38 Day No Fear/No Limit Challenge: Teenagers and Rap Musician Edition

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To an untrained eye looking at my life the past week, it probably would not look like I was taking my 38 day No Fears/No Limits challenge very seriously.

Aside from getting my planned fitness in like the good little girl that I am, I didn’t have time to do much of anything else besides work (and work some more, and then a little bit more).  Granted, my work is totally fun to the point that calling it work is sort of a misnomer,  but one might question how exactly doing my job relates to facing my fears and having no limits.

That’s a good question, and I’m going to try to answer it right here, right now.

I spent a lot of time with teenagers this past week.

Teenagers used to terrify me.

I’m not sure if that’s because my own teenage years were riddled with such angst and hormones that I developed an allergic reaction to teens or what.  Perhaps I was concerned that being a teenager is contagious, sort of like the plague, and if I spent too much time around them I would inevitably catch this disease and be forced to go back to high school.  Who knows.

With this being said, I attended a party with the very same high school students this past week called the “Grind Hard Endurance Pre-Homecoming Game Party.”  I’m pretty sure I would have run away screaming at the thought of anything called “Grind Hard Endurance” a few short years ago.  To me, that just sounds wrong, especially when used in conjunction with a party for teenagers.  (For the record, Grind Hard is a reference to an energy drink, like Red Bull or Monster.  Go figure!)

At this party, there was a live performance that took place on the roof of a moving Chevy 1500 van by real, honest to goodness rappers by the name of Mo Cheez and Nyzzy Nyce.

I’m so not joking.

As much as I love music, and you know I love music, if you offered me $1,000,000 right now to name one Kanye or Jay-Z song I wouldn’t be able to do it.  I literally know nothing about mainstream rap music.

I’m definitely more Barry Manilow than Mo Cheez.

In fact, when I was in high school the en vogue rappers of the day were MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice.  (Come to think of it, I even had both of their albums…on cassette tape.  Ha!)

Yet, here I was reporting live from right smack in the middle of a high school party with real rappers singing from on top of an old Chevy van (Do rappers even call it singing?  Rapping? Rhyming?  Anybody know the correct terminology here?)

I knew I was going to have to talk to Mo Cheez and Nyzzy Nyce for my story; if I’m being completely honest here, I was freaking out and not in the same way I would be freaking out if I was going to meet Barry Manilow.

First off, I was going to have to get past the two nefarious looking body-guard type guys standing with their arms folded across their chest by the stage.  They may have been wearing the equivalent of my body weight in gold chains around their necks.  Neither one looked like they would enjoy small talk, nor did it appear that my sweet self and trusty press pass would be able to get anything by them.

Either one of those two guys could have snapped me like a twig if they wanted to, that’s how big they were.

My next problem was, if I was going to risk my life by approaching Shaquille O’Neal’s less personable brothers, I needed some questions to ask Mo Cheez and Nyzze Nyce.   As I’ve mentioned, I know nothing about rap music, and as a result, I had absolutely no intelligent questions to ask these guys.

In my mind, I pictured the following conversation:

Me:  (After flashing my press pass and introducing myself) What was your name again?  I didn’t catch it. (This, of course, would be a lie.  I just didn’t know anything else to ask.)

Mo Cheez:  Mo Cheez.

Me:  Yeah, how do you spell that?

Mo Cheez: M-O  C-H-E-E-Z

Me:  Whatever possessed your mother to name you that? (I mean, really, that can’t be the name on his birth certificate, can it?)

This is where the story ended in my imagination.  There’s probably no good ending once you’ve insulted a rapper’s mother.

            My other problem with interviewing Mo Cheez and Nyzzy Nyce was the small issue of me being sort of uncomfortable by their attire.  I’ve done a lot of interviews before, just never where I’ve had a clear and complete view of the person’s boxer shorts.  (For those of you wondering, they were Polo by Ralph Lauren.  You’re not welcome!)  The only men’s underwear I’m used to seeing on a regular basis these days are Alex’s Lego Ninjago and Batman underpants as I’m doing the laundry.

As I mulled over these things in my mind while the music blared, I could feel the panic starting to swell up inside me.

It was then that I remembered my challenge to myself that I made last week:  “No fears, no limits.”

I had this.  Really, I did.

I’m happy to report that I ended up interviewing Mo Cheez and Nyzzy Nyce, and indeed they were both very nice.  (They aren’t the only ones around here who can rhyme!)  Even the nefarious looking bodyguards turned out to be not so nefarious.  I don’t think I asked too many stupid questions, although I will say that any questions I deemed really stupid I saved to ask my new friend and Mo Cheez’s official DJ, Kevin Kohrman.  Kevin very kindly gave me a very basic primer on rap music, Mo Cheez, and Nyzzy Nyce at a local event on Saturday.  Thanks, Kevin!

The funny part of this story is, on Saturday at the previously mentioned local event, I went into Domino’s Pizza for a minute to interview the owner.  As I was inside, I bumped into what at first glance was just a normal guy picking up his Domino’s order.

“Hey, Beth, right?” he said.

I had no idea who this guy was.

Then, I spied the Polo by Ralph Lauren underwear sticking out of the top of his jeans.

I took another look at his face and realized that this was the rapper Mo Cheez, and tried not to die laughing at what a dork I am sometimes.

            (Side note:  Do you call rappers by their rap names when you run into them at Domino’s?  Or just when performing?)

           (Side note 2:  I had to bite my tongue really, really hard not to ask Mo Cheez if he orders his pizza with mo’ cheez?  I totally found that funny, however, I’m guessing no one else probably would.)

Friends, the moral of this story is, have no fear and know no limits.  If I can party with teenagers and interview up and coming rap stars, I have no doubt that there is absolutely nothing you can’t do.  Don’t let your mind defeat you; you might be surprised what you can do if you put aside the fears and limitations you have set for yourself in the confines of your mind.

The song Mo Cheez and Nyzze Nyce collaborated on, My City, was just picked up by Sony Records and is now available on iTunes and Amazon.  You can also view the video which was made in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42aXYD3p_ZI&feature=g-like

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Family Reunions

Tomorrow I’m going to a family reunion.

While this may not seem like a very big deal, it kinda is to me.  You see, a month ago I didn’t even know about this branch of my family tree.

Growing up, my family never really did the whole family reunion thing.  Of course, we had the customary get togethers with aunts and uncles and cousins at the holidays and birthdays and stuff.  As far as annual mega gatherings where a large and perfumed Great Aunt Bertha four times removed pinched my incessantly cute and chubby cheeks, not so much.

As for my Mom’s extended family, I ended up getting to know them pretty well in large part due to graduations, weddings, and funerals.  As an adult, I feel pretty blessed to have grown up knowing all of my Grandma and Grandpa’s sisters and brothers and their families.  In this day and age, that sort of thing probably doesn’t happen very often anymore.

My Dad’s side of the family was another matter altogether.  To put it in layman’s terms, my Dad’s branch of the family tree is a nut bearing one.  I’ve also said for many years that my Dad’s relatives are legendary for putting the fun in our family’s brand of dysfunctional.

With this in mind, I never really spent a lot of time with my Dad’s extended family.  The times spent with my Dad’s brothers, sister and my Grandma and Grandpa have, all on their own, provided me with enough fodder to write several very entertaining memoirs and possibly a direct to DVD movie.

You could have colored me surprised when I received an invitation to a family reunion at a park in Marion, Indiana a few weeks ago.  I didn’t recognize the name on the return address label so naturally I assumed the invitation was mistakenly sent to me and was really intended for Jon.   Jon’s family has reunions more frequently than I change my Nikes; I guess if I was related to the founders of the famously delicious Sechler Pickle factory I’d have a lot of family reunions, too

When I gave the invitation to Jon, he looked at it for a nanosecond and said, “This isn’t my family.”

Well, I certainly didn’t think it was mine, either.

Weird.

A few days later I was talking to my Mom on the phone and she asked me if I had received an invitation to the family reunion.

“You mean that invitation was legit?”  I asked.  After careful consideration, I had come to the conclusion the invitation I had received was either some sort of scam to eventually snooker me into sending money to destitute “relatives” I didn’t know I had overseas or a very elaborate ploy to trick me into going to this park in Marion where I would ultimately be murdered and end up as the subject of a made for Lifetime Television for Women movie.

“Of course,” replied my Mom.  “What did you think it was?  Some kind of murder plot?”

Well, yeah, kinda.

(In case you were wondering, my Mom and I both read a lot of murder mystery novels, as did my Mom’s mom, my Grandma Bricker.  I think it might be genetic.)

As it turned out, the invitation was to a family reunion on my Dad’s side of the family.  The very thought of getting to meet some of my Dad’s relatives that I’ve never met before has left me darn near giddy the whole month of September.  Aside from the potential characters awaiting me at this family reunion, this is a reunion for my beloved maternal grandmother’s side of the family, my Grandma Whiteleather.  Coincidentally, this is also the branch of my Dad’s beloved maternal grandmother (her name was Coral Barney Miller).

My entire life I’ve been told I’m a real doppelgänger for my Grandma Whiteleather, not necessarily in the looks department but in my personality and talents for teaching and writing.  There are few people in this world I would rather be compared to than her, so I’ve always viewed this as one of the greatest compliments I could ever receive.  I’m so excited to be able to go and meet relatives from her side of the family and see if there are any long-lost cousins or aunts out there who are like me and my Grandma!

Did I mention that my beautiful niece Alyssa and adorable red-headed nephew Max will be there, too?  If all else fails, at least I’ll be able to squeeze in some much-needed Auntie B/Alyssa/Max bonding time in.  In fact, I was so excited to see them tomorrow that I was compelled to go buy them presents today at Toys R Us and Barnes & Noble.  (Just don’t tell Alex….he gets a little jealous when I start buying presents for Alyssa and Max!)

So, here’s to new beginnings with family that I never even knew that I had while being reunited with the family I already know and love.  I’ll be sure to let you all know how it goes!

Wacky News Wednesday: Beer Enemas, Vodka Tampons and…Eyeball shots?

It’s Wednesday and that means….drum roll please! It’s time for another edition of Wacky News Wednesday. Truthfully, Wednesday is becoming my favorite day of the week because I get to share with you some of the totally insane and stupid news stories I come across each week. This week, there was plenty of wacked out news to go around so I had to pick my favorite story which hails from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Are you ready?
According to CNN, “The University of Tennessee says it has suspended a fraternity chapter indefinitely and may refocus its alcohol education programs after police said a student was hospitalized following a weekend incident involving alcoholic enemas. Twelve Tennessee students were cited with underage drinking and one with disorderly conduct following the incident early Saturday at a Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity chapter house.”

Let’s stop for a moment right there.

It seems to me that there is a lot wrong with just the first sentence of CNN’s story that needs to be addressed. First of all, I realize I may be slightly over the hill and not even marginally young and culturally relevant anymore but…what the heck is an alcohol enema? I’m familiar with alcohol, although my not overly. Mainly, I’m familiar with communion wine. That counts, right?
I’m also aware of what an enema is; it’s just that I’ve never heard those two words used in combination with one another before. Ever. If I’m being honest here, I can’t say I ever expected to hear those two words used in conjunction with one another either.

My next question is, how would an alcohol enema work exactly? I mean, I think I understand the logistics of how it would work for the purposes of this story. What I don’t understand is why? To get drunk? Wouldn’t it just be easier to go the traditional route and drink a few a beers or knock back a couple shots of tequila?
In response my question, Knoxville Police Department spokesman Darrell DeBusk said in a statement on Monday, “After extensive questioning, it is believed that members of the fraternity were using rubber tubing inserted into their rectums as a conduit for alcohol as the abundance of capillaries and blood vessels present greatly heightens the level and speed of the alcohol entering the bloodstream as it bypasses the filtering by the liver.”

Uh huh.

In other words, these kids want to be able to get drunk but not have the smell of alcohol on their breath.

Truly, this is one of the most brilliantly idiotic plans I’ve ever heard of.

First off, if we must consider basic biological principles. Once alcohol has entered your blood stream it is metabolized to keep young geniuses like the UT Fraternity Boys from poisoning themselves to death. One of the metabolizing processes of alcohol is called oxidation, which detoxifies and removes the alcohol from the bloodstream. A small amount of alcohol cannot be changed, and it has to exit the body via urine or as gas. There are only two place the gas oxygen leaves the body, one of them being the mouth, so if you were looking to avoid having beer breath by going the alcohol enema route I’m afraid you’re going to be bitterly disappointed with the eventual outcome.

Hence, you’re still not going to be able to pass a breathalyzer test, and you may indeed be able to pass it based solely on the gas you’re passing on the flip side. (Side note: now that would be funny!)
The second problem I had with the first sentence in the original CNN story is this: “The University of Tennessee….may refocus its alcohol education programs after police said a student was hospitalized.” Now to be clear, this student wasn’t just suffering from a bad hangover. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition with a legal blood alcohol content of 4.0—over 5 times the legal cutoff for driving. Quite frankly, he’s lucky to be alive.

Yes, University of Tennessee Officials, I’d say you might want to refocus your alcohol education programs considering you’ve got frat boys nearly killing each other with alcohol enemas. You might also want to consider not just cracking down of drinking in general, but on the sales of enema tubing and associated equipment. Morons.
The CNN story went on to quote Aaron White, a health scientist administrator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, that he knows of several stories in the past year or so “about young people finding unique ways to get alcohol in their bodies.”

I would definitely say alcohol enemas would count as a unique way to get alcohol into the body. A dumb and dangerous way, but I will give them unique.

Of course, Mr. White’s state about knowing of several stories in the past year “about young people finding unique ways to get alcohol in their bodies” piqued my interest. Really? What kind of ways? Ways even more brilliantly idiotic than alcoholic enemas?

This sounded almost too good to be true for a Wacky News Wednesday. I took to the Google seas to see what I could find out, and let me tell you, if you plan to do a similar Google search whatever you do don’t look at the images. There are some things you really don’t want to see in this life. (Side note: I also learned that the more common terminology for alcohol enemas is “butt chugging”. How clever!)
I will by pass the more European methods for drinking without drinking, especially the German ones because they are pretty hardcore. For the purposes of this story, we’ll stick to the more American methods.

First up is the vodka soaked tampon.

Yes, there is a lot wrong with that statement. I have to say that even though the Huffington Post did a huge story on this last year, I’m not really buying it. In my mind, there are just too many problems with this for it to be anything other than a really bad urban legend. One of my biggest problems with this story is that I believe it can be disproven  just by considering the functionality of a tampon and how it works. Inserting a tampon soaked in anything is the converse of what a tampon is designed to do. It’s not going to work.  It’s not going to work.
If that is not enough to convince you, then go try this: take a shot of vodka and just hold it in your mouth for several minutes without swallowing it. I’m betting you won’t make it even a full minute. Now, imagine trying that same experiment with delicate lady bits. See what I’m saying here? No woman in her right mind is going to willingly subject herself to that kind of horror. No way.

Next up is a concept called ‘eyeballing’. There are over a thousand videos of idiots doing this on YouTube if you’re so inclined to watch it happen live. Basically, to eyeball vodka you do the following: apply vodka bottle to your eyeball, tilt your head back, and scream at the top of your lungs. Sounds like fun, right?
Again, I think this is another easily debunkible thought where basic biological principles will prevail. While going thru the eye may indeed allow the alcohol to bypass directly into the bloodstream, how much alcohol do you really think is going to be able to get in once the capillaries in the eyes are seared closed from the burning of the alcohol? Not much. It’s more likely the buzz people feel after eyeballing is from the adrenaline rush of behaving like an idiot and causing themselves intense pain. I would hope that it is obvious that this kind of stupidly might also lead to long term optical damage, so for Pete’s sake, don’t try this at home.
The last story I found was about mainlining alcohol. Steve-O once famously injected 5 shots of vodka in his arm on TV. Folks, this is why he’s on a show that’s called Jackass. Again, don’t try this at home.

In other alcohol injecting news, I found a few stories about people injecting alcohol into gummy bears, popsicles, ice cream, and of course the ever popular jello shots. If you’re over 21 and bound and determined to get some alcohol into your system that doesn’t use a can, glass or bottle as a conduit, I’m going to say that these choices might be the way to go.

Now I’m sure some of you are thinking right about now, “Beth, while this is a very informative story and mildly funny, it doesn’t have anything to do with what you usually write about. You know, God and stuff.”

This is where you’re wrong.

The part about these stories that struck me more than anything else is these great lengths that people are taking to get intoxicated. Alcohol enemas? Tossing shots of vodka in the eye? Injecting alcohol into their veins?

Call me crazy, but I think these folks are crying out for something far greater than a temporary buzz that an alcohol enema will ever provide.

I know, because at one time in my life I was looking for something to cover up my pain, too. I was hurting and wanted to find some way to escape from the hurt and emptiness that I felt inside. While alcohol was never my thing, I did participate in my own brand of brilliantly idiotic acts of depravity that I thought would make me feel better in the moment, but really only served to make me feel even worse in the end.

It wasn’t until I came to start living my life with abandon for Jesus that things began to change. He’s taken me higher than any alcohol or drugs ever could, and he’s taken me to far greater heights than I could have ever gotten to on my own.

Not a day goes by that I am not brought to my knees with thankfulness for all that He has done for me entirely out of grace.
The most exciting thing of all is, He can do the same thing for you!

So, from this Wacky News Wednesday story I hope you’ll not be inclined to try any of the moronic things I’ve detailed above, but instead take time and think about the things you are doing to cover up your pain, to drown out your emptiness that may be detrimental to your well-being. If there’s something in your life that is dragging you down I want to encourage you to turn it over to God and allow him to help you break free from whatever it is that’s holding you back.
You don’t need alcohol or anything else to experience the high that awaits you as a beloved child of Lord Most High. He’s waiting for you, He wants you, and He holds so many unimaginably grand plans in his heart for you that you can’t even begin to fathom it. Make today the day you stop running from him, make today the day to stop making up your own plans about how to fix your life, and let Him come into your heart and set you free to soar to new heights.

Pink Elephants; Or, Grace’s Live Like That Story

Dear Readers:
          I’m so happy to tell you that following excerpt of the story you are about to read has recently been accepted for publication in Guideposts magazine and will appear in the magazine sometime in the summer of 2013!  The editors are very generously allowing me to share it with you all first on my blog for a short time. 
          To answer a few questions that I inevitably get after I give the in demand Pink Elephants speech version of this story…First, yes this is a true story, with the exception of Grace’s name, which has been changed at the request of her family.  I wrote this story on May 11th, 2012. 
          Second, in the past there has been some confusion about what this story is actually called.  I always refer to this story as my Pink Elephant story.  Everyone else seems to refers to it as my Live Like That story.  In all actuality, it’s Grace’s Story. 
          Third, everyone always wants to know if the Sidewalk Prophets like my story.  That question I can’t answer, although I can say that I personally gave them a copy of the story and thanked them for such a great song before I started sharing Grace’s story with the world.  The ‘Live Like That’ song has probably sparked hundreds if not thousands of amazing stories, most of which I’m sure are even more amazing than the one that follows. 
          Finally, I just want to say a quick thank you to my Gracie girl who inspired this story.  I’m so honored and blessed to have watched you grow and to be able to call myself your teacher.  A special thank you goes out to your family as well for allowing me to share your story.
Much Love,
Beth
_______________________________________________________________________________
         I drew back the curtains on the patio doors at 8:30 a.m. on another Friday and was greeted by a beautiful, sunshiny April morning. Smiling at the thought of spending some quality time outside later with the kids, I took a sip of the triple berry smoothie we had made this morning together for breakfast. Music was playing softly in the background, and the children were all playing purposefully.
          Today was shaping up to be a really great day!
          Turning around, I did a quick sweep of the classroom, my eyes looking for any imminent disasters or potentially missing children. I first spotted Norah, Jesse and Kendra in the log cabin playhouse that is set up in the corner of our classroom. I walked over and knelt down in front of the window, pulling open the green plastic shutters. “Good morning, friends,” I said cheerfully. “What’s going on today?” I ask.
          “We got a customer!” 2 year old Norah yells excitedly, jumping up and down, while Jesse and Kendra run over to the window to greet me.  “You want some frozen yum-yum?” she asks, shoving an orange bowl shaped like an ice cream cone with a similarly shaped spoon out the window at me.
          “Well, I’d love some,” I reply, taking the bowl and spoon from her. “What’s the Yum-Yum special of the day?” I ask. In our hometown of Fort Wayne, Yum-Yum’s is the popular local frozen yogurt shop that sells a variety of different flavors and over a hundred different toppings to choose from.
          While the topping bar is nowhere near as healthy as, let’s say, a salad bar, and probably dramatically reduces any health benefits the frozen yogurt may provide, it sure is appealing to the preschoolers I work with!
          “Broccoli,” says 4 year old Kendra, laughing hysterically.
          “We don’t got no broccoli,” says Norah, hands on her hips. “Nobody’s gonna buy that!” she says.
          “How about a cup of chocolate/vanilla swirl?” I ask. “And don’t forget the gummy bears!” I add as an afterthought. Norah takes the bowl and spoon back from me, turning away with Kendra to discuss how many pretend gummy bears are too many pretend gummy bears to put on teacher’s frozen yum-yum.
          One year old Jesse comes over to the window and stands on his tippy toes so his chin is just over the window of the log cabin. He reaches his pudgy little arms out through the window while giving me a big smile. Big spaces of pink gum still show where his teeth haven’t quite come through yet, and his wide blue eyes twinkle as he says, “Bethie give hug!”
          I reach out and pull him through the window, giving him a big hug. “You’re going to be such a heartbreaker when you grow up, Jesse,” I say, giving him another hug and nuzzling the top of his head with my nose.
          Just then, Norah and Kendra reappear at the window with my bowl of frozen pretend yum-yum. Kendra hands it to me as Norah says, “We decided you don’t get any gummy bears. Sugar isn’t any good for your teeth.”
          I chuckle to myself and say, “Good point. Thank you, ladies.  Have a good morning!” I stand up and turn around, smiling at my co-teacher,Tara, who is on the other side of the room preparing materials for an activity later in the morning.
          Out of the corner of my eye I notice six year old Grace sitting on a bean bag chair in the reading corner all alone, elbows on knees, cheeks in hands, brow furrowed and deeply in thought. I grab a bean bag chair from the stack in the corner and sit down next to her. Reaching into my pocket for change, I say “Penny for your thoughts?”
          Grace looks over at me and gives me a weak smile. “Miss Beth, can I ask you a question about something that is bothering me?”
          I nod, patting her on the shoulder. “Of course, always.What’s on your mind?”
          “Do you hear this song?” she asks, referring to the music playing in the background. I pause for a moment, feeling like I’m on the game show ‘Name That Tune.’  Thankfully, it doesn’t take me too long to recognize the music.
          The song that’s playing is ‘Live Like That’ by the Christian music group Sidewalk Prophets.
          “Yes,” I say, beginning to wonder exactly where this conversation is headed.
          Grace taps her fingers against the side of her face and looks at me as if she’s sizing me up, trying to decide if she should pose the rest of her question to me or not. I smile encouragingly. Very seriously, Grace says “When I hear this song, it makes me feel happy in my heart and makes me want to live like that, too. But I don’t know what that is. Live like what? Do you know what that is, Miss Beth?”
          I draw in a deep breath, very aware that what Grace has experienced in her own life is not what the song is referring to.
          To date, Grace’s life has been far from easy. Her life has been filled with interactions with Child Protective Services and rejection by the parents who were supposed to love and cherish her.  She’s experienced the selfish death of a parent and the repeated loss of divorce. Grace has half-siblings she’s never met, and ex step-siblings she loves but will never see again.  By the age of 3, she had lost both of her grandparents, the people who loved her unconditionally and provided her with a sense of stability for much of her life, to death. 
          When your first six years of life are a rollercoaster ride of rejection, repeated loss, suicide, death, broken families, and divorce, understanding the concept of living a life like that might be a stretch.
          I look at Grace leaning into me and see that she is looking up at me with those wide, doe brown eyes of hers, expecting me to be able to help her make sense something that I’m not completely sure I’m capable of explaining to a six year old even in the best of circumstances.
         I begin to feel a strange mix of emotions stirring inside me.
        While I’m happy that this sweet, serious little girl so much like myself at her age would trust me with questions weighing heavy on her heart, I’m not sure that I’m the right person to be tackling such deep, philosophical questions before 9 am on a Friday morning sans coffee.
          ‘You’re just a preschool teacher,’ I say to myself, trying to come up with an acceptable out. ‘Stick with what you know, like ABCs and 123s. Leave the important life lessons for someone else.’ Then, with a glance to my left, I see Grace’s expectant face, patiently waiting for my reply. It is then that I realize that aside from Tara, I am probably the only person in her life that personally knows the answer to her question, ‘What does it mean to live a life like that?’, and who, with the help of God, attempts to live a life like that every day.
         I realize that I need to tell Grace what it means to live like that not just for her sake, but for my own sake as well.  Beginning simply, I say to her, “Well, it means to live a life like Jesus.”
          “Oh,” says Grace dejectedly, her body sinking into the bean bag chair. “I can’t do that,” she says, burying her face back in her hands, tears forming in the corner of her eyes.
          “What do you mean, you can’t do that?” I ask, puzzled .
          “My Dad won’t let me move that far away,” she replies.
          “Oh, no, no, no. That’s NOT what it means.” I say, trying to hide my smile while I pause for a moment to silently ask God to help me find away to explain this to her that she can understand.
          In a moment of brilliance I say, “You know what? I think I know where we can find the answer to your question!”
          “You do?” Grace asks, a glimmer of hope rising up in her voice.
          “I do!” I reply with conviction as I stand up and toss my bean bag chair into the corner.  I stretch out my hand to her, take her small hand in mine, and say, “Come with me.”
          Together we walk over to where I keep my bag and I pull out my trusty blue leather Bible with silver edged pages. The cover is worn and soft, and the place on the front where my name was once imprinted has rubbed away. I hand it to her, and opening it up she says, “This is your Bible!”
         “Yes it is,” I reply. “In the Bible, a great man of God named Paul wrote many books about how to live like Jesus, or like the song says, how to live like that. Would you like me to read some of what he wrote to you?” I ask.
          “Yes please!” Grace responded, looking intently at my Bible.
          I turned in the Bible to the 12th chapter of the book of Romans, verse 2, which is one of my favorite verses in book of Romans and quickly read it to myself: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
          I point out the verse on the page to Grace and say, “It says ‘Don’t copy the behaviors of the world, but be a new and different person witha fresh newness in all you do and all you think’. Paul is telling us that we should try very hard to be good, kind, helpful, and patient so that when other people around us see us they will notice that we are different.”
          Grace’s eyes brighten. “So Paul wants us to be like a pink elephant at the zoo!”
          “Say what?” I ask, thoroughly confused, thinking I must have heard her wrong.
          “Pretend like we go to the zoo to see the elephants and all of the elephants are gray, but one was pink. We would notice the pink elephant for sure. Paul wants us to be different than everybody else so we will standout like a pink elephant for Jesus!”
          “Yes, that’s exactly right!” I say, somewhat hesitantly, mulling over what she has said, kind of struck by her unique understanding of the verse I had read.
          “What else does Paul say?” Grace asks, turning some pages in the Bible.
          “Well,” I say, flipping to a verse I had read in Bible study yesterday, “Here in Phillippians 2:14-15 it says ‘Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.’ Did you know that I love to go out and night and look up at the night sky because stars are so bright and beautiful?  Well, here Paul is telling us that we should be like those bright stars by showing others how to behave. We should be a good example for others to follow. People should see Jesus’ light shining through us.”
           I looked at Grace where she sat, and I could see the light streaming from her face as she listened with her trademark intensity to my words.  I continued,  “You know, Jesus stood out in a crowd. He was like a star lighting up the sky. Thousands of people followed him around because they could see that he was different. He cared about people and wasn’t afraid to stand up for what was right. Jesus would stop and talk to people thatother people would not talk to. Do you remember Zaccheus the tax collector?”
          “Yep, he was a wee little man!” Grace said, quoting a line from the popular children’s song about Zaccheus, the wee little man who climbed up in the sycamore tree.
          “Indeed,” I reply, laughing. “He was also a tax collector,which meant that no one liked him. Jesus didn’t care about that, though! He even went to his house for dinner.”
          “Zaccheus, you come down! For I’m going to your house today! For I’m going to your house today!” Grace sings.
          I look at Grace, and see that she is watching me with her thoughtful, big brown eyes. Her hands are folded in her lap and her legs are folded criss-cross applesauced in front of her. The long chocolate brown braids I had weaved in her hair in the early hours of the morning are draped over her shoulders, and her face is relaxed and peaceful. Her demeanor is changed from earlier and I know that I have answered her question about what it means to‘live like that’.
          I smile, thinking to myself about the song that sparked this conversation and begin to think about how lucky I am to be able to live like that in my daily life as a teacher to so many unique and wonderful children like Grace.
          As a teacher, there are things that I adore about all of the children I care for. Norah is tomboy awesome. How can you not love a girl who refuses to wear girl underwear because “boy underwear is better because it has superheroes on it?” Rokke is a sports nut, and will only sleep with abasketball, baseball bat or football…forget the stuffed animals. Addison is a girly girl. I can’t remember ever seeing her dressed in anything besides a tutu. Kendra is a future teacher. One of my favorite things is to watch her line up all the dolls and pretend to read to them, just like I do with my students, only Kendra always holds the books upside down. Austin is Mr. Fix it.  I truly believe he can fix anything. When he was two, he fixed my broken CD player and taught me how to use my iPad. Alex is the future rock star. He makes up great songs, plays the guitar and the drums and prefers to write with a sharpie over anything else.
          Then, there is Grace, and she is…well, she’s just this gem of a girl.
          She’s the pink elephant in a zoo full of beautiful, albeit, gray ones.
          When one of her classmates falls down, she’s the first one by their side to help them back up again. If it’s someone’s birthday, she’s organizing the decorations and leading the chorus in singing ‘Happy Birthday’.  If you knock over your paint cup during art and spill all your paint, she’ll gladly give you hers. When it’s time to clean up the room to go outside, she’s busy cleaning up with a smile on her face and a song in her heart while everyone else is busy grumbling and complaining. If another child hurts her feelings or pulls her hair, she is quick to forgive and slow to act in anger.
          It is my sincerest prayer that if I am ever blessed with a daughter, she will be just like Grace because she is one of the kindest, most gentle and loving little girls I have ever had the honor of teaching.
          This past February, however, I wasn’t thinking about being blessed with a daughter in the slightest. On Superbowl Sunday of all days, I succumbed to the worst headache of my life, which ended up not being a headache at all, but a stroke.
          About ten minutes into my two week stay at the hospital, I was desperate to go home; I missed my work, my life, my normal. To be honest, I was terrified and I was angry that I might never have my work, my life, my normal again. I didn’t dare to think about what the future might or might not hold.  If I could just go home, I reasoned, this whole nightmare would be over and I could pretend that it had never happened.
          As I lay there in my hospital bed, struggling with memory loss, weakness, and a brain that at times felt like Jell-o, one verse from the Bible repeatedly came to me from the book of Proverbs, chapter 3 verses 5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
          Since this Bible verse seemed to be one of the few things I could reliably remember at the time, I knew I should probably heed what it said; so I began to pray not just for lightning quick healing, but for unfailing hope that good things would come out of this experience. I was very fortunate that my prayers for quick healing were answered. God also answered my secondary prayer by literally pouring down love on me from my friends and students, my student’s families and co-workers, my family and church family, and even those I met while in the hospital.
         Yet, of all of the people who cared for me with their love, prayers and kindness during this time, I have to say that a little six year old girl with chocolate colored braids and doe brown eyes touched my heart the most.
          Every day that I was in hospital, my best friend Sarah came to visit me, and every day, Sarah had a special delivery for me from Grace. Some days, it was a card, some days, it was a picture she had drawn. Once, she had a video of Grace singing “You Can’t Keep Jesus’ Love in a Box” for me, and another time Grace had written a story about the two of us. In the story, we both marry handsome princes, live in a castle, have pet unicorns and live happily ever after.
          Of course, the story was probably my personal favorite!
          I delighted in these little tokens from Grace, because I could see she had poured her heart into every little detail; through her gifts,this sweet little six year old girl told me the very things I needed to hear at a time in my life when I needed to hear them the most: You are missed. You are loved. You are not forgotten.
          Grace didn’t know it, but she was already living a life like that. At least, to me she was.
          How she knew to live a life like that, I’ll never know. For most of her life, she has witnessed exactly the opposite messages in her own family, by those who are supposed to love and protect her. How many times has she heard messages like you’re not important to me?  I don’t love you enough to keep you. You’re not important enough for me to stay. I won’t miss you. Leave me alone. She never loved you. Messages like these, even when heard just once, cut deeply and last a lifetime.
          For a child so young, it is unthinkable to me that she has experienced such cruelty in her lifetime, yet remains so tender hearted, gentle and good.
          Thinking about the sadness and pain that Grace has experienced in her life weighs heavily upon my heart as I notice that a few ofthe children have started to dance. I pause to listen and hear the chorus of another one of Sidewalk Prophets songs, ‘Love Love Love’.
          ‘That’s it’, I think to myself. ‘Love! Grace may have experienced tragedy and loss in her life, but she has also been loved deeply by her grandparents and… by me! Doesn’t it say in Proverbs ‘hatred stirs up quarrels, but love covers up for all offenses?’ Love is the answer!’
          This thought gives me a rush of hope, because in this messed up world that we live in there are many other children out there like Grace who are living in broken apart, ravaged families. The idea that the love and prayers of just a few people can turn a child in wasteland of elephants into a shiny bright, show stopping pink elephant amazes me.
          While the problems of this world are large, the solution is simple: what we need is more love, and more pink elephants.
          I closed the Bible on my lap, and put my arm around Grace.“Guess what I was just thinking about?” I asked.
          Grace shrugged her shoulders and smiled. “Don’t know.”
          “Do you remember when I was in the hospital?”
          “You don’t have to go back do you?” she asks.
          “No, no,” I reply. “I was thinking about all the nice things you sent me when I was in the hospital. Did you realize you were being a pink elephant to me when I was in the hospital? So…I don’t think you need to worry about what it means to live like that. You’re already living like that, Grace,” I said softly, giving her a hug.
          Grace looks up at me, her beautiful brown eyes meeting my blue green ones. She smiles and says, “I think you already know, too. You’re the one who showed me how to be a pink elephant!”
          My eyes began to fill with tears for this precious, precious child who has taught me so much more about living a life filled with love, kindness, and courage, and how to truly shine for Jesus, than I could have ever taught her. “Oh Grace, I think we’ve both learned so much from each other,” I say, giving her another hug.
          Grace stands up and points at the other children who are dancing and laughing in the middle of the room. “Let’s dance, Miss Beth!” she says, smiling and pulling me towards the dancing as she sings “You can see it in the stars above…”
          I smile and give her a twirl, laughing and joining in the singing of the lyrics to another one of the Sidewalk Prophets songs, Love, Love, Love: “and when you think you can’t, you can with love!”

A Name By Any Other Name, And Other Misnomers

One of my favorite lines from Shakespeare can be found in Romeo & Juliet’sfamous balcony scene.  This is when Juliet kind of goes on a tirade about how much she loves Romeo, but at the same time hates his name and tries to justify why his name shouldn’t matter anyway. Unbeknownst to her, Romeo hears every word she says because he’s stalking her from the bushes.

              (Side note:  Of course, I probably like this scene so much because this is exactly the kind of thing that would happen to me in real life.  I would meet my dream guy only to discover he has some sort of inherently stupid flaw which would make a long term relationship impossible.  Then, I would go on a rant about my bad luck, which of course would be overheard by previously mentioned dream guy with inherently stupid flaws who ends up being a stalker anyway.)
               In case you’re not familiar with the scene I’m talking about from your days in freshman English class, I’ll post a refresher for you:
Juliet:
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy; Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part Belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name, And for that name which is no part of thee Take all myself.
Romeo:
I take thee at thy word: Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized; Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
                Isn’t that just beautiful?  Except for the whole doomed and tragic love thing, I guess
            So, I was thinking about Juliet and Romeo and the whole “What’s in a name?” debate today for a couple of reasons.  Initially what sparked this thought was a sign I read as I drove down Lima Road in Fort Wayne this afternoon.  Standing on the corner outside of the Golden Corral across from Don Ayres Honda holding a yellow sign was a rough looking fellow dressed in a winter hat and coat.
               At first, I thought he might be homeless until I looked a little more closely and I realized that the sign he was holding actually said:  “No Cover! Gentleman’s Club.  Free Lunch Buffet.”  An arrow on the sign pointed up the street to the aforementioned ‘Gentleman’s Club’.
            I kid you not, but the first thought that came into my head was, “You can call it a Gentleman’s Club, but that doesn’t change the fact that real gentlemen don’t hang out at places like that.”
            Then, I started thinking about other things in life that are misnomers (because if we’re being honest here, strip clubs aren’t the only places that are guilty of trying to pass themselves off as something they aren’t.) 
              For starters, you’ve probably read my thoughts about the “pumpkins” for sale at the craft stores these days. Let’s call those crafty pumpkins what they really are:  over glorified pieces of foam. 
               Then, there’s Fantasy Football.  Maybe men are better able to separate their love of teams and players from the logistical, strategic hub of the mind than I am.  Come to think of it, maybe I don’t have a logistical, strategic hub in my mind at all.  Perhaps my core problem is I’m a Bears fan.  Whatever the case may be, I think the sports gurus at ESPN should have named the game Delusional Football because it seems to paint an entirely more accurate picture with words than Fantasy Football.
               Another misnomer, at least in my mind, is why all of my doctor’s offices are called ‘Medical Practices.’   Does this strike anyone else as odd?  I mean, really, who wants to go to a doctor to be practiced on?  Surely people with over 10 years of college can come up with a better description for their services than “Medical Practice.”
              How about chili? Definitely one of my favorite foods, but the way I make chili sure isn’t chilly.  Actually, you might need medical attention for the flames shooting out of your mouth after tasting my original recipe chili (I use habanero sauce and an entire jar of chili powder.  Yum!)  Maybe it is called chili because you are supposed to eat it during chilly weather? Who knows!
               Speaking of food, does anyone know what is super about the supermarket?  Other than being super-sized or supposedly super cheap, I’m at a loss.  I will say it’s definitely not super fun! 
            As I pondered these different misnomers today, I happened to drive by the Allen County Courthouse and it occurred to me that I could legally change my name Cindy Crawford if I wanted to.  
            Of course, this doesn’t mean that anyone would actually mistake me for Cindy Crawford; herein lies the problem.  A name is just a name, a word is just a word. 
               If it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck but you persist in calling it a fish, does that make it a fish? 
               No, it does not, which brings me around to the point of all this.
             I think the word ‘church’ in a Christian context is kind of like this.  Most of the time we use the word ‘church’ in reference to a building, but the truth of the matter is this word has more to do with you and I than with any building, old or new.
            In the following quote, Canon Ernest Southcott, a founder of the home church movement in England, described ‘the church’ in one of the most beautiful ways I’ve ever heard:  “The holiest moment of the church service is the moment when God’s people, strengthened by preaching and sacrament, go out of the church doors into the world to be the church.  We don’t go to church; we are the church.”
            With this in mind, I want to encourage you to be the church today.  By saying that, I don’t mean be the sticks and stones that make up a church, because you know what they say about sticks and stones. (For those of you who may not know, sticks and stones break bones, which is definitely not a good thing for churches to do!)
               Instead, be the church that overflows with kindness and joy, that church whose smile brightens up the world around you.  Be a friend to someone who needs a friend, and offer forgiveness to someone who doesn’t deserve it.  Love someone just because you can, and laugh because it makes others, as well as you, happy.
               That sounds like the kind of church I’d like to visit! 

The No Fears/No Limits 38 Day Challenge

My Dearest Readers:
          Today is September 23rd and I can hardly believe it!  Time is moving so fast it seems these days.  Last week, we were in the throes of summer and now we’re luxuriating in my favorite time of year, fall. 
          Y’all know I love fall, and as such, I think this is the perfect time of year to break out of our old routines and day to day existences and try something new.  With this is mind, I want to challenge each and every one of you to come along with me on a 38 day challenge to cast our fears aside and set out on some new adventures with what is left of September and all of what is yet before us in October.
          I’ve been on a No Fears/No Limits kick since April of this year, and let me tell you, it has been completely life changing.  By far, kissing my fears good-bye and embracing a mindset that I have no limits is one of the best things I have ever done for myself.  I want to encourage others to take these steps for themselves, too!
         The challenge I’ve chosen for myself to work on for the next 38 days is my fitness.  I’ve always had a lot of excuses not to make exercise a priority, but the time has come for that to change.  I have so many exciting things happening in my life these days, but the truth is I don’t have the energy to keep up with everything that I need to do even after losing 40 pounds since April of this year.  So, it’s time for me to put some effort into getting into a shape other than round.  I’ll be walking/running with the help of Nike +, trying out Zumba, and doing cardio/strength training at Curves 3 times a week for the next 38 days.  You’ll be able to read all about it here on Spin: The Blog!
          What No Fears/No Limits challenge would you like to take on this fall?  Whatever you choose, I’d love to hear about it so be sure to e-mail me a pic and a message about the changes you are making this fall.  I’ll post a few of them each week here on the blog or over on the Facebook fan page!
          Remember:  No Fears/No Limits!!
Much Love,
Beth 

Migraines, Tragus Piercings, and Half-Baked Plans

Most people are blessed with gifts or talents that are at the very least useful, like being able to cook. Or tap dance.

                If you know me personally, or just know me from reading my blog, you probably have already figured out that my true calling in this life is my ability to come up with half-baked schemes that inevitably either get me into trouble or lead me down a disastrous path to hilarity. My problems always seem to stem from the following truth I’ve recently discovered about myself:  I either way over think things or I way under think things. When it comes to thinking, apparently I know no middle ground.
              Thursday, September 20, 2012 was no exception to this rule.
               I should probably preface this story by telling you that I have had a migraine headache for almost 3 straight weeks.  I’ve suffered with headaches all of my life it seems, but to have a headache for a near constant 21 days is unusual even for me.  The headache became so intense that this past weekend  I spent Sunday night in the Parkview ER being pumped full of an injectable migraine medication cocktail of seven different kinds of medicines that in the end only gave me about 30 minutes of relief. 
               Needless to say, I was getting very tired of having a headache.
             Truth be told, I would probably make a booty-kicking reference librarian if I had the inclination to work in a library, which I don’t.  I came to the conclusion in my drug induced haze earlier in the week that if I was ever going to get rid of the stupid migraine I’ve been carrying around in my brain all month, I was probably going to have to be the one to figure out how to make it go away. 
              As I was reading on the internet about the ways to get rid of migraines, I came across several studies that seemed to show that applying acupuncture or pressure to this area would help alleviate migraine and tension headaches. A few things that I read even said that having the tragus physically pierced would, and I quote, “relieve migraine headaches in 6 out of 10 sufferers.” 
              That was all I needed to know. 
              This is how I came up with the brilliant idea to get my tragus pierced.  (You may be asking yourself, “What the heck is a tragus?” Good question.  It’s the little nub of cartilage opposite your earlobe that kind of covers the opening to your ear canal.  I never even knew that thing had a real name until this week!)
               How bad could getting a tragus pierced be, anyway?  Surely it couldn’t be any worse than getting my ears pierced. Right?
               Right?
               My first clue that this was not one of my best ideas ever should have been when I went to the Piercing Pagoda at the mall.  I asked the clerk about getting my tragus pierced, and she turned white as a ghost.  “Oh, we don’t do that here,” she said very quietly.  “You’ll have to go to a tattoo parlor to have that done.”
              “Really?”  I asked. “How come?”
               “You don’t know much about piercings, do you?”  she replied.
               Indeed, I do not. 
               After making a few phone calls, I decided to go to the tattoo shop where I’ve had two of my tattoos done.  Since it has been over a year since I’ve been in to Wildman’s, I had forgotten what an interesting place it is and how it is always filled with unique and intriguing people. 
              For instance, on Thursday night at the front desk drawing sketches and helping to run the show I met a very nice and interesting 23 year old guy who actually had a sad clown tattooed on his cheek.  Prior to tonight, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with a real live face tattoo so this was a kind of exciting development for me. I’ve only ever seen people with face tattoos in mug shots on the internet or while watching COPS on Saturday night. 
               I could feel my coolness factor rising by the minute as I mingled with the ultra-hip and culturally relevant youngsters at the tattoo parlor.
               Granted, I was only there for a medicinal tragus piercing, but whatever.
              Next, I met piercing specialist Vince, who was also a very nice and very funny young guy who would be performing my medical miracle to cure me of my migraines.  If I were to describe Vince’s physical appearance, it would probably take several hours.  Vince had an array of interesting tattoos everywhere the eye could see, and probably a few in places the eye could not see; the most impressive thing about Vince, however,  was the interesting thing going on with his earlobe piercings. 
              Basically, I could almost put my entire hand through the center of his earlobe on either ear.  I’m not sure I would have ever believed such a thing would be possible to do to someone’s  ear lobes unless I had seen it first-hand (no pun intended!) 
               As with the case of the face tattoo I mentioned earlier, Vince’s piercings were the kind of thing I’ve only ever seen before in National Geographic magazines and bad mug shots.
               Vince took me back to the piercing area and helped me pick out a hoop to put in my tragus.  We made small talk for a while, and I asked him about his piercings.   I asked Vince if he had ever had his tragus pierced, and he responded:  “No way! The tragus is one of most painful piercings you can get.  I’ve seen grown men cry over that piercing.”
               This statement, coming from a guy with dessert plate sized holes in his ear lobes, probably should have tossed up afew caution flags for me; of course, it didn’t.
               Next, Vince brought out the tools necessary for piercing my tragus.  The first thing to come out of the drawer was a long needle that reminded me of a sewing needle you’d use to sew on a button. Not very threatening by any stretch of the imagination.  I decided if that was all it would take to pierce my tragus, I was going to be fine.
               Granted, I probably should have questioned what he needed the instruments that looked like industrial strength toenail clippers for that he laid out on the sterile tray next to the sewing-esque needle, but I didn’t.
               Then, it was the moment of truth.  Vince had me do some breathing exercises to prepare for the piercing. “Take a deep breath in and hold it. Okay, blow it out, then take another deep breath in and hold it.  Whatever you do, don’t move.”
              I felt the little sewing needle slice through my tragus.  Yeah, it hurt a little but in comparison to the routine injections I get directly in my eyeballs for acute inflammation of my irises, a tragus piercing was nothing.  All things considered, I’ve probably had more painful hangnails.
               “Wow,” said Vince.  “You’re hardcore, girl!  You didn’t even flinch!”  I beamed for a moment, and then I heard Vince utter the two words you never want to hear when getting a tattoo or, in my case, a piercing:  “Uh oh.”
               “Uh oh?”  I asked.
               “I lost the opening,” he said.  “I’m sorry Beth, but I’m going to have to re-pierce you.  Are you sure you’re okay?”
               Oh yeah, I was just dandy. 
               The second time I had my tragus pierced, Vince didn’t even bother with having me do the breathing exercises.  I will admit it hurt more the second time, I have no idea why, but it did. Perhaps that’s why my tragus started bleeding profusely. 
               Vince called Mr. Face Tattoo to come back and help him because apparently I have a “tiny tragus.”  As a woman, I generally like compliments about my appearance that begin with ‘tiny’, but in this instance I wasn’t so sure having a tiny tragus was a positive thing.
               At this point, I came to fully realize that the most painful part of getting my tragus pierced wasn’t going to be the physical act of piercing my tragus. 
              The painful part was going to be using the industrial strength toenail clipper looking things to forcefully juxtapose the small hoop earring into said piercing.
                When all was said and done, Vince looked at my newly pierced tragus and said, “You’re really going to want to take some ibuprofen the second you leave here and take it for at least the next 10 days while you heal.”
                This was good to know after the fact, especially considering that I’m not allowed to take ibuprofen because of a clotting disorder I have.
                To make a long story even longer, at least I no longer have a migraine.  Is this due to getting my tragus pierced?  Probably not.  It probably has more to do with the fact that every ounce of pain my body is capable of feeling is now centrally confined to the general vicinity of my tragus. 
               With this being said, I’m not sure I would recommend tragus piercing for any run of the mill migraine.  For sure, I’d try extra strength Excedrin first.  If you are weary of the sight of blood and/or pain, I would not recommend having this done.  Ever. 

Survival of the Coldest: Woman, cat vs. refrigerator edition

It’s Wednesday, dear readers, and do you know what I love to write about the most on Wednesday?

               The weird, wacky, and unusually wild news of the world. 
               I’m always on the hunt for the most absurd news stories I can find. Lately it seems like I’ve been able to find stories along these lines more easily than usual.  Today in about five minutes time, I found a plethora of wacky and weird news stories to tide me over. 
              One of the stories was about a 59 year old woman from Tulsa, Oklahoma who had been missing for 5 days.  She was found, alive, on September 12, 2012, inside her apartment…tucked away inside a chest type deep freezer. 
             The woman’s son, Jermal Stewart, told police officers that it appeared that she took shelter inside the deep freeze during a wave of severe storms that whipped through Tulsa last week.  Once she was inside the deep freeze, however, she was unable to get out…and so there she remained for 5 days until her son found her. 
              Thankfully, she is responding well to treatment for frostbite at a Tulsa area hospital and is doing well at this time.
               After reading this story, I couldn’t help but remember a time several years ago when I was still living in Elkhart,Indiana.  I had a fluffy yellow and white cat named Max (not to be confused with my nephew, Max) that I had rescued froma dumpster outside my apartment as a kitten.
             I had never been a cat person, ever.  I still to this day do not consider myself a cat person.  I don’t like cats, but one of my weaknesses is that I have a soft heart for animals, especially the sick and stray ones in the middle of a frigid Indiana winter.  Max was one of those lucky animals I took mercy on, and I ended up liking him, even though he was a cat.
              Max was loud and obnoxious and basically did whatever he wanted to do whenever he wanted to do it.  He wasn’t a lap cat, which I totally appreciated.  I could travel without having to worry about him at all.  All Max needed was a big bowl full of cat food and a sink full of water and he’d be fine on his own for several days. 
               One strange fixation Max always had was with cupboards and, well, basically anything with a door.  He was always getting himself shut in the bathroom cabinet and under the kitchen sink. Once, he jumped into the oven when I wasn’t looking and was pretty darn lucky he didn’t end up getting preheated.
               With this knowledge in mind, I wasn’t that worried when I returned home one day and Max was nowhere to be found.  I looked everywhere, but to no avail.  Two days passed, and he still hadn’t turned up.  I was quite certain that Max was gone for good.  The only logical explanation I could come up with was that perhaps he had dashed out the door and ran off into the oblivion. 
                I remember walking around the neighborhood Kroger store picking up a few groceries that evening and I saw a bag of cat food with a picture of a cat that looked like Max.  I cried the entire way home from the store that night.  I wasn’t sure what was more shocking, the fact that I was upset over losing a stupid cat or the fact that the stupid cat had ran away in the first place.
              My house was still dark as I meandered my way to the refrigerator to put away the gallon of milk I had bought at the store.  I opened the refrigerator door, heard a yowl that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, and saw out of the corner of my eye an orange ball of fur leap directly at my head from off the meat and cheese shelf.
              I screamed and fell backwards, not entirely sure what was happening in the moment.
              The gallon of milk hit the floor and exploded. 
               When all was said and done, I was lying flat on my back in the middle of my kitchen floor in a pool of fat free milk with a half frozen cat clinging to my head for dear life.
               Needless to say, I had found Max.  He had spent almost three days inside the fridge, but aside from being cold, hungry and mad at the world, he was fine.
               All of these years, I’ve been perplexed by how Max managed to survive for three days in the fridge without any food, water or fresh air.  You see, I’m still kind of traumatized by that one episode of Punky Brewster I saw as a little girl when her best friend, Cherie, gets locked in an old unplugged refrigerator in the backyard.  Cherie was in that fridge for all of 10 minutes and almost died (okay, so it seemed thatway to me as a 10 year old).  I still don’t know how Max managed to survive; I also don’t have a clue how Theresa Christian of Tulsa managed to survive five days in the deep freezer. 
             I have to admit that this story really has no point to it, although I guess I could say that the moral of this story is, don’t play hide and seek in the refrigerator.  Oh, and don’t seek shelter from the storm inside a deep freezer.  You’re probably better off taking your chances with the storm than getting friendly with the frozen vegetables in the freezer.

Unicorns: The Surprisingly Not So Perfect Gift

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When I was a girl, my beloved Grandma Whiteleather somehow got the notion that unicorns were my favorite thing in the entire world.

                They were not.
                My dear, sweet, misguided Grandmother, however, never figured this one out and every holiday, birthday and just because day I could expect to receive some sort of gift in the form of a unicorn. Over the years, I received ceramic unicorns, unicorn wall hangings, stuffed unicorns, books about unicorns, and once I even received a bejeweled hot pink sweater with a fuzzy purple unicorn emblazoned on the front.  This might have been an awesome wardrobe staple had I been 4 or 5; I was 14.
                One summer, I remember with great clarity spending several Saturdays at the Laundromat with my Mom on Line Street in Columbia City helping her do the laundry.  Across the street in the parking lot for those weeks, a vendor was displaying his wares. If I use the phrase “Velvet Elvis” type artwork, would you know what I mean?  The vendor was hawking huge pieces of artwork (and I use this term very loosely) of paintings created on a velvet type matte.  Not the kind of art you will find hanging in the Louvre in France, or the Fort Wayne Museum of Art for that matter.
                The piece de resistance of all the artwork up for grabs was magnificent, and when I say magnificent I really mean terrifying white unicorn on a huge and I mean huge piece of black velvet.  Each week at the Laundromat, my Mom and I would joke that we really hoped Grandma would not see the velvet unicorn disaster in art across the street because my birthday was in a few weeks.
               Then, one week Mom and I were sitting by the windows at the Laundromat waiting for our clothes to dry and my Mom’s face suddenly blanched.  “Uh oh,” she said.
              “What?”  I asked.
               “The velvet Elvis unicorn is gone.”
               I’m pretty sure my face blanched a few shades paler than my Mother’s.
              Without a word, I got up from the white plastic bucket seat and immediately walked across the road to the Line Street Velvet Elvis artwork garden.  I walked up and down the rows of freakishly bad artwork searching for the unicorn piece, but to my dismay, I wasn’t able to find it.
               The art vendor approached me, wearing what I believed was technically supposed to be an undershirt and a pair of shorts that really needed a belt to do him justice.  He smiled, revealing a mouth full of chewing tobacco and two missing front teeth.  “Howdy doody, little miss,” he said with great zeal. “Anything I can help you find?”
              “Yes, I, um, saw a unicorn picture here last week and I was, uh, wondering if you still had it,” I replied.
              “Oh, I sold that beauty a few days ago!”  the man said.
              “Do you happen to remember who bought it?”  I asked tentatively.
               “Sure do!  It was an older lady, real sweetheart.  Said it was a gift for somebody real special.”
               My heart fell.  I knew I was getting a giant wall hanging of a unicorn on black velvet for my 13 birthday.  I didn’t see how things could get any worse.
               I thanked the man for his time, and he offered to give me a fantastic deal on a velvet New Kids on the Block painting.  As much as Jordan Knight made my heart swoon at the time, I had to take a pass on that one.
               For the next week, I dreaded my upcoming birthday.  I didn’t want to hurt my Grandma’s feelings by crying a river of tears when I opened up the velvet unicorn painting, but I sure as heck didn’t want a giant velvet unicorn painting.  I loved my Grandma so much though, and more than anything, I wanted to make her happy and proud of me.  I came to the ultimate decision that if it was important to her that I liked unicorns, and ginormous ugly pieces of art featuring unicorns, then I would learn to love it with all my heart.
               Imagine my surprise, when, at my birthday dinner my Grandma handed me two boxes much smaller than one might expect to be holding large pieces of artwork. I remember looking at my Grandma questioningly, hesitating before opening my gifts.
               “Beth?  Are you okay?”  Grandma asked.  I nodded. “Well then, go ahead and open your presents!”
               I cautiously tore off the wrapping paper and my heart soared when I saw that what was inside was not the artwork in question.  My Grandma had bought me a 10 book gift set of my favorite books at the time, The Babysitters Club by Ann M.Martin.  The smaller box bore a small, beautiful diamond encrusted gold unicorn necklace with my initial, B, on it.
               I started to cry tears of joy whenI realized that I wasn’t getting a giant velvet unicorn painting.  I remember my Grandma asking me what was the matter, and all I could say was “These are the best birthday presents ever!”
              They really were!
               Today as I sit here thinking about my Grandma and unicorns and really bad artwork, I recall the following verse from the book of Luke, chapter 11 verses 11-13 in the Bible:  “(Jesus said) “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
               It is amazing to think that our Heavenly Father knows our hearts so well, and cares for us so much, that He will surprise us like my own Grandmother once surprised me with the perfect gift if only we ask Him.  Yes, she did give me a unicorn necklace, which was lovely; but she also gave me a set of books, which was always the perfect gift for a voracious young reader like myself.  It still is the perfect gift, if you can find a set I don’t already have!
               The most amazing thing of all about our Heavenly Father, though, is that He’s already given us the most perfect gift of all—His holy and blameless Son, Jesus Christ.  While a unicorn or a velvet Elvis painting still brings a smile to my face remembering the love of my Grandma every time, there is only one gift that I give thanks for every day of my life.
              That gift is the one that was born in manger some 2,000 years ago, the gift that gave up His own perfect life for my eternal one (and yours).   
                   I pray that I will spend the rest of my life using my own gifts to give back all the glory in my heart to the one who first gave these gifts to me to begin with.  My prayer for you is that everytime you see a unicorn, you will think of your own God given gifts and strive to use your gifts for His glory as well!

The Travesty of Foam Pumpkins

Here I am with my Mom and brother, Brent, and a real farm grown Indiana pumpkin. Is there really any other kind?

I love fall.

            Without question, it is my favorite time of the year. 
            There’s truly a lot to love about fall.  There’s something uncannily beautiful about the blazing color of leaves as they twirl in spectacular fashion to the ground.  I will never, ever be too old to jump and play in a big pile of freshly fallen leaves, that much is certain.  The crisp smell in the air on an early fall evening walk always brings a smile to my face, just like the coolness of the air does when it stings my cheeks a little during a Friday night home foot ballgame.  I love going to Cook’s Orchard with my son to pick some apples so we can bake one of my Grandma’s cinnamon sugar lattice topped apple pies and homemade applesauce.
              Of all the things I love about fall, however, the thing I love the most are those orange globes of delight that you can only find fresh from the field this time of year—pumpkins!  In fact, I love pumpkins so much that I named my childcare center the Pumpkin Patch Playgroup in honor of my love of pumpkins. 
              Big pumpkins, little pumpkins, pie pumpkins, ugly pumpkins, I love them all, with the exception of one kind, which this blog is about.
              On Saturday night, I wandered into Michael’s Craft Store and my heart initially beat a little faster at the sight of pumpkins lined up in a row with a large assortment of carving tools nearby. 
              Then, I came to realize what a travesty this display was.
             The pumpkins were those fake, foamie type ones made for no-mess carving and decorating that you can put little LED battery operated lights in.  There was even a sign that said, “We’ll do the carving for you!”
              I can’t be the only one who thinks that these foam pumpkins are an abomination against real, farm grown pumpkins, can I?
              Isn’t part of the fun of pumpkins pulling out the cold, gloppy mess of what’s inside?  The feeling of impending doom that at any moment you could slice a finger off while carving your pumpkin and have to race to the nearest emergency room?  The thrill of turning off the lights and seeing your carved masterpiece come to life with a real candle glowing inside?  (Don’t even get me started on those LED battery operated lights!)
              It occurred to me as I wandered around Michael’s on Saturday night that in many ways, we are a lot like pumpkins. 
             The real ones, though, not the fake ones.
             The world wants us to believe that the fake foamie pumpkins for sale at $5.99 a piece are the best.  After all, they are perfect by the world’s standards. On the outside, they are smooth and blemish free.  On the inside, you won’t find any mess.  No guts, no mess, just a hollow emptiness.
             No matter how hard we may try to achieve fake foamie pumpkin perfection, we are just setting ourselves up for failure when we try to chase after this illusion of grandeur.  We can shell out $5.99’s until we’re bankrupt, and we won’t ever be perfect or good enough by the world’s standards.
              I can only speak for myself, but I know for sure I’m not anywhere close to being perfect by the world’s standards.  If I was a pumpkin, I’d probably be one of those that are so ugly they’re cute pumpkins that are covered with bumps that look like warts. 
             Have you ever tried to carve into one of those pumpkins?
             The outside of the pumpkin is very thick and tough, making it difficult to cut into.  Because of this, this type of pumpkin is very difficult to carve but it makes an exceptionally beautiful and unique jack-o-lanterns when finished. 
              On the inside, however, they are just the same as any other pumpkin, filled with a cold, gloppy mess. 
              The way I see it, this is why we need the Master carver in our lives.  The One who created all things, including the loveliness of both autumn and pumpkins, is more than capable of taking each of us in whatever state we are in and removing the glop inside. 
              Even if our outside is tougher than a bumpy pumpkin, He can make us into a new creation.  Even when our sins are like scarlet, as it says in Isaiah 1:18, “they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
             In His eyes, we are already perfection. 
             We are already good enough.
            Without a doubt, the only one who was ever truly perfect, who was ever really good enough, thought we were worth it all.  
             He became the scoop for our pumpkin gut goop by dying on the cross at Calvary for our sins.
             Now, when we are surrounded by the darkness of this world, it is His love in our hearts that shines, and it shines brighter than any battery powered LED light.    

A Father’s Day Tribute to My Brother, Superman

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Some of my fondest memories as a child took place with me at the helm of my invisible jet, about six years old, dressed in my Wonder Woman underoos, a gold tiara sitting atop my head with matching gold cuffs adorning my wrists.  Flying beside me, red cape flapping in the wind, was Superman, AKA my little brother, Brent, age 4, dressed in his post Clark Kent underoos (unless of course, it was Wednesday; he was always Batman on Wednesday!)

      Together, we were the most amazing crime fighting duo the world had ever seen.  Our biggest nemesis?  Our baby sister, Stacy.  She was a triple threat to the dynamic duo of Wonder Woman and Superman: she was super cute, super cuddly, and a super big attention hog.  This spelled super big trouble for my brother and I, who were more prone to getting into trouble than being cute and cuddly at this point!
       Besides fighting our evil baby sister, my brother and I were also duly sworn to rid the world of vegetables (especially beets and broccoli, yuck!), baths (which was more my brother’s preference), and bedtime (which was more my own preference).
             Even though my brother and I both outgrew our underoos along, long time ago, our superhero adventures continue on yet today, some 30 years later as parents to our own children.  As a grown up Wonder Woman, a preschool teacher and a mom,  instead of ridding the world of vegetables I’m creating clever tricks to help encourage preschoolers make their veggies disappear via digestion (instead of feeding them to the dog under the table).
          I make bath time fun with bubbles and glow sticks and shaving cream paint and all kinds of other wacky stuff that has my 5 year old running into the tub instead of running away from it.  Finally, when it comes to bedtime, naptime, anytime sleepytime I am, without a doubt, the reigning champion of getting kids to go to sleep.  No child can resist succumbing to my top secret, highly patented good night forehead/eyebrow massage.  100% satisfaction guaranteed on that!
             On the weekends, instead of flying around in my invisible jet, I drive around in my navy blue 2008 Chrysler Town & Country Mini-van, helping people in any way I can while sharing the love of Jesus that I have in my heart.  Sometimes Batman (AKA Alex), my new crime fighting companion comes with me, unless it’s a Sunday.  On Sunday, he informs me that he’s Jesus, his favorite superhero of all.  Hearing those words from my sweet little boy does wonderful things to Wonder Woman’s heart.
      The real superhero of this story, however, isn’t me, or my alter ego, Wonder Woman.  My life is a comparative walk in the park when placed side by side to the life of that boy wearing the red cape and the Superman underoos in this story.  The real hero in this tale is my brother Brent, who I think is unparalleled by any superhero when it comes to being a father, a role model, and an example of a man that is a true hero to his 6 year old son, Skyler.
      My brother the superhero didn’t take the traditional path to become a father to Skyler.  Brent is not Skyler’s biological father, but he IS Skyler’s father in every other sense of the word; most notably through the loving act of adoption.  According to the dictionary, a father is “a man who exercises paternal care over other persons; a paternal protector or provider.”  After meeting his future wife Kerry, and her son Skyler, in 2007, my brother has done just that.  He works two jobs, and sometimes three, to make ends meet for his family so Skyler can have a decent home to live in, food to eat, and the clothes and shoes that young growing boys require.
      Whenever my brother isn’t working, you will frequently find him with his little superhero in training, Spiderman (AKA Skyler), if not right by his side, then somewhere nearby, watching his Daddy with eyes filled with admiration and wonder, especially if they are fishing.
       For this calm, cool, and collected Wonder Woman, a moment like this is really something to see:  my little brother, his arm around his son, helping him to cast out his fishing line on Grandpa’s pond.
      The tenderness between my brother, Superman, and my nephew, Spiderman, is as palpable as the beating of my heart.  To see Brent being a Daddy to Skyler, a little boy who had no father at all until he came along, moves my soul and fills me with hope for all the other little boys out there in the world who are waiting for a Daddy to call their own.
      I feel I would be deceiving you, my readers, if I led you to believe that my relationship with my brother is as simple and carefree as it once was when we were Wonder Woman and Superman (or Batman, if it was a Wednesday).  It’s not. Over the years, there has been dysfunction and sinfulness in both of our lives that has damaged our relationship and left scars that are still painful and sore, leaving a canyon between us that in recent times has been difficult to bridge.
      What remains, however, indeed what was never lost, is the tremendous amount of love that I have for my brother, and the respect that I hold near to my heart for the kind and selfless human being that I know he is.
      If you haven’t read my blog about “Forgiveness and the Broken Dowel Rod Incident of 1983”, this might be a good time to do so!  Another example of what a rotten older sister I was took place right around the height of our WonderWoman/Superman adventures, ironically, once again in 1983.  My parents had made the grave error of allowing me to watch the movie “Mary Poppins”, and as movies and books had a track record of doing, made my little 6 year old brain think about what might happen if I tried to do some of the things that they made look so easy to do on TV.
      For a six year old, I was pretty smart; smart enough to know that if I was going to try out one of my bright ideas, I probably shouldn’t be the one to try it myself first.  I needed someone gullible, someone not quite as smart as me, but trusting. Fortunately, I knew just the person. My brother not only had the alter ego of Superman as child, but he was also very much like a golden retriever: bright eyed, eager, willing to do anything I asked just as long as I asked nicely and with the promise to love him forever.  If Brent had a tail, undoubtedly I would have been injured by it.
      That fateful fall afternoon, I coerced my brother up into the low loft of the barn above the old chicken coop, Mom’s umbrella in one hand, a bag of M&Ms in the other (my brother’s reward…Hey, even a golden retriever gets a treat for performing a trick!)  I knew in no uncertain terms we were never, ever supposed to go up in the loft, but had my Mom known what I was up to, the two of us climbing up into the loft would have been the least of her worries, I suppose.
      “Brent, do you remember when we watched Mary Poppins on TV last night?”  I asked my brother.  Brent nodded, eyeing the candy in my hand.  He looked up at me with his adorable, ruddy red chubby cheeks and big hazel green eyes that were framed by the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen in my entire life.  “Do you want to fly like Mary Poppins, Brent?”
      My brother thought about it for a nanosecond, then grinned from ear to ear, his deep dimples forming caverns in his cheeks as he nodded, his brown hair falling across his eyes.  I popped open Mom’s umbrella and handed it to him.  “Now, all you have to do is walk right off the edge, bubby.  You can fly!”
      Without any hesitation whatsoever, my brother took off running, umbrella held out straight in front of him like it was a lance and he was a knight riding into a joust.
      ‘Uh oh,’ I thought to myself.  ‘Maybe I should have told him he needed to hold the umbrella up, over his head, to be able to fly.’
      I dropped down on my stomach and pulled myself by my elbows over to the edge of the floor of the loft and peered down. There, lying on a pile of hay with a delirious look on his face, a look that I don’t think I will ever forget as long as I live, was my little brother.
      “I don’t think it worked, Bethie,” he said sadly. “Do you want me to try it again?”
      Brent sat up slowly, and from his new position, I could see that the other side of his face looked like he had been run over by a Mack truck.  Yeah, that was going to be hard to explain to my mother.
      I started sobbing big, huge, hot tears that ran down my face, burning my skin like fresh molten lava.
     “I’m sorry, Bethie!  Please don’t be mad at me!”
      My dear, sweet, naïve little brother thought I was crying because I was mad at him.
      No, I was crying because I knew my parents were going to kill me.
      Alas, my parents didn’t end up killing me, and my brother the superhero ended up living to see another day to fight crime with Wonder Woman, so long as we both stayed the heck out of the barn.
      I think this story perfectly illustrates the very things I love the most about my brother, and why I think he really is a Super Man.  For one thing, he’s fearless.  For another, he sees the good in people, and believes in the good in people, even to the point of his own detriment (I am really sorry about that, bro!) Most of all, my brother doesn’t quit. Failure is not an option for him. When he landed face side down on his first attempt at flying, knocking himself into delirium, he was ready to do it all over again if it would make me happy.
      My nephew Skyler is a lucky kid to have a man like my brother in his life, a guy who will never give up on him no matter what, a father who will always see the good in him regardless of what life may bring his way.  Most of all, Skyler is so blessed to have a fearless leader for his family, a man who is not just super, not just a hero, not just a father, but a Daddy in ever sense of the word.
      So, on this Father’s Day 2012, I want to wish a very happy Father’s Day to my little brother, Brent.  Brent, you may not be so little anymore; in fact, you’re a good head and shoulders taller than I am.  You may not think much of what your life has turned out to be, for I know it isn’t what you dreamed of as a little boy; I want you to know that I am proud of you for the sacrifices you are making, the difference you are making in Skyler’s life, so that he can have a small glimpse of the beautiful childhood we had, and a chance at a future even better than the one before us.
     You may not think of yourself as Superman anymore, but I do; others may not be able to see it, but I swear when I look at you I can still see that red cape tied around your neck, and if I close my eyes, I can hear it flapping in the wind, just as I once did as Wonder Woman in my invisible jet with you beside me as we raced off, together, to fight the bad guys of the world.
      I love you, and I will continue to pray like a warrior for you and your family every day of my life.

A Letter To My Aunt Janne

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March 10th, 2010
Dear Aunt Janne:
          I can see in my mind’s eye a picture taken of the two of us in the summer of 1976.  You were lying on white blanket spread out on the green, green grass.  You were barefoot and wearing a pair of Levis, a sleeveless shirt and one of those fabulous pairs of over sized dark sunglasses that everyone used to wear in the 70’s.  Your brown hair was cut short, but it gleamed in the sunlight, shiny and straight, like I always remember it being.  My age could have been measured in weeks as I sat upon your chest in my yellow sundress and matching wide brimmed sunhat, my tiny bare baby toes resting upon your cheeks.
          You were looking up at me and smiling, and you were happy.
         I’m sure there must be many other pictures of you taken over the years in our family’s photo albums:  birthday parties and Christmas, barbeques and other rituals of the American family.  Yet, I don’t recall any other pictures where you look so young and fresh faced and happy.  I have so many memories of you, and yet  I feel so sad because I can only remember this one picture of you taken almost 30 years ago.
        Most of my happiest childhood memories are of time spent with my Grandmothers, and whenever I remember Grandma Whiteleather, somehow you  are always there, too, in the shadows of my mind.
         I vividly remember the apartment you had in the basement off Highway 9.  You had a waterbed, which to a 5 year old girl was both incredibly sophisticated and exotic.  You always had interesting Asian décor, also very sophisticated and, well, exotic.  Come to think of it, you even had your own cat, your own money, and no one to tell you what to do.  Even your car was cool:  a powder blue vintage Volkswagon Beetle, the same shape as the birthmark on my left leg.
         I wanted to grow up so badly to be independent and free to do whatever I pleased just like you.
         I remember now how you would always take me for walks on the grounds surrounding your apartment in Columbia City to see the animals.  We would walk thru the tall grass, hand in hand, and I can still feel the grass tickling my cheeks and smell the sweetness of clover in the air.  You would always have a carrot or an apple in your pocket for me to give to the horses.  I remember being frightened of the horses, and you would always tell me “Beth, it isn’t animals you should be afraid of.  It’s people that you have to watch out for.”  At the time, I didn’t understand what that meant.  Now, I’m afraid I do.
          As I grew older, so did you, and things changed.  You moved to Fort Wayne with Grandma, and I stayed in my childhood home.  I’m laughing now thinking about the time you told my Mom you were going to take me to the ballet and instead you took me to see an R rated French film at the Cinema Center.  I think I would have preferred the ballet, but you were convinced that I should learn about the world and the “life lessons” in the film.  The only life lesson I learned from the movie was that naked French men are hairy, and more than a  little scary.  I haven’t seen another naked Frenchman since that day at the movies.  I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.
          Aside from the world of French films, you opened up a whole world of other things to me that I would not have learned about otherwise.  Because of you, I had my first tastes of Oley’s pizza and Fannie Mae chocolates.  Because of you, I learned how to properly cleanse my skin and use an eyelash curler.  I listened to INXS, watched MTV and learned how to order Chinese food for delivery.  I also learned that it is not a good idea to let anyone who weighs more than, let’s say 80 pounds, walk on your back like you see the tiny Asian women do on TV.
         In retrospect, the things I remember the most about you are the things that you would tell me during our little Aunt/Niece adventures.  I must admit that much of what you told me, while I could sense it was important, I didn’t really understand.  I would file it away in my mind for future reference.  In the years since, flashes of these nuggets of your wisdom would come back to me and I would have an “Aha!” moment.  Other times, I would scratch my head and wonder how you could have gotten things so wrong.
        Once, at Grandma’s apartment when I was 11 or 12, I remember the two of us were sprawled out on Grandma’s bed watching TV and eating chocolate.  My hair was damp and we both had green, mud caked faces from the facials you had just given us.   While I don’t remember exactly what TV show we were watching, I remember the general gist of it:  teen girl sees teen boy and falls madly in love.  Various hijinx ensue, but love overcomes all and teen girl and teen boy live happily ever after.  To me, this show was precisely the natural order of how things should be in life.  I recall feeling caught off guard when you turned to me and said, “Beth, never marry for love, marry for money.  If you marry someone with money, you can learn to love him later.”
         I didn’t say anything in response, but I knew deep down in my heart that you were wrong.  What you were saying conflicted with everything I had ever known in my entire life.  Was I really supposed to believe that every fairy tale I’ve ever read and every Disney movie I’ve ever watched was a lie?  That my parents relationship, that their marriage and our modest family life, was a mistake?  I knew what I knew, and from that moment on, I felt sorry for you.
        I don’t recall things ever being the same between us.  In fact, this is probably the last clear recollection I have of the two of us.  When I graduated high school, I can remember you walking in to my party, thrusting a card and a small box at me before turning on your heels and walking right back out the door.  Your written message to me inside the card was par for the course:  you told me what you really thought, that I was making a mistake by wanting to be a teacher and that I should do something exciting with my life like being a journalist or writer.  Inside the box was the gold necklace Grandma had always worn before her death the year before.
         I don’t think I ever told you that this was the most precious gift anyone had ever given me.
          I think that day at my party was the last time I ever saw you.
          Now, after all these years, I’m sitting here with a heavy heart and tears streaming down my face thinking of you and gold necklaces and mud masks  and picnic pictures and so many other things that I haven’t thought about in a long, long time.  My heart is breaking for you, for the pain you must have felt that drove you to take your own life today.
         I want to understand why, but maybe it’s better somehow that I don’t.  I don’t want to know how it feels to live with chronic, disabling pain in poverty thousands of miles away from my childhood friends and family.  I’ll never know what it feels like to grow up never once hearing your father say “I love you”, or to live an entire life without experiencing the unconditional love and support of your father.
         Most of all, I pray that I will never, ever know what it feels like to be in so much pain that the only choice I feel I have left  is to die alone and cold in my front yard by my own hands.
         I wish that I could tell you that I cared about you, and that you influenced my life more than you could have ever possibly imagined.  Truly, I will regret never taking the time to tell you these things for the rest of my own life.  Hearing these words from me may not have changed the events of today, but everyone deserves to know that they are loved and that they made a real difference in someone’s life.
          In your death, you have taught me even more lessons about life, ones that I won’t soon forget.  Reflecting on your life has taught me about the influence I have with the  special children in my own life.  This influence may not seem like much to me, but I see now that the words that I say and the things that I do may one day mean the whole world to my own beloved niece, Alyssa.
         Because of you, I know with certainty that Alyssa is noticing me in the little moments we share together–from the trips to Build a Bear and camping out underneath the stars at Grandpa’s pond to our red, white and blue 4th of July manicures and girls only time together just hanging out, the two of us, nibbling on fine chocolate and watching ‘Beauty & The Beast’.
          How can I ever thank you enough for giving me a glimpse of myself as both a child and aunt thru Alyssa’s beautiful brown eyes as I reflect back on the   relationship that you and I once shared?
         For just as I once gazed up at you adoringly with my green eyes as I twirled, barefoot, in the Kentucky bluegrass, my dark brown pigtails floating behind me as we ran, laughing, hand in hand thru the pasture, I’m now the one who is smiling at a little brown haired girl, braids flapping in the wind as she looks over her shoulder, smiling at me as if to say “Come on, Aunt Beth!  Catch me if you can!” as we run together thru the grass towards my Indiana home.
          Whenever my heart is aching for you, and my mind is filled with the violent images of your death, I will take comfort remembering you the way you looked that day on a blanket in the grass in 1976; it is my heartfelt prayer that in death, you have found the peace and rest that always seemed to elude you during your life.
Love,
Your Niece, Beth