Posts Tagged 'life'

On Memorial Day Weekend and Ultimate Hope

Well readers, remember this post in which I talk about how even for people who believe in the Restoration, it is all too easy to slip up and place our ultimate hope in the wrong things? I told you I would update you on whether I could adopt this eternal perspective when faced with disappointment, and unfortunately this weekend, I slipped up again.

I am not a huge fan of summer itself. My favorite season is Spring. We will get a few perfect summer days, but often times, summer days are too hot, humid and buggy for me. I start getting a headache and feeling weak after just a short time in the sun, and after dark especially, the mosquitoes eat me alive. If it is below 75 degrees or so, I love nothing more than going for a walk or taking a braille book outside to read on my porch swing, but above 80 degrees, I just want to read or write in the comfort of air conditioning. But I love Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer. Oftentimes, the weather is absolutely perfect on Memorial Day weekend, not hot or humid the way it usually is on the fourth of July. I love the festive atmosphere of Memorial Day weekend as our neighborhood which was frozen and quiet all winter, which often onofficially extends into May, comes alive again with happy voices of children playing and people having bonfires and picnics. Memorial Day weekend is sometimes the first weekend you can ride in the car with the windows rolled down. I also love the fact that Memorial Day is always on a Monday, so rather than preparing for work or school Sunday night, we can have a leisurely cookout, and then take a late evening walk to smell the lilacs and hear the beautiful sounds of late spring, especially the mating calls of the frogs from my neighbor’s pond up close, rather than just through the window as I get ready for bed. Then on Memorial Day itself, we have a leisurely breakfast and then we dust off our lawn chairs, load them into our van and drive to a neighboring community to see a parade. I know parades are somewhat visual, but I love just the festive atmosphere, and the moments when a marching band or a bagpipe and bugle corps march by are so spectacular it is worth waiting through the visual stuff.

But in 2016, this idyllic weekend was shattered by a rejection letter. As I discussed in this post, my job was causing me a tremendous amount of anxiety, but I was so excited about a position with the State of Wisconsin as an Equal Rights Officer. It would have been a higher level position investigating cases of employment discrimination and it was located in Madison so I would get to experience living on my own. When I woke up the Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend 2016, I was on top of the world. I hadn’t had a long weekend off since New Year’s Day except for one Monday I requested off to go to Madison to interview for a position in the Public Defender’s office, but that doesn’t really count as a day off since getting suited up and mentally preparing for an interview is nerveracking. In those dark days, it seemed as though Memorial Day Weekend would never come, but at last, it was here! I remember waking up and having a leisurely breakfast, and then having a wonderful bible study with my Jehovah’s Witness friends. After that, Dad and I went to Chipotle, our favorite Saturday lunch spot and had a peaceful lunch. Mom usually went with us, but she didn’t feel like going for some reason. I forget why, but Dad and I wanted to go, so we went out just the two of us. On the way home, I distinctly remember driving slow with the windows rolled down enjoying a glorious warm spring breeze. Jimmy Buffett’s song Volcano came on the radio, which is one of my favorite songs to sing along too. When we got home, I planned to sit on the porch swing and read My Side of the Mountain. I remember loving this book when I read it in fifth grade, but had kind of forgotten what exactly happened in the story. I remembered the basic premise of a boy living in the city who ran away from home and taught himself to live in the wilderness, but couldn’t remember a lot of detail, so when I saw that this book was available from Seedlings, a company that produces braille books for children at a reasonable price, I felt compelled to order it for Memorial Day weekend thinking it would be a therapeutic, fun, easy read. But then Dad pulled up to the mailbox to get the mail, and in that pile of mail was the rejection letter. I thought I had interviewed well for this position, and while the rejection letter for the public defender position came pretty quickly after that interview, I thought it was promising that the Equal Rights Position hadn’t responded yet. Hope was still alive Saturday morning, but now that hope was dashed, and I had looked at the job boards Friday evening and there were no promising prospects. Would I be stuck in this miserable position forever? I wasn’t sure how much longer I would be able to stand it. All around me, the rest of the world was enjoying an idyllic Memorial Day Weekend. I went through the motions of enjoying the weekend. Saturday afternoon, I went out to the swing and tried to read My Side of the Mountain, but after reading the first paragraph ten times, it was clear I couldn’t focus, so I gave up. I went to church with Mom and came down from my room for meals with my family. My dad cooked steak and baked potatoes on the grill Sunday evening, and we ate in our dining room with the window open enjoying a pleasant cool evening breeze, but my heart wasn’t in this moment. In high school I discovered that on the eve of Memorial Day each year, PBS broadcasts a Memorial Day concert from Washington DC. The music in this concert is always beautiful and the solemn reading of letters from soldiers who were killed or wounded, or their loved ones really put life into perspective. It became a tradition for my parents and I to watch this concert every year, but as I despondently sat down to watch this concert in 2016, I just couldn’t pay attention to these soldiers and their families who really had something to cry about. All I could think about was my feeling of hopelessness, and this made me feel even worse. By Monday evening, I realized I needed to get myself together because I had to work the next day, so to give myself hope, I made two resolutions. The first one was healthy and positive. The second one I now realize, was bizarre and petty. The first resolution was that by next Memorial Day weekend, one way or another, my circumstances would be different. If I couldn’t find another job and my current job was the same, I would quit. If I burned through my savings paying for insurance and could no longer afford it, then I would be uninsured. This first resolution was achieved. After Christmas, I exclusively handled appeals for other case managers and my anxiety soon melted away, and then in February 2017, I switched to a part-time schedule and have been at peace with this decision ever since. But the second petty resolution was that I was bound and determined that next year, I would have a do-over of this ruined weekend and have the perfect Memorial Day Weekend.

In March 2017, Mom went down to Indiana to take my grandma to a doctor appointment. She planned to go down on Thursday March 23 and come home on Saturday, but ended up having to rush back on Friday because of my seizure. Then in April, my mom needed shoulder surgery and was not able to drive, or sit in a car for a long period of time. By May, Mom was not comfortable driving yet, but she felt she could handle sitting in the car, so she wanted to make a trip back to Indiana. The original plan was to make a quick trip to Indiana the weekend before Memorial Day weekend, but that week, Dad came down with a really nasty cold and was still coughing up a lung Saturday morning. Mom and Dad decided rightly that it wouldn’t be smart to go to Indiana with him in this condition, especially since Grandma’s immunity might be weak. So they decided Memorial Day weekend was the most sensible plan B, especially since with my new part-time schedule, I had a four day weekend. We could leave Saturday morning, stay for a parade my cousin would be marching in, after which my aunt always hosts a cookout, and then come home late Monday evening.

But the older I get, the more I hate overnight travel of any kind. I hate the commotion of packing for the trip, the difficulty of cooking a gluten free breakfast in an unfamiliar kitchen, the loss of freedom and independence I feel in an unfamiliar setting, everything. I would not have enjoyed it the weekend before either, but the fact that I had to travel on my precious, long-awaited Memorial Day weekend made me even more disappointed. I could have stayed home, but I could tell my parents were nervous about leaving me home alone for that long after my seizure incident, and if I did stay home, there would be no cookout, parade, or pleasant outdoor walks because I don’t know how to use the grill, and where we live, there are no sidewalks so someone needs to go with me for walks, and we have to drive to our parade route. Either way, I wouldn’t be getting the idyllic Memorial Day weekend I had hoped for, but I decided all in all, I would have more fun if I came along than if I was stuck home alone. So instead of a leisurely breakfast that Saturday morning, we ate a quick breakfast as we analyzed what we still needed to pack. I could tell it was going to be a glorious day outside, but instead of racing out to the swing with a book to savor it, I was preparing pre-measured bags with everything I would need to cook gluten free oatmeal for breakfast Sunday and Monday morning. Since Grandma now needed to live in an assisted living facility, there was no longer food in her refrigerator and we weren’t going to be staying long enough to warrant buying food to cook when we got there. While there are a few gluten free restaurant options for lunch and dinner, I would have to make breakfast myself.

On the trip down, we had a pleasant lunch at Cracker Barrel, and I enjoyed catching up with Grandma when we arrived that evening. Sunday was a peaceful day too. Per usual when cooking breakfast away from home, my oatmeal didn’t turn out right, but my mood improved when we went back to see Grandma and she showed me some of the things the therapist wanted her to do. We played catch together with a soft ball to work on coordination, and we laughed as we both kept missing the ball. And we would hear a THUNK as the ball hit the wall. In the afternoon, Dad and I went to an Italian restaurant in a town nearby that advertised gluten free options. It was delicious, and I especially enjoyed the sautéed spinach, something unique that I had never had before. Then we took a long walk on a nature trail. But in the evening, I started getting a headache, probably because I wasn’t used to the weather which was ten degrees warmer than it was at home. So we went back to Grandma’s house where I cooked a can of soup and went to bed early. Because Grandma was no longer living in her house, cable and internet service were cancelled. I tried to stream the Memorial Day Concert on my phone as I lay in bed using data but had no luck. I wanted to keep with tradition and watch it live, but it was being taped at home, so I accepted that I would just have to wait until then.

Mom brought a crockpot and all the ingredients to make a cherry cobbler to take to my aunt’s cookout. So on Memorial Day, she assembled the cobbler which she planned to cook at my aunt’s house during the parade. Then we proceeded to pack the car because after enjoying my aunt’s cookout and visiting Grandma one more time, we planned to head home. But that morning, it had rained a little, and this made the wooden ramp that leads down to the driveway of Grandma’s house very slippery. So while carrying something to the car, Mom fell. She had been warned that if she fell, she could undo her surgery, thus requiring another surgery, and Mom was in a lot of pain after this fall. We ended up quickly visiting Grandma, dropping the crockpot off at my aunt’s house and telling her to enjoy the cobbler without us, and then heading home early. We tried to make the best of things, going to Chipotle on the way home and then having a peaceful evening watching the Memorial Day Concert. But I felt so bad seeing Mom so upset and in so much pain, and there was such a palpable fear that she would have to undergo another surgery when recovery from the first one had been so rough that I was glad to see this Memorial Day Weekend come to an end. Next year, I vowed to myself, we are going to have the perfect Memorial Day weekend!

And so the countdown to Memorial Day weekend 2018 began, especially after New Year’s Day when we all desperately need some hope to get us through the long cold winter. Then at the end of April with just five weeks until Memorial Day, Dad and I were taking a walk when Dad suggested, “I was thinking for Memorial Day, the three of us could take a trip…” “No!” I said before he could even finish. “You know I would plan everything out and make sure there were good gluten free options and everything. And we would come back Sunday so we could still go to the parade Monday,” he said. My dad does do a great job planning things and sniffing out gluten free restaurants, but there was to be no stress, no packing hassles, no gross bowls of oatmeal in a hotel, no troubles of that sort marring this perfect Memorial Day weekend I had waited three years for. I just wanted a peaceful weekend at home, and I wanted to replicate the activities I was too sad to enjoy in 2016. Then a couple weeks later, we celebrated the birthday of the grandma on my dad’s side. For the past several years, my parents have been taking Grandma to a play, ballet performance or concert for her birthday and Christmas presents rather than buying stuff. She enjoys the arts but would not be able to get to these venues herself, and because I love the arts, I almost always come along as well. This year for her birthday, my parents decided to get tickets to a patriotic concert the Milwaukee Symphony Pops orchestra was performing in honor of Memorial Day. Now I absolutely love the Milwaukee Symphony Pops orchestra. I even got to perform with them when I was in the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, so I was looking forward to hearing them again and reliving memories of when I was onstage with them in this very venue. What I didn’t like was the show time my parents chose. They thought about inviting Grandma over for a quick dinner and then going to the 8:00 show Friday evening, but instead decided to get tickets for the Sunday afternoon show and then have dinner afterwards. Normally I wouldn’t mind this arrangement either, but I knew Grandma would want to take us out to eat and since we would get home from the concert right at dinnertime, going out to eat would make more sense than cooking. Of course we could have the cookout Monday, and Mom said that is actually what people traditionally do, but in 2016 when we had the cookout Sunday, it seemed as though my parents enjoyed it more because their minds were not already thinking about work the next day, whereas the evening of Memorial Day itself has that Sunday night feel. I also wanted to be home in time to watch the National Memorial Day Concert since sometimes our DVR malfunctions.

On Thursday, we had to turn on our air conditioner for the first time this season, and the weather forecast said we would be in the 90s all weekend which is unusual for Memorial Day. So as I got ready for work Friday morning, I realized I would need to re-think my plan of reading on the porch swing all afternoon. Then on the way to work, Mom invited me to come along on a quick trip to visit my brother who lived about an hour and a half away, as we needed to give him some important mail that came to our house. As long as we were there, we would go out for brunch and then when we got home, we could go swimming in the afternoon. At first, sibling rivalry reared its ugly head and I was annoyed that we needed to visit him when he had come home and taken over the house the previous three Saturdays (more about this in a future post), but I really do love my brother, and we are a lot alike. The town where he lives has a surprising number of gluten free restaurants given that it is a smaller town than Milwaukee, and it was going to be too hot to sit on the swing and read so what else would I do. And I liked the idea of swimming in the afternoon. Swimming was my favorite summer pastime as a child, but as an adult, I was tired of the public pools over-run with screaming kids and too packed to move freely. About two years ago, my parents joined a gym with a really nice outdoor swimming pool, and after Christmas this past year, I decided to join too. Between nasty weather that sapped me of all motivation, and other family commitments, I had only been to the pool once in April, but now that it was unofficially summer, I resolved to start swimming regularly, ideally three days a week. But then after work Friday, I decided I better doublecheck the pool’s hours since their website indicated special hours for the holiday weekend, and to my fury, the pool was only open until 3:30. By the time we got back from visiting my brother, the pool would be closed, or it would be so close to closing time it wouldn’t make sense to try and get there! For heaven’s sake I had waited three years for a perfect, idyllic Memorial Day weekend and it was going to be screwed up again! My dad wanted to get to my brother’s place early because there are two bakeries he likes to visit there. (One of them is a gluten free bakery which I like too). He wanted to get there before all the good stuff was sold out. But when I informed Mom of the pool hours, we decided to swim for 45 minutes or so in the morning and then go visit my brother, but that meant inhaling breakfast and hurriedly changing into my swimsuit. Hurry was not supposed to be in the vocabulary of this idyllic Memorial Day weekend. I was absolutely furious that the universe wasn’t aligning in my favor. What kind of gym has such ridiculous swimming hours the first weekend of summer? ANY other weekend would have been a wonderful weekend to take the road trip to visit my brother. If only I were sighted, I could take myself swimming while my parents went to visit my brother. This first outdoor swim of the season was pleasant I guess, but I couldn’t fully enjoy it because I felt like I had to watch the clock, and my stomach was a tiny bit upset from having to inhale breakfast.

My mood gradually improved on the pleasant drive to visit my brother as my mom described the rolling countryside. We stocked up on goodies from both bakeries. Even my brother who does not have to eat gluten free food and would complain about the gluten free baked goods my mom and I would make when he lived at home, likes this bakery, so he picked out a few things too! Then we had a nice lunch at an Asian restaurant with a lot of gluten free options, which was exciting because while there is gluten free soy sauce on the market, most Asian restaurants use regular soy sauce and don’t say a word about gluten free options on their web sites. But as we were driving home from this pleasant afternoon with my brother, I was hit with three realizations, all having to do with how petty and stupid my behavior had been.

First, the original intention of Memorial Day was to remember soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. It is supposed to be a solemn time, but as is the case with many holidays that started with good intentions, our culture has corrupted it, with picnics, festivities and store sales taking center-stage and the solemn remembrance of fallen soldiers becoming secondary. With that in mind, watching the solemn National Memorial Day concert is really the only tradition that is truly in the spirit of Memorial Day. Related to that, I had made Memorial Day Weekend all about me, as if it were my birthday, not that it would have been okay to behave childishly on my birthday either, but at least if it were my birthday, I might have ben able to rationalize my disappointment a little bit. As it was, my behavior was nothing but petty and stupid because the holiday is not about me. I have this weird photographic memory where when major events of my life take place, I remember the exact date they occurred when no one else in the family does. My parents come to me with questions like “When did we adopt Snickers?” Sunday August 20, 2000. So while August 20 is just another day for the rest of the family, I am thinking about the happy moment we brought Snickers home. But this photographic memory applies to unhappy events too, so even though I am in a happier place now, I feel a little melancholy every year on May 28, the day I received that rejection letter. Perhaps I thought that if I had a super happy Memorial Day weekend the following year, I could in a sense blot out this sad moment from my memory. But rather than fixating on dates, I should just live life one moment at a time. Saturday May 28, 2016 was a sad day that will always be stored in my memory, but life is better now, and I have had many idyllic weekends, and idyllic Tuesdays and Thursdays since then. It’s not dates that matter, so after this past Memorial Day weekend, I am making it my goal not to fixate on dates anymore but just take life one moment at a time.

Second, my behavior was a shameful example of first-world problems. While I was furious because the pool hours weren’t convenient for what our family needed to do, and we were going out to dinner instead of having the cookout I envisioned Sunday, there are millions of people for whom just finding food and safe drinking water is a daily struggle, and yet according to one of our church pastors who had visited Africa, these people worship with a more genuine joy than people in developed countries. I have heard that in third-world countries, allergies don’t exist. The reason people in the developed world have allergies is because our environment is so sterilized that our immune systems have nothing to attack. But our immune systems were designed to fight and so in the absence of bacteria and parasites to fight off, the immune system reacts to harmless things like peanuts, gluten, eggs, or tree pollen. I think this is an excellent metaphor for life perspective too. Since we don’t have to struggle to meet our basic needs, and in fact live a life of luxury compared to most of the world, we take this comfort for granted when we worship, and since we have no major problems, we overreact to little annoyances, like the Wifi signal being weak, or the pool not being open when we want. As recent blog posts show, I have been glowing with joy over my spiritual growth these past two years, but through my self-centered behavior this past Memorial Day Weekend, God showed me I still have a lot of work to do. I cannot do anything about my immune system’s overreaction to gluten and tree pollin, but I can strive to change my mind’s overreaction to first-world problems. I cannot promise I won’t slip up again in the heat of a moment, but it is my goal to work harder in this area, and if my Jehovah’s Witness friends, or any of my bible study friends read this, please pray for me.

But finally and most importantly, I realized that by setting such ridiculous expectations for Memorial Day Weekend, I had put my ultimate hope in the wrong thing. While this life has moments of joy—for me, many moments of joy—God never intended for life to be perfect in this fallen world, even on Memorial Day weekend. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying the pleasurable moments of this life, and while it is human nature to cry at sad times like the death of a loved one even if we know we will see them again, our ultimate hope should be reserved for the Restoration. Once I had calmed down and remembered this, my mood lifted permanently the rest of the weekend. The concert was fabulous. My dad didn’t realize he had gotten front row seats, but while the sighted people were complaining that they had to strain their necks to see the stage, I loved it because I felt up close to the orchestra, almost as if I were onstage with them. After the concert, we went to a favorite restaurant of ours called Blackfinn Ameripub, where I ordered the California Naked Bird, a super flavorful turkey burger loaded with toppings in a lettuce wrap. We got home just in time to watch the National Memorial Day Concert Live. After the concert, my parents were too tired to take a walk, but I found some good music I had forgotten about and went on the treadmill. The next day, I woke up with a headache, but it went away in time for the parade. We even found a spot in a performance zone this year, meaning that instead of just getting drums which are all that plays much of the parade route, we got the full bagpipe and band performances right in front of us which was exciting. Then after the parade, Mom and Dad prepared burgers, potato salad and baked beans for lunch. So while this past Memorial Day weekend didn’t meet my bizarre expectations, once I put things into a more mature prospective, I realized that every moment this past weekend was a happy moment and in this way, it was a perfect Memorial Day Weekend after all.

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Senior Citizens of the Pet Variety

In the five-year hiatus I took from blogging, I have had so many spiritual, political and career insights that I was itching to write about, and there is still more I would like to write about. But I want to take a break from these posts to reflect on Gilbert who is still my guide dog, and Snickers my kitty who have not gotten the attention they deserve in my blog.

With both Gilbert and Snickers, their senior citizen status snuck up on me, as I bet it does for every loving pet owner. I suppose it is a similar feeling to the feeling parents describe when they will say that it seems as though their children were just babies yesterday as they send them off to college. But with pets, the sad difference is that they are not growing up and embarking on an exciting new journey, but are growing old and soon will no longer be with us, at least not in this life. In the amazing book I read about the Restoration, Eldredge says that perhaps our beloved pets will run to greet us. I have also read things that say animals don’t have souls in the same way humans do because humans were specially created in God’s image, so our departed pets don’t go to heaven. This is an intriguing topic I would love to explore further, but whether God re-unites us with our departed pets or not, we will not be disappointed because we will always have our happy memories of them from this life, and maybe the experiences we get to have with pets in this life are just a small taste, a foreshadowing, of the even more magical memories we will make with animals in the Restoration, when we will form bonds with wolves, bears and lions, animals that were too dangerous to bond with here. But I digress. Gilbert and Snickers are both still alive and well, and seem to be enjoying their golden years. I am enjoying them in their golden years too.

In 2014 when I was getting my paralegal certificate at Milwaukee Area Technical College, I had class with a non-traditional student who worked at a pet store. One day after class, she told me she thought Gilbert had the beginnings of arthritis as he seemed to walk stiffly. At that time, he had just turned eight. She suggested I talk to the vet about putting him on glucosamine supplements. I did notice that Gilbert was moving a little slower and taking a little longer to get up, but he still enjoyed chasing the cat, and had no problem with long walks or jumping in and out of the car. So I decided not to make a special trip to the vet but just wait for his regular annual check-up and bring this up with the vet at that time. Sure enough at his appointment the following July, the vet watched him walk and agreed that he was indeed showing signs of arthritis. The vet suggested giving him TriCox chewable supplements that would help his joints, and also gave me Carprofen that I could give him if he seemed to be in a lot of pain or if he had exerted himself more than usual. With that we carried on with our lives. Just as we had done at Carroll University, Gilbert and I both met the requirements of the Paralegal program, and Gilbert helped me make many friends along the way. In April 2015, we joined the ranks of the employed, but for the first time in his life, Gilbert had to start taking sick days.

One day last winter, about an hour after Mom dropped us off at work, Gilbert shifted on his dog bed under my desk, and then started whimpering in a way I had never heard before. Hearing my buddy who is usually so happy whimper like that sent me into a bit of a panic, and not thinking clearly, I jumped up and tried to rush him outside. Fortunately, my boss who loves dogs and sits near me was there and calmed me down. She said Gilbert didn’t need to go out but looked as though he was in pain, and said he needed to go home. So I called my mom while my boss and I took turns consoling Gilbert for the half an hour or so it took for Mom to come back. When Mom got there, I think my boss helped Mom lift Gilbert into the van, and later that day, the boss asked me to call Mom to see how Gilbert was doing. He had ran through a deep pile of snow that morning while doing his business, something he used to do without a problem but now caused his arthritis to flare up. After a couple days of rest, tri-cox and Carprofen, he returned to work but had another flare-up a couple months later. This time, he had to stay home for several weeks because the vet prescribed a temporary regimen of Prednisone, Gabapentin and Tramadol. Just like with a human employee, we didn’t think it was wise for Gilbert to go to work impaired, and the prednisone caused him to need to pee a lot more often which would have been too much of a disruption. But then, just as Gilbert was feeling better, my mom had surgery which left her unable to drive for 3 months. Dad drove me to work on the way to his work, but because he was using a company car, he didn’t want Gilbert to ride along. So Gilbert did not come back to work with me until July. If my job were in one of those old government buildings with long, twisty-turny hallways, not having Gilbert would have been a huge hardship in terms of orientation and mobility, but fortunately the office where I work is small and extremely cane-friendly with narrow, straight-shot hallways. But I didn’t realize until he wasn’t with me how much I would miss just his presence by my side. My co-workers missed him too. But I think Gilbert missed going to work most of all because when I would come home from work, my mom would inform me of new, naughty habits like sneaking into Dad’s home office and eating paperwork he left on the floor. I have heard from owners of other retired guide dogs that this behavior is common as they are upset about suddenly being left home and separated from their owners all day. Some handlers even have to find new homes for their retired guide dogs for this reason. But when Gilbert exhibited this behavior, I decided that he didn’t need to officially retire. I probably would have had to retire him by now if I worked in a big city with a long route to a large office building. But since I live with my parents who drive me to work, and my office is small, he is still able and eager to go to work with me at eleven and a half years old.

When he did go back to work, I bought him a ramp to climb in and out of the van since the vet recommended that he not do too much jumping at his age. Occasionally he will have flare-ups where I keep him home because he seems like he might be in pain, and in January, he came down with a sudden urinary tract infection. But he goes to work with me most days, tail wagging. I like to imagine that if he were human, he would be that sweet old man who thought he would enjoy retirement after a long successful career, but found that he was bored and missed the routine of going to work, and the social interaction of getting out and being with people. So he took an easy job that allowed him to work at his own pace. He always has a smile when he comes to work, and his positive attitude makes everyone’s day a little brighter.

A couple years ago, my parents and I noticed that Snickers seemed to be meowing more and sleeping a little more, but still found the energy to jump onto the table and counters and make mischief too, so we weren’t overly concerned. Then a few months ago, Mom noticed that she was peeing a lot more and drinking a lot more water, so on March 15, Mom and I took her to the vet. After running some tests, the vet determined that Snickers’ kidney function was deteriorating. Other than a fluid administration procedure which Mom and I thought Snickers wouldn’t want to be put through, there was really nothing that could be done to reverse her condition. The vet was extremely compassionate, and pointed out that although Snickers’ exact date of birth is unknown since she came from the humane society, we adopted her as a kitten in 2000, so she was around eighteen years old, which is about 95 in cat years! The vet basically told us that at this point, we should focus on keeping her comfortable. So with heavy hearts, we brought her home, and the first thing I did when we got home was text the sad prognosis to my sister. The summer I was ten years old and she was sixteen, we forged a special sisterly bond as we talked Mom and Dad into adopting a cat, and spent several summer afternoons at humane societies meeting kittens. She asked if the vet indicated how much longer Snickers might live, and I said Mom and I didn’t want to think about that yet so we didn’t even ask. We would just do what we could to keep her comfortable and cherish every moment with her.

The vet sent us home with samples of a prescription renal friendly cat food diet to see if she would eat it. We were not sure if she would eat it because she has been a very picky eater in the past, but the vet said if she wouldn’t eat it, we could just bring it back for a refund. To our surprise and relief however, when we started feeding her this new food, she gobbled it right up! And after just a few weeks on this food, we could tell she felt a lot better. Her water consumption and urination returned to normal, but most incredibly, she almost acts like a kitten again, causing more trouble than she has in awhile. We must either drink from water bottles or cups with lids, or make sure we don’t leave glasses of water unattended, or she will jump onto the table and help herself to our water despite having a giant bowl of water available to her and Gilbert in the kitchen. She has also taken to licking our plates after we leave the table. Just the other day, Mom was making scrambled eggs for breakfast. She had cracked the eggs into a bowl and whisked them with a fork, and then turned her back for just a second to do something before pouring the eggs into the skillet. In that short time, Snickers had snuck onto the counter and was lapping up the raw egg from the bowl! When this behavior started, we increased her food from one can to two cans a day thinking that with her improved health, her appetite was getting better. Obesity was never a concern for Snickers as she has always been slim. She is a very active cat who can jump from the floor to the top of the refrigerator, or from the counter directly to the table. In the summer, she also enjoys chasing birds and bugs from window to window. But on March 15 when she was weighed at the vet, we were shocked to find out she only weighed 5.3 pounds. But her food mischief didn’t stop when we increased her food, so I like to speculate that either she is that sassy, noncompliant patient who craves what the doctor says she shouldn’t have—in her case, protein—or maybe this mischief is just her way of saying “don’t write me off just yet. I may be 95 years old, but I’ve still got fight left in me.” If she were human, I like to imagine she would be the spry old lady who asks her family to take her skydiving for her 100th birthday, and if some naïve person tried to snatch her purse or something assuming she was an easy target because she was so old, she would punch them in the nose and snatch her purse right back! (On March 15, she hissed at the vet, a sound I hadn’t heard since Mojo used to pick on her.)

About six months after our beloved german shepherd Indy passed away in 2002, my sister and I missed having a dog in the house so much that Mom relented and we went to visit dogs at the humane society. At the time, Mom saw a sweet, 10-year-old beagle that she wanted us to consider, but at the time, I was vehemently opposed to adopting a senior pet. I am still not entirely sure how I feel about adopting a senior pet. What if we brought home a senior pet that would only live a short time, and then we would be right back where we started, grieving and longing for a dog again? If the dog had a lifetime of traumatic experiences, or even if he lived with a loving family for many years but that family could no longer care for him, would he ever really bond with us before he passed away? But I wish I would have been more open-minded and given a senior dog a chance. The puppy we ended up adopting had behavioral issues we were not equipped to handle and we determined it would be best to take him back to the humane society where hopefully, he would find a more suitable home and live a happy life. But also, now that Gilbert and Snickers are seniors, I am finding that I love and appreciate them in a whole new way. I love how their demeanors are more laid-back than when they were young, in that they both sleep more and move a little slower, but they still get into mischief sometimes, as if they are both reminding us that while they may move a little slower, they are still the same creatures they have always been. In addition, because they are only capable of living in the moment, they don’t overthink things like death the way humans often do, and thus they are always cheerful, just living in the moment and not worrying about the future. I know that eventually, the sad reality is that they will no longer be with us, but I am taking a lesson from them and striving not to think about this eventuality, but live in the moment myself because they are still here today. And in forty years or so when I reach senior citizen status myself, I hope I will live my life this way as well.

A Better Government is Coming

I will never forget Tuesday November 8, 2016. I was in the thick of my job anxiety and was burnt out and depressed most days. But that morning, I felt energized because after work, my mom and I were going to vote, and then we were going to come home, put a gluten free pizza in the oven, and watch the election returns on television where Hillary Clinton would crush Donald Trump. I was so certain that this would be the outcome. I did not idolize Hillary Clinton. Things I have heard her say in the past indicate that sometimes she chooses political pandering over sincerity, and she definitely used poor judgement regarding the private e-mail server. But her intelligence far surpassed Donald Trump’s in the debates, and I got the sense that while she is human and has made mistakes, she would have been a steady leader, a leader who truly wanted to serve and do good for the country, unlike Donald Trump, a narcissist who knew nothing about serious foreign and domestic policy who was simply on an ego trip and turned what had always been an honorable, dignified position into a reality circus. I was well aware of Donald Trump’s rabid supporters, but surely when it came time to actually vote, people would stop and think. As one by one, state after state fell to Donald Trump, including shamefully, Wisconsin, my mom felt sick to her stomach and it was a long time before we could eat that kind of pizza again. I was just in shock and disbelief. Maybe this was just a bad dream I was having. Maybe when I woke up Wednesday morning, we would find out the votes had been miscounted and this result was a mistake.

Over Sunday morning breakfast last week as we were watching Meet the Press, which was talking about fired FBI director James Comey’s soon-to-be-released book, and how angry Trump was about the special counsel’s investigation, my parents and I wondered out loud for what seemed like the millionth time what our fellow Americans were thinking when they elected Donald Trump. In this conversation, my dad made an interesting and sobering point, which is that even though we never even considered voting for him, we were all a tiny bit complicit in his success because we were entertained by him. He had a point because although I was horrified by his behavior, there was definitely some train wreck psychology at play because I looked forward to getting home from work to see what stupid thing Trump said today. But like I said, I never considered voting for him, and I felt compelled to make this known to people in our very Republican community, so in May of 2016, I bought a T-shirt on Amazon that said “Stop hate, dump Trump” and although I wasn’t allowed to wear such a shirt to work, I made sure to wear it on Saturdays. The first Saturday I wore it to the Farmers Market, my parents wanted to put some of our purchases in the car before going back to buy more things because it was getting difficult to carry everything. Usually when they do this, they find a spot for me to stand and wait, but that week, they wanted me to go with them. I found out later they didn’t want to leave me by myself with that shirt for fear I would get beat up by a Trump supporter. I was annoyed when I found this out, but their fears weren’t entirely unfounded. Never in my lifetime had I heard a candidate for President of the United States encourage people to punch protestors in the face at his rallies and offer to pay their legal fees, and my parents had never seen this kind of behavior either.

I always watch televised presidential debates, even during the primary season, but most election years, I have a hard time following who stands for what during the primaries because there are just so many voices onstage to keep track of. After the debate, I will sometimes say, “I really liked the candidate that said X,” and Mom or Dad will say “that was Joe Biden” or whoever. In this way, I start to get a little bit of an idea who I like, but I have a much easier time when the field is narrowed down to two or three candidates. But in this last election cycle, while I lost track of the voices of the other sixteen or so Republicans onstage, Trump’s voice was unmistakable. My mom and I noticed right away a striking difference between the Democratic and Republican primary debates this past election. While the Democratic debates definitely got heated sometimes with disagreements between the candidates, the Democratic debates really felt like a civilized debate between grown-ups. By contrast, the Republican debates felt like watching a bad reality show, all because of Donald Trump. When high school and college civics teachers everywhere used to encourage students to watch these debates, I bet they never imagined a debate would degrade to the level of implying things by the size of Trump’s hands, if you know what I mean. Trump never had anything intelligent or substantive to contribute to these debates. His contributions were either personal attacks that one by one, caught the other candidates off guard so that they did not perform well and were voted out, or overly simplistic statements like “we don’t win anymore,” “I alone can fix it,” or “we’re going to bomb the s**t out of Isis.”

But his remarks off the debate stage were even worse. When Trump said that Mexico wasn’t sending us their best and brightest, but was sending rapists, murders, and “a few, I suppose are good people,” I remember thinking It’s over for him. Sure, a few crazy racists will like that kind of talk, but the vast majority of Americans are enlightened and will be so horrified by such a statement that he’s done. When he made that remark on that radio show about Megan Kelley and blood coming out of her… I remember thinking There goes the vote of any self-respecting woman, or any decent man who respects the women in his life for that matter. He cannot win without the support of women and decent men, so he’s done. After the release of the Access Hollywood tapes in October 2016, I thought the same thing. But somehow, despite these shocking remarks, his popularity kept growing, and on Election Day, while he technically did not win the popular vote, enough men and women in key states voted for him that he became our president!

On Wednesday November 9, as Mom and I ate breakfast before work and watched the morning news, all we could think was Evil has won. What is going to become of our country. I was so sad to come home from work that evening and read articles about how latino children were bullied in schools that day, and teachers almost became grief counselors for children whose parents were undocumented who feared their families would be torn apart. And I will never forget watching Saturday Night Live that week, when the actress who played Hillary Clinton on the show opened by singing Leonard Cohen’s Halleluia, and then with a crack in her voice as if she was speaking at a funeral said “I’m not giving up, and neither should you.” It really did feel like the America we knew had died in a sense. Although America has a dark history, and although I knew we were far from perfect in terms of achieving the ideals our founding fathers envisioned, before Donald Trump became president I thought we were becoming more and more enlightened with each passing generation. While I knew that hateful groups like the Kuklux Klan still existed, until Donald Trump emboldened them, they were hidden under their rocks, and the vast majority of society seemed to have moved on from such ridiculous attitudes. But with the election of Donald Trump, I don’t think I was alone in feeling as though our country had taken a major step backwards.

In the fifteen months that Donald Trump has been president, his behavior has not changed and in many ways has gotten worse. My mom and I were talking the other day about how with all of our past presidents, we could trust that they had the best interests of the country, not personal grudges or their ego at the forefront of their minds even if we didn’t always agree with them on some policies, and thus we could just vote and then go about our lives. But with Donald Trump as president, each week brings a new scandal, or a new shocking remark, and we have felt as though we need to stay tuned to the news constantly to keep tabs on him. On Tuesdays and Thursdays when Dad is working—he complains that we watch too much news–Mom and I have gotten in the habit of listening to CNN while we eat lunch, and we also enjoy podcasts like The Daily, released by the New York Times, and Embedded from NPR which has done in-depth investigations on Donald Trump and others in his circle. When Donald Trump is no longer president, we might not know how to fill our time anymore, but that will be a nice problem to have.

But I have not lost hope. In the earthly sense, I have not lost hope because a few Republicans are starting to speak out about Trump’s behavior and are working to remind Americans that this is not normal. I also saw a story a couple days ago where Republicans said that if Donald Trump ran for a second term in 2020, they would not endorse him. They should stop endorsing him now, but saying they won’t endorse him in 2020 is a good start and a sign we may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I also think the 2016 election woke up a lot of people, especially young people, who chose not to vote, so I bet there won’t be the apathy in 2020 that we saw in 2016. But I have also found peace in a higher hope.

The Friday evening after Election day, I went to my Jehovah’s Witness friend’s house for bible study because she had something going on the next day, so we thought rather than missing a week, we would have our bible study on Friday. Months earlier in one of our lessons, I learned that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not vote. They also abstain from patriotic celebrations, military service or political office, and teach their children not to say the pledge of allegiance in school. The idea is that they are campaigning for a higher government, the righteous world-wide government that Christ will establish when He returns, and their campaign would be ineffective if they were loyal to any earthly government because all governments in this current system are influenced by Satan. The Bible teaches that we need to respect laws put in place by the earthly government we live under to maintain order while living in the current system, unless of course those laws conflict with God’s commandments. If Jehovah’s Witnesses are forced to do something that conflicts with God’s commandments like saying the pledge of allegiance which they believe worships country above God, they will go to court and fight these situations, but other than that, they just take what comes as far as things like taxes or healthcare, knowing that a better government is coming. Nondenominational Christians believe this as well, but few put this belief into practice the way Jehovah’s Witnesses do. At this point in my life, I cannot bring myself to take this belief as far as not voting, which I will talk about more in the next post, but that Friday, over dinner before our lesson, this friend, her husband and I had a wonderful conversation about the hope that we can have knowing a better government is coming that has been a tremendous source of peace during these crazy fifteen months. If Christ does not return before 2020, I hope that good will prevail to the extent that is possible in this earthly system, meaning that we can elect leaders who will be far from perfect, but will serve their country rather than their own ego or personal business interests, demonstrate integrity and humility, and seek to unite rather than divide us, so that maybe we can start to heal our country from the wounds left by Donald Trump. But no matter what happens now or in 2020, rather than being discouraged by another scandal, or another story that makes the prospect of positive change seem hopeless, I try to remember that eventually, good WILL prevail.

Incense Woman

There are several more light-hearted posts (said facetiously) about religion and politics lined up in my head that I look forward to writing, but today I thought I would give you readers a break and write about the wonderfulness of wax melts which I bought with a couple Amazon gift cards I got for Christmas this year and have thoroughly enjoyed this winter.

Sighted people tell me that a fresh coat of paint, or pretty decorations or large windows that let lots of sunshine in really brighten up a room. For me, rooms that smell wonderful make me smile. My favorite work day is Wednesday because on Mondays and Fridays, I work until 4:30, so Mom usually cooks dinner after we get home. But on Wednesdays, I work until 6:00 in the evening, so on Wednesdays, Mom usually puts a casserole in the oven just before leaving to pick me up from work. (This week, she made a new recipe of pork chops, potatoes, cream of mushroom soup, Dijon mustard, vegetables and spices that she put in the Crock-pot. The smell of dinner cooking is wonderful any day of the week, but there is something about walking into a house that already smells wonderful that makes me smile after a long work day. Once a week, usually on Tuesday or Thursday, I make a bean soup in the crock-pot—which I will tell you more about in a future post—and this soup also makes the house smell wonderful and inviting.

Growing up, I also associated smells with people and memories. My vision teacher always wore a certain kind of perfume, so even before she had said a word, I knew when she had walked into the room. I had a couple of English teachers in school whose classrooms always smelled wonderful, so even though I don’t remember much of what I learned in their classes, I smile when I think back on how inviting their classrooms were. By contrast, in middle school, there was a weight room that had a rubber mat on the floor, and maybe because of the rubber smell, mingled with the smell of sweaty hormonal teenagers, that room smelled nasty to me and I hated having to go in there for gym classes.

But I have always wanted to do something to make my bedroom smell better in the winter. In the summer, I have two windows I can open letting in lots of fresh air, but in the winter, my room starts to get a kind of stale, musty smell. It didn’t help that last Spring after a rash of bad headaches that Mom thought could be allergy-induced from the cat sleeping on my bed all day, we decided to keep my bedroom door closed. My mom lights candles in the dining room and kitchen in the winter, but since I am blind, I didn’t think it would be smart for me to have an open flame in my room. Then in the winter of 2016 after a rash of stinky incidents at work–people cooking sardines for lunch and burning popcorn—the company decided to buy a couple wax burners. I loved it, and in fact, even though I was in the thick of anxiety during that time, walking into an office that smelled so cozy and inviting brightened my mood a tiny bit. My favorite wax melt they bought for the wax burner was lily of the valley, but a lot of my co-workers didn’t like it because they thought it was too strong. But one of the receptionists shared my affection for this fragrance, and we had fun quietly conspiring a couple times to sneak it in and enjoy it until someone complained. Our office does not use the wax melts as much anymore because the fragrances bothered a lot of people, and people have become a little more mindful about what they make for lunch. But it occurred to me in 2016 that this would be the perfect solution for my room.

I didn’t get any Amazon gift cards for Christmas in 2016, and a wax burner just seemed like a frivolous expense I wasn’t sure I should incur at the time. But this year since I got Amazon gift cards, I decided to go for it. I couldn’t find lily of the valley, but I did find lilac, another favorite flower of mine. I love taking walks in May and June and smelling the neighbors’ lilac bushes, and there is a restaurant near our house behind which my dad noticed a beautiful lilac bush. So one Friday in the spring of 2016, my dad and I decided to be crazy and drive to this restaurant after dinner, just to loiter behind the restaurant and sniff the lilac bush. I wonder if anyone noticed us, but in any case, no one reprimanded us or called the police. (smile). My boss’s dad is an excellent gardener and last year, he gave her some lilac flowers in a vase which she brought to work, and my desk is right by hers so I was in heaven! If there is an appropriate opportunity in the next couple weeks as we approach May, I look forward to reminding her of this and will tell her to tell her dad he made one employee very happy and he should feel free to continue the trend this year! We tried to grow a lilac bush ourselves but haven’t had good luck. It seems like they either don’t do well after transplanting, or animals eat them. So I was so excited to find a lilac scented wax melt. Unfortunately, the lilac wax melt I bought didn’t smell as nice as real lilacs to me. Maybe that scent is too potent for small spaces like my bedroom, but to me it smelled more like strong soap than lilac. A boy in my young adult bible study group gave me a lilac wax melt from a different company for my birthday and this one did smell closer to lilac, but still is no substitute for the real thing.

Yankee Candle is the company everyone has heard of, but I went with a different company, Hat Creek Candle Company because I saw they were based in Wisconsin and their scents overall seemed to have better customer reviews. I bought one sampler pack of three cubes to see if I would like it, and loved it so much that a few weeks later, I bought three more packs. (The lilac melt I didn’t like as much came from a different company). I have loved all the scents from this company, as they are very strong, but pleasant to me. My absolute favorite scent so far has been the second cube I burned from my first sampler called Log Cabin. I think I loved it so much because it brought back happy memories of going to Granny and Papaw’s house in Indiana. It was an old house built over 100 years ago. My mom was ten years old when her family moved into that house, and her dad (my papaw) who loved do-it-yourself projects renovated it a lot, but it never lost its certain smell that my mom thought came from all the old wood in it. Papaw passed away in January 2008, and after a car accident in November 2016, my Granny was no longer able to live independently and manage this house, so she sold it to my cousin just last month. My cousin is the type who is embarrassed to have people over to her house, so sadly, I may never set foot in this old house again, but maybe I will order more of the Log Cabin cubes to keep the memory of Granny and Papaw’s house alive.

So far, I have enjoyed the Cabin Retreat sampler and the Holiday Classics sampler. Last weekend, I started on the Deep Thoughts sampler, and by the time I get through Mountain Sensations, hopefully I will be able to open my window and experience the fragrance of real nature again. But having these wax cubes burning has made my room more inviting than ever before, and I honestly think these scents have helped to relax me and make me more contemplative because this winter, I have been inspired to write more than I am most winters. To my delight, I have also come to notice that the scents I burn permeate my clothing, so at work when I raise my arm or move just right, I will get a faint whif of whatever scent is burning in my room which makes me smile. My dad has also noticed the scents on my clothes, and has taken to calling me “incense woman” because he will get a delightful wave of fragrance every time I walk by. I laugh though when I think about how my sister would hate me if she lived here because she is very sensitive to fragrance. Fortunately for her, she is not coming home until summer, by which time I will hopefully be able to have my windows open, so I will no longer be using these wax cubes. But if she comes home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, we may have some conflict. (smile)

In January, my parents, Grandma and I went to the Fireside Theater, an old-fashion dinner theater about an hour from our house and saw Phantom of the Opera. I was at first disappointed because it wasn’t the famous Andrew Lloyd Webber version I was expecting, but the original version, so I couldn’t sing along, but this disappointment quickly faded as it was an excellent show. But there was time after dinner before the show to peruse the gift shop, and this is where my dad found a wood wick patchouli candle. I had never heard of this scent, but my parents were excited because this scent reminded them of the hippy days in the college dorm. I think there is a little hippy in me too because I love music from that era, and natural healthy food. I came to love this scent as well when my mom burned it in the dining room. So I was thrilled to find this scent included in the Deep Thoughts sampler pack. Speaking of which, I have been burning the eucalyptus cube from the Deep Thoughts pack for a few days now and it is starting to lose its scent. So I think it is time to put in the patchouli cube right now. It is going to start smelling groovy around here!

Practical Implications of the Restoration: Part 2

This past Thanksgiving, my sister and her husband offered to host Thanksgiving because they live in the heart of New York City and ever since I was in a choir that was invited to sing at Carnegie Hall in 2005, my parents and I had wanted to experience the Thanksgiving festivities in New York City because the choir came home the day before Thanksgiving. Overall, I had a wonderful time despite how much I have come to hate traveling, especially since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2012. There are tuns of restaurants that offer gluten-free options in New York City. Even so, I always breathe a sigh of relief when we get home from any trip, even New York City, without me getting sick, as Celiac Disease has made me paranoid about the possibility of cross-contamination, or of a mistake or misunderstanding in which something I thought was gluten-free wasn’t. I also just hate being out of my routine and having to depend on others. But I didn’t want to be home alone on Thanksgiving, and I really did want to experience the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that I watch on television every year live, so I sucked it up and went along on the trip.

Like I said, overall I had a wonderful time. The highlight of the trip for me was seeing A Bronx Tale on Broadway. For those of you unfamiliar with this story which was originally a movie, it is a coming-of-age story of an Italian boy living in the Bronx who is enamored by Sonny, the leader of the mob, and this causes conflict with his parents, especially his father who is trying to teach him the value of honesty and hard work. He also falls in love with a girl at school who is black and lives in a different neighborhood. due to racial tension, it was perilous for them to be seen together. The music is similar to Jersey Boys because it is from the same era and general region of the country, and the plot reminded me of West Side Story. I would highly recommend seeing it if you make it to New York City while it is still playing. At the end of the show, the real-life person the story is based on made a surprise appearance, and then as we were leaving the theater, my dad got me in line for a picture with the actor who played the main character. All of our meals were wonderful, especially Thanksgiving dinner which my sister and her husband cooked themselves in their apartment, and the leftovers that followed. My sister also arranged two “touch tours”, one at the Museum of Natural History, and the other at the Metropolitan Museum of art. Both tour guides were wonderful and I had the opportunity to touch things that the general public is not typically allowed to touch which made the museum experience far more enjoyable than it usually is for me. I could never live in New York City as my blood pressure felt elevated there because it is just so noisy, and the impatience of drivers there is incredible. I heard more angry horn blasts in the four days I was in New York City than I would hear in a full year in the quiet suburb where I live. But it is a neat place to visit. Especially in Manhatan, it almost feels more like you are walking through a state fair than down a city sidewalk as there were so many people selling things along the sidewalk, and so many wonderful food smells. On Thanksgiving day, there were even people selling turkey dinners that people could pick up and take back to their apartments.

But the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade wasn’t the exciting experience I had been hoping for. I had known for a long time that the television broadcast comes from Herald Square, and Herald Square is the only location from which the singers and broadway casts perform. To see the parade live from Herald Square, you have to have tickets, and you have to have special connections to get these tickets, so I knew from the outset that I wouldn’t be seeing the full-scale performances like I hear on television. My sister entered my name into a lottery for special seating for disabled people on the parade route, but I did not win this lottery. But a relative of my sister’s husband invited us to watch the parade from a law office where she worked right on the parade route. We graciously accepted this invitation and I was excited because we would stay warm and not have to fight the crowds for a spot, and I thought I would be able to hear the noise on the street and thus experience the ambiance of the parade through the window. But what I had forgotten to consider was that buildings in New York City aren’t like the law firm where I work, a small single-story building where you definitely would be able to hear parade noise through the window. In New York, people work in sky-scrapers, and from the high up floor where this person worked, I couldn’t hear a thing from outside. There was a television so I was just going to pretend I was in my livingroom at home and just listen to it on television, but the volume was set really low, and the television was broken so the volume couldn’t be turned up. This relative also brought bagels for everyone, and under normal circumstances, I have come to have no problem with people outside my immediate family eating wonderful-smelling gluten stuff in front of me, but on that day, this rubbed salt in my wounds. While everyone else was having a grand old time admiring the balloons which Mom said are much larger and more spectacular than what they look like on television, and enjoying bagels, I was getting absolutely nothing. Why didn’t I just stay back at the hotel, or better yet, stay home? When my mom saw me sitting alone at a table pouting, she came up to me and whispered, “you need to just try and put on a happy face. These people were extremely generous to invite us and we need to be gracious.” I understood where she was coming from, and I agreed that it was generous of them to include us, but I just couldn’t muster up a happy face. Experiencing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I felt like I was so close, but so far from it. I begged and pleaded with Mom to take me outside, but she didn’t want to impose on these relatives and was afraid that once we went outside, we wouldn’t be allowed back in. But about halfway through the parade, I think everyone sensed I wasn’t going to be able to hang on much longer before bursting into tears, so my mom, the parents of my sister’s husband and I went outside and found a spot on the sidewalk outside the building. After that, my mood improved dramatically as I got to experience the joyful ambiance of the crowd, and shortly after we got outside, a float came by with a choir singing a Christmas carol. My mom said the choir was comprised of Macy’s employees, and they were arranged in the shape of a Christmas tree. We stayed outside for the remainder of the parade. I didn’t have the opportunity to see the relative that invited us to her law firm again, but I apologized for my behavior to the parents of my sister’s husband. They were extremely kind to me and understood where I was coming from, but if this relative happens to find this blog, I just want to say again that I am very sorry for my childish behavior that day.

What does this trip have to do with the Restoration, you may be asking? Well, this parade experience came back to mind when John Eldredge talked about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he had been dreaming about for years that ended up being a big disappointment, and even though he fully believed in the Restoration, human nature took hold on that trip and he was feeling pouty just like I was. In a culture where most people either aren’t aware that this life isn’t all there is, or don’t believe in the Restoration, arguing that this is just one interpretation of the Bible, or that the Bible isn’t true at all, it is all too easy for even believers to slip up and place their hopes in earthly things like the chance to see a spectacular parade live, so when the experience doesn’t live up to what we had expected, we are devastated. Eldredge sites bible verses that show we were never meant to place such hope and expectation in Earthly things because in this fallen world, these earthly things will often let us down. Our hope and expectation was meant to be focused on the Restoration. Now that I have read this book and thought about the Restoration in an even deeper way than I had with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I wish I could turn back time and see if I could have put on a happy face during that parade experience, not because I was necessarily enjoying the moment, but because I recognize that this is just a silly earthly parade I was never supposed to place such hope and expectation on. I may be bored now, but someday when all is restored, I will get to fully experience things like parades, and they may be even grander than the Macy’s parade. When I was in high school, a family friend came over to our house to watch the Tournament of Roses parade with us on New Year’s Day. A couple weeks later, she invited me to her house because she wanted me to understand what a float was. She had gone to Goodwill and bought odds and ends, including a toy that had moving parts and made music, and we designed our own float. That was one of the most fun Saturday afternoons ever! Sadly due to health issues, this neighbor is no longer able to do things like this, but at the Restoration when her health is restored and my sight is restored, we could be a dream team, designing a real, awesome float for a real parade!

Unfortunately, I cannot turn back time, but I am going to make a stronger effort to remember the Restoration when faced with situations where I find it very difficult to be a good sport. If I have to go to a museum that doesn’t offer touch tours, I hope I can close my eyes, smile and remember that one day, I will be seeing wonders even greater than what they are seeing behind that glass. I am fully in acceptance of my Celiac Disease at work when someone is always ordering pizza or bringing doughnuts or cupcakes, but I should admit I still feel left out and sad when family members buy a loaf of bread or a gluten dessert and rave about how wonderful it is in front of me. But I hope in the future when this happens, I can smile and remember that one day, I will be able to enjoy such wonderful bread and desserts with them again, and they may taste even better then than now because with sin removed from the world, they won’t be baked with genetically modified ingredients that research has shown to be a culprit of the rise in conditions like Celiac Disease, but with real ingredients as God intended. I recognize that adopting this attitude in the heat of a disappointing event may be easier said than done, and if even John Eldredge who has believed in the Restoration for years relapses into earthly thinking, I am sure I will to. But I am going to make an effort to practice this new way of thinking, and I will definitely keep you updated on how it goes in practice.

I hope nobody reading this entry thinks I am a whiner regarding my current life. I am so blessed. I have a family that loves me, live a comfortable affluent life and have a job that I am at peace with even if it is not my calling. But the bible said in this world, we will have trouble, and we will face disappointment because while God gives us moments of joy and while there is beauty and goodness in this world now, we will never be, and were never meant to be fully happy and fulfilled in this life. But fortunately, this life is not all there is. So no matter what your life circumstance now, try not to succumb to discouragement or hopelessness, but close your eyes and think of the Restoration. If we all did this, maybe we would all find it easier to muster up a happy face, which just might make the world a better place even now.

Practical Implications of the Restoration for Life Now: Part 1

One Tuesday morning, in the bible study I go to with my mom, the subject of Christ’s return came up and I had an opportunity to share how I was intrigued by how Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize the return of Christ and the new system way more than mainstream Christian churches do. The leader, a karismatic person I really like made a compelling argument for not focusing too much on the Restoration. She quoted a professor from one of her seminary school classes who said “you don’t want to be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good, or so earthly minded you are no heavenly good.” This is true, and to be honest, I noticed that Jehovah’s Witnesses did not encourage as much earthly good as Elmbrook Church does. Jehovah’s Witnesses will go overseas and minister to people after natural disasters, and like Elmbrook, they have elders that visit a member of their congregation who is sick in the hospital, but they don’t get involved in the community on a day-to-day basis with programs like James Place that assist immigrants, tutor children from low-income neighborhoods or help people with drug addiction or homelessness get back on their feet. Spreading the gospel is important, but so is practical assistance to the poor as Jesus talks about in Matthew chapter 25 when he unequivocally indicates that we will be judged on whether we gave the hungry food, or the thirsty something to drink. Matthew 24:36 also indicates Christ will come at an hour when it is least expected, implying that in the meantime, we should go about our lives thinking about the coming kingdom certainly, but not forgetting that to be granted life in this new kingdom, we must first do our part and do some earthly good. With that being said, what follows are some thoughts I have about how I can strike the right balance of being heavenly minded and doing earthly good in my own life.

I could start by having a more compassionate heart when filing Social Security disability appeals with clients at work. Even though this job is not my calling as I mentioned in the previous post, it constantly provides opportunities to show compassion and provide comfort to people who are poor because they can no longer work, and sick with physical and mental illnesses. Unfortunately, I don’t always take full advantage of these opportunities. I am always polite and professional, but my heart isn’t always in it. When a client cannot remember something like what medications they take, I am guilty of hitting the mute button so I can let out an exasperated sigh instead of showing compassion and remembering that these people often do not have the advantages of education, affluence and family support that I was blessed to have, advantages which make everything easier, even seemingly basic things like knowing the names of your medication. Sometimes while clients are pouring their hearts out to me, my mind just wanders to things like what’s for dinner after work or something fun I plan to do tomorrow. I have heard it is natural for people in professions that handle people in sad circumstances to become numb to them, and when I first started the job and these situations were new to me, my heart was more compassionate. But I want to find my compassionate heart again, truly listen to them and show genuine compassion. I wish I could tell clients about the Restoration, but I don’t think this is allowed and even if it was, I want to be respectful of the fact that many people are uncomfortable talking about religious matters with strangers. I know this because even I get uncomfortable when on a few occasions, really passionate strangers have asked me personal questions about religious matters. Of course, Jesus said his followers would face opposition and sometimes evangelizing requires being uncomfortable, but at this point in my life at least, I still think there is a time and a place to talk about such things. It is acceptable when hanging out with a family member or friend who is not a believer, but maybe not appropriate when doing appeals with clients, many of whom are already anxious and nervous enough without bringing up controversial subjects like religion or politics. Maybe an approach I could start taking is when clients share their struggles with me, I could say a cryptic “I’m so sorry about what you are going through, but I believe things will get better.” Then after the call, I could say a quick silent prayer that someone in their social circles that they are comfortable with will reach them and tell them of the Restoration.

Elmbrook Church is very committed to both local and global mission work, which is about spreading the gospel while at the same time offering practical assistance. The church sponsors people who go overseas to remote areas of Asia and Africa, and once a year, some of these field workers come home to share their experiences at an annual event called Harvest Fest. While I am amazed and inspired by these stories, given my disabilities and medical issues, I sensed God telling me that going overseas to do mission work would not be a smart move. There is a great deal of need at the local level as well, but I haven’t figured out where I fit in in terms of volunteering. This wasn’t a service project, but I still remember how when I was in eighth grade and singing in the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, the director organized a pizza fundraiser to raise money for our upcoming trip to Italy. One Sunday afternoon, we came together to make and package the pizzas for the fundraiser, but given the visual nature of the project, by which I mean sanitation requirements which didn’t allow me to use my hands, and just because the room was so crowded and chaotic, I felt like I was just in the way. When I was a junior in high school preparing for Catholic confirmation, my Sunday School class went to a homeless shelter downtown and served a meal. They found a job for me handing people folded napkins with plastic silverware inside. (I have nothing against this task, but I just hope that this place always has someone hand people their silverware, and that it wasn’t a situation where people usually pick up the silverware themselves as they move through the line, but someone talked to someone and they “made a job” for me.) There was no tactful way to ask, but in any case, it was an eye-opening experience, especially when numerous people would say to me, “God bless you,” when I should have been saying that to them as being blind is way less difficult than being homeless. But even with this job, I was glad my dad came along to help me because people would come up quickly and quietly and without him, I might not have realized when there was a line of people forming in front of me waiting for silverware. For a long-term service commitment, I would want a project where I could just be dropped off and would be able to serve independently. I have thought about tutoring, but don’t know how to handle rambunctious kids, and could potentially make their academic challenges worse if I had to tutor them in Math. I would love to assist immigrants but don’t know a second language and would have a very difficult time with nonverbal communication. But I have sensed that what I can do right now is donate money to these causes to help those who have the natural talent and ability for these ministries to thrive. In fact, there was a sermon about this a couple months ago in which the pastor refered to the field workers called to minister to people, especially those that go overseas, as “the feet of Jesus” but recognized that most of us cannot make this kind of sacrifice. But financial support for these ministries is just as important, and by donating to these ministries, we are “the hands of Jesus.”

In January 2016, I set up an account on the church web site for automated weekly giving, and decided to donate $30 each week, $15 for the church’s home fund, and $15 to support the church’s local and global mission work. I apologize if anyone reads this and thinks I am being boastful as this is not my intention. No donation given with a generous heart is too small, and I recognize that many people are unable to donate this much due to other financial responsibilities. When I set up this account, I was working full-time and this amount was just about 10 percent of my income. Both the old testament and new testament refer to this figure as the amount that should be given back to God. Now that I am working part-time, this is a little more than 10 percent of my income, but I have decided that for now, I don’t feel compelled to decrease my donation. After all, I am blessed to be able to live with my parents so I don’t have the financial responsibilities I would have had living on my own, so why not donate more to the church and its mission work. If I didn’t donate, I would feel as though I was just hoarding money,. I am still careful about what I spend and am saving in case circumstances change or my parents are no longer able to support me for some reason. But the more I ponder how I can do earthly good, the more content I am with donating at this level, and maybe at the Restoration, I will meet people whose lives I indirectly changed for the better, even if I never find a way to be the “feet of Jesus” now.

Finally, I could do more earthly good by embracing my blindness and using this unique perspective to help others. I used to think that blind people who worked for an organization for the blind, or deaf/quadriplegic/autistic people working for their respective causes were selling themselves short. I used to think people with disabilities should break free of this status and prove to the world that they are more than their disability. But with maturity, I realize this thinking was silly. While people shouldn’t feel defined by their disabilities, to shun opportunities to advocate for or mentor other people with your disability is to ignore a unique purpose God may have for you. I started to appreciate this in college when I was invited to speak on several occasions about blindness by a professor who taught a class on diversity in business. I always embraced and enjoyed these opportunities but at first thought I was letting my blindness define me. As I matured, I realized that this wasn’t the intention at all. I was simply invited because it would be pretty dumb to have some sighted teacher or social worker speak to the class on theoretical terms about how blind people can be happy, well-adjusted contributors to society when there is a blind student on campus who can speak about this topic first-hand. I have not been invited back to speak to this class since the year after college graduation. Possibly, the professor lost touch with me after so many years, or maybe there is another blind student on campus now who has taken over this role which is fine. (I have been toying with the idea of looking up this professor in Carroll University’s faculty directory and sending him an e-mail to see how he is doing and if this class is still offered). But if this professor, or anyone, wants me to speak about blindness to a class, I am happy to do it.

I also think people with disabilities can be valuable mentors to each other. While I have written in the past about feeling judged sometimes by other blind people, I have also been encouraged by other blind people, especially when I was a volunteer at ABLE in 2013. But since starting my job in 2015, I have pretty much been isolated from the blind community, and it has occurred to me recently that maybe this is the community I should be doing more to serve. When I was volunteering at ABLE, I heard about a braille mentoring program similar to Big Brothers Big Sisters except that the “Littles” are blind children and the “Bigs” are blind adults who spend time each week with them in their home or school helping them practice reading braille, or just talking to them and being a positive role model. I know I said earlier that I am not good with kids, and while I was a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters in college, I don’t know what I would have done without the assistance of the volunteer coordinator. But maybe I would do better with blind children. I don’t know what the statistic is now, but back in 2009, only 10 percent of legally blind children were being taught braille, and I recently read an article that featured students who found braille cumbersome and preferred computers and audio books. But listening to something being read is no substitute for “seeing” the words for yourself. I would even go so far as to say that blind people who aren’t taught braille are illiterate. I have seen writing from blind people who didn’t learn braille or never got proficient with it, and the spelling and grammar was atrocious which I am sure has stifled their potential. I know that hard-copy braille materials take up a ridiculous amount of shelf space, and for now at least, technology like refreshable braille displays are incredibly expensive, but innovators in the field are working on making this technology more affordable, and given the incredible advancements in technology for the blind that I have witnessed already in my relatively short life-time, I know a more affordable braille display is achievable, so we should be encouraging these innovators and continuing to give blind children the priceless gift of true literacy which I was blessed to have. As you can see, I have a lot of passion for this topic, so although braille literacy isn’t on my church’s radar as an area in need of mission workers, this is where I am starting to hear that small voice telling me this is where I should serve. Blind children may not necessarily be poor, but in this age of school budget cuts, there is a danger they could become marginalized, in that the district may not have the funding to give them the one-on-one instruction and support they need to become proficient with braille.

I was actually toying with this idea in the fall, but decided after the anxiety of working full-time, and an unusually difficult summer after my mom had shoulder surgery, I felt I needed a year of rest and restoration where I didn’t bite off too much so that I could reflect on what really mattered to me. But after reading John Eldredge’s book and thinking about the restoration, my enthusiasm about this opportunity has been renewed. I plan to contact the director of ABLE who also coordinates the braille mentor program over the summer so that hopefully I could be matched with a blind student in the fall. I will need a lot of prayer that I can handle things if the child I am matched with is rambunctious or does not like braille, and that I can bite my tongue if judged by other teachers or blind adults again. But I am uniquely qualified to serve in this way because I remember when I was a little kid mixing up my braille letters and loosing my place on the braille page, so I would understand their struggles better than their teacher or even their parents. Therefore, I think the rewarding opportunity to share my blessings with someone else, to motivate one child to stay the course and practice reading braille so that he or she can live up to his/her fullest Pre-Restoration potential, will overshadow any difficulties that may come my way.

This post is getting long, so I will end it here, but in the next post, I will share some additional thoughts I have had regarding how I could live more purposefully on a personal level until the Restoration.

Soul Searching

When I was in third grade, I had an inexplicable fascination with the Iditarod Dogsled race held every year in Alaska. The race retraces the journey from Anchorage to Nome, made by a brave dog named Balto to get medicine for children suffering from diphtheria in 1925. While most of the topics covered in third grade Social Studies put me to sleep, I couldn’t get enough reading about the Iditarod, and long after the Iditarod unit was over, I would daydream about being a “musher” when I grew up. Nowadays, I have no desire to be a “musher” and when you get right down to it, if someone actually offered me the chance to race sled dogs, I probably wouldn’t have gone through with it then either. After all, I could barely keep my balance walking through snow, so standing on a sled while being pulled by dogs would have been out of the question. Also, the potential perilous situations that can occur in the Iditarod like thin ice wouldn’t have appealed to me then and don’t appeal to me now. So why I daydreamed about being a “musher” was for a long time a mystery to me.

     Then in fourth grade, the combined effects of a vacation to a cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin over Labor Day weekend and a whole curriculum based on pioneers like Laura Ingalls Wilder had me dreaming about being a modernday pioneer, abandoning the modern life of hurried mornings, long days away from home and annoying television programs in the evening and raising kids in the north woods. But as I matured I realized I was making that kind of life sound more glamorous than it really was. Using an outhouse? No thank you! Cooking meals over an open fire? As it is, I am still afraid of burning myself while cooking on an electric stove. And we haven’t even gotten to my fear of bugs and my disdain for rugged trails. I still love the smell of the air when we occasionally make it up to the north woods, and could maybe see myself renting a cabin to retreat to once a year (in early spring or autumn to avoid the bugs of course) when I am older. But to live as a pioneer isn’t my calling after all.

     Around the end of fifth grade through seventh grade or so it occurred to me that I really enjoyed writing and so I started dreaming of being an author. Even though I cannot read print books, I have always found beauty in the glossy covers and pages of books. Even now if there is an idle moment, I will sometimes pick up a print book lying on a coffee table and just savor the texture of it. I used to think about how thrilling it might be to be the writer of a real, glossy published book sold in bookstores all over the world, and more importantly about what a peaceful life the life of an author might be, just sitting in a quiet office with no time clock or boss, escaping to a fictional world created by your imagination and writing from the heart. But when I learned that most authors also must still work a day job, that even if a publisher does accept your book, royalties made on the book usually don’t exceed the cost of publishing the book and that authors often have to cave to writing what sells, not necessarily what inspires them, I decided that wasn’t the kind of life I wanted to live either. Believe me. Since I cannot even wrap my head around how J.K. Rowling came up with such an elaborate plot and created such well-developed characters, I don’t think I have the talent to make it in the author business.

     Then in eighth grade as a community choir I was involved in prepared to tour Italy, I started romanticising about making my living singing in a choir and touring the world. But again, I discovered that world travel isn’t as glamorous as it is cracked up to be, what with jet lag, fears of pick-pockets, bumpy roads that are very difficult to walk on and the constant fear of my medicine getting lost or stolen since I think Walgreens pharmacies can only be found in the United States. Besides, choirs don’t pay wages, so between choir tours, I would still have to work a day job.

     By high school, I was finally starting to grow in to myself and form a more realistic dream. When teachers started praising essays I wrote and I had a wonderful experience in a career exploration program offered by my school that gave me the opportunity to work with the news editor for a local newspaper, it occurred to me that I would enjoy a career in journalism. It would be an exciting career that would take me somewhere different each day. I enjoy participating in discussions on news and politics and was starting to notice and get frustrated about all the injustice in the world which I might be able to expose and change with the “power of the pen.” So I thought interviewing people and writing about news and politics would be a perfect fit for me. I was disappointed when I got to college and learned from professors and guest speakers that reporter positions were hard to come by since the shift toward online sources for news forced some newspapers to fold, and all newspapers, including our local newspapers to cut back. But I chose to stay the course, reasoning that maybe I would be one of the lucky ones who would land a job as a reporter. If not, I could settle for a public relations position with a company as the demand for Public Relations is growing and journalists commonly carry over to public relations positions because there are many parallels between these fields. For example, both fields value high-quality journalistic writing that keeps in mind concepts like the inverted pyramid (most important information first, least important last). The difference is that the goal of the journalist is to be objective whereas the goal of someone writing a press release for a Public Relations position is to spin the story as ethically as possible to favor the company. I wasn’t as passionate about Public Relations as I was about journalism but as I began my senior year of college, my mindset was, “hey, a job is a job. I could take a public relations position to pay the bills and then write freelance articles about politics or something as a hobby.”

     But then I read In to The Wild by John Krakauer. It was a book assigned for a Creative Nonfiction course I took in the fall semester of my senior year, and it was one of the rare books assigned for school that I didn’t want to put down. It absolutely captivated me!

     The book retraces the story of a young man named Christopher McCandless who had a seemingly normal upbringing in an affluent suburb near Washington D.C. But after graduating college, he cut off all contact with his family and hitchhiked all across the country. His ultimate dream was an Alaskan odyssey where he wanted to hike to the remote wilderness of Alaska with minimal supplies and live off the land. In 1992, he embarked on this dream with only a light backpack, set up camp in an abandoned bus used by hunters, hunted game and used a book on Alaskan plants to find edible flora. But the dream did not end well for him. In the summer when he was ready to end his voyage, he discovered that a stream which had been calm and shallow when he first crossed it had turned in to a raging river that he knew he could not swim across, so he returned to the bus where he eventually died from eating damp seeds which had developed toxic mold. I agreed with my classmates that what he did was foolish, even a little selfish. Perhaps he also had some degree of mental illness too that was exacerbated when he found out that his father was living a double life, secretly seeing someone else when Chris was little. But when the rest of my class had probably long forgotten about him and relegated his story to the mental file of “just another book assigned for a class”, something about him stuck with me. It was a feeling on the order of “wow! I wonder what it would be like to do that!”

     But why? Was it the fact that it mentioned the beautiful-sounding wilderness of Alaska, re-awakening my silly Iditarod or pioneer fantasies from when I was younger? Was it God’s way of telling me I was meant to have an Alaskan odyssey too, or live as a modernday pioneer after all? “No,” I realized. I am still not fond of wilderness that is too rugged and I have absolutely no desire to break ties with my family, become a hitchhiker or die alone in a bus out in the wilderness! I suppose all children have wild ideas at some point during their childhood. But I was now an educated and thus supposedly mature woman in my twenties. Why, when all my classmates and my parents focused on how foolish Christopher’s actions were, was I still enamored by him?

     I didn’t have much time to think about this book as I raced to the finish line of my college career, got caught up in the excitement of graduation and then had to deal with health problems last summer. But around October when I was adjusting well to Celiac Disease and feeling much better, I started to get a restless feeling in my soul and a yearning for a purpose. This was a good sign, my parents said. It meant that I was feeling better now and ready to think about my future. So for one week in Mid October, I dove headlong in to the task of applying for jobs. If I were collecting unemployment benefits, I would need to apply for two jobs a week, but I could do better than that! Every day that week, I woke up determined to apply for at least one job a day. So on Monday, I applied for a social media representative position with a retail store. On Tuesday I applied for a public relations position with a healthcare company, and so on. At the beginning of the week, I was actually a little upset because as luck would have it, the week I was finally motivated to apply for jobs was a short week. On Friday morning of that week, I had promised Mom I would go with her to Indiana for a family reunion and a long weekend at my grandma’s house where I would not have internet access to apply for jobs or check my e-mail for interview offers on the ones I had applied for.

     But sitting in the car singing along to the radio with Mom that Friday morning, it occurred to me that I wasn’t as eager to keep applying to jobs as I thought I would be, and rather than feeling a sense of accomplishment over the jobs I had applied for already, something troubled me. A few hours in to the car ride, I felt like reading, but as I scrolled through the list of books I had downloaded on to my braille notetaker and saved in my pleasure reading folder, none of them peaked my interest at that moment. Then I remembered In to The Wild. I still had it saved in my college books folder. Although I loved the book, unfortunately that semester was so demanding due in large part to my senior capstone seminar I had to take that semester that I couldn’t really savor the book. In fact, when it occurred to me that I was spending so much time on this book that I was neglecting my responsibilities for other courses, I had to resort to skimming through the second half of the book. In the car that day, I decided that it didn’t matter that the course was over. A book that captivated me that much was worth finishing and savoring. Over the following week as I savored that book, I still couldn’t put my finger on why this book captivated me so much, but I noticed that particular quotes jumped out at me in both readings. My favorite of these quotes was in a letter McCandless wrote to Ronald Franz, an old man he had befriended in Arizona. Toward the end of the letter, McCandless says, “So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future” (57).

     Maybe all young people upon college graduation need some sort of retreat to search their souls and adjust to a new chapter of life because when you are really small and life is easy, the idea of soul searching isn’t even on your radar, and when it is, the demands of childhood from homework, to fitting in and participating in after-school activities leave little time for soul searching. Several of my college friends took vacations to Europe after graduation, perhaps to fulfill this need. Maybe given Christopher McCandless’s troubled mind, he just took it to the extreme. Was it possible that maybe all I yearned for was a smaller-scale version of a retreat? What if I invited one member of the family (Mom or Dad) to accompany me, and we rented a little cabin way out in the middle of nowhere for a month, bringing with us nothing but food from the nearest grocery store and books from home? When I thought about it, I pretty much went right from the joy of graduation to the worry and uncertainty of addressing my health problems. After my health improved, maybe I jumped in to the next step in the sequence of life that society expects of a college graduate who elects not to go to graduate school, at least not right away–looking for a job–too quickly without really stopping to honestly contemplate what I want the rest of my life to look like. Maybe a retreat in which I couldn’t log on to Facebook to compare my job searching progress with that of my friends, in which the peace and serenity wasn’t constantly being interrupted by the telephone, where I could cut myself off from the world and its commercialism and negativity, would give me the space I needed to think. Mom wasn’t too keen on this idea. She liked the vacation to nature part, but not the part about leaving all phones at home. It is important to be there if people need us, and these days, it is foolish to be without a phone in the event of an emergency. At first I was frustrated and about to give her the same lecture Christopher McCandless gave Ronald Franz about being too attached to security and conservatism. But after settling down for a few hours and thinking about it more carefully, I realized she was right, especially given my medical issues. And when I got really honest, I like my security too. In fact, I had no idea why I even suggested a retreat because I hate the uncertainty that comes with traveling. What if we found a wonderful cabin, only to discover that the grocery store in town only carried cheap processed stuff full of gluten and I was stuck eating nothing but raw wilted lettuce for a month or something? In fact, I have had moments in the past where I longed for serenity and had no problem finding it on our patio in the summer or in the peaceful sanctuary of my bedroom. If I needed a break from the social pressure of Facebook, I could find the willpower not to log on. Realizing that I really had no idea what I was looking for and was doing nothing more than frantically grasping at straws, I resolved to just clear my mind for a few days, read other books and trust that life would work out.

     Then the following Sunday, Mom and I went to church which holds an event every year called Harvest Fest, an event in which some of the missionaries the church supports come home and speak to the congregation about the work they are doing all over the world. Monday through Thursday of the previous week, the missionaries spoke at evening events, but since we didn’t return home from Indiana until Tuesday evening and were actually leaving on another trip the following Monday, we were unable to attend these events, but a couple of the missionaries spoke to the congregation that Sunday. I couldn’t see the rest of the congregation but I was on the edge of my seat. They were so inspiring! And, again I felt that same “Wow! I wish I could do that!” feeling. But as usual, on closer examination, I realized I wouldn’t really want to live in the rough conditions they described, and given my medical conditions, serving in a third world country would be foolish. As admirable as their work was, it wasn’t the life for me.

     But maybe these long hours in the car was God’s way of giving me the retreat I wanted earlier because on the second trip, I started doing some analyzing. It was during this trip that I thought about everything mentioned in this entry, all my dreams I fantasized about as a child from being a musher in the Iditarod, to a journalist, as well as Christopher McCandless and the missionaries and realized that all these ideas, as unrelated as they may seem on the surface had one thing in common. They all indicated that as far back as I can remember and still to this day, I admire people who dare to be different.

     I admire people who have found something that they are passionate about, and weren’t afraid to pursue it. I admire people whose demeanor seems to suggests they will never be one of those people who look back on their life with regret and say “I always wanted to…” because they are doing what they have always wanted to do. I admire people who don’t feel like they have to be good little soldiers, resigning themselves to a job they don’t find passion in but pays well. I admire people who appear to have jobs where they aren’t spending their lives counting the hours until the work day is over, the days until the weekend when they can take a vacation or something and the years until they can retire, because their job brings them such a sense of joy and fulfillment that they look forward to their job every day. And, in the case of the missionaries and Christopher McCandless especially, I admire people who truly believe and practice a life that has a higher purpose than accumulating wealth and saving for retirement. I still haven’t figured out how this revelation can be translated in to a path that is suitable for me. I have some ideas which I will elaborate on in the next entry, but what I did figure out was the answer to my troubled thoughts after my week of applying for traditional public relations jobs. I was troubled because I realized that I was falling in to line with society’s expectations like a good little soldier. After completing each application, I was full of excitement and hope at the time, but realized on the trip/retreat that I was not excited about the jobs themselves. I was actually dreading the thought of having to put on a happy face and spend my days announcing doorbuster clothing sales on social media or write about the features of heating and cooling systems for buildings if I got one of these jobs. So meaningless in the grand scheme of things! That was how it came to me that the reason I was troubled was because I was letting myself become someone who was only excited about the paycheck, and all of my childhood dreams and the kind of people I admire prove this is not the kind of person I was meant to be, so I pray every day that I won’t cave in to synicism and let myself become someone I wasn’t meant to be.