Sleepless Flight

In the darkness of my home, I imagine crossly that the boisterous bird outside must be the most desperate bachelor in the entire North American continent. Whatever gal he’s trying to attract surely must be sleeping.

It is half past midnight, and it seems so weird to me that a bird is out there, singing in the black of night under the invisible new moon. He seems not to care who he awakens, his pride full-grown.

His night song is persistent, shrill. I want to yank open the door and throw a shoe at whatever tree he sits in. I would never, of course…but the thought crosses my mind. Trying to tune him out, my thoughts return to an upcoming flight and I look helplessly up to the ceiling which I cannot see.

It’s stealing my sleep again. Not the bird, but the worries. This is not new, this overthinking of flying. I love to travel, but I do not like getting to my destination by air. And yet four times this season I will be facing the giant big scary sky. My wanderlust must be greater than my unease, but on nights like these I question my choice to explore.

I scowl when the bird goes on and on, once again he interrupts my worry. Accepting that he will not be silenced, I slowly realize I could be grateful he is there. I could let him be a welcome distraction from my fear of flying….the thing that keeps me up days and days and days before I ever set foot in an airport. But it is a battle, this choice of gratitude versus distress.

Squeezing my eyes shut, my senses are flooded with discontent at the thought of being on an airplane. Apprehension so strong I can feel it weighing me down, as if I’m restrained in the same way I once saw my grandmother as she was tethered to her wheelchair in the Alzhemier’s unit. The fun of it all has been sucked out of me, replaced with big fat fear. This leads to other worrisome thoughts, and I clench my teeth with the realization I’m letting it get the best of me. Again.

Through the thick, closed window panes and through the deep walls keeping the fresh air out, the night bird’s music keeps trying to remind me of something important. Summer has brought a warm tossing-turning night, and I gather my strength to kick off the covers. The window begs me to open it, but I won’t dare.

Ridiculous! I’ve been done with the anxiety. I’ll not let this bring me back to it. I shove myself out of the bed and blindly search for my glasses in the dark. My hair is annoying me, I need it off my forehead and off of my neck in this airless room. The fan is too weak, and at this moment so is my mind. I begin to pray for strength, for calm. There is so much world to see, so much laughing to do, so many people to meet, and experiences to dive into…I will not give in to this joy wreck.

As I quietly pad my way into the living room, my feet relieved to meet cool floors, I pray all the way to my favorite chair. The birdsong follows me to where I now sit with head bowed, forehead too stubborn to assist the tears which fight for release. His tune changes from frantic to sweetly melodic, and I belatedly make the connection that this nighttime companion is also connected to flight. I smile, surprised by the thought…and I think on the amazing wonder that air travel is even possible for humans.

The rhythm of the clock nearby steadies my heart, and suddenly the C.A.L.M. acronym from a recent Max Lucado book, Anxious for Nothing, flashes in my memory, the four letters white and flickering like a neon sign in the dark:

C-Celebrate God…Lord, thank you for being here with me, thank you for the opportunity to take these trips to see new places. 

A-Ask God for helpFather, please take this anxiety from me. Please help me to sleep and breathe and stop worrying over what I can’t control.

L-Leave the problem with God…I give this to you, God. Your Word says to “fear not”. So I’m just going to try really hard to do that. 

Breathe. Deep breath. I sit for a minute to give my thoughts some space. The bird is silent.

M-Meditate on good things…Thank you, Lord, for that night bird and thank goodness he finally quieted down so I can get some sleep and for reminding me of your presence.

Again, I breathe. A little deeper this time. And the air, while still not fresh, feels a little cooler and more bearable. My thoughts continue to tread on the good things. I remind myself that, for me, it’s the only thing that will cancel out the fear…the choice to think of one good thing at a time. Thought by thought.

As my fears begin to wane, I am reminded of all the ways that flying is fun and most always safe. My mother’s voice echoes in my ears from when she told me earlier in the day that just being in my house or driving a car is putting myself at risk of danger.

“So why not fly?” she countered matter-of-factly.

Her excitement for me in my adventures brings a big smile to my face. And I begin to softly imagine the lilting accents I will soon hear, and the lovely green foliage my eyes will feast on.

The pulsing rush in my ears has stopped, and I dig in Grandpa’s Desk for the little notebook of bible verses. The emerald and gold cover has edges worn, some rips and bends, but I don’t mind. I run my hand across the cover which says “Happiness is a bright and shining thing.”  This little gem has seen me through many fears, many flights.

It holds words I’ve highlighted and literally held onto…our future only truly known to God—whom I love and whom I am learning to trust, breath by breath. I joke with my friends about airport margaritas being my saving grace, but really it’s the selfless protection of Jesus. I read through the verses in the little book again, and I know that no matter what all will be well.

Before I go back to sleep, calmer now, I will leave these verses with you in case you need them, too. I will always needs them. Reading them once will never do. But each time I am reminded that I am in good hands, and each time I can feel strengthened and resolve to be a conqueror. And as I leave this paragraph, I hear the bird again…and this time I’m not annoyed for I remember it is, after all, his love song.

From My Fear Not Journal

  • “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.” -Isaiah 41:10
  • “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus.” -Phillipians 4:6-7
  • “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.” -Psalm 56:3
  • “For God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” -2 Timothy 1:7
  • “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” -1 Peter 5:6-7
  • “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” -Deuteronomy 31:6
  • “I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” -Psalm 34:4
  • “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” -Matthew 6: 25-27

Do you have any verses, songs, or tips that help you in times of anxiousness? Please share them! Thank you.

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Ponderings

Write with me, Lord. Be my words. 

This was my prayer as I walked down the shadowed hall after a long day of work, a mountain of things to do gradually falling off my shoulders with every step toward the keyboard.

Be my words.

It is my prayer every time I write. And today I think again and again on the question “WHY do I write?“. Why do I come here, week after week, to tell a story…or to try to remind us both of God’s goodness and grace?

It’s part selfishness, part love.

The selfish aspect is that it comforts me to leave a legacy of some kind. At this web address will always be found a piece of me. In the chaos of everyday life, when the bell or the time clock or the agenda of the day drags us away from discussions of the heart and steals from us the breath of what really matters, I like knowing that I can come here so the person who needs it can read something that may make them smile…or think…or remember.

But the love part, the greater part, is having the space and place to freely speak of Jesus and how He loves you and me. The idea that maybe–just maybe–someone may see the positive side of a dreary situation and make the decision to see the light instead of being focused on the darkness: By sharing the victories in my life which have followed the battles I’ve encountered. Or simply noticing the beauty of the world around us amidst the clamoring debates and arguments and nastiness of the world.

I fear I’m not doing it right. I fear that I come here week after week trying in vain to be the encourager I set out to be and fail. My heart is so full of hope for others to find the salvation that only Jesus has given. The gift of eternal life. Or to help someone reconsider their sadness. And here I am telling again instead of showing…at least in this post. When really, it’s apparently through stories in which people connect with.

This leads me to I worry that I am not a storyteller. I worry about sharing too much…too little. I resist the advice to weave my words in a way that captures attention, and so instead I write plainly from my heart. In doing so, I risk lack of acclaim, lack of “sharing”, lack of “likes”. But the very core of my soul knows that none of that matters. The number of “hits” has nothing to do with resting in the love of God who already loves me so…and who loves you so, as well. He longs only for us to acknowledge Him and know Him and spend time with Him….to share the story of Christ to all.

Because of this, because of my prayer that God write with me, I often forego the “rules” of the writer. I ignore the fact that the most “hits” my blog has ever had was about my dog. I could write post after post about my dog in order to gain more readers, but I it feels strange to do so. At least, for now. I feel like in doing so it will be me wanting to conform to the writer’s world in order to earn a buck. Or recognition…or popularity.

Isn’t it so hard to not compare ourselves with others and just realize that we, too, are amazing? Let’s not put numbers on ourselves….instead, let’s leave the numbers to God, whose thoughts of each of us are so many that were we to count them they would be “more in number than the sand” (Psalm 139:17-18). Isn’t that where the true substance lies?

All I want to do is be here, and share words on a page inspired by the God who created us, who meets us here—you and me–in order to nudge us to think and reflect on life, love, and laughter. My God doesn’t want fancy words or perfection…He just wants me, as I am. And so, I show up and see what happens. Thank you for joining me on my journey of figuring out how to encourage. I’m still learning as I go.

Write with me, Lord. Be my words. Please. 

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Broccoli Bird

My breath…I can feel it finally returning from a few weeks lost. Caught up, it was, in excitement and self-doubt—too impatient to go deep and swell, too busy to give clarity as it ought to do.  It takes wistful, eclectic Celtic music on a chilly Sunday afternoon to find the rhythm of the air which enters and leaves my lungs, peaceful and long. Staring up at the timid sunlight stripes at the tops of the windows, I pause to be thankful for this solitary moment.

Away from the music, outside, the wind chimes are right on cue to begin their daily two o’clock performance. It makes me wonder about the silky black cat who loiters frequently in our flowerbeds.

As I walk on bare feet from the couch to the back door, I think about the next chapter I’m about to read in a book recommended over at Higher Purpose WritersBird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I’ve peeked ahead to see the next chapter is called “Broccoli”. In the middle of that thought, I rub the bottoms of my feet on the cold hard floor to somehow warm them. On days like these, they miss carpet.

Do I really want to read several pages who introduce themselves as “Broccoli”? The tree-like vegetable is something I simply tolerate out of necessity. Thinking on necessities, I turn the knob on the door leading to the backyard, curious about the cat….believing that after I check on him, I will need water and chocolate. My mind nags that only one of those is truly a necessity, but I don’t have the heart to choose a winner. It will have to be both today. My eyelashes touch the blinds as I spy midnight fur on wood.

Yes! My mind both celebrates and decides at once. Yes, the black cat lounges in the tangled tanbark yet again. The corners of my smile lift higher at the evidence of that small joy. A furry creature is good news, because life itself is always welcome here. Even though we are not cat lovers. His head swivels quickly at the first sound of the door cracking open, only a bit, just enough to peer out with both of my hazel eyes and the tip of my nose. I breathe in cold afternoon sunshine.

Will he come closer today? My breath holds, just like it has for weeks. Waiting, anxious, excited all at once. Like with the writing. We stare each other down….one heartbeat, two…my hope floats as the third and fourth beat pulse silently between us. His yellow green eyes so like mine are fascinated with something in me. He stretches his arms and legs out slowly, eyes still glued to mine—a small victory, as it is a clue that he grows more comfortable near our home. Maybe he is a she. Maybe someday we’ll make introductions. Mike and I would like that. Even if he is cat.

Before my veins pulse for a fifth time, he-she sprints to the intersecting boards where four properties meet. With one swift leap, he is up and over the other side of the fence heading to the place we assume is where he calls home. Today, though, he stops a moment and bends his neck to look backward at me one more time. He stares. I don’t cower. My turf…but I plead with my eyes for him to stay. To add a little mischief and laughter to our forsaken backyard now that Amber has gone. With a slow blink, he reassures me he’ll return. I wave small, hopeful, and pivot back to face Bird by Bird waiting on the arm of my reading chair.

Yes to the broccoli, too, then. Because just like the hope that someday I will pet that cat and be close enough to hear him purr, I want to learn more about writers and how they think. What works and what doesn’t. If I am like them. And with each word, the author draws me in to a sense of familiar and home. She’s already had me whispering yes to her sentence that says “Writing can be a desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.”

Hand on the door, pulling it closed, I recall my jaw dropping—like that moment when you realize there’s a surprise birthday party going on and you belatedly realize the party is for you—when on the fifteenth page I read, misty-eyed as it hit me, “Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth.” 

And so, as this adventure of carving out time to write for some kind of meaningful purpose sometimes has me breathless with many emotions, defeat will not be one of them. I’ll even read about broccoli, if need be. As I leave this page to go dive into another, I can’t help but be thankful for music, which leads me to nature, which leads me to cats, which leads me back to learning, which leads me back to writing.

Time, patience…perseverance. Breath.

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Sing Anyway

Some people sing so beautifully that it causes others to stop in their tracks with wonder. I’m not one of those people. There were clues along the way. For example, I vaguely recall my little brothers asking me to stop singing in the car during weekends at Dad’s. At the time, I thought optimistically that it was because the radio took precedence. However, things started to become clear when I joined the college choir as a rookie, eager to raise my voice in song with others because it just felt so good to sing.

On the first day, when it came time for introductions and to share with each other what part we sing, I said to the group that I didn’t know. Soprano, alto? I had no idea.

“I have no idea”, the choir director teased in a Minnie Mouse voice in front of the small class. We all laughed.

My feelings weren’t hurt, but some of the curious looks I got when we all started singing were hints that I was out of my element.  After that experience, I decided to hide my voice in the ginormous choir at my church on special occasions, like Father’s Day. I just wanted to sing, and maybe this would be a better opportunity to sing where no one would notice. Well, maybe no one noticed, but I struggled. My throat fought against the imaginary boa constrictor which had taken up residence around my neck. Now I was just overthinking it.

So I thought perhaps the best thing to do if I was going to seriously try to improve was take a voice class. Oh, that was painful. My vocal stylings were akin to nails on a chalkboard as I stood alone in front of my classmates, knees shaking, trying to make something beautiful out of something obviously broken…their glances creeping towards the mid-century modern windows as if looking for an escape from my interesting performance of Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s The Willow Song gone wrong.

When I got married, my husband gently confirmed my suspicions without even saying a word. I started to notice he’d stealthily do pretty much anything to avoid my singing. On days I just couldn’t help myself and start to belt out tunes in the kitchen while doing dishes, I noticed the volume would go up significantly on the TV in the next room. At first he dropped those kind of subtle hints, but now that I have accepted I am vocally challenged we laugh about it together and he literally just begs me to stop. Therefore, I sing even louder. In his face.

Part patriotic respect, part golden opportunity, my students and I sing a song every day after the flag salute. It’s the best moment of the day. We’re mostly off key, all of us, and as a musician who plays the bassoon and clarinet I could help them improve their singing (at least, I think I could) but I don’t. I don’t because they are happy and in love with singing and they don’t really care that they don’t sound perfect, so that is good enough for me. Plus we have to move on to the math lesson. I notice some days their little heads will swivel around with eyes wide as saucers when I really tank the “rockets red glare” part, but they’re so sweet that they don’t say a word about it. They don’t even laugh at me.

I really don’t understand it, my voice. It’s like I was born from a family of hummingbirds, meeping and chirping away, unable to get it just right. I played in bands and orchestras for almost twenty years, so how come I just can’t seem to sing beautifully? It’s a puzzle. And over time, I’ve finally decided this:

I can’t care.

I can’t care anymore if I don’t sing well, because usually it is God I am singing to. He listens. And God doesn’t make mistakes. For some reason, He made my voice my own curious little thing to the ears on earth. But to Him, I imagine He loves my voice. How could He not? He loves yours, too.

Psalm 139:13-14 says “For You have formed my inward parts; You have covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.” And then it goes on to say in verse 17, “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!”.

Marvelous and precious. That’s what we are to the Lord. I’d reckon our voices are not excluded in that. No matter what they sound like. He formed us just as we are. So, let’s come to Him in song just as we are. Wherever we are. His opinion is all that matters anyway. I’ve decided that, as Martina McBride’s song celebrates, I’ll just sing Anyway. (I love watching this video of a woman signing the lyrics of that Anyway song.)

Each of us has our own unique individual voice. Voices that are lovely to the One who designed them to be so. Let’s be unabashed with our outpouring of joy. Let’s allow ourselves comfort in sorrow with song, if that’s what suits us. It would be tragic to deny ourselves this thing just for the sake of worrying what others think.

So that’s why I’m just not going to mind anymore if no one likes my voice. It will take courage, yes. I’ll likely have to shut my eyes sometimes as I sing to block everyone out; I may have to take deep breaths to bolster my heart. But the feeling of singing, for me, is such a happy feeling and brings such solace that it’s worth the risk of being out of harmony with others. At least in this small thing.

“Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;

Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.”

-Psalm 98:4

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Fear

To reach that spectacular, beautifully rugged land’s end, I needed to cross that blustery bridge. It was the summer of 2015, and my husband and I stood on the rocky soil of County Antrim, Ireland. The smiles of the people waiting in line for their turn were like lifelines to me. Tourists who had already made their way over the popular Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge waved across to all gleefully, eager to share their joy at reaching a point of the Emerald Isle that would have been treacherous any other way—if not for the bridge made of simple wood planks and intricate knots of thick, trusty rope.

I wasn’t so sure that rope was so trusty.

Shortly after we returned to our home in California, I turned on the computer in our home office and immediately discovered my husband had changed the desktop wallpaper. It was a picture of me on that bridge. I was confused. Why not a picture of the two of us from some other photo op on that trip? Usually, our desktop wallpaper was something of us together, or of our beloved dog, Amber.

I called out my question to him from where I knew he could hear me in the living room. It was quiet for a bit, and then I heard the muffled sound of his feet brushing across the carpet as he made his way to the room.

“I know how hard that was for you,” he replied quietly from the doorway.

I felt my heart swell with love for this man.

“I know how hard it was.”

Although our trip to Ireland that year was overall an amazing experience, it seemed like I was trapped into facing one battle after the other. Instead of being excited to fly across the Atlantic, I would wake up in the middle of the night with my heart racing in fear of our upcoming flight. Instead of every moment thrilling to the luscious green land all around me, at times I struggled to catch my breath. Instead of marveling at the natural wonder of the hexagonal columns at the Giant’s Causeway, I trembled in near panic as we walked along dirt paths next to cliff walls…certain they would crumble down on top of us at any moment. The odds of that happening were extremely slim.

The fear I struggled with is a distant memory now, but at the time that gruesome pest was taking all the fun out of an extraordinary trip. And my worrying over every little thing was draining the strength out of my mind and spirit.

So by the time we arrived at the “car park” of the rope bridge, he looked over at me before we got out of the car. “Are you sure you want to do this?” I peered out the windshield and looked at the path which led to the ocean. I could barely see the bridge, but from this point it didn’t look quite as scary as I had imagined. “Yep,” I huffed with a tight smile. “Nope,” my heart shot back, the echoes of my discontent bouncing around my rib cage.

As we got closer to the line of tourists waiting to cross, however, my breath started to come out in hesitant, quivering bursts. I squeezed my eyes shut in an effort to quiet the evidence of my uncertainty. “Are you sure?” he checked again when he caught me staring down at the crashing sea 100 feet below.  (That’s the part you can’t really see in many pictures.)

“Yep.”

When we were next in line, I looked up at the young, fair-haired Irishman whose cheeks were red from being slapped by cold, wild coastal air. He was one of two workers there who were the gatekeepers, so to speak, supervising and limiting the number of bridge crossers. The three of us chit-chatted loudly over the roar of the waves while we waited, laughingly trading California and Irish stereotypes, and how he’s been meaning to make his first trip to the States to visit a friend in San Diego.

Finally, I looked into his friendly blue eyes—certain God had placed him there that day to comfort me with his quick camaraderie—and all of a sudden blurted, “I’m a little terrified, but I’m going to do this.” It had been the statement I’d repeated silently the whole way down the path up to this point. I was sick and tired of letting fear beat out my faith and trust. I said it over and over until I believed it.

The stranger’s kind smile gentled, and his eyes turned serious as they acknowledged my fear.  “Not to worry,” he said, his musical Irish accent calming me, “you’ll do just fine. Are you ready?” He had received the nod of permission for us to trek ahead from his partner across the way.

And so, step by step I worked my way across the bridge. The creaks of the rope swaying in the gusty wind invaded my ears, but the strength of the planks below my feet, my silent prayers, and my belief that I could squash this feeling of trepidation—because I chose to—upheld me and my courageous soul the whole way and back again. For the rest of the day, you couldn’t take the smile off my face if you tried. Even thinking back on it now, the memory girds my heart.

“I know how hard it was for you.” My husband’s answer whispered to me again.

Currently, I’ve chosen to focus on the truths of courage over the lies of fear…but I still have my moments of not believing I can do certain things. Even now, I have some goals that leave me shaking in my boots when I think too long on it. But the things I want to conquer don’t have to be achieved all at once. I believe that some day I will be able to scratch each one off the list, but I have to be patient with myself and give myself the grace to persevere—one step at a time, if need be.

There are some fears I’ve fled from and didn’t triumph. And yet, I won’t dwell on the ones from the past which I may not have the opportunity to face again. Instead, I’ll find new things to find victory in.  Whatever you may be facing, believe that you can declare yourself the victor. The feeling of accomplishment and relief…the burden of dread lifted…the surrender…it is so worth it. Will I ever bungee jump? Never will I ever. For me, today… in about 10 minutes, it’s going to be the pile of dishes in my sink that I will conquer. That mess seems impossible. But I believe I can tackle it, and so I will.

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Courage

They could probably hear my screams all the way up in the lobby. I was around six or seven-years-old at the time, and in the middle of what was supposed to be a quick out-patient procedure. As a young urology patient, it was yet another routine test to make sure all was still well. I remember being promised a visit to Toys R Us and Baskin Robbins once it was over. That was what got me through it. Toys and ice cream.

I knew I had to to be there, because all my little life I’d been told about how sick I had been when I was a baby. I was no stranger to the doctor’s office. I also knew that the scar which traveled from the side of my waist to nearly my spine was from the kidney surgery I eventually had when I was nearly two-years-old. They say it saved my life.

Most of my checkups at the urologist went fine. Water fountain. Check. Urine sample. Check. Lollipop. Check. Easy peasy. But this one was not like the others. It involved
tubes and catheters. Bright lights. Noisy medical equipment…my grandma allowing me to attempt squeezing her hand right off her arm as she stood by my side.
In the end, I made it through, and so did my grandma’s circulation.

As an adult, my bribes whenever I go into a medical procedure that I am not looking forward to have changed from toys and ice cream to pedicures and Starbucks. One of my Worst Memory Procedures was dealing with two ingrown toenails. Now, this is a seriously minor ordeal, but it was during this simple thing in which I had a huge epiphany.

First of all, I learned quickly how sensitive our toes are. Forget the actual digging around with the scalpels and clippers or whatever is it they do behind that thick vinyl curtain that hung in front of my feet. The freezy stuff they inject you with to numb your toes was one of the worst things I’ve ever felt. If my lungs could leave my body from the effort to not scream, they would have. It was all I could do not to involuntarily (or if I’m honest, voluntarily) kick the podiatrist.

So when I had to go back the second time for the other toe, I was on edge. The painful memory of the freezy shot had been imprinted in my brain. I sat and waited alone in wretched anticipation. I prayed for courage. I was so tense I could barely breathe. Then a picture came to my mind. 

Jesus on the cross.

In that moment, I remembered reading all that Jesus had gone through leading up to His death. The torture. The prolonged pain. The crown of thorns.

And then I looked down at my toes. And I breathed. I could do this.

I still wasn’t looking forward to the pain. Who would? But this time, I was able to dig a little deeper into my stores of courage. If Jesus could endure all of that, surely I could handle a little shot of frozen stuff to numb my toe. It still was unpleasant. The pain was still there, but it made me appreciate so much more what our Savior went through to save us. 

When I feel fear start to creep in over my current or future health, I remember the day I had that realization. Whenever I have another medical procedure (and I’ve had some since then that hurt enough to cry), I bring this memory with me. It helps me to know that I’m not alone. That there was One before me who knew pain…and ultimately, beautifully, He triumphed. 

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Hello

Once in awhile I feel like I am back to being the 6th grade girl sitting alone on the bus with sticky, wet candy in her hair. Trying not cry. Wishing I had people I belonged to or were at ease with. Longing to be anyone but the new girl at my fourth California school who couldn’t summon up enough courage to speak even a “hello” to any of the other kids.

Chubby, shy by nature, and with a unique face kids often stared at, I’d already been through a lot by then. In kindergarten, the kids wondered aloud if I was from another country because of the shape of my eyes. In first grade, they commented on my little nose. By second grade, they would yell “Cabbage Patch Kid!” as they raced past me on the playground.

My one blessing, and the greatest of them all in my seven-year-old eyes, was my best friend Marci. She was a cool kid. She had confidence. She proudly hailed from New York. Most important of all, she was nice and she stood up for me. Hands on her hips she would yell back at the mean kids. Her envied freckles flaming, she would scrunch up her nose and give them a what-for. I always guessed it was because of her that I even got invited to parties. Kids like me usually were left out.

Then one early fall at the beginning of third grade, my mom and I moved to a new town. I found myself far away from the school I knew, away from Marci my Defender, and was plucked into a sequence of several years filled with new towns and new apartments. Which also meant new schools.

I was able to be inconspicuous at the first two new schools, mostly by reading alone by the classroom door at recess. Then I discovered band. I praise God for that. Learning how to play an instrument took my mind off the friends I still hadn’t made, opened a new place of wonder in my soul, and it also started to give me a little bit of a community I hadn’t been able to find as a shy kid. It wasn’t long until I did make a few good friends.

Then we moved in the middle of sixth grade. Twice. The first school that year was a monster of a junior high in a big town. It was navigating through asteroids in outer space. It was the rookie horrors of the P.E. locker room. My goal was to be invisible. I still hadn’t been able to get my “hello” out. I also didn’t feel like I mattered, compared with all the cliques and kids who already knew each other.

The second school was a K-6 elementary school. The hair candy bus school. I sat in the front near the bus driver while a small group of pretty, popular girls sat way in the back. The bus was mostly empty, and there was no one in between us. I heard a bunch of laughing. Then it got louder. I turned around and they all ducked, blond curls giving them away as the wind from the open windows whipped the tops of their hair around. Checking my own thick, permed hair to make sure it was in control, I felt the first Jolly Rancher. Then the second. I froze.

I lacked social skills, but I was a nice girl. I barely spoke to anyone. I was quiet, but full of love. I didn’t understand. Why me?

The school secretary found the third piece of wet, sucked on candy as they cut out the pieces for me. I couldn’t get them out myself. I’m not sure if I ever told my mom. I was humiliated. Thankfully, we moved again not long after that. Things got much better when I was able to stay in the same school district for the next five years. I came out of my shell a little more, although still shy enough that while I could talk to my band friends I could barely say “hello” to the students in my regular classes.

Thirty years later, I still think on that incident now and then. It comes to me in the moments when I notice others briefly glance at me, but make more of an eager effort to converse with the beautiful or fun people across the table. It makes me pause when I feel uninvited or left out. It haunts me when I feel not good enough.

I am much more outgoing these days. I’m better at conversations now. It may or may not be hard to tell, but there are still times when I’m secretly shaking in my boots when I talk to people. My confidence-in-training ebbs and flows like the oceans’s tide, but it strengthens with each small step of courage.

Despite all that, I am not sorry for my social hardships as a kid. Yes, the memories sometimes pain me in the moments when I feel lonely, but I know I still have growing to do. I could also make more of an effort on my part. Maybe accept more invitations. Or look for how people may need someone to talk to and listen to them, rather than hide in my own insecurities. It gives me opportunity to pray not only for myself, but for others like myself. And those times always draw me back to Jesus, who is now my most reliable and greatest best friend of all. He tells us He is with us always.

These days, I am not afraid to say “hello”. I make it my mission to smile and say hello to try to make people feel welcome and comfortable. I’m not Miss Sunshine 24/7…believe me, I have some cranky days! And I get in a sullen mood during some seasons. But within each child I meet, I can’t help but wonder if they have ever felt like I had when I was young. Within each adult, I imagine they may have had a painful, bullying experience, too…no matter what they look like. Or maybe they are having a rough day and need some friendliness.

I chose not to let exclusion break me into pieces. I found other things to hold unto while I grew my courage. Music, books, Jesus…journal writing. Eventually, I realized that even one person like me can make a difference in someone’s day who might be feeling alone. If just one word….”Hello”…can make things a little better for someone, then I’m going to summon up my courage and get it done.

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