Changing and Looking Ahead


My son and his family left Myrtle Beach this afternoon. It was marvelous to see them again…and heart wrenching to tell them good-bye last night. Atlanta, GA is a long way from here, and although I know I’ll see them at least once before Ethan Paul makes his debut in March, it was still hard to watch them drive away last night.

Still, if I’ve learned one thing in my life it’s that it (life) goes on. Despite separation, trials, loss, and pain, it goes on. Whining and feeling sorry for myself won’t bring the young family back. Nor will it bring back my parents and grandparents who no longer walk the earth. I’ve known people so sick or discouraged or miserable that they simply didn’t want to go on anymore. Fortunately, so far they’ve had the fortitude to keep on keeping on.

Here’s another thing I’ve learned: those whom you’ve loved never really leave you. They’re always in your heart and mind, and sweet memories of them can be conjured up at a moment’s notice. Hundreds of these recollections  have flooded my mind during this special season, thus making it challenging to spotlight just one. Many of them sort of flow into each other, like the dozens of Christmas Eves at my grandmother’s house when all of my cousins were there. Invariably, one of the adults would look out the window and declare that he had seen lights circling the area, a sure sign that Santa wanted to land. If I had to choose just one Christmas memory, I’d go with the one in which my grandmother read me an article from the newspaper about a little girl named Virginia who wanted to know if there was a Santa Claus. Spellbound, I listened to MaMa Padgett as she read Virginia’s letter and the editor’s response, thrilled to know that indeed Santa existed.

My sweet daughter-in-law seemed to have a case of the doldrums when I saw her yesterday, and I suspect it’s because she and I were feeling some of the same emotions. She’s on her way back to Atlanta now and probably won’t see her parents for several months. They’re serving a mission for the LDS church and only came home for a couple of weeks at this special season. They’ll be back in June. By then, Amanda and Paul will have another baby, Ethan. Hmmm. That brings me to a third thing I’ve learned: The only constant is change! Seriously, you can count on that one. Nothing ever stays the same. For better or worse, things (people, events, circumstances) are always in a state of flux. All I have to do is look at my grandchildren to see that!

I think of my sweet mama every day, and naturally she’s in most of my Christmas memories. Of the many, many lessons I learned from her, one is that a person always needs something to look forward to. Whether it’s a visit from a friend, a favorite television show, or a shopping excursion, having something to look forward to can give us momentum and buoy up our spirits. Having a hopeful expectation that something good is going to happen can make the crucial difference between happiness and misery.

As 2011 comes to a close, I realize the truth of the above even more. Life goes on, people never really leave you, change is constant, and hope is important. I’m looking forward to 2012 and all of the changes that it will surely bring. I hope that we can all adapt to whatever lies in store for us and, all the while keeping our loved ones in our hearts.

Writing Conference Tips


This morning I found some notes I took at the annual South Carolina Writers Workshop held in Myrtle Beach in October, and reading over my scribbled notes brought to mind the great time I had and the information I learned. From the time I arrived on Thursday evening until I parted company with my new friends on Sunday, it was a wonderful experience. Or rather, it was a series of one memorable experience after another. The three days were instructive, inspiring, motivational, and downright fun.

My primary job as a volunteer was to work at the registration desk, but I basically filled in where needed. For instance, I helped Kia stuff attendee bags on Friday, and I helped Kim and Kathryn with the silent auction winners on Sunday. While the best part of the conference was probably getting to know and rub shoulders with some amazing people, it was also great to learn so many tidbits about writing.

Time and space prohibit a rundown of everything so I’ll just hit some of the highlights of Friday. That morning, I attended a couple of informative sessions, and these are some things I learned. Most had to do with societal change and believability.

Often grandparents writing children’s books sound like grandparents. I knew exactly what the speaker meant by this. Lately I read some negative comments on Face Book about the Junie B. Jones books, and guess who they were written by? A grandparent. A grandparent who’s out of touch with the way children perceive the world and the way they talk today. This grandparent also criticized the language in the Junie books and went on to say that it’s no wonder children speak  the way they do when they read “crap” like this. I’m wondering if exposure to grandparents’ language is more likely the culprit in this case.

Technology is tricky because it dates a book. While I know this, I don’t know exactly how to change it…or whether it’s even a bad thing. Is a person using a land line phone, a cell phone, or a smart phone? Language dates a book too, and examples such as “wassup” were given. Too, words like netbook, apps, and Skype weren’t even in our lingo ten years ago.

Although societal changes and advances in technology alter the way people communicate with each other, character motivation stays the same. Basic psychology isn’t going to change, but the methods used to reveal character are different. One presenter told about a spooky guy who lived in her neighborhood when she was a child. One Halloween, he built a casket, placed it in his front yard, and lay naked in it. When a brave and curious child tentatively opened the lid for a peek inside, he grabbed her and pulled her into the coffin with him.Today this predator would be online. This grabbed my attention because according to psychologists, online solicitation of children is becoming more common.

Before breaking for lunch, the presenter shared some other tidbits. When you edit your own work, try to find out what your quirk is like colons, commas, no paragraphs, or using a word or expression too much. When I heard that, I couldn’t help but think of Pat Conroy, one of my favorite Southern writers. In My Reading Life, Conroy admits that he has a problem with wordiness. He can’t help his verbosity, however, and says he was stung by a wordsmith, his mother, at a very early age. Is there a Conroy fan anywhere who could deny that his voice is unique and that his long winded style works for him?

The last tip was my favorite. Why? Because it works! If you’re stuck, go do some laundry, and when you come back, your writing will be crisper. It doesn’t have to be laundry. It could be a walk around the neighborhood, lunch with friends, or an episode of NCIS. The point is to get away from the work for a bit.

Wow. The more I write, the more I realize that I learned that weekend. Stay tuned. I need to take a break and will share the rest of Friday’s information  in a day or two.

Crossing Over

“You’re a crazy woman, you know that?” he asked.

“Yes Dear. You’ve told me about a thousand times,” I replied. “Just let me out of the car and meet me on the other side.”

“But it’s noon…and hot as blazes. You’ll have a heat stroke,” my husband added, thinking that his words would dissuade me from walking across the Cooper River Bridge yesterday.

From my perspective, the only thing crazy about it was that I didn’t have the proper shoes. I was wearing Teva flip-flops, and although I was a bit concerned about chafing, I was determined to cross that bridge. Walking across it was symbolic, and what better time to do it than the day after my birthday and the beginning of the first week of my retirement.

As I began the first incline, I heard a horn beep, and to the right, I caught a glimpse of my Highlander crossing the bridge.  Already hot, I began to wonder at the folly of the venture, but it was too late to turn back. I had lots of company, mostly walkers, and I entertained myself by observing them and taking pictures of the scenery. One man who was descending the bridge assured me that it was a “teeny tiny” bit cooler at the top. One young woman wearing hospital scrubs walked towards me carrying her shoes, her bare feet walking on the scalding concrete. A few yards later I stopped to take a picture, and when I looked back towards the Mt. Pleasant side, I saw her taking a break, sitting down with her legs drawn up. I thought about her off and on all day and hoped she was okay.

As I neared the top of the second crest, a man zoomed by me. “Show off,” I thought, a little envious of someone who could move so quickly in the sweltering heat. My running days are over. I’m a walker now. Still, once in a while I feel a little twinge of regret or envy or something whenever I see a zoomer, especially when I’m moving about as fast as I can move.

I consoled myself by saying, “What’s the hurry? It’s the journey, not the destination,” and that worked pretty well. By the time I crested the second incline and started down again, I saw him. He was standing by the railing, breathing hard and wiping his head, face, and neck with a towel. I felt fine as I breezed right by him, thinking of Aesop’s tortoise and hare fable.

I snapped two pictures of scripture verses that someone had etched into one of the concrete structures on the bridge. I didn’t know whether to be amused or angered. How can a person who’s serious about spreading “the Word” go around defacing property?

Near the end of the crossing, a young man sporting a pony tail, numerous tattoos, and a finely-toned body flew by me. Moments later, a young woman wearing yellow shorts and a black sports bra did the same. “Ah, youth,” I thought.

I’ve always loved bridges, and the Cooper River Bridge (don’t bother telling me that it’s the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge) has always been a favorite. My mother once told me that I cried and begged to take it home with me when I was a toddler. I didn’t understand about bridges then, how they took you from one place to another. I do now. Crossing the 2.5 miles awesome bridge yesterday symbolized another crossing over for me.  There’s the obvious one, the birthday thing, but then there’s the retirement transition too. I can’t get to what’s next without leaving the shore and crossing over.

It was hot. I had to work hard. There was a gentle breeze near the top, and a friendly soul encouraged me by telling me about it before hand. Some people fell by the wayside, especially if they were ill-equipped for the journey (improper shoes) or they went too fast and burned out. Some who were young and fit zoomed by me.

Hmmm. Am I describing yesterday or the working world in general? In both cases, moving at my own pace, I made it to the other side…of the bridge and to retirement.  I hope the young woman with the painful feet takes better care of herself on her journey. And that the speedster slows down and enjoys the trip.

Hey Grandmama!

After eating our kids’ meals, we all got Dilly Bars, and at the children’s request, we toasted each other with them. “Here’s to summertime!” everyone exclaimed. Then, “Here’s to families!” Indeed. Here’s to families! Whether departed, separated, present, or distant, they’re awesome.

Nothing deep or ponderous today. Just a few recollections of the days I spent with Carrie and her family last week. As mentioned in a previous post, my daughter gave birth to Seth Michael a couple of weeks ago, and I went down to help her out with her other four children.  They range in age from 2 to 8, and they’re pretty typical children. By that, I mean that they’re active, inquisitive, busy, noisy, demanding (when’s lunch???), demonstrative (I got lots of hugs and kisses), entertaining, and distracting.

When I look back over the days and nights there, everything sort of melds together into one long day. So what I’m going to do is hit the highlights. Since Rich, my son-in-law, was off on Saturday, I seized that opportunity to go to the library to do some work. Anyone who’s ever tried to do any serious reading and grading knows it can’t be done (at least not well) in a noisy environment, especially if little people are crawling on you and trying to play with your computer.

Hence, off to the library I went. Two hours quickly passed, and I gathered up my “stuff” and headed to the car. It was so hot!!!  While hustling to the car trying to get out of the heat, I heard a precious voice say, “Hey Grandmother!” I looked up and there was blond haired Emma running towards me from the park. She and her dad were on a daddy/daughter date, and her request had been to have lunch in the park. Though he was HOT and miserable, Rich had agreed to her plan, and when I drove off, the two of them were sitting side by side, Rich listening away as she prattled on about something.

Sunday was an interesting day, nice and memorable but kind of slow. It rained, and that kept us all inside. The girls dressed up in my Sunday clothes, experimented with lip gloss, and posed for pictures. Braden drew and colored, and Colton, well Colton basically was his usual adorable little self. I love to hear him say, “I take nap.” Yes yes yes yes yes.  Later in the day, I put on my Susie Homemaker apron and made some snicker doodles, and they were a big hit. For dinner that night, we had bagel bites and cookies. Sounds good to me!

Every single night I was there, Emma would burst through the door at some point in the early morning hours and join me in the single bed in Seth’s room. It was a tight squeeze, but I couldn’t refuse the little imp.  On the last night of my visit, Brooke joined us. That was the evening/early morning when I gave up on the idea of sleep. I sat in the rocking chair and read my Kindle while watching the little princesses sleep.

Speaking of nighttime, I love the fact that 8-year-old Braden likes to read before going to sleep. Anytime to read is fine, of course, but there’s just something special about losing yourself in a good book before dozing off. Braden uses a flashlight; I use a book light.

Carrie’s birthday was Tuesday the 2nd, and one of her friends made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. As a birthday gift to Carrie, Cindy offered to keep the four older children so that Carrie, Seth, and I could go to Savannah for lunch and a tiny bit of shopping. We dined at the Olive Garden, her favorite restaurant, and although the air conditioning was on the fritz that day, we enjoyed our Italian cuisine and mother/daughter conversation. Seth is an angel baby so far and allowed his mother to eat without so much as a whimper. Our shopping consisted of Carrie going to Publix while I sat in the car with the sleeping baby. 

On the evening before I left to come home, Carrie and Rich went out to celebrate her birthday and left me with all five children! We all survived. Later we had cake and ice cream, and Carrie opened her gifts. I can’t wait to see her wearing the beautiful jewelry from Braden and Colton. I know that Germ-X from the girls will come in handy too.

If you’re still reading this account, you’re either a family member or a true friend. Interestingly, the more I write the more I remember. I won’t go into it all, however. I’ll just briefly describe our visit to Dairy Queen on my last day with the Masedas. It was wild and crazy and wonderful. After eating our kids’ meals, we all got Dilly Bars, and at the children’s request, we toasted each other with them. “Here’s to summertime!” everyone exclaimed. Then, “Here’s to families!”

Indeed. Here’s to families! Whether departed, separated, present, or distant, they’re awesome.

Making a Place

Today’s my last day of full-time employment with the state of South Carolina. It’s been a grand ride. I’ve met literally thousands of people who have enriched my life in the most amazing ways. I’ve had the opportunity time after time after time to feel the magic in a classroom, that moment when a student “gets it,” when he connects the dots and sees how the concepts actually apply to his life.

I’ve heard it said many times that if you want something to happen in your life, something new or exciting, you have to make a place for it. I think that “place” (I hope my friend Joey will overlook those quotation marks if they’re used incorrectly) could refer to both physical and psychological space. It could even mean time and energy.

That said, today is a most exciting day. It’s the last day of full-time employment with the state of South Carolina. It’s been a grand ride. I’ve met literally thousands of people who have enriched my life in the most amazing ways. I’ve had the opportunity time after time after time to feel the magic in a classroom, that moment when a student “gets it,” when he connects the dots and sees how the concepts actually apply to his life. Then there were the moments of laughter and pure unadulterated fun. Yes, that’s allowed in a classroom, at least in mine.

I’m not going to walk down Memory Lane this afternoon. I’ll save that stroll for another day. Today I just want to emphasize that it’s time for a new chapter to begin, and the only way for me to get there is to make some room. Hence, I’m freeing up some time to pursue other interests and explore different opportunities.

Yes, I’ll miss my work buds. I’ll miss my little office too. What I won’t miss is leaving home every single workday at 7:00 a.m. to drive to Sumter or Bishopville for an early morning class. Nor will I miss those night classes. Like Oprah said in her farewell show, “Been there, done that.” My husband and I have plans for Monday morning. We’re going to have breakfast at the local Huddle House, and I plan to sit by the front window so that I can have a good view of all the working stiffs racing by on their way to schools, banks, hospitals, and offices. 

Then I’m coming home to read, write, walk, and put some of my dreams into action. I might even take a real estate course. Yes, I know it’s not a good time to do that. I don’t care about getting rich; I just like looking at houses, and I think I might be pretty good at matching people with just the right home. I might help my sister-in-law Karen in her new business, and she won’t even have to pay me! I’m going to spend more time with my children and grandchildren. Atlanta, Conway, and Rincon (alphabetical order), here I come!

 We’re also going to do some traveling, and Otis has begun a travel fund for us. Alaska is first on our list. Maybe this fall we’ll go on a road trip to New England just to see the leaves. Why not? I’m making a space for it. Some of my friends and I love NYC, and I’ve started a little fund for that too. On my next trip, I’m going to see/hear the Brooklyn Gospel Choir. I’d also like to see where Abraham Maslow grew up. And I never tire of visiting Ellis Island, the MoMA, or the Museum of Natural History.

Between all the goings-on, I’m making a space for writing. I’m having a couple of pieces published in the next few months, and I have a half a dozen books on the back burner. I can’t get to any of those projects, however, unless I make a space for them. That’s why today is my last day.

Okay, let’s back up. It’s my last day of full-time employment, not the last day of employment period. When classes start again in a couple of weeks, I’ll be teaching a couple for CCTC and one for HGTC (online).  I’m excited about that and have already been collecting material. For instance, I just learned that obesity is the second cause of premature preventable death in America. Smoking is number one.  Can’t wait to share that with my Human Growth and Development classes.

In the meantime, my husband just stomped upstairs where I’m working and told me that I needed to make some space to walk around up here. All the office “stuff” is scattered about and is driving him crazy.

A Bride and a Baby

It’s funny how life goes along in a somewhat predictable way, and then BOOM, a whirlwind comes along and turns everything upside down. Knowing that not everyone in the world is interested in the goings-on in my family and yet wantingwith those who care, I’m going to hit some high points.


It’s been a busy, eventful, fun, exhausting couple of weeks. It’s funny how life goes along in a somewhat predictable way, and then BOOM, a whirlwind comes along and turns everything upside down. Knowing that not everyone in the world is interested in the goings-on in my family and yet wanting to share with those who care, I’m going to hit some high points.

First, there’s Jenny, a.k.a. Mrs. Kacey Carbery. She and Kacey tied the knot on the 15th of July after a busy few days of events. Actually, for Jenny, it had been a busy few months, but for the rest of us, many of the parties and celebrations occurred in July. They’re a much-loved couple, and their friends and family went all out to prove it. Because of their marriage, I met some truly interesting and delightful people, and I hope our paths cross again. In fact, we’ve been invited to spend a couple of days in Victoria, Canada next year on our way to Alaska.

Then one day last week, I started cleaning out my office. It’s too daunting a task to tackle in one day so I’ll be traveling to Sumter again soon to take the rest of the pictures off the walls and the books off the shelves. A friend asked me if it was hard, and I had to admit, “Not really.” My attitude is that I’ve had an office for a long, long time, and now it’s time to move on to whatever’s next. Luckily for me, we have a little room above the garage where I can read and write. It even has a skylight so that I can watch the changing sky.

Then my grandson Seth was born. What a precious baby! My former husband and Elizabeth and I spent last Wednesday in the hospital with Rich and Carrie, Seth’s parents, as we waited for his arrival. After the doctors determined that a C-section wouldn’t be necessary after all, we then had to bide our time until Mother Nature took her course. We walked, talked, snacked, dozed, read, and waited. And then we waited some more.

Finally, the moment arrived when it looked like the birth was imminent, and the doctor shooed us out of the room. A moment later, the door cracked open a little as Rich peeped out and asked if I’d like to come inside. I was so excited!!! I’d never witnessed a birth before and had been saying that all day in the hopes that the parents would take the hint. Having that experience was awesome and  unforgettable.            

As the nurses were cleaning the sweet newborn and putting silver nitrate in his eyes, I stood beside him and talked to him in my most soothing voice. Then the funniest and most marvelous thing happened. He opened first one eye and then the other and looked straight at me. I LOVE thinking that I’m the first person he saw and that perhaps the sound of my voice comforted him somewhat during his first scary moments of earth life. Soon Elizabeth and Frankie rejoined us in the room, and everyone got a turn holding the precious little fellow.

Elizabeth and I then went to Rincon, GA where my daughter Carrie lives and began caring for her other four children. They range in age from 2 to 8, and they kept their grandmother and their aunt busy and “engaged,” a word I’ve heard a lot over the last few days. I could go on and on and on about our special time together, but I’ll save that for another day. I just have to mention, however, that I love how Emma used a wet washcloth to subdue her blond curls so that she could make a good first impression on her new brother. She also took a pink purse to the hospital like a big girl.

That was last week. Now I’m back at home trying to finish the semester, and I’ll go back to Rincon later this week to help Carrie as her household adjusts to its newest member. Until then, end-of-the-term journals and assignments are calling my name. And then there’s the office thing. I wonder if Holly, the director of security, will make me turn in my key.

Favorite Fourths

I love everything about the Fourth and the values and principles that it represents. Yep, I even like the golf cart parades, and it makes my day when I see someone wearing a red, white, and blue bathing suit.

Since this is my personal blog, the one where I can post on topics ranging from single mothers and social issues to my family and life experiences, this afternoon I decided to jot down a few things about the Fourth. I love everything about the holiday and the values and principles that it represents. Yep, I even like the golf cart parades, and it makes my day when I see someone wearing a red, white, and blue bathing suit.

This Fourth was quiet compared to many of the others I’ve celebrated. It was just the two of us in Myrtle Beach on Independence Day, and here’s what we did. We began celebrating the night before with a cookout at Carol and Randy’s house in Windy Hill. Loved the huge strawberry shortcake! On the morning of the Fourth, we hit the beach early and stayed there for a couple of hours. We walked, talked, read, and people watched, and I hope to always spend at least a part of our nation’s birthday doing just that.

Later we ate lunch, shopped a little, ate burgers, splurged on ice cream at Cold Stone in Market Commons, and watched a sad fireworks display. We usually go to the 2nd Ave Pier with throngs of other people, but this year we opted to stay at the Commons to view the spectacular display we had seen last year. It didn’t happen; we saw a total of six fiery bursts. Live and learn, right? Next year we’ll be down by the ocean.

Reliving last week’s Fourth has conjured up memories of past celebrations, and in keeping with the Fourth, I’m going to share my top four.

At the top of the list is one in which my son and I went with a buddy from Loris and her daughter to the nation’s capital. Talk about a fireworks display! We joined what seemed like thousands of our fellow American on the mall and watched an awesome sight and  sound show. Something that makes this memory special is that it marks the evening when I realized that my son was growing up and away (from me). He was probably about 10 and VERY ACTIVE. Not content to stay with “us gals,” he climbed on statues and monuments to get a better look at the people and festivities. I was a nervous Nellie, afraid that some crazy person would kidnap him.

Another top memory goes back years ago. It took place in Myrtle Beach. My first husband and I were big into running in those days, and on the Fourth we got up before dawn and went down to the beach for a three-mile jog. My mother was visiting with us and stayed behind to watch the children. We had barely begun our jog when we saw them, a family of about six (maybe more—it was a quick glance) Vietnamese huddled together on the stairs of a beach access boardwalk. To me, they all looked scared and uncertain as they stared out at the ocean. Were they thinking of the land they had left? Were they wondering what this BIG DAY was all about? Were they anxious about what lay before them in the land of the free?

Another favorite memory is of a day when my daughter Carrie and I left the coast to spend the day in the midlands with various family members. My brother and his family were in town visiting my parents for a few days, and we wanted to share a burger with them. My other brother and his family joined us, and if I’m not mistaken, that was the last Independence Day we shared with my parents. Wish we’d taken some pictures.

After lunch and some “hanging out,” we took off for Sumter to visit my sister. She and her husband owned a restaurant at that time, and we (visiting brother and his family and Carrie and I) dined there that night. We have a funny looking picture to prove it. Dave’s wearing a Panama hat, and the rest of us are just standing there looking like dorks. After good-bye hugs, Carrie and I headed east again, but before going home, we stopped in Florence. The parents of a young man whom she was dating at the time had invited us to come by, and we did. They had a pool, and in and around it were a couple of dozen people mingling and talking and lying on floats. There was also lots of food, especially desserts, but Carrie and I restrained ourselves. Tired but happy, we made it back to the beach around midnight.

This post has gone on long enough! I’m just briefly mention last year’s celebration at the beach. Although I can’t remember what happened during the day, I’ll never forget watching the fireworks with my grandchildren at Market Commons in Myrtle Beach that night. In a word, awesome. Afterwards we walked the mile or so back home, and the entire way back, Brooke talked nonstop to Otis. He kiddingly told her that she needed to save her breath for walking, but she chattered on and on. Sweet girl.

I’m sure everyone has special memories of families and friends and flags and burgers. I just wanted to share a few of mine. You know, I think seeing that Vietnamese family is the one that tops the list. For me, it marked the first time I knew that change was happening at breakneck speed, that America was indeed a refuge for millions, and that cultural diversity was becoming more important. I hope the family has found opportunity here and that they love America as much as I do.

Shake it Off

Some of my friends and I have been tossing around some ideas about things we want to try, things we want to accomplish. It’s more than checking items off of a bucket list like visiting Italy, riding an elephant, or bungee jumping. Not that those things aren’t worthy of our endeavors; they’re just not on our lists. The things we want to do involve WORK on our part(s), and they also expose us to teasing, ridicule, and snickering behind our backs.

Some of my friends and I have been tossing around some ideas about things we want to try, things we want to accomplish. It’s more than checking items off of a bucket list like visiting Italy, riding an elephant, or bungee jumping. Not that those things aren’t worthy of our endeavors; they’re just not on our lists. The things we want to do involve WORK on our part(s), and they also expose us to teasing, ridicule, and snickering behind our backs. Hmmm, now that I think of it, sometimes the criticism and skepticism are right up front.

So should a person go for it or continue playing it safe? I think you know my answer to that! It’s tied into positive psychology, a mindset that emphasizes optimism, personal choice, and happiness in human development and overall mental health. Generally, the so-called lay person thinks of psychology as a field in which people with mental and emotional disorders are helped by talk therapy, drugs, or ECT, and while those things happen, psychology is much, much more.

Here’s a neat story that fits nicely into this topic. A couple of Sundays ago, I attended church in Myrtle Beach and heard a story about an old donkey who fell in a deep, dried-up well. His owner tried to get him out, but his efforts were in vain. Finally, he realized that nothing he did was going to get the donkey out of the well, so he came up with an alternate plan. He called his neighbors and asked them to bring their shovels so that they could help him fill in the well. After all, it was dry and useless, and the donkey was old anyway.

At first, the donkey brayed and carried on something fierce. He was scared and angry. Still, the men persisted in their dirt shoveling. Suddenly, they realized that the donkey was quiet, and when they looked down into the well to see what was going on, they saw something remarkable. Every time someone hurled a shovel of dirt on him, the donkey shook it off and then stepped up on it. The men continued shoveling, and the donkey continued climbing until eventually he was above ground.

You don’t have to be a psychoanalyst to see the moral of the story. When life throws dirt on you, shake it off and keep stepping up. You don’t have to get buried by dirt. You don’t have to stay trapped at the bottom of a well. No matter how many people are actively involved in shoveling dirt on you, you have a choice to shake it off and step up…or not.

One of my friends got a rejection letter about a story she had submitted to a magazine. I wrote her on Facebook and said, “Yay! It means you’re actually doing something instead of just talking about it.” Another had a poem of hers criticized for having too many gerunds. Did it bother her? Probably. And yet I know she’ll shake off the dirt and try again. As I write this, I’m thinking of people who are making jewelry, drawing birds, writing stories, writing books, and training for a marathon. I feel certain that in all of their lives there are people with their shovels raised and ready to use.

I hope my friends stay the course. I hope they keep shaking off the dust regardless of who’s shoveling it or how much gets dumped on them. I hope they’ll read this donkey story and that it will help them the way it helped me.

Wandering in the Desert

When Paul and Amanda and Olivia were here this past weekend, Paul and I had a brief conversation about some psychology books I had recently read. He listened politely (someone taught him some excellent manners), but then mentioned that he looked at those specific books as “self-help.” I’m not above reading self-help books, so it kind of caught me off guard. Then he said that if he needed any help, he’d look to the scriptures for answers.

Hmmm. I agree with him that the scriptures are replete with advice, stories, and instructions on how to how a fuller richer life. There’s also lots of encouragement about overcoming fear, many reminders about loving one another, and several stories about people who veered off the straight and narrow and faced some dire consequences.  In fact, there are so many parallels between self-help books and the scriptures that I can say with assurance that regularly dipping into these types of literature has saved my life (figuratively speaking) on many occasions.

Back to Paul. I talked a little bit about the exodus out of Egypt and of how, to me, that was an example of how people don’t have to live lives of slavery…or even of unhappiness. A person can change his life IF he has the desire. He might have to leave behind a former way of life, walk through the Red Sea, and wander around in the desert for a while, but he can do it. In other words, change is hard. Whether the proverbial desert is for four days or four years or longer, you’re going to have to work, and you might have to eat manna instead of steak and potatoes.

Last night as I recalled our conversation, I thought of the man who led this exodus, Moses.  I thought of how he tried to get out of his “calling” by telling God that he had speech issues.  But God knew that Moses was the man He wanted and wouldn’t take no for an answer. We know the rest of the story. We know that Moses led the people out of bondage and that his brother Aaron was his mouthpiece (at least some of the time).

What I’m getting from this second story is that God wants everyone to use the gifts He’s given us, and when we agree to do so, He’ll find a way to help us succeed. It might not be a speech challenge. It could be your looks, your social status, or your misperceptions about your abilities. Whatever it is, God can work through and with you IF you’re willing to walk around in the desert for a while. Overnight success is pretty unlikely.

So yes, I agree with Paul about the scriptures being the original self-help book(s). Sometimes I just need a little helpful commentary to help me understand them better, and that’s where psychology, philosophy, and literature come in.

Gambaru Pablo!

What I want to say to Paul and all the other recent graduates is something I learned from reading about Ann Curry’s parents last week (guideposts.org). Gambaru! It’s one of my new vocabulary words, one that Curry’s mother used to tell her when she was on the verge of giving up or quitting something. It’s Japanese for “Never ever give up, even and especially when there’s no chance of winning.”

One of the gifts my children gave me for Mother’s day is a photograph book from Shutterfly. I love it! It’s a compilation of pictures of the three of them along some “Momisms” that I’ve preached (oops, taught) them over the years. When I was leafing through it again yesterday, I noticed that Paul is the only one of the three who mentioned “Never give up.” I’m sure my lovely daughters heard, “Keep on keeping on” in a variety of ways, just like their brother, but it just didn’t make their top ten.

Never give up is on my mind this morning because Paul is finishing graduate school this summer and has begun a serious job search.  He knows all of the social networking “stuff” and has tweaked his resume (can’t get the punctuation marks to come up) to a tee. It’s a tough market out there, but I’m confident that with his looks, intelligence, perseverance, competence, charm, human relations skills, and attitude, he’ll find just the right position. Yes, I’m a little biased, but that’s a mother’s prerogative.

What I want to say to Paul and all the other recent graduates is something I learned from reading about Ann Curry’s parents last week (guideposts.org). Gambaru! It’s one of my new vocabulary words, one that Curry’s mother used to tell her when she was on the verge of giving up or quitting something.  It’s Japanese for “Never ever give up, even and especially when there’s no chance of winning.”  Raised as a  Buddhist, Curry’s mother Hiroe couldn’t find a temple in America when she needed spiritual sustenance. She couldn’t speak English very well either and was often ridiculed. A tough lady, she had battled tuberculosis earlier in her life and won. This is the kind of mother Ann Curry had.

Her father Bob Curry was a tough cookie too, a strong man who instilled the values of family, love, hard work, and loyalty in his children.  A  Navy man, he met Hiroe when he was stationed in Japan after World War. Life as a mixed-race child in a poor family was hard for Ann and her siblings, and he often told Ann that trials and tribulations would make her stronger. It bugged him when his children whined, and one day he told them that from then on, whoever whined would have to drop and do ten push-ups no matter where they were. His kids quickly learned that whining didn’t accomplish anything.

Her father was a man who practiced what he preached. Once they were on a crowded bus, and all five of the children jumped into the empty seats before he could snag one. When her father said, “That’s not fair,” Curry and her siblings gave him “the look,” and he dropped down in the aisle and did ten push-ups. What a lesson in character!

Curry’s father encouraged her to do something of service with her life, and she decided that journalism would broaden her choices. She and her father went to college at the same time, he with the GI Bill and she with small scholarships and all kinds of work from bookstore clerk to hotel maid.

So to Paul and all the other job seekers, if you ever get discouraged and  feel like throwing in the towel, think Gambaru! Think of a young, frail Japanese woman recovering from tuberculosis living in a new land struggling to learn the language and customs. Imagine her rising above taunts and ridicule and prejudice to practice what she preached: Never give up. Never. The next time you think about whining or complaining about how hard  or unfair your life is, think of Bob Curry doing push-ups in a crowded bus.

I’ve never met Bob and Hiroe Curry, but I’ve seen their daughter on television many times. I saw her on the Today set one May morning two years ago. She’s a winner. She never gives up, she works hard, and she serves other people. She doesn’t whine either. Gambaru!