Monthly Archives: March 2018

Breathing Through Fear

I opened my computer to write my blog, and this writing jumped right off the screen. I wrote this about six or seven years ago—and reading this again hit me like a bolt of lightening. When I talk about acting crazy, I am not talking about the certifiable crazy that may cause one to be hospitalized for a period of time. I am talking about not functioning like my norm, being stressed, and over or under reacting, possibly showing all my insecurities in an unhealthy manner, or at least in my eyes. So, here it is:

I just realized that I am afraid. Hmm, who would have thought? My pastor said he never envisioned me as a person who got ever afraid, and I looked at him and said, “I am human.” I think it is okay to be afraid. What is not okay is what I do about it. I cannot dump my fear on others. I cannot forget that God is there, or forget he holds me close. I should not be afraid.

While I was driving in my car—turning off the music and the noise around me—thinking and thinking. Why am I reacting and responding the way I am? I have a friend who deserves better than that in our friendship. I do not have to let my fears leak all over the place.  I am sure he has been afraid in his life, and maybe he even acted out then. Maybe he understands. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is what I need to learn how to respond to my fears.

What had me so afraid? I realized what it was—two friends both with health issues. Both knowing that they can go a long time with these issues, or tomorrow they could be devastatingly ill or even gone. To have two people share this with me about themselves in a 24 hour period of time was more devastating for me than I realized.

00 parentsI have known the first friend since 1991, when she lovingly became my friend during the worst part of my life. She became a shoulder for me, has always been a great listener, and because of her, I have become a better listener, but I will never reach her greatness as a person who can listen. She is the best! When she told me about her mini-strokes, I knew she was afraid. I know she wants to be as healthy as possible, and these past two years, the effects of being diabetic since her youth are starting to take its toll on her. I have been able to be her friend by listening. I couldn’t let her know how afraid I was to think I might lose my friend. That would be selfish of me. So, I bottled that in, and became her cheerleader. But deep in me I am fearful of losing the person who helped me get through my huge codependency issues and find a life that worked.

The day before she told me about her mini-strokes, another person told me he had a stress test. His cardiologist was waiting in the room when he arrived. My friend didn’t succeed in the test, and now his doctor is sending him to another cardiologist at the big teaching hospital. He is not my friend like the first person, but he is the closest thing to a “best friend at work.” Because he is a peer, I can talk to him about any issue, which I cannot do with my subordinates. He will listen to me when I am having a bad day at work. The last time I did this, he looked at me and said that he didn’t know how to help. I told him that I didn’t need his help, I needed him to just hear me. His doctor is very concerned that without controlling his high blood pressure (something that has been unsuccessful so far in three years of treatment), that he is very prone to having a stroke. I know deep inside him there is fear—neither of his parents lived past 55 years old, and he is 56.

How did I realize this was why I was reacting? I am acting crazy, weird, or any other similar word, as I did when my dad died. And as much as I loved my dad, he was far from my best friend. But I lost my dad—I lost the ability of ever making our relationship better, although it was the best it had been in all my years. He was just a hard man. Now I realize that I do not handle loss well. When I lose someone in my life, I lose a piece of me, so it scares me that I will lose a piece of me (even a big piece of me) if I start losing people I really care about. So, I go into crazy-making. My mind is flooded with thoughts and fears, and I react to life and people in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

So, I say to myself, “No, Andrea — go to your ‘God Spot’.” Go where I know I have a great and loving God. Feel his love. Feel it pour over me. That vision of being poured over me is so cool. His love poured over me. Too bad when I was baptized, that the water wasn’t poured over me! I get the pouring now. I was immersed when I was baptized. That works 00 pouringtoo. Immerse myself in his love—and kindness—and forgiveness. Close my eyes, hold my breath and feel it. I didn’t feel it back when I was 17, but I feel it now. Feel God’s Spirit pour over me, immersing me with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Yes, these are the fruits of the Spirit. This is my gift from God—first his sacrifice for my life, his death on the cross, his giving me life with him, through him, and for him. And he pours out the Holy Spirit on me—and gives me these gifts of the fruits of the Spirit. They are a gift, and I have to open 00 fruitsthe package, take them out and try them on. Because God knows me and my heart, these will fit me perfectly—no return needed for this gift. Bask in the gifts. Don’t be afraid. I cannot be bold and courageous when afraid. I tend to let go of self-control when I am afraid. My emotions are on my sleeve and hard to control. God gave me self-control in the perfect size just to fit me. Try it on. Look in the mirror. It looks good.

He gives me forgiveness, not only from him, but also a perfect measure for me to forgive all those who disappoint me. Don’t be afraid. Life on earth is disappointing. Forgive. Feel the clothing of forgiveness wrap around me. It feels good to let go of that sorrow, anger and fear. To know I can love and not be afraid of not being loved back, or just not having someone there. God will give me what I need. If I lose my friends, and if I need friends, God will lead me to new ones. Don’t be afraid.

I need to be kind, good and gentle. Funny, today another friend told me that I am too hard on myself. I forget sometimes to be kind, good, and gentle to myself. I am not acting in the Spirit if I also don’t treat myself that way also. God gives me the lesson in the tough stuff. Fear is not my friend. Fear pulls me out of my ‘God Spot’. Jesus said, “Do not fear. I am with you.” Breathe that in, Andrea. If God is with me, who can be against me? Breathe that in, Andrea. Breathe that in.

Maybe, after all, it is not good to be afraid. I shouldn’t focus the waves and the storm. Jesus said to look at him, and the disciples walked on the stormy waters. When they turned away from looking at Christ, they started to sink. I turned my eyes. I forgot who is 00 jesusalways my friend. I forgot who holds me regardless. Why do I so quickly forget? I am human! Until I see Christ face to face — until I am in his presence I will forget. I will try my best not to, but when I do, I need to look back at him, and be loving, patient, kind, good, forgiving and gentle with myself, just as I need to be with others. Just because I have not always felt that love from others, I get that from my God, and that can carry me. Yes, carry me. Close my eyes and feel the lightness of being carried. Carried in his love and grace. Carried — I’m not doing the work — Jesus already did it for me. He is carrying me. Close my eyes, breathe. My Savior is carrying me.

Do not be fearful. My friends are all here. No one is going anywhere — at least today. And if they leave, Christ will hold me. Breathe . . . Breathe . . . Breathe. I can be bold and courageous. I can love my friends. I can give to them what God has given to me. His beautiful gift of life, love and forgiveness, wrapped more exquisitely than any gift that I can ever receive from anyone, or ever give. I am breathing!

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Happy Memories Of My Favorite Store

I am from St. Louis, Missouri, and if you grew up in this city back in the mid 1900’s, Famous-Barr was the premier department store. The history of Famous-Barr goes back to before my mother and father were born. in 1911 William May of The May Company Departments stores, who already owned The Famous Shoe and Clothing Company, purchased The William Barr Dry Good Company, thus merging the stores as Famous and Barr Department Store, later shortening to Famous-Barr.

logosI remember three departments stores in St. Louis when I was a child. The first and largest was Famous-Barr. Their flagship store was an eleven story one-block big store in downtown St. Louis that opened in 1914. The other two stores were Stix, Baer & Fuller, and Scruggs, Vandorvoort, & Barney. My mom called the latter store Scruggs, until later years when the store became known throughout St. Louis just as Vandorvoorts. My recollection of the downtown Famous was when I was a young child, but those memories are vivid and dear. My mom would drive from our home to the Waco parking garage which was a few blocks away from the store. She would drop the car off at this indoor garage and leave the keys with them. I assume she was given a claim ticket for the car. I don’t remember because I was busy focusing on the candy bar machine in the lobby where you could get a  5¢ Hershey bar (that was squares, not rectangles), of which she would occasionally get for us girls as we waited for the city bus that would pick us up and deliver us to the front door of Famous-Barr.  When we were done shopping and came back to retrieve the car, the young men that would fetch the cars would drive fast down the ramps squealing the tires as they came down.  

00interior fbWalking into Famous-Barr’s huge store was an experience in itself. There were high ceilings and counters everywhere, along with big huge round columns that held up the structure. You could hear cash registers ringing, and instead of an intercom system, they had some sort of bell ringing system that would strike so many times to announce something to the managers. There seemed to be a lot of hustling and bustling about. Sometimes we took the escalator to the other floors, and some were wooden escalators, and as we neared the upper floors, the escalators were narrower. Usually we took the elevator. I was always intrigued by the elevator operators. I thought 00elevatorthey were so smart because they knew what was available on each floor (remember I am a small child).  As the elevator door would open, the operator would announce the floor number and what was on that floor — “ Third Floor, Women’s dresses, Women’s shoes,” whatever was being sold on that floor. I also thought they were so smart because they knew how to drive an elevator—even my mom and dad didn’t drive an elevator! We had a newly built house when I was 6 years old, and this 1954 ranch home had sliding closet doors. I would play elevator operator in my closet, standing inside the closet, closing the door, sliding it open and announcing the floor number and whatever I dreamed up would be sold on that floor.

Christmas was a huge delight. As everywhere in the country, the big department stores 00train windowdecorated their store windows for the Christmas holidays. We would go downtown and walk around Famous-Barr looking at all the wonderful displays of animated figures, elves, bears or whatever, and the all the toys on display. One window was the train display. It was my favorite window. A huge model train display,  that had mountains, towns, roads, and several trains were operating at once, and they whistled their train whistle and the crossing 

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My sisters and I with Santa (I’m the little one).

gates would open and close.  I was mesmerized. When we were finished looking at the windows, we went into the store and to the 9th floor (or whatever upper floor it was), and went through the Winter Wonderland display with more animated figures and everything to make us even more excited about the commercial Christmas celebration. The Winter Wonderland would end with our visit with a Santa Claus who looked as real as I thought he could be.

00lazy boysThere is so much more about my favorite store. I got my Lazy-Bones brand saddle oxford shoes in the shoe department. I remembered the name of the brand because I thought it was a funny name for shoes I am supposed to wear to school.  After the saleslady made sure they were a good fit, with room to grow, she took them out of the original shoe box and was delivered to my hands in a box 00 receiptsthat when I got home became a school house with punch-out desks and children. I have no idea if it was just a special back-to-school promotion, but I know I loved that shoe box, and eventually it was in the trash! When I was in elementary school, we did all our back to school shopping in August at Famous Barr. We got new underwear, shoes, and dresses. This store was such a tradition in my family, that my mother bought all my nursery layette items from Famous Barr in 1948, and I still have the receipts. When you see what she paid, it is amazing how much she spent for this little bundle of joy—me!  Fifty-two dollars and nines cents ($52.09) was a lot of money in those days.  I know my mother believed if you bought quality, it would last forever.  I am not sure that is totally true, but most of the clothes she purchased were passed down to sisters and cousins.

00 southown 2As I got older, department stores were moving branch stores around town and into the suburbs. Unfortunately, I think that became the demise of these large multi story department stores in the downtown area of big cities. They were building stores where the people lived.  My favorite branch store of Famous-Barr was the Southtown store which sat on the corner of Kingshighway and Chippewa Boulevards. The store was on the northeast corner. There was parking around the store, but there was also a big parking lot on the southeast corner. If you parked there, you walked into a small building, that had steps and you walked down the steps and walked under the road.  Below the road and the store across the road was the “bargain basement.” There were no Walmarts back then. The bargain basements in the stores IMG_5732carried items that were less expensive than on the main floors. I don’t know (because I was a kid) if this is where they had their sale items and closeout items or if this was actually a less expensive line of goods being offered.

Two departments in the Southtown store still bring warm memories. The first one is the toy department. I would go in there and look and dream of owning a Jill, Jeff, and Ginny doll. They sold the dolls, and they sold the doll clothes. So even after owning those dolls, I would go to the toy department to look and dream of owning a new cute outfit for my dolls. My Littlest Angel doll also came from that store, and all these dolls were manufactured by the Ideal Doll Company. I still own my original dolls.

maxresdefaultThe other fascinating department there was the record department. High fidelity music had become the latest technology. People were buying Hi-Fi Stereo systems in big huge furniture type cabinets to put in their living Album_Johnny_Mathis_-_Merry_Christmas_cover.jpegrooms, and we needed a lot of LP albums to fill our music collections. In those days, nothing was shrink wrapped. We went into the record department and looked for type of music we liked, and looked through the hundreds of albums. If we saw one we might like, we could take the record into a small booth, close the door, and set the record on the record player to listen to see if that was what we wanted. It was like a dressing room for records! My #1 favorite album bought this way was the Johnny Mathis Christmas album which is still a classic today, but we also had everything from the Boston Pops, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Mitch Miller (for sing-alongs), Kingston Trio, and Montovani, just to name a few that come to mind.

IMG_5735In 1992 I started working a Famous-Barr. If retail paid a good living wage, I would have been there until I retired. I loved being a subject matter expert on the products in my department. I was assigned to housewares, and wasn’t a big fan of kitchen stuff in the past, but now I am a kitchenware (dishes, flatware, cookware, appliances, etc.) fan and love having great tools of the trade. I moved from being a Christmas part time employee to full time on the sales floor, and finally to the Human Resources office where I hired sales associates and trained new hires.  Even after I left full time employment at Famous-Barr, I came back every so often for three years to do new hire POS [Point of Sale] training (how to operate the cash registers).  I even got to keep my company discount during those three years–a huge advantage of working there!

I was truly sad to see Famous-Barr sold to Macy’s and just become another Macy’s store. Department stores have changed over the years and they are no longer a social icon where celebrities would appear to promote their brands, and special programs would be offered the people in the community. The elevator operators disappeared a long time ago, and I found out any of us could “drive” that elevator, but not any of us can tell you what to find on each floor of the store. Departments disappeared, such as records, toys, and nylon stockings. People got used to discount stores where they served themselves, and the subject matter experts have disappeared from the department stores. Sometimes it’s just hard to find someone to ring up your sale.

Time moves on, and things change for various reasons. I will still have sweet feelings about wandering the floors of Famous-Barr, and my time many years later when I was privileged to work there. Today I go shopping to buy what I need. I don’t wander the store—I’m not a shopper. The stores are not a social place for me. It’s okay. What is it about a sweet memory like this that makes me feel warm inside?  Thank you, old fashioned Famous-Barr, for giving me memories of “the good ol’ days.”

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Sleep? Can You Make It Happen?

sleepingHave you ever thought about sleep? I mean, really thought about sleep? It’s such an odd thing. We go to bed, most of us at night. We lay our heads down, and somehow magically, we become unconscious, and we are sleeping. We may sleep, 5, 7, or 9 hours, but when we wake up it’s like no time has passed. We are unaware of time moving while we are in this state of unconsciousness.

The other odd thing about sleep is when we cannot sleep. Sometimes I fall asleep and wake up about an hour later. I start thinking about falling back asleep, and then the sleep will not come. In fact, thinking about falling asleep keeps me from falling asleep. I 00 plumscan’t figure out exactly what causes me to fall asleep. As a child, I slept well. The only times I did not sleep well was the night before the start of a new school year, and of course, the night before Christmas. Both of those nights were filled with anticipation of what the next day was going to be like.  Even in the book, “The Night Before Christmas,” the children were not sleeping.  “The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.”  Yet all the drawings of this show them sleeping–I think not.  I think they were too excited to sleep and they, like the rest of us had trouble falling asleep that night.   Eventually, though, I fell asleep.

What is it that happens when we fall asleep? I did a little research on it to see what I could find out. We start out with a light sleep which is N1 stage, and we move onto the next stage which is the onset of sleep (N2). We become disengaged from our surroundings. True, I feel my pillow and blankets while I am laying in bed, but once I fall asleep, there is no notice of my surroundings. My breathing and heart rate are regular and my body temperature begins to drop. The N3 stage is where we get our deepest and most restorative sleep. Our breathing becomes slower, and our muscles are relaxed. Although our muscles are relaxed, they are now receiving a greater blood supply and tissue growth and repair occurs. This is also the stage where hormones are released, such as growth hormones. Do you remember being told as a child that you needed rest so you could grow—well, that is what is happening.

00 buttonWe all sleep. It is something we all do in common. Some sleep better than others. My husband can hit the pillow and be asleep in seconds or minutes. I marvel at his ability to do that. Very seldom does he say that because he was solving world problems and couldn’t sleep. When I am stressed with things going on in my life or planning big project that must get done, my brain starts working when I lay down on the pillow. I start thinking through scenarios of problem solving. Then I tell myself I need to stop and go to sleep, but I cannot fall asleep if I am telling myself to fall asleep. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a sleep button. Just press it and sound sleep occurs.

0 dejaI am a fan of the TV show, “This is Us.” The other night I watched it, and the character, Deja, was talking to her foster dad about sleep. She said, “Isn’t it weird how everyone goes to sleep at night—like everyone in the whole planet? All these people. People I’ll never know. Some are poor. Some are rich. Some sleep in beds. Some sleep on the floor. But, at the end of the day, everyone sleeps.” Yes, it is the one thing we have in common with everyone in the world. At the end of each day, our bodies need rest, and we were created to sleep. Not only do we sleep, animals sleep. I wonder if they ever get stressed and have trouble sleeping? Funny thought, if I must say so myself.

00 animalI just find it amazing the state of unconsciousness that I don’t feel anything physically, and don’t see time moving while I am asleep. Rest is good. God rested on the 7th day. If we were in charge of our own bodies, I think we would try to find a way not to sleep. We would want to keep accomplishing. But, we are created to rest and restore ourselves physically and mentally. Time is supposed to stop for us even though it is marching forward.

Everybody sleeps. It is a shame we have to set an alarm to get up to accomplish our next day. It doesn’t seem a natural way to awaken, but we try to burn the candle at both ends, and we are not getting enough sleep. Mornings become tough. When I was working, all I 00alarmclwished for was a good night’s sleep, but somehow, I never felt I had enough. Now that I am retired, I pretty much wake up at the same time each morning, with the exception of the nights my brain wants to solve the world’s problems (or mine), but I can no longer sleep until noon like I could as a teenager. In fact, I don’t like sleeping in. I am afraid I will miss out on some time that I could be doing something. Maybe that’s a sign of aging. I don’t want to miss out on whatever amount of life I have left. I want to experience everything around me.

Also, what about the times when we don’t want to sleep, but our body wants to sleep. What’s with that? Watching movie, or sitting in a lecture, or a company meeting—we feel ourselves drifting off. So we have times when we want to sleep and we can’t, and times when we don’t want to sleep and we could fall asleep on a dime.

As I was going online reading about the scientific data on sleep, I found a quote from a person who wrote a book about sleep. Apparently, people have always had issues of falling asleep. He shared a few of his favorite findings of trying to aid sleep in early modern Europe. Before I give you these ideas they had, I thought it would be good to understand what time period we are talking about as “early modern Europe.” Here is what I found: “Early modern Europe is the period of European history between the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, roughly the late 15th century to the late 18th century.” So now you know, in case it ever comes up in a conversation! Here are three “interesting” remedies people used in those days:

  • Put some blood-sucking leeches behind your ears. When they bore holes in the skin, pull them out and place a grain of opium in each hole. (From 16th-century French physician André du Laurens.) Umm, no! I’m not a fan of leaches or narcotics!
  • 00 sheepKill a sheep, and then press its steaming lungs on either side of the head. Keep the lungs in place as long as they remain warm. (From 16th-century French surgeon Ambroise Paré.) That just seems like a lot of work if you cannot sleep. Get out of bed, get dressed, go outside and slaughter that sheep, and what are you to do with the rest of sheep you slaughtered? Roast a bit of mutton during the night? Too much work to be a practical remedy, if you ask me. Also, it says to keep in place as long as it remains warm. If I fall asleep, then I am not longer aware of my surroundings—so that doesn’t work—I won’t know when those warm lungs have cooled off. Nope, not the answer.
  • After the evening meal, eat lettuce, drink wine, and rub an ointment made of the oil of violets or camphor on the temples. Dissolve a mixture of poppy seeds, lettuce seeds, balsam, saffron, and sugar and cook it in poppy juice. Then listen to pleasant music and lie down on a bed covered with the leaves of fresh, cool plants. (From 15th-century philosopher Marsilio Ficino.) The first part sounds good until I got to making the “potion,” which the poppy juice sounds like a bit of opium to me. This looks like it says to eat a good meal, drink some wine, cook a mixture in a bit of narcotics, and listen to good music. Most of that works, except for the part with the poppy juice. No, not for me.

I think that if I cannot sleep at night, I will just stick it out. A little bit of sleep one night will allow me to fall asleep easily the next. I think I am getting sleepy. Did I fail to mention that I am writing this in the wee hours of the morning on a night that sleep is not coming easily.

Good Night. Sweet Dreams!

 

I’m Not Who I Used To Be

FailureThirty-five years ago, I was not in a good place. I was a single mom, and I was living “Murphy’s Law.” If anything could go wrong, it would. I had no money, four small children, lost my job, had no friends. That’s how I saw my life back then—one BIG FAILURE. It was a real struggle, and I felt like it was me against the world. I recently came upon a journal I had written back then. It is good to read and realize that I am no where near that place. I don’t even know that girl who wrote those words. But, they were my words back then.

May 15, 1983: “I’m just so scared of tomorrow—& then tomorrow & tomorrow. Where will I be? Will my lot in life improve? Well, so much for all this—if I don’t get to sleep tomorrow is [sic] also be a disaster.”

Apparently I wrote this late at night since I reference needing to get to sleep. When hardship occurs, most of us have trouble sleeping. My mind is good at going 100 mph trying to resolve issues. I still do that when I am stressed. I will wake up in the middle of the night working though in my head a solution to whatever the problem is at the time. Sleep usually helps in these instances, but sleep is hard to come by when one feels hopeless.

May 18, 1983: “I do not think I am looking for a utopia. Just because I believe there is more to life than a struggle to survive does not mean a perfectly happy and content life is down the line. There is more to life than struggling to keep my head above water.”

I just want to hug that girl. I knew there was more than this struggle I was in. I felt myself drowning, and treading water to keep my head up. I was hurt.  I was angry.  I was lonely.  I was sad.  Have you ever felt that way? It’s scary when one is in that place. I have mentioned in previous blogs, that I am a connections person. I love connecting with people, and I love connecting other people together, so it is really tough to read the following:

June 26, 1983: “I guess I am feeling lonely today. Other than my mother, I have no one I can call and just chat with and no one I can call to get together with.”

I am grateful for my mom. She was my lifesaver. She talked to me on the phone whenever I needed to talk to someone. She helped me with my children. She gave me groceries. Her love was unconditional, and I think that is what held me on.

Loneliness is not a place I wish anyone to be. When I was in my 12-step group for codepedency, my sponsor, Susan, told me about the word “HALT.” She said that people recovering from addictions learned this acronym to remind them that this is a danger area that can cause them to slide back. What does “HALT” mean? I found this great definition online: “This handy acronym reminds us to take a moment (HALT) and ask ourselves if we are feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. It seems simple enough, but when these basic needs are not met, we are susceptible to self-destructive behaviors including relapse. Fortunately, hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness are easy to address and serve as a warning system before things reach a breaking point.” 

August 27, 1983: “Tonight I realized that I have absolutely nothing to do on my 24 hours without the boys. That is really sad. It makes me very sad. This is when I feel totally friendless. Absolutely zero to do.”

I cannot today even imagine being that lonely. There was some depression going on, and the loneliness fed into that, or vice versa. There are millions of people in this world, and I felt alone. I knew there was an answer, so I just kept holding on, even if by a thread.

As I flipped through the pages of this journal, I found a page that I wrote about exactly what I was looking for. It was dated March 14, 1983:

It is dark and chilly. The night is calm. In the distance are the sounds of life, crickets calling out to each other, cars with passengers going to or from places where they communed with others. I look at the stars scattered randomly, against the black velvet curtain that seems to divide me from God.

Why do I feel he is out there somewhere? Doesn’t he say, “I am with you always”? Are you here, God? Are you really pouring your love out on me and my family? Why don’t I see it? Why don’t I feel it? Where did you go?

The stars flicker. Is there a star there for me? Just one little flicker of hope that I can hold onto?

I want to cry out, but there is no one to hear. So I just cry silently to myself. The pain tears at my heart. Oh how I wish I could make it stop. I want to be loved but I feel no love. I feel alone. I must survive alone. Death is no answer. It is the statement of failure. I refuse to accept that kind of failure.

00 stasMaybe I do believe God is out there or even here. And maybe I do believe there is that star for me. And maybe I do believe there must be someone out there who loves me. Why else would I refuse to accept ultimate failure when everything in my life has failed.  I must survive. I must fight. I must truly believe there is hope even if I cannot see it. I must endure. Surely there must be a star shining in the dark—not strong enough light to see clearly, but enough to guide my way. Maybe that’s my only hope, but it is hope. Well, just maybe . . . .

I wanted to feel God’s presence my life. I felt like there was this fog over me, and I couldn’t find him. I think I knew if I hung on tight enough, I would find him—or was it, he would find me. I have thought of myself as the “Prodigal” daughter. Remember the parable that Jesus taught about the prodigal son?

“A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die. So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he 00 Prodigal3wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything. When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, “At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.’” So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.” but his father said to the servants, “Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.” ~Luke 15:11-22

Here was this young man who left with his inheritance. He wasted the money, became destitute, so he got a job feeding pigs. Remember, Jesus is telling this story to the Jewish people, so feeding pigs would not be in their vocabulary, it would be on that list of most vile things to do. The son finally comes to his senses, and he decides to go back to his father and ask for his forgiveness. He decides to also ask his dad to make him a lowly servant, because this is all he feels he deserves after making a mess of his life. But notice this, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” It goes on to say the father clothed him in the best clothes and thew a party for him to celebrate his son coming home. First I want you to notice, that the father ran to greet him. He didn’t wait for the son to make in to the door. The father was thrilled to see his son again. He didn’t make his son a lowly servant, he restored his son back to his family.

In the same way, I believe that God was thrilled to see I was seeking him, and he came to me as much as I came to him. God didn’t care about all the messes I made. He loves me completely, and unconditionally. He wrapped his arms around me and gave me that “peace that passes understanding.”

My life didn’t get fixed overnight. But I was now doing the things that would move me forward. One time I heard a pastor say that we should feel the arms of God wrapped around us. I have found that I can be open and honest with God. I can cry to him and tell him what has hurt me, and what makes me so sad. He hears my cries, I know he does love me, and feel his love envelop me.  I can envision his loving arms wrapped around me.

What did I do over the years to get from there to here? I turned my life and will over to God (Step 3 of any 12-step program). I started doing healthy things, and making sure I took care of myself if I ever got Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. I trusted God would get me to where I needed to be.

Over the years, I worked hard at my chosen career, which came after this time. I was blessed by the work opportunities I had, and I moved quickly in my career. I worked on my relationships with family and friends. Today I am overwhelmed by the many, many friends I have. It takes work to be a friend, and I hope I am doing it well. I will never be perfect at any of this, but I give it my best.  My life turned 180 degrees. I have much compassion for those who are going through difficulties and struggles like I had. I know it’s not easy. But, I also know, at some point, like the prodigal son, a realization must come about to go back and make things right.

I write my blogs because it is part of my personal mission, which is:To let others know they are not alone in their challenges, they have value and worth and a voice. I want to be surrounded by those I love and enjoy the grace of their love to reach out and share it with others.”

You are not alone. There are folks around you who love you, and will be there for you. Most important, God has unconditional love for you. It doesn’t matter what you have done, he will forgive, and he will love and strengthen you. Reach out. If you need to find a 12-step group, go find one. If you need to find a place to worship, go find the place. If you need friends, become a friend—it is a two-way street. Ask God to help you. He will.

Jeremiah

When God Says No . . . .

This past Sunday, our pastor’s sermon was, “When God Doesn’t Answer Prayer.” It was really good, and I appreciated that it reminded me to reflect on times when I thought God wasn’t listening to me, didn’t answer my prayers, said no, or wait. I always worry about asking God for things that I need/want because that sounds so selfish. I know God is not a vending machine, or Santa Claus, and we give the list of want we want, and he delivers. He is also not the emergency room who we run to only when we are in trouble.

I really struggled with this a few years ago as I had many things in my life I wanted to see changed. One was a job. I knew it was time for me to move on. My boss had retired, and we had a great working relationship of respect. His replacement was one who was a difficult person to deal with, was passive aggressive, and made it pretty obvious that I was not his cup of tea. I needed to get out of there before he got me out of there. That was obvious to me the first day I reported directly to him.

00 Job huntI started my job search. I had over 20 years experience in my field, and a string of degrees and certifications. I knew my stuff. I prayed about finding the right job. Nothing seemed to be happening. One day I received a call from an out of town recruiter whom I shall call Marsha. I always received calls from recruiters, but usually they were wanting me to apply for a position at a company in Wisconsin. I don’t like cold weather, and Missouri is about as cold as I am willing to do! This time the recruiter had a position in Illinois, just across the river from the St. Louis area. I wasn’t excited about commuting that far and working in another state. How does one do their taxes living in one state and working in another? I know, that was jumping the gun, but those were silly things I thought about.  Actually, the drive wasn’t any further than if I had to drive across the city of St. Louis.  I had not applied for this position. The recruiter stated that she found me on LinkedIn, and I was the only person who had the background the company was seeking. She asked me to please meet with the Director of HR at a local Denny’s on a Saturday morning to talk about what he was looking to do at the company. Okay, I didn’t have to ask for a vacation day to talk to someone about a job that I didn’t think was for me, so I agreed to meet with him.

00 coffeeThe following Saturday, our planned 1/2 hour meeting ended up lasting an extra hour. We talked about the position, and our philosophies of Human Resources. Yes, there is a philosophy behind this field. To me, it is what makes the field so interesting. There are reasons behind every policy put in place in a company, and if those in management do not have an understanding of their philosophy or reason behind the policies, they will run into trouble executing these policies. Dave (names changed to protect the innocent and not so innocent) and I had a great discussion. He was wanting to leave his position in a year, and needed to find his replacement. He was not retirement age. I think he was in his early 50’s. He wanted to go back to his home state and start his own consulting business there. Dave and I hit it off—we were on the same page on so many issues. He asked me if I would please come to the company and interview with the Vice President of Human Resources, the Chief Operating Officer, and the Director of Continuous Improvement. Sure, this position sounded interesting enough to warrant a meeting with these folks.

Marsha, the recruiter was very excited that I had met with Dave for such a long time. She said he was very impressed with my experience and credentials. She would set up the next round of interviews at the company. This recruiter was very hands-on, and she was willing to share their thoughts with me. It was one of the recruiting adventures that felt just right.

A few weeks later I took a vacation day from work to drive to Illinois and interview with the three top executives at this company. It was to be approximately 3 hours. My first interview was with the Director of Continuous Improvement. You know how sometimes you meet someone and you just connect? Well, somehow before the interview even got started, and I have no idea how this happened because usually in an interview we do not discuss personal stuff, but along with way it came out that I was preparing to run my first ever 5k. What I didn’t realize, is that Bill was a runner. He stopped our discussion, and got up from the table, walked over to his desk, and sent something to print on his printer. He handed me information on how to properly warm up for a run so one doesn’t become injured, and he proceeded to give me tips about running. Then he said, “Okay, let’s do the interview.” Everything we discussed, and it was more of a discussion than an interview, of how to improve employee satisfaction and performance. That is when I discovered his role as “continuous improvement” was not the usual one of improving the product—his focus was on improving the workforce! We had a spirited discussion, that we both enjoyed. He moved me on to the Chief Operations Office (COO). We had a typical interview of his asking questions and me answering. The very last question he asked, which I thought was a brilliant question, “What should I know about you that is not on your resume?” I gave him an honest answer about what I thought he should know about me, and his eyes widened, and he smiled. Then he proceeded to tell me that was the whole focus of the management of this company. They were a holding company who purchased this company to restructure it to make is successful again, and my answer fit directly to their strategic plan. I was starting to feel really good. I was finished with him, and moved on to the Vice President of Human Resources. Once again, I was going through the typical interview process, and when I answered a question about how I envisioned one of the processes they were working on, he immediately stopped, got up, went to his desk, and came back with a piece of paper. He smiled and showed me that I had just described exactly what he had put on paper as a tool for accomplishing this task!

My instructions were to call Marsha when I completed interviewing to give her my feedback. When I called her, she was surprised that it was so late in the day. I explained I had just left the interviews which all went way past the time we expected. The next day she called me, and said, “I don’t know what you said or did, but they love you. Now we need to set you up with an interview with the plant manager. It may take some time to get that arranged.”

All of this seemed to be taking forever. There was a couple weeks between the first Denny’s interview and my the interview with the three execs. Now it was a couple more weeks, and the recruiter mailed to me a paper application to complete and bring when I came in for the interview with the plant manager. The big concern about this was they were a union operation, and they wanted to make sure I understood their processes with labor relations. What was interesting to me is that the union these employees belonged to was the same union my employees belonged to two companies before, and I had a good working relationship with the union officials. As I prepared for this interview, I completed the paper job application. I was rather surprised to see this was a paper application, and not online, as most large corporations got away from paper applications. It is a much safer method because it keeps recruiters from seeing all the information that may lead an unethical recruiter to discriminate. I knew the application was going directly to the Director of Human Resources, with whom I had met with twice and we had a great rapport. I was concerned about a couple things within this packet, and had I not felt as comfortable with these people with whom I interviewed, it might have posted red flags for me.

00 backgroundWhat were these? The first one is the form we state our information for companies that are required to complete Affirmative Action Plans. This is the form where you state your ethnic background. They have all met me, and I look like a white girl, and I am a white girl, so there would be no surprises there. The other form in the packet was the one a candidate completes to run an employment background check, which may include employment history, conviction records, etc. This form includes more personal information. By law, none of these background checks can be done until after an offer is made and accepted. My last company I sent this packet to them (later became an online form) where they had their name, birthdate, and even social security number. That is why this is done post-offer. There is no reason for a company to have this information before that. I knew though, that I was dealing with seasoned professionals, and we were already far into the interview process. I also knew from the recruiter, I was narrowed down as the only one who had the experience they were seeking, and that it was pretty much a formality unless the plant manager had any concerns about my ability to work with his union employees.

00 blast furnaceI came for what I thought was to be my final interview. I remember I was told to wear steel toe shoes, which I did not own. So they said for the interview it was okay to wear tennis shoes. There would be some areas of the plant I would not be able to see without the steel toe shoes. They told me not to dress fancy because this was a very dirty plant. When I arrived, the Director of Human Resources received my paperwork and chatted with me for a few minutes. He then walked me down to the plant manager’s office. The plant manager handed me a lab coat and a hard hat and the two of us proceeded to tour this very unique plant filled with blast furnaces. It was a fascinating tour, and we ended back in his office for the interview. I don’t remember all we discussed or what I told him, but I distinctly remember that when the interview was completed, and I was thanking him and shaking his hand, he said, “This is the best interview I have ever conducted with anyone.” To say the least, I felt good and confident that this was going to be my next place of employment.

I came back the Director of Human Resources office, and we spoke for a bit. He seemed rushed. I understood that—once again, this interview had gone way over time. I walked to my car floating on air. The company was not located in my idea of where I wanted to drive daily, but the people I met were great. We were on the same page when it came to my objectives and philosophy of Human Resources. I could envision myself working there and making an impact with building their workforce. The recruiter called me and said, once again, they loved me. She didn’t know for sure if there was anyone else whom I was to meet, but she would be getting back to me. That was on a Monday. I was walking on a cloud, never before had I felt so confident about how well I could fit into this corporation. In the meantime, Bill, the Director of Continuous Improvement was sending me emails with some of the great ideas he had about initiatives to be considered. He was really excited about the direction this company was going.

IMG_0146The following Friday was my off Friday. My company had a 9/80 work schedule. That meant we did our 80 hours of work in nine days instead of 10 days. That gave us every other Friday off allowing us to have three day weekends every other week. It was tax time. I took my paperwork to my accountant, and she said it would take a couple hours to complete the return. I was still preparing for my first 5k in April, so I found a local park to take a run. I had just completed a three mile run and was walking around the park and taking photos when my cell phone rang. I answered it and it was Marsha, the recruiter. She said that she just called because she wanted me to know that she would be calling me on Monday with good news, and she wanted me to have a really good weekend. Now I am on Cloud 9! I was going to get an offer for my dream job. I proceeded to call my four sons and told them that I would finally be leaving my current job and a boss who had no respect for me and no respect for the field of Human Resources. I had a great weekend!

I was ready to hear this offer, hoping it was somewhere close to what I had said I wanted. Remember, I didn’t really want to interview with this company because of its location, so when Marsha asked me on our first call about compensation, I gave her a number that would make me feel it was worth the drive and the extra tax work of living in one state and working in another. Monday went by and I did not receive a phone call. I understand in the world of Human Resources, things can unexpectedly happen, and all of a sudden, everything is pushed back on the calendar. I don’t panic over such things. Tuesday came and went, and still no phone call. Now I was getting a bit concerned and very curious. Finally Wednesday morning, I called Marsha to find out why I have not heard from her. She stated she was going to call me that morning, but then she said, “I don’t know how to say this, but Dave pulled the offer. I had the offer on my desk Friday afternoon when I called you and it was for a number you would have been thrilled about. I was told not to offer it yet, because it needed a couple more signatures to make it official. I have worked as Dave’s recruiter for fifteen years, and he has never pulled an offer like this before.” She continued to say that all the executives had signed it except for Dave. When he was talking with the Vice President of HR, he expressed that he had some uncomfortable feelings but couldn’t put his finger on it. She said he was told that if he didn’t feel comfortable, he had the final say. So, he pulled the offer. The recruiter was in shock because he gave no reason.

00 door openI was stunned. I really thought God was opening a great big door for me. Now it just slammed shut. I replied to her, “I think I know why. I gave him all the paperwork before I went to the last interview. When I came back to his office after that interview, he was in a rush to move me out, and as I thought about it, his responses about the job had changed. I thought it was odd, and in fact, I had mentioned one of the responses to the Marsha after the interview because it was so odd, and she assured me that I must have misunderstood him. I continued, “He looked at that paperwork for the background check, and he saw my birthdate. He is looking to find his replacement, and I am a good ten years older than Unknownhim. He doesn’t know what to do with this information. He is afraid I’m going to be a short termer and retire.” The biggest dilemma he now had, was that legally he could not ask any questions about my age. I hate that his hands were tied because I could have assured him that I planned to have a long tenure there, and that I would be there to get the job done. In fact, none of those execs are there any longer, and they accomplished their goal of rebuilding this company and selling it. But, he couldn’t ask. So all he could do is worry, and start a search for a younger person. She exclaimed, “Oh, no, I’m sure it’s not that!” I so clearly remember saying to her, “He’s human. He saw it, and he didn’t know what to do with it.”

Yeah, I could have fought, and filed for age discrimination, but that’s not in my blood. I wanted a bigger outlook—what was I to learn from this? Why wasn’t God giving me this opportunity? Why did he shut the door so abruptly? I wasn’t really as upset that I did not get this job as much as I was upset that I was still reporting to someone who did not like me. It took the wind out of my sails and I took a long break from job hunting.

rejectedSide note: One of the hardest things for people to do, one of the hardest things that can slam against your self esteem is job hunting. I know I was an excellent HR professional. I knew my stuff. I was great with employee and labor relations. I could solve people problems well. I was proactive. I loved new initiatives. I wasn’t afraid of change. Then we send our resumes and wait, and finally someone calls. We get all gussied up, walk in with our best foot forward, and then get rejected for the job. People used to tell me that they knew I would get the job I was interviewing for, and I would inform them that they didn’t call me in for an interview and three losers—they called in four of us who are of pretty much equal ability, and they need to figure who would fit their culture best. The shocking thing was when the recruiter said they pulled the offer, she then said I was the only candidate they interviewed because I fit everything they wanted. They eliminated the other candidates at the start!

I was bruised. I couldn’t imagine that there was any other reason I was rejected. Did God hear my prayers? Why could this have happened to such a nice girl as me? Once again, I looked at the verse of scripture that I had on my desk at home and at work, just pointing to me when I was sitting at it: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11. I truly believe that verse—God has plans for me, not to harm, but to give me hope and a future. But what were these plans?

I also trusted the scripture verse, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 4:6-7

What I do know is that my job ended the following year. It was coming, but I couldn’t stop the freight train. I wasn’t shocked, but I was shocked by the reasons, because the truth was stretched to make it look bad.  I know I did a good job at my work. I know that my boss would give me an assignment that was impossible to complete for him. Oh, I would complete it, and then he would say, that’s not how he wanted it. But he wouldn’t say that when I completed it. He would wait months and then tell me, when it was too late to change it to the way he wanted it. He loved giving vague instructions. I learned to ask him for further explanation or help, but he actually would tell me he didn’t have time to tell more. One time I did a Powerpoint presentation for the management team and our superiors at the headquarters. Six months later, my boss said I never gave him the report. I said I did and even presented it at our Senior Management Meeting, of which he said, “No, I wanted a 30 page written report. Everyone who works for me knows that.” No, not everyone who works for you knows that. You used to manage the engineering department—maybe they knew that, but my report was in the same format it was for my past boss, and bosses at my other companies. Wow! That was when I knew no matter what I did, I would not meet his standard, nor would he tell me in a timely manner for me to make it to his standard.

The same month I left my job, I met Dennis. Yes, Dennis, my husband. When I lost my job, I told Dennis that if he didn’t want to see me anymore, I would understand. We had only had a couple dates by this time. He asked my why I would say that. Dennis was a retired CEO, and I figured he would think I must have done something terrible to have my CEO boss let me go. He said that he knew many people who were bad bosses and this would not change his mind about me.

Today we talk about what would have happened if I got that job in Illinois. We both know that if that would have happened, I would have been devoted to that new job. I would have been working a ton of hours putting these new initiatives together. We also know that I would not have been on match.com had I had this job. I would not have met Dennis. I would not be retired and married to him.

When I asked God to help me leave my current job, I had in mind what he was going to give me a great new job, and do it soon.  I was thinking he was my vending machine—I would put in my request, and out would pop a new and wonderful job. But God did hear my prayer. He promised to give me hope a future. When I think about those verses in Philippians, God wants us not to be anxious. He doesn’t want us to worry. He wants us to ask him for what we need, but we are to ask with a thankful heart. I am thankful for all I have gotten in my life, good and bad.  Both have gotten me to where I am today. But the thing that God does promise if we ask with thanksgiving in our hearts is that he will give us peace that transcends understanding. I was filled with peace after that job interview experience, even though things did not work the direction I was asking. Even while job hunting, I was at peace that I would find the place to be. My relationship with Dennis grew, and we started talking about marriage. The only problem was that if I married Dennis, I would be moving 85 miles from my home. God knew where I was to be, and allowed the way to open.  Having any of those jobs would have made it more difficult to decide that my life was to move in this very different direction.

yes no waitThere are so many other instances of God answering my prayers, and not always the way I expected. He said “no” to the Illinois job, and “wait” because something much better is coming. If he answered those prayers the way I was hoping, would I be where I am today? God’s silence isn’t always silence. It is a “no” or a “wait.” It is no different than with children. We as parents know that our kids ask us for a lot of things. Sometimes, for reasons they don’t understand, we have to say no, and sometimes we need to tell them to be patient and wait because we have a better thing for them. God loves us like his children.  I believe God answers all prayers, the same way we answer our children’s requests. It can be yes, no, or wait. We see the bigger picture for our kids, and God knows the bigger picture for us.

00 puzzleBeing married to Dennis is a great adventure.  I never thought I would ever be married again, so even this marriage is a gift from God.  My life is richer than I have ever expected, not because of Dennis, but with Dennis. God knew that was the next step for me. I had no idea. Waiting sometimes is really hard. But if you ask God with thankfulness, he will give you peace that transcends understanding, and when you look back, you will see how all those puzzle pieces did fit together after all.

Jeremiah