it.

Today was so much better than yesterday, and the last month of yesterdays. I was inspired by a conversation with a friend over lunch. She dared me to dream of ways to move out of my areas of comfort and I felt strong enough to do that…. to dream. Feeling strong enough for anything is not something I’ve been feeling lately.

Desperate for a breakthrough from the weight of winter, I got down on my knees and said this simple prayer this morning….

Lord, please light a spark in me.

The trees are still bare and there is a blanket of snow on the ground but I know He heard my prayer. Hope is present. A turn of the calendar and a simple prayer can go a long ways.

Welcome March. You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for you.

 

Sometimes

Sometimes life feels like it’s one disappointment after another.

Sometimes winter feels too long.

Sometimes I want to drown myself in a fountain of chocolate and just not care about the repercussions.

Sometimes I want to quit my job and work in a garden center….or just stay at home all day with a puppy and pin pretty things on Pinterest.

Sometimes I want to stay under the covers and only come out to pee.

Sometimes I don’t want to be around people.

Sometimes I want God to do everything for me but I don’t feel like doing anything for Him.

Sometimes I can’t figure out why everyone does not realize it’s all about me.

I haven’t experienced any of this personally, but a friend of mine has. She usually orders herself a chai latte’ when she is experiencing three or more of the above symptoms of depression and simultaneously cries big tears of self-pity until she’s satisfied that she can’t feel any worse. Then she accidentally calls her bossy sister who listens and acknowledges that, yes, she is experiencing her winter blues, and goes on to tell her that she needs a kick in the butt and a grateful heart.

It’s funny how a conversation like that can make my friend think. It’s nice that her sister allows her to whine. It’s nice that she acknowledges and reminds her that winter is usually a difficult time for her. It kind of gets on her nerves a little though when her sister tells her that she needs a kick in the butt. But she knows that part about being grateful is really true.

Perspective. That’s what we all need sometimes.

I’m my friend is under the covers tonight, but she is trying her best to think of all that she is grateful for. She knows there is a lot.   And she knows that there are millions of people in the world hurting over far greater things than she is dealing with right now. Also, my friend skipped her book club tonight because she just couldn’t bring herself to be around people, but I’m sure she will go next time. And little by little, she will get over herself and start looking to see how she can make someone else happy.

It’s not all about her. I really hope she can snap out of it soon. There is one thing she knows for sure though….. She has some really good people in her life. And for that she is grateful.

This looks like something that would cheer up my friend right now.... Or possibly make it all worse.

This looks like something that would cheer up my friend right now…. Or possibly make it all worse.

A Not So Hallmark Christmas

Christmas Day 2014 was not pretty. Picture the farthest thing you can imagine from a tender little Hallmark movie then sprinkle in a dash of Dr. Phil’s most messed up guests and you have our family Christmas. Got the picture?

Can we please change the subject? was the most repeated sentence of the day. There were definitely some tears. And as much as we tried to remain calm, there was an occasional voice raised to quiet the inappropriate, alcoholic nephew. My thirty-year old niece was also present seeing her six-year old daughter (whom my sister is raising) for the first time in over a year. She had a day pass from the halfway house she is currently residing in as she continues on her journey to remain clean and sober because heroin has overtaken her life. And then there was the surprise guest that arrived for my niece, which turned out to not be such a good surprise. It was intense. I was waiting for Jesus to come down in all His glory and deliver the whole lot of us then and there….. to save us from ourselves.

Awkward, tense, and over the top with crazy. Those are the words that best describe our Christmas day. This stuff cannot be scripted. It was the most pathetic gathering of my relatives on record thus far. I promise you I am not exaggerating. Dr. Phil could have drafted an entire book with the material provided. And Jodi Foster could have produced and directed a new and improved version of the comedy/drama Home for the Holidays with this hot mess of a family gathering. I say comedy because there were moments in which my sister and I looked at each other and just broke out into laughter. The dysfunction was so over the top, we HAD to laugh; otherwise we would not have survived the absurdity of it all. But the laughing was not as frequent as the deep cleansing breaths we were taking to navigate through the tense moments.

By the end of the day I felt as if I had been running through a minefield and taken some shrapnel in the process. At least I was able to go home and care for my wounds in solitude. It actually took a good day or two to shake it all off. But this is my poor sister’s life with two adult children who are addicts. She cannot escape it as easily as I can. We all hurt though. Addiction affects everyone.

Thank goodness my parents are not alive to see what has taken place over the past fifteen years. This is not at all the way we grew up, but this is now our reality. This is the new generation in our family, tainted by addiction. We are broken and it hurts. Yet we do not lose hope because we have faith in the One who redeems. I do not know how people survive such heartache without faith in a God who can heal and breathe new life. This faith of mine, as shaky as it can be is what sustains me.

If ever I saw a need for a Savior, it was this Christmas. Sadly, I was in such distress at the time, I forgot what the day was all about. I feel like I completely missed it. All of this ugly sin is why we desperately need a Savior.   Drug and alcohol addiction is hanging out there where everyone can see it. It cannot be missed because the consequences spread wide and run deep. Every family member is affected by the addicted one’s disease. But I have my own junk. It just happens to be the kind that is more easily tucked away. It’s just as ugly though. If it’s coming between God and me and my relationship with others, it’s got to go. I am in constant need of His cleansing and healing touch.

On Christmas Eve, I was reminded when reading a post by one of my favorite authors, Jen Hatmaker what a beautiful thing God did for us. When He came to us to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament, He could have come to us any way He wanted. He could’ve come in all of his majesty adorned with heavenly bling causing fear and trembling. He could’ve come in a palace type King way being all harsh and Ceasar-like. But no, He came in a manger, in a barn, in the most humble, simple way. In a way that we ALL could approach him. A humble Savior; not a tyrant.

I loved reading Jen’s perspective. I was so grateful she shared it….but then I forgot. In the midst of our crazy Christmas I forgot to celebrate our Savior. And there He was right in the middle of our mess waiting for me to remember Him. But instead, I panicked. And I felt sorry for myself that I wasn’t part of a tender little Hallmark family.

Now that I have a few days distance from the World’s #1 Dysfunctional Family Christmas Gathering EVER, I can say “Thank you Jesus. Thank you that this sweet time is over and we all made it out alive. But mostly, thank you that You came in a manger so that we could have access to you, our King. Thank you for coming to save this mess of a family. We NEED You!

And now that a few days have passed, I can see how God is still working, and blessing, and providing even though things are not as we would like them to be. First of all, my sister was able to remain calm and extend love where there is disappointment. There were a few fires she had to put out, and there was one threat of calling a cab for my nephew, but considering all that she was dealing with, her countenance blew me away. No doubt she had the Holy Spirit working overtime in her. Secondly, as messed up as my nephew is, he still wants to be with family and he will still ask for prayer. That tells me that the sweet, innocent little boy that I miss so dearly is still in there somewhere. And my niece….she is trying. She wants to be better and she’s doing some hard work to get there. And then there is their father (another addict), whom my sister is divorced from. He was there. That is a whole other story of redemption and reconciliation. The fact that he can be there with my sister’s second husband and that everyone gets along is nothing short of a miracle.   This alone is evidence of a healing Savior.

Lastly, there is Daisy. She is our six-year old joy. My niece brought her into the world without a husband, and without a way to provide for her emotionally, financially, or physically. She could not provide like a mother should in her troubled state. But God made a way. My sister and brother in law have sacrificed everything to raise her. They don’t have much money at all. They are older and tired. But they have more than enough love to raise this thriving, little golden-locked angel. This is the little girl who said she was thankful for “family and her life” as we went around the table on Thanksgiving to share what we were grateful for. And there she was on this craziest of Christmas Days with her soft little rosy cheeks playing with her Frozen toys under the tree. Beautiful innocence. I think we all took turns trying to shield her as best we could from the waves of dysfunction. She is bright though, so I’m sure she didn’t completely miss it. In fact, who knows what was going through her head. Maybe she was saying to herself, What the heck is wrong with these people? I just know this…. Every time I was overcome with the tension, I could look at her or grab onto her and cuddle her in my arms and feel peace. And she provided me with some good laughs too. Like when she realized I had taken a cup of coffee into her bedroom when we went in there to get something and she said, “Now did I tell you that you could bring a cup of coffee up here?” Oh how I savor these moments. Our little one trying out her humor, sitting in my lap telling me stories pulled out of great imagination, and her arms wrapped around my waist latching on like a little love bug. She is our sweet Daisy, a blossom of innocence. May she continue to thrive in her love for life and be protected from the brokenness of family sin.

Sometimes hindsight is where we can finally settle in and see the blessings. God is so patient and loving. I’m so glad He didn’t cut me off when I forgot to celebrate His birthday. I certainly don’t feel Him being indignant with me because I didn’t invite Him into that messy day. In fact, I sense Him saying, “Your Christmas Day….That’s why I came. And I’m not leaving, so don’t give up hope.”

I’ve realized it’s not too late to celebrate Christmas. In this upcoming year I want to remember His birthday every day. If He had not come, my family’s mess would be even greater. We would be without hope. So I want to keep celebrating with a heart of gratitude.

If the state of your family is anything remotely close to mine, try to remember this: Hope came into world. No matter what our circumstances, we have a Savior. I don’t pretend that this knowledge makes it easier, but it makes it all possible. Hope came and Hope still lives.

Happy Birthday Jesus.  Because of You, I can hope for my family’s healing.

 

 

A Turkey Checked Me Out Today

It really doesn’t matter what time of day I go to Trader Joes’s. Whether it is at the height of the weekend rush, the middle of the week, or in the peaceful early Sunday morning hours, the experience is guaranteed to put a smile on my face.

How many times has a turkey checked you out when you were grocery shopping? That’s right. Never…… Unless you were at Trader Joe’s, the happy, whimsical land of grocery frolicking. I hesitate to even lump my friend TJ into the category of shopping, because I find grocery shopping a chore. The TJ experience is more like a social event centered around affordable organic food, hosted by the merriest of people. I notice them. Even when they don’t know I’m watching, I catch them singing along to the nostalgic tunes ringing throughout the store while unloading the cases of produce. They’re wearing their hip little tee shirts and working like busy bees. And they are the most accommodating of hosts. They don’t leave you crying when they have to gently inform you that they no longer carry your favorite hummus.   They tell you what their favorite hummus is and why, and then they reassure you that the Mediterranean variety will make you forget you were ever hooked on the Edamame kind. That’s how much they care. They are there for you during your darkest of hours.

And then they feed you. That counter where the tasty little samples of their seasonal favorites are being served draws quite a crowd. Some people take two or three of those samples. I would never do that! During that ninety seconds while I’m testing out the sample(s) and washing it/them down with a little two ounce coffee, I inevitably seem to make a friend. There is something about food sampling at TJ’s that causes people to want to share. They tell me about their favorite coffee, how they like it, and what other TJ products I should try. I love it. I’ve chatted with so many different types of people next to the sampling counter. I think if I worked there, I would want to be the sample lady because that counter seems to be its own little melting pot of consumers.

This morning while I shopped at a really early hour, there were no cow bells to be heard up front. Not even one dong. It wasn’t busy enough to ring for another cashier and I was almost a little disappointed. The cow bell is the designated TJ party instrument. But even though there were no bells this morning, I did have a turkey check me out. Her name was Alicia. She was the friendliest turkey I’ve ever chatted with. Seriously….do you even think you’d have the opportunity to chat with a turkey at Safeway? That’s not going to happen. Those other places are where you have to shop…… and where the produce people appear to be a little depressed. TJ’s is where you go to party with the fun employees and leave with some really cool food.

But back to Alicia the turkey. We really didn’t talk about a whole lot other than her cute little turkey suit, but why would we have to? Talking with a turkey is enough. It was enough of something a little out of the ordinary to put a smile on my face and set me up for a good Sunday. All of the check out people at TJ’s are always friendly, whether they’re in a turkey suit or not.

Why do I go on and on about my TJ experiences?…. Because you may remember, I’ve written about my friend TJ before. I’m not really sure why he has this effect on me. Maybe it’s just because I loathe any other grocery shopping experience, and my time at TJ’s actually energizes me. That’s some kind of miracle. I don’t know what kind of feng shui they have going on there, but they’re doing something right to meet the needs of the formerly depressed Safeway shopper.

So today I am thankful for a cute little turkey name Alicia that checked me out. I especially enjoyed it when she said, “Oops, I almost lost my head.” I knew I wouldn’t hear that sentence again today, or maybe even ever. And I’d just like to thank TJ for keeping it real and keeping it fun.

I’ll be back in a few weeks TJ. Don’t forget me. I’ll be the one frolicking in the produce area and sneaking maybe one extra sample at the coffee counter.  : )

 

Alicia - Friendly TJ Turkey Cashier

Alicia – Friendly TJ Turkey Cashier

photo 2(1)

Some Veteran’s Day Hope

On this day where we honor those who have served in the Armed Forces, many words come to mind. I’m sure they are the very words that most of us think of. Sacrifice. Honor. Courage. Selflessness. Pain. Loss. Torment. Anguish. Heartbreak. Loneliness. Confusion.     

I hate the latter part of this list. Unfortunately, it is the reality that our warriors and their families’ are faced with as a result of battle. The wounds are deep, both visible and invisible. Life as they knew it no longer exist. It’s hard to imagine the darkness they experience. I’ve been in some dark places in my life, feeling as if there is no hope. But I cannot even begin to fathom adjusting to normal life again after seeing what they have seen, hearing what they have heard, and knowing what they know. They have been to hell and back.

Another set of words came to mind tonight that left me feeling hope for our warriors. Comfort. Healing. Heart. Love. Discipline. Dedication. Companion. Socialization. Re-entry. Service. Training. Playfulness. Therapy. Oxytocin.

These are words that come to mind when I think about one of my favorite organizations, The Warrior Canine Connection. A little over two years ago I was introduced to WCC through a live puppy cam that followed six fluffy Golden Retriever pups. I immediately fell in love…with the pups and the mission of the organization.

Warrior Canine Connection was born from one man’s vision. A man name Rick Yount. He had seen the healing effects that his own Golden Retriever puppy had on traumatized children during his career as a social worker. His heart then led him to pair puppies with wounded warriors. Veterans suffering with invisible wounds from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Brain Injury would assist in puppy training, preparing them to become service dogs for veterans with mobility impairments.   It would be a win-win situation.  The veterans with PTSD and BI training the pups would begin to feel a sense of purpose again knowing they were helping prepare the dogs for their comrades with mobility impairments.  And the training process would also force these veterans to begin socializing again. That’s where the word oxytocin comes into play. I’m sure you were wondering how that fit in. Oxytocin is the hormone that is released when one interacts with dogs….or any animal that is safe to interact with. It’s a love drug. It relaxes…..and it’s perfect therapy for our wounded warriors. I learned that fancy fact from a man name Rick.

I am here to tell you that Rick’s vision was a good one. It works. I’ve witnessed it on many occasions. And most recently, I saw it come full-circle at a Warrior Canine Connection graduation ceremony. Remember those six fluffy Golden Retriever pups I mentioned in the beginning? I have followed their journey over the past sixteen months on Facebook, along with many other WCC pups. Two out of the six graduated alongside four other WCC dogs several weeks ago. One of the graduates in this class of six canines will be a therapy dog. The other five were paired with their Forever Warrior. They will aid them in daily tasks such as retrieving keys, remotes, opening doors, and serving as a brace as their warrior changes positions. This is just a handful of their many skills.

Many of the warriors who helped trained the dogs were present at the ceremony. They celebrated their dogs’ successes with great pride. I even witnessed some of the dogs leaping toward them with gratitude. It was as if they knew. They knew that these individuals had helped prepare the way for them. And they knew they had helped their veterans in the process.

So, when I think of my second set of words, I think of all of the people who work tirelessly to keep this healing organization thriving. And I think about all the families who are being restored as a result.   Their loved ones are getting help. They’re able to function in the world again. They’re smiling and laughing and learning how to embrace their new life. And that’s a lot of hope for our wounded warriors.

On this Veteran’s Day, I am grateful for those who have served. And grateful for a man name Rick Yount who did not pass up his call in life and recruited many others to serve with him. Our veterans are getting help from a lot of fluffy servants and their people. That is something that causes me to smile on this Veteran’s Day.

A Warrior-Canine moment

A Warrior – Canine moment with WCC’s Navi

Thank you for training me.  WCC's Abby

Thank you for training me. WCC’s Abby

WCC's Penny so attentive to her "Forever Warrior"

WCC’s Penny so attentive to her “Forever Warrior”