It’s a Jungle Out There

jungle park

I was born in the desert. Well, not literally in the desert. I was born in a very nice hospital. The hospital however, was in El Paso, Texas which is part of the Chihuahuan Desert.

I loved living in the desert and have many fond memories of the time I spent there. I loved the beautiful cactus flowers and other desert plant life. I loved chasing tiny lizards and giant tumbleweeds. As a small child, I felt as if I had my own giant sandbox to play in.

When I was five years old, I was forced to leave my sandbox. My family moved over 1500 miles away to Chicago, Illinois. I quickly discovered this place was considerably different than my previous home.

Everything about this new place was strange and foreign to me. Our new home was adjacent to a beautiful, heavily wooded park. We had been there only minutes when I asked my parents why there were so many trees growing there. They jokingly responded that it was because it was a “jungle”.

I am sure that my parents quickly forgot about their comment but I didn’t. I was very young and didn’t fully understand their humor. I remember lying awake at night worrying that wild animals might come out of this “jungle” and find their way into my room. I remember wishing that I could get far away from this place and go back to my home in the desert.

Of course, in time, I learned that the park was not a scary jungle and came to love the area very much. I especially loved it in the autumn when the leaves of all these trees turned beautiful, vibrant colors and fell to the ground forming crunchy piles for me to run through and play in. I learned that my new home, while different from my desert sandbox, was a very pleasant place full of new adventures and new memories.

Through the years, I have tried always to remember this experience. When I am afraid to begin a new chapter in my life, when I am afraid to try things that frighten me, I remember that once, I thought a beautiful, serene park was a terrifying jungle.

My jungle reminds me that often those things in our lives that initially appear frightening can turn out to be beautiful and worthwhile if we give them a chance.

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Rainy Days & Mondays

STorm cloudsThis morning, I reluctantly pried myself out of bed, still mourning the loss of that precious hour that was stolen from me yesterday. As I pushed through my morning routine, sluggish and bleary eyed, I searched for something positive to change the direction my attitude was quickly headed.

Just then, I glanced toward my darkened windows and realized that the time change meant I would be driving to work in the darkness. I took solace in the fact that I would have the opportunity to watch the sunrise. This would be the positive thought I would hold on to.

Unfortunately, as the garage door opened, instead of a glimpse of the morning sun on the horizon, all I saw was RAIN….There would be no beautiful sunrise this morning, at least not one that I would have the pleasure of witnessing.

As I began my drive to work in the cold, dark, rain, I began to make a mental tally of all my complaints about this day. As I did, my attitude and my mood rapidly began their descent. When I began to feel as dark and gloomy as my surroundings, I decided I needed to do something to turn things around before the entire day was lost.

I began looking for the good things about the day and I began to tally them instead. Yes, it was difficult for me to wake up and I am tired, but I did wake up and I am healthy. No, I did not see the sunrise, but it did rise and I will see it another day. Yes, it is raining, but we need the moisture and the temperature is well above freezing, so raindrops are falling, not tiny shards of ice. Yes, the roads are wet, but they are not slick and hazardous.

As I began to tally the good things about the day, my mood began to improve. I found that the more I looked for positive things, the easier they were to find. It is difficult for us to see while we are focusing on the negative, but the good things in this world far outnumber the bad.

So, I am grateful for this dreary, gray, rainy day. I am grateful to my Heavenly Father for the many blessings that I have, and I am grateful that He helped me to see them more clearly today.

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Am I A “Scaredy Cat” too?

FullSizeRender (2)A few years ago, on a normal, everyday, Saturday morning, my husband set off with my youngest daughter in search of a puppy. They visited several of the local animal shelters and rescue organizations but came back empty handed…almost.

While my daughter returned empty handed and disappointed, my husband returned with a big, gray, cat. Don’t get me wrong, I actually really like cats, but this particular cat and I have been at odds since day one.

My husband would tell you it’s because I don’t show her the attention that he does, but I have tried. She just seems to be very particular about the people she likes and I’m not one of them. For a multitude of reasons that I won’t take the time to go into, the feeling is pretty much mutual.

When my husband is away, she spends the majority of her time in hiding. I use the term “hiding” loosely, because one of her favorite methods of hiding is to stick her head under the bed and leave the rest of her body completely exposed. I honestly believe that she thinks if she can’t see me, I can’t see her.

A few days ago, as I walked into the room she ran to “hide” in her favorite spot, as usual. I watched her for a time, amazed by how long she was content to “hide” in this position. I thought how foolish she was to think that she was actually hiding in this way.

As I sat musing about this silly cat, it occurred to me that my actions are often just as foolish. How often do I ignore problems and pretend that they don’t exist? How often do I “stick my head under the bed” believing that if I can’t see my problems they can’t hurt me? How often am I content to hide from my problems until I am forced to face them?

So now, when I see this foolish cat run and hide her head under the bed, I smile and remind myself to face my problems and fears head on and not hide from them. I remind myself to be a little more understanding of the cat and a lot less like her.

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Tornado Trees

Tornado Trees

It has been almost two years now since a devastating F5 tornado tore through central Oklahoma leaving a 22 mile path of destruction. Recovery has been slow, difficult, and for those that lost loved ones, near impossible. While waste and debris have been cleared and houses and businesses rebuilt, there are still many reminders of this storm that remain.

Because my home lies uncomfortably close to this 22 mile path, I pass by these reminders on a daily basis. A mere three miles from my driveway, I pass what remains of the historic steel truss bridge that ran parallel to the existing bridge. The tornado twisted this old steel bridge as if it were made of aluminum foil.

One of the most striking reminders that I see each day are what I call “tornado trees.” I guess in all actuality, it would be more accurate to call them “tornado survivor trees.”

During the massive tornado, many trees were completely uprooted. Trees were stripped of their leaves and much of their bark. Branches were twisted, gnarled and broken. Many that initially survived died later due to the extensive damage. But some survived in spite of all of this. They held on firmly rooted. They bent but did not break. They survived to sprout new growth, new life.

These trees are an impressive sight to behold. Even though they have grown new branches and sprouted new leaves, they will never be exactly the same as they were before the storm. They are still twisted and contorted. They are still predominantly stark and barren. These trees are scarred and damaged but they are still alive. They have weathered the storm and they survived.

These majestic trees serve as a constant reminder and example to me. They remind me that no matter how powerful the storms, I can survive them. The storms of my life may leave me scarred and weathered. They may leave me feeling stark and barren for a time, but no matter how fierce, no matter how frightening, they are temporary.

In time, the storms will pass, and when they do, like these steadfast, invincible trees, I will still be standing.

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A Lesson from “The African Queen”

I spent some time battling a brutal virus recently. I fought valiantly, but in the end, I was defeated. The virus won. While recuperating, I managed to muster just enough strength to work the remote control. As I surfed a multitude of television stations in an attempt to alleviate my boredom, I happened upon the old classic movie “The African Queen” with Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.

For those unfortunate few who have never had the opportunity to see this movie, it is the fictional story of British missionary Rose Sayer and river boat captain Charlie Allnut. It is set in German East Africa at the onset of World War I. As war breaks out, Charlie and Rose attempt to flee the Germans by traveling down the river in Charlie’s steamboat the African Queen. While almost complete opposites, the two grow closer as they face the dangers of the river together and eventually fall in love.

I have always loved this movie but for some reason, this time it had a profound affect on me. I continued to reflect on one of the last scenes of the movie for some time after the final credits rolled.

In this scene, the African Queen is stuck in dense reeds in the shallow water near the mouth of the river. Charlie and Rose attempt to tow the boat but all their efforts fail and they eventually give up. They go to sleep emotionally and physically exhausted with little hope of survival. During the night however, heavy rains fall raising the level of the river and floating their little boat out onto the lake.

I was struck by the fact that they gave up when they were so close to their goal. Their freedom was just a few feet away but they gave up all hope and resigned themselves to die because some reeds and brush hid it from their view.

It occurred to me that we often do the same. We let the “reeds and brush” of this world cause us to give up on our dreams and goals even though we are so very close to achieving them. We give up, because with our limited vision we cannot see how close they really are. Like Rose and Charlie we become emotionally and physically exhausted and feel that we can go no further.

It is at these times, after we have done all that we can, our Heavenly Father will send the “rains” that will float us the rest of the way.

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Greener Grass

Recently, my morning drive was slowed by a couple of young cows endeavoring to make their way to the pasture across the road. I’m not sure how they escaped the confines of their own pasture. I’m also not sure why they wanted to escape. But whatever the reason they left the safety and comfort of their own pasture.

The little cows made it safely across the road, I made it safely to work and I quickly forgot about them.

Later that week, in another pasture, across the road from the first, I saw a little cow stretching its neck through the barbed wire fence. The little cow was trying to reach the grass on the other side of the fence. It appeared it was stretching its neck as far as it could possibly stretch. It looked uncomfortable and painful, but it just kept on stretching.

As I thought about these cows, I wondered what would make them want to leave or stretch their necks out beyond the safety of their own pasture. The pastures they call home are vast, green and lush even in the dead of winter. To me, the two pastures looked equal in every respect, yet these cows risked their comfort and safety trying to reach the grass across the street or on the other side of the fence.

It occurred to me that we are often like these little cows. Even though we are greatly blessed ourselves, we sometimes believe that our neighbor, our coworker, or even someone we just met has “better” blessings than we do. Instead of being grateful for what we have, we take our own blessings for granted. We waste precious time envying blessings that appear to be more desirable on the surface.

Every morning and evening now when I pass these little cows, I take a moment to reflect on all of the many blessings in my life. Then, I say a prayer and thank my Heavenly Father for each and every one.

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Remembering the tiny gnat

You know the people you see standing on corners and at intersections holding signs and asking for money? I see them all the time and sometimes if I have a little cash, and I am at the intersection at just the right time, I will roll down the window and give them a few dollars.

A few days ago, I had no cash and the light turned red just as I approached one of these intersections. As I sat there trying to avoid eye contact with the young man holding the sign, I felt a terrible uneasiness. As I looked up our eyes met, and I saw a sadness in the young man’s eyes that haunted me for the rest of the day.

That night it was bitterly cold. The next morning, I looked for the young man but he was not there. As I sat at the intersection, I wondered and worried about him. I hoped that he had found a warm place to sleep and a warm meal to eat.

A few days later my electricity went out in the middle of the night. As I considered whether I would need to get some extra blankets out of the closet or build a fire to stay warm, I saw his face. I wondered if he were warm.

The next day, I had a pleasant lunch with friends. Afterward, while complaining about how full my stomach was, I saw his face. I wondered how long it had been since he had a meal and how full his stomach was.

As I continued to think of this young man, I wondered what more I could do to help him. I wondered what I could do to make things better for him and for so many others like him. As I pondered this question, I became overwhelmed. I felt so small, so unequal to the task.

Then I thought of the tiny little gnat.

Last summer, I visited a beautiful wilderness area. It was quiet and peaceful there and I sat silent and still trying to appreciate the tranquility. My solitude was quickly disrupted by a tiny little gnat flying around my face. I was astonished that something so tiny, so miniscule as this gnat could have such power, such influence.

I attempted to ignore this little gnat’s intrusions for a time, but soon it was joined by many friends. I quickly found that it was impossible to ignore an entire horde of gnats, so I soon gave up and left.

As I thought about the power of this tiny little gnat, it occurred to me that while I may not be able to do everything, I can do something. While I may not be able to help every homeless person or every person in need, I can help someone. And like these little gnats, if each person does something, no matter how small, it can add up to something huge and powerful.

I still see the face of this sad young man. I don’t know exactly what I will do to help yet, but I know that no matter how small it can make a difference.

I can make a difference.

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