Friday, August 21, 2020

I Gained So Much More

 



In the early 1980's, I married very young. He was charming, handsome, and funny. Everything a girl could hope for. He loved my family, and they loved him right back. Some things began to happen three years into the marriage that began to concern me. The day he told me he was leaving me, I felt as if I ceased to live. I couldn't eat or sleep well, and my self-esteem plummeted. I knew there had to be something wrong with me. Maybe if I had been prettier, skinnier, more affluent. 

My family was hurting right along with me. My little brother had adored him, and my parents couldn't get over the shock. Time passed, as it does, and I lost touch with his family.

Several years later, I found my ex in-laws once again. My father-in-law cried when we saw one another. We spoke for a while, and then I began to get together with them and my sister-in-law occasionally. It was as if time hadn't passed. These people were still family to me, and I found out that they felt the same way about me.

I was invited to dinners over their homes. I visited with my mother-in-law when she was in the hospital. When my father-in-law passed away, I grieved. I stayed with them through their sad time and if possible, grew even closer.

It's been several years now. My life has changed drastically from that twenty-one-year-old girl. I have a son, a new marriage and have lost my own parents more recently. But one thing that has remained is the lovely friendship I've retained with my dear first sister-in-law and mother-in-law. At 93, Mum is an amazing woman. Beautiful, soft-spoken, gracious, and generous. Any time spent with these two is precious to me and I come away from our visits, a better person.

I wouldn't have known them if I hadn't been married to the man who left me so long ago. Though I never see him, I don't miss what I never had. But what I did have was so much more. I was blessed with people who loved me unconditionally. People I was able to love in return and show my true self. I was blessed with relationships that I would never have had otherwise and kind words, prayers, meals, gifts, conversation and laughter.

God can turn any situation around. He can make a masterpiece from disaster. He can give love back to someone who felt as if they would never matter to anyone again. He showed me more beauty with these family members through my life, than I may have had if I'd never known them.

I gained the kindest friends from something that was meant for harm. I gained so much more from the callousness of another. Never think that God won't give you beauty for ashes. His trade off is so much better than the original pain that we feel. 


Monday, June 1, 2020

Masterpiece from Messes




Sometimes that old devil tries to remind me that I'm not that good at anything. Cakes that I put effort into fall flat. Bread dough doesn't rise, and the new recipe I tried for dinner has hubby looking at me with less than joy on his face.

Same thing with craft projects. If I'm drawing, I erase enough times that a hole ends up in the paper. When gluing items together, I look at the finished product and then it tumbles like a house of cards. Crocheting is an area I'm especially sensitive. I've watched countless tutorials on how to get that perfect edge and still, I look back after a few rows and I've got a distorted rectangle. Is there nothing I'm one hundred percent perfect at?

When I write a blog, short story, or even get lost in putting a book together, I plunge forward, so happy that the words are flowing and everything I want to convey is smooth and mistake free. But let's face it: nothing is without flaws. That's where I got the inspiration for today's blog.

Can we possibly make a masterpiece of some of the messes we've made? Figuratively as well as literally? I've messed up in life enough times, fallen short as mother, daughter, sister, friend, and wife. Yet people seem to forgive me and still love me. I was short-tempered with my mom during her battle with dementia. I still remember times that my actions or words hurt a friend or my husband. I feel that my son had the worst parent in the world when I think of dumb things I did.

Can I take all that and offer it to the One who can make a better me? Sure I was short with Mom. It wasn't easy. I hurt so much inside missing the woman she once was. Yet there were other times that I forgave myself and found kindness and patience--more than I ever would have imagined. As a mother, I see the good young man my son has grown into, and despite any flaws in my parenting, he makes me proud and happy. Words that are said unkindly can't be taken back, but I have learned to be a person to ask for forgiveness quickly. Or to say I'm sorry; I want to do better. Then I work on those areas that are most difficult.

So, when a craft project, drawing, crocheting, or other creative things come out less than perfect, what if I step back and take a look at them? Can I see something else in the pattern perhaps? Something I hadn't even thought of? I turned a distorted lap blanket into a cozy pillow cover for my couch. I was ready to throw out a month's worth of work until I saw something different.

Satan, not today! Today I'll focus on what I've learned from my mistakes. I'll be a better woman, wife, mother, friend, sister, and worker. I'll crochet my little heart out and if something goes awry, it will become something even better! Just like me!


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The New Normal










Yesterday I did something I've probably never done. I've taken naps before; sometimes on days when exhaustion sets in from overworking, and these virus laden days certainly. But when our alarm went off at five a.m., and Jim left a little before six, I went back to bed for four hours! I couldn't believe I'd slept that long.

Unfortunately that wrought havoc on my nighttime schedule. I tossed and turned for the longest time at bedtime. I had aches and pains that kept me up, thoughts that decided to sneak into my mind, and songs that played on their endless soundtrack of craziness.

I'd like to tell you I'm used to our new normal but there's a part of me that wants to fight it with everything within. I want to whip the old face mask off, shake some hands, hug some folks, and gather with large masses of people. It's the nonconformist in me. However good girl wins for now, and I obey being diligent, washing hands, wearing my gear, and sanitizing everything in sight.

I've been writing more than usual, and that is a good thing. I never would have had this much time otherwise. The writer's block that closed the creative center of my brain for the last three years is finally gone and I'm back in the saddle so to speak.

What other things do I do? I've been cooking better meals and baking more. I watch movies I wouldn't have had time for. I exercise a little each day, or try to get outdoors in the fresh air as much as possible. I crochet, clean closets, look through memorabilia and otherwise think deep thoughts. Some of this hasn't been too bad I guess.

Bird songs are clearer, flowering trees are prettier, the air is cleaner; appreciation for nature is sacred right now.

I hope that you are getting used to your new normal, but let's not love it, let's just like it a little. Because time will pass, jobs will return, business as usual, and we may lose a bit of the newfound joy and passion we discovered on this journey.




Friday, April 3, 2020

Quarantine with Peace







I have to admit I had a little panic attack the other day when I heard we have to self-quarantine until April 30th now. I can't do that, I thought. I won't do it. But I will.

By no means am I taking this lightly. It is sad seeing the case numbers and the lives lost. It is equally sad seeing people being laid off or losing their jobs entirely. I am fortunate to be able to go into work one or two days a week (alone) at my dental office to call patients and open the mail, etc.

What's bothering me so much though is all the negativity. News, social media, friends, and armchair quarterbacks alike. I think we all need, more than ever, healthy does of what's good, positive, and uplifting.

Mr. Rogers had once said, "Look for the helpers, when things are scary." (Not in those exact words.) I find that if we do LOOK, they are all around. I see people stepping up for good in so many communities. Though they are practicing social distancing, they are thinking of creative ways to show how much they care, or offer hope, a daily scripture, or a smile. Isn't that the best way to get through a crisis?

At the time of my life that was the most difficult and saddest, my mother's dementia and subsequent loss of my father and then mother nine months later, I found a lot of good all around me. There were the helpers at that time: friends who brought food, stayed by my side, ran errands, wrote messages of cheer, or called to see what they could do.

There were moments of laughter between my brother and I. It became a time to remember some of the crazy antics our parents had done through the years. Mom always said to remember her and laugh. I never thought it could be possible, but it was.

When I was younger, I used to think that the death of my parents would push me over the brink of sanity. And though it was horrible to go through, there was peace that filled my heart. It filled it so much that it overflowed to others. I remember at the funeral home, as people approached me, I sensed a holy presence (the Spirit) all around me. I was able to talk with others and give them the comfort they sought so hard to give to me. I lived and breathed that peace.

Is it possible to keep peace around us like a shield when all of this is going on in the world? The answer is yes. Sure we can find pockets of peace in the day, when the sun is shining on our face, birds are singing sweetly, we are lost in a great book, or doing something we truly enjoy. But that real inner peace is something else entirely.

I remember where I was when complete brokenness enveloped me in its gloomy embrace. I sat in the window well of Heritage Valley Hospital. The doctors and nurses weren't holding out much hope any longer for Dad. My brother and I used to will him to live with everything inside us. I used to think if I could keep breathing for him, he will keep breathing for us. As I watched my father on life support, however, I realized those precious breaths were for naught this time.

In that window of the hospital, I broke and said, "God, your will be done." The words were said with meaning and the knowledge that I'd just let my father go. However I was letting him go completely into God's care and loving arms right then. With my heart breaking, I was able to find courage and peace to say goodbye to my father. It was that courage and peace that stayed with me through his death, funeral, caring for Mom, and her death. It may have wavered a bit, but never left my side.

May you find that true inner peace and the courageous warrior you can be as we go through this pandemic together. Ask for it. God will answer.


Friday, March 20, 2020

Recurring Dream




I had the oddest take on an old recurring dream of mine last evening. I know they say that houses represent us in a dream, and I often dream of the first house I grew up in on Duss Avenue in my small hometown of Ambridge.

Occasionally I dream that my family and I are moving back to our old home. Or other times, I dream that I am taking a tour of my old home with the family that lives there now. More often than not, the house looks fairly similar with the exception of last night.

I dreamed that it was very late and very dark. I was walking with a group of girls that I knew. The street lights seemed to be out down the block, and we found it a little unnerving. The closer I got to my old house which was now where I was going to live, I saw that the lights were on and all seemed well. I brought the girls inside and noticed that everything was very very different.

In this dream, it was the first night I would be spending in my old/new house. The previous owners had left some of their things for us to go through, to toss or keep. There was a lot of reconstruction work done; extra staircases going into neat, different places as if the house had grown larger and could accommodate a huge family.

There was gorgeous new plush carpeting, and the staircases were covered with them and a beautiful polished wood. Though my friends were talking to me on the "first" floor of this home, I became curious to see what my old bedroom now looked like. 

I crept up the stairs, turning lights on, and saw the familiar hallway that led to my room. The oddest thing however, the ceiling was lowered and I had to crawl through a small opening to enter the room. Though the room itself was spacious, yet still filled with debris, some old aquariums where possible turtles and fish once resided, I noticed another room added on that was festive and childish with bunk beds and another staircase going there. 

I took the stairs to the new room and found it delightful and whimsical. I wondered if there was another way into the room, when I saw a door down below. Hmm, that's strange, I thought to myself. I realized that probably led to the old cellar.

For some reason in my dreams, I never am able to venture into the cellar. I know of no trauma that happened to me there in real life except for a dream I had once when I was little of seeing a devil face in an old mirror. But this time I boldly and bravely threw open the door. I gasped when I saw an ugly cellar, realizing that nobody had ever remodeled this place. There were cobwebs hanging and worst of all, a tunnel into complete darkness and fear off to the side. This is when I awoke and the dream has stayed with me all day.

In analyzing this dream, I feel that I have "remodeled" much about myself and my life. I think that staircases are just that: ways to connect other rooms and floors of our personality and innermost being. The rooms were very nice, though a little "junk" left over from the previous owners reminds me that I am still getting rid of unnecessary junk in my life from before. 

The cellar bothers me the most, however. For there must be a part of myself that is fearful and dark. There are things hidden away that I still haven't remodeled or "fixed." And the scary parts that I don't want to see, must be the psyche, the part of self that we all fear whatever that may be.

All in all, I feel it was a very good dream. Anytime we learn from them, and feel we can translate them a bit, helps us to grow a little more.

Perhaps someday that scary old cellar will become radiant and bright. I'm hoping.  

Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Pretending Game





   
     An old steel town has its stories. Has its characters and secrets too. . .


          Growing up in a small town was magical at times. When we children rode our bikes around the neighborhood, we imagined all sorts of mysteries behind closed doors. There were neighbors to fear, cranky old spinsters who knew everyone’s business; Moody fathers of friends that you had to tiptoe around. There was the special needs man who spoke of nothing but tragedies that we children would hide from. There were also sweet people like my next door neighbors who had a creaky porch swing that they would allow me to sit on and swing every so often. And sometimes as the husband watered his flowers with a hose, he would squirt us children as we walked past and look away, feigning innocence as we giggled uncontrollably.
          There were little outdoor parties that my friend Patty and I would gather small feasts of junk food: mini donuts, crackers, cookies, and cakes. Sometimes we would hang a huge blanket over the railing of her back porch and eat in the cozy tent we’d created.
          We pretended our bikes were cars as we rode along the sidewalks. We would stop at the red lights and go on green. We played countless hide-and-seek games, board games, and swam in little inflatable pools in the summer. We tried to make outdoor carnivals, and pretended to sail away in grape crates to what my grandparents affectionately called The Old Country.
           Nothing was more exciting than Nonna’s attic. Old houses back in the day were famous for these extra rooms. There were cardboard boxes stuffed with yellowing newspapers which held layers of voluminous bridesmaid dresses and pretty clothes. There were steamer trunks with their slightly musty scent piled with assorted goodies—doilies, sewing boxes, hand-crocheted items and knick knacks.
          An attic that was big enough to have two double beds and assorted antique furniture was better than any clubhouse for me and my cousin. There was a small, mysterious room in one corner that had a small fire once and it still held the scent of old smoke. Yellowing, cracked linoleum lined the floor. Yet to me, it was as beautiful as a mansion.
          Nonna had a tin button container that my cousin Anna and I adored. There were lovely rhinestone buttons, plastic buttons that looked like flowers, metal ones and opaque colored ones. It was a favorite playtime of ours, to choose our favorites and pretend they were “people.” Nonna’s button was always the biggest one with a large sparkling stone in the center. Our mom’s buttons were more conservative—plain, white ones. Mine was light blue with a floral print and a tiny stone in the center. Buttons were just small enough to fit anywhere—to have incredible adventures, and always have a story that ended happily ever after.
            Many people at that time had borders that stayed with them—people who paid a small amount of rent for a room. Nonna had Phil. He worked in a local steel mill, and became like a member of the family. He was a true gentleman, kind and very funny.
      My grandmother made regular Sunday dinners with homemade spaghetti, the softest, tastiest meatballs, tender veal cutlets, Italian bread and salad. These dinners were wonderful times and nothing could break the bond of the feeling of family surrounding that table.
          Phil would make me and my cousin giggle during dinner. He also would get us to finish our whole plate of food by saying that whoever was the last one eating, was the “monkey.” Nobody wanted this title, so I blame Phil for my weight gain and love of food later in life. Then Anna and I would help Nonna clear the table and squabble over who got to wash the dishes, and who had to dry them. Anna was older than me by several months, so somehow she always seemed to win the best of our fights.
Sometimes Nonna and Nono had friends over for card-playing nights. Wine flowed freely, and chatter was mostly in Italian. I sometimes sat watching them play and they tried teaching me the rules to a game of Scopa, an Italian card game. My eyes became heavy as they played late into the night, and Nonna would walk me up to her room and tuck me into her bed. She closed the door, and as I drifted to sleep, I could still hear their hearty laughter and talk.
          Childhood was my own Narnia world. Though there were realistically bad events, nothing could steal my imagination. Pretending became balm to me; an escapism that I sometimes wish I could still find. If I was really someone else, nothing could harm me, right?
          Is it any wonder that every so often, I visit the childhood of my youth? Sometimes I drive along the streets where I used to play. And other times I travel only in my memory. For there it is safe, there it is only a shadow, one that I can embrace if I care to, or leave behind for a little while. 
          Take a moment to remember your journey of pretending. Stay a while, but not too long. It's a special place.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Prayer Partner







Lately I've been beating myself up. It has been about three years since I've been able to sit and write a novel. I used to churn out one a year back in the day when I began fiction writing. But something has made me stop and wait. Call it writer's block, fear, laziness, or being tired, I have kept telling myself that I'm a failure for not plunging deeply into a memoir that I've been wanting to write.

One wonderful thing that has happened, however, is the ability to write short, true, heartfelt tales. It's been easy to think about Mom and Dad stories and share them with others. I've been fortunate to have a few of them chosen by Guidepost magazine for publication.

I joined a Facebook group called Guidepost Magazine Stories. There is a nice bunch of people that write daily inspirational blurbs or share inspiring messages of hope in that group. I am one of them. I enjoy posting lovely pictures and using what I feel are God-inspired words of encouragement.

Today I had the honor of hearing from one of the members. Oddly enough, she reached out to me to become a prayer partner, or prayer sister with her. I hesitated briefly because I wondered what that entailed. Would I have to talk with her daily and try to encourage her? Would I have to give up precious time to another human being?

Then it hit me. Karen, you pray daily for God to give you the words to bless others. You ask Him to show you people that need hope and help. To say the right words, write the best words or pray for others. I decided to accept the role of prayer partner for this lady. I could tell it meant the world to her. She had found me on the Guidepost page. There are no coincidences. God has me where He wants me. I just have to keep answering the call. If a memoir is in my near future, He will bless it to fruition. If the short writings are to continue to hold others in prayer and give them hope, then I step into that gladly as well.

Prayer partner. . . It has a lovely sound to it. Do you need one today? Are you one? Will you take the call, and lift others up even when you are tired or not in the mood? Let's do it together. No telling how much we can change a life one prayer at a time.



Monday, January 13, 2020

Home

 




This photo evokes so many memories. I can picture Mom sitting on the couch, trying to hear the television while we all gabbed sitting around the old living room. I can picture Dad in his favorite chair telling a story about some infraction that happened on one of his bills, or a high-priced grocery item he found for less elsewhere. Many laughs were shared in this room, and a few tears were shed. Lessons were learned, and love surrounded those who entered.

This is the home of part of my youth where we moved when I was about twelve. We left old memories--ghosts if you will--and began a new life in the home on Highland.

Mom became well and strong in this place putting behind the sadness she had carried for so long. There were woods behind the house and all sorts of new creatures: raccoons, chipmunks, rabbits, squirrels and deer. For my mother, someone who adored animals, it was a Disney dream-come-true.

I can see countless beloved cats and dogs lined before my mother; each with adoration in their eyes vying for her attention. And I can see Mom stroking each one, talking to them in that special way she reserved for her dear animals as if they understood every word.

This home holds a place of peace and solitude in my heart. It carries memories of holidays, birthdays, and wonderful meals cooked. It welcomed friends and relatives old and new. It became a steadfast rock of Gibraltar to us all. It welcomed the birth of my dear brother.

In later years, my son would come to know and love this house. He would learn that his grandparent's stories were special and to be treasured. That their legacy was something to keep alive long after they were gone.

There's a golden glow to this photo, as if the Lord placed a blessing over this precious room, this house so dear to me. I would come to know God as true Love while living there. My parents had a simple faith, a quiet faith. But their lessons came from how they treated each other and everyone they knew. My mother said that everyone has a story and I learned that they did.

Home in a small town. A place where simplicity thrived. A time when goodness was in the very fiber of lives well-lived. Let me visit there for a moment, but let me not tarry too long. For sadness may begin to creep in as I walk the path of memory lane. And at least for today, I'd like the memories to be ones filled with nothing but happiness.