A Servant’s Heart

There are people you meet and you instantly know they will forever impact your life.

Then there are people who impact your life before you ever meet them in person.

Mahboob Shah is a selfless, kind, and compassionate man who has dedicated his life to helping the poorest of the poor in his native Afghanistan. For the last 30+ years, he has assisted and served the many ex-pats (foreigners) who came to Afghanistan to help his people.

Shortly after the world turned its attention to Afghanistan because of the kidnapping of two young female missionaries, and the events of September 11, a friend of mine was drawn to the country to help the women and children and their families in this impoverished land. On her first visit to Kabul she and an associate were blessed to have a driver and interpreter by the name of Mahboob Shah.

Unlike the majority of the Afghan men she had been cautioned against, Mahboob was gentle, caring, and patient with these two women seeing his war-torn country for the first time. He took them around and showed them the devastation that decades of war had done to his country and his people. They talked for days about what needed to be done to help the people, particularly the women and children whose husbands were either dead or disabled.

One day he took the women to see Darulamon Palace, which had been heavily damaged by many bombings after bombings. My friend was afraid to go in because land mines may have been planted in there. But Mahboob went in first to check, and then came out and said, “Don’t worry about it. God is with me, and I am with you!”

That’s when my friend knew she had a lifelong friend, one who would not only be a close confidante, but our translator, driver, guard, and the right-hand of the Women of Hope Project.

For over ten years, until the project had to leave Afghanistan, Mahboob worked tirelessly every day along with my friend and the other ex-pats who came to help with the project, teaching hydroponic gardening (which he was taught first so he could teach the women), establishing a permanent community for refugees, founding a school for refugee children, and co-managing an embroidery project which enabled over 1,500 women to support their families. He would work 14-16 hour days, when necessary, never once complaining or asking for more money. For the first five years, he worked for no pay and would have continued to do so, had he not had a family to support, because he only wanted to help his people.

For years, I volunteered here in the States, behind the scenes, hearing so many stories about this remarkable man. Seven years ago I had the privilege and honor to meet Mahboob in person when I went to Afghanistan to see what our work had accomplished. From the moment I met him, I knew what kind of person he was, and why my friend had trusted him as her second in command for the Project. He became an instant friend and one I will never forget.

9727_152491273054_612413054_3598866_2915818_nA man of total integrity in a land where integrity was an unknown word, Mahboob worked faithfully with us for years. He was our driver, our fixer, and our protector. He facilitated our work, helped solve our problems, and kept us laughing and safe, often in very dangerous places and circumstances, at great risk to his own life.

Leaving him behind when the project had to close was difficult. We knew how difficult and dangerous his life would be, but Mahboob would never abandon his country or his family.

With the ex-pat community mostly gone from the country, jobs are now even more difficult to find. He has not been able to find regular employment, and struggles to support his father, sister, wife, and five small children. Life has been extremely hard, and finances have been stretched to the breaking point.

Mahboob has developed a severe case of diabetes, which is quite prevalent in Afghanistan because of the poor diet most families endure. He recently suffered a heart attack which led to fluid accumulating in his lungs and around his heart. He almost died, and has had to go to India for further treatment, as the Afghan healthcare system could do no more. He is now even more concerned, not only for his health, but that there is no one to provide for his family.

There is no subsidized healthcare in Afghanistan. There is no such thing as Social Security, Medicaid, or disability income. If you do not have the money, you do not eat, you do not receive healthcare, you do not have a place to live. This man, who has contributed so much to so many, has nothing to fall back on. Although his servant’s heart remains as strong as ever, his physical heart does not.

A GoFundMe page has been created to raise money for Mahboob’s medical expenses as well as help his family keep going until he recovers. He has no Idea this has been done for him. The link to the GoFundMe page is at the bottom of this blog.

Mahboob has given so much to so many. We wanted to share his story with you. Please feel free to share this story on your own blog, your own Facebook page or website. If you can help, we thank you for whatever you can do.

GoFundMe for Mahboob Shah

Rooms of Memories

Late at night when I can’t sleep I wander through rooms of memories in my mind. Rooms from special homes from long ago that are, sadly, only available now in my memories. And in my heart.

I’ve walked around my mother’s huge front porch that I loved so much so very many times in my mind, I could have worn a hole in its faded red concrete floor. In my dreams, sometimes my mom is even sitting out there with me, talking with me as clearly as if she were still alive.

I’ve been a little girl again, playing in my little-girl room in my mother’s house with its pink walls and white ruffled curtains, and that special handmade canopy doll bed with its pink dotted Swiss canopy and white satin bedspread sitting in front of the window. The other furniture is long gone, but that beautiful doll bed, the last piece of furniture my father made before he died, is sitting in our storage room waiting for me to make new bedclothes for it when our granddaughter is old enough to play with it.

I’ve journeyed through my mother’s attic many times in my mind, exploring and discovering things that most likely never existed, but yet I always longed to find, such as love letters between her and my dad, and diaries she’d written as a young teenager. I could see them, feel them in my hand, even open the pages and see the words written in familiar handwriting, but couldn’t make it out before the dream ended.

I’ve also had the pleasure of once again walking through my grandparents’ old home which I last walked through some fifty+ years ago, when I was only about ten or eleven.

I’ve walked around her kitchen, with its big wood stove that produced so many wonderful baked treats, and sat once again at her red Formica table with its matching chairs with the plastic covered seats, eating a slice of wood-oven toasted bread drenched with fresh cream butter…a delight we always had to have when we visited.

I’ve explored my grandmother’s attic again as well, carefully walking up those dark and very narrow steep stairs to find a treasure of old antique toys and Christmas ornaments, carefully packed away in boxes so old they almost fell apart when we brought them downstairs. I’ve gently placed my grandmother’s doll in her old doll stroller and pushed it around the attic floor, avoiding other boxes that were just waiting for my curious little girl self to open.

I’ve wandered into one of my favorite rooms at my grandmother’s house, her sun porch, with its brown wicker chairs and her old treadle sewing machine. It overlooked her little flower garden of sweet peas and “pinks”, small pink flowers more commonly known as dianthus. I’ve sat in those chairs and admired the view in the late afternoon sun.

But those rooms only exist now in my heart. My grandmother’s house was destroyed in a fire some 20+ years ago. I remember hearing about it from my mom and aunt right after it happened, and even though it had been sold probably some 25 years before, they still thought of it as the “home place.”

And I sold my mother’s house almost ten years ago, and not without buckets of tears. That was my “home place” and I still look at it with a special longing when we visit the area and drive by. It looks somewhat different around the yard, but the house still sits there and calls me by name, evoking memories and a nostalgia that it’s hard to put into words.

Our memories remember things that sometimes never really were. Or never really were exactly the same way as we remembered them. But the memories we keep in our heart are the ones most special to us.

Unfortunately sometimes we twist our memories to become things that never really were. Homes become bigger and more beautiful than they were. Lost relationships become far more perfect than they ever could have been. We forget the cracks and imperfections, making everything perfect in our minds. And if we get the chance to actually relive those memories, like walking through your childhood home now that someone else lives there, or meeting up with an old boyfriend or girlfriend you thought at the time you’d marry and spend your entire life with, you discover that your memories are far, far better than the reality of today.

Our memories of today’s events will become that way as well. We tend to remember things as we wanted them to be, and not as they really were. It’s sometimes easier that way.

Because sometimes in our memories, we can change the outcomes and rewrite the pages as we wish they’d been. We may not even recognize them as they actually occurred.

What memories do you have that you cherish? Write them down, and share them with others. One day, those precious memories may only be living on the pages of your journal.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Last night I was working on my final (hopefully!) edit before sending my manuscript to my publisher. And what portion of the story came to greet me as I turned the pages?? One of my favorite memories of one of the last birthdays we celebrated with my mother.

Very appropriate, since today would have been her 104th birthday! Which of course set my writer’s mind to thinking as I remembered other birthday celebrations with her, and how I so wished we could have just one more.

We always wish for “just one more” of those special times with our loved ones after they’re gone. It’s our own human nature, because we don’t want to let them go. There won’t be any more of those special celebrations here on earth, but in my heart I’ve been imagining what her birthday today might be like in her beautiful heavenly home.

No, it’s not scriptural, but knowing how much the Lord loves us, and how He only wants us to be happy with Him in our eternity, my dreams have imagined what my mother’s heavenly birthday may be like.

First of all, my mother didn’t like birthdays, at least not her own. She didn’t want to be reminded of her age. Sure, she enjoyed other people’s birthdays, but she never wanted to have any type of party or celebration for her own. But in heaven, that’s all changed now.

Her birthday is the anniversary of her arrival here on earth. Now that’s she back in her heavenly home, the aging process she disliked so much is no more. No more old age. Although we have no idea what our heavenly bodies will look like, we know they will be perfect, free of wrinkles and infirmities, restored to our own perfect beautiful self, just as the Lord sees us.

Engagement PictureI imagine her now as she appeared in her engagement photo, a beautiful young woman, full of happiness! Looking ahead to a wonderful life with the man she loved.

I imagine her waking up on this birthday morning in a beautiful room, full of flowers, butterflies and hummingbirds darting all around. There are heavenly birds joining in chorus with some of the angels, singing her a special birthday song meant only for her ears. I imagine her smiling happily at this special greeting!

My father is there, too, restored as a young man, who takes her hand and leads her to the special celebration that’s been planned in her honor.

There’s a beautiful table set out on her porch which overlooks a sea of flowers. Not only the roses my mother so loved much here on earth, but flowers we can’t imagine, grown only in heavenly gardens, their colors painted from heavenly rainbows by the Lord’s own hand. Their scent is amazing, and drifts by as a special heavenly perfume, created for her on her special day. A few of the deer she so enjoyed watching in her back yard wander aimlessly through the flowers, waiting for the right moment to wander up on the porch to visit with her.

The pets she’d had here on earth are there as well, little dogs playing with each other, barking happily as they see her walk in, ready to jump in her arms and wish her a happy birthday! I see her face light up as she greets each one by name and gives them a special hug and a heavenly dog treat which they scamper off with to enjoy.

Her family and friends are there as well; her own mom and dad, as well as her brothers and sister, some of her best friends from earth, all delighted to celebrate with her! Plus other relatives I never met, but know one day I’ll get to know.

There are other young adults there as well that I don’t recognize, but I know they are the children she miscarried, now spending eternity with their parents. My brothers and sisters that I won’t meet until that day in the future when I join them.

I see young children around her as well, hugging and kissing her, bringing her flowers and presents, and I hear them calling her “Grandmom.” Obviously, all the babies I miscarried, living in their heavenly home and being watched over by the grandmother who adores them and loves them just as much as she loved and adored the only child I was able to give birth to.

No birthday celebration would be complete without birthday cake and presents. And her cake is a heavenly three-tiered masterpiece, a concoction of sugary flowers and butterflies that no pastry chef here on earth could even begin to duplicate. I can only imagine the taste as it’s served on crystal plates, for all in attendance to enjoy.

And the presents…what kind of presents could you possibly get in heaven, since you already have everything you could ever want? So there aren’t that many, but the ones there are so special. Beautifully wrapped in iridescent paper, which changes color from time to time, and tied with the most intricate and amazing bows like nothing we could ever tie here on earth. The gifts slowly unwrap themselves as they’re placed in her hands, to reveal a few specially selected gifts designed just for her. Another jewel for her heavenly crown. More colorful embroidery thread for her needlework.

But the most precious gift is a photo frame, decorated with pink hearts and pearls, which contains a picture of her new great grandchild…her namesake Rachel. This is certainly not like an earthly photo frame, since it allows her to watch little Rachel as she grows up, through all of her stages of life. What more appropriate gift for her!

I’ve never seen my mother so happy. So beautiful. And so at peace with her life. But heaven is a place of total joy, total peace, and eternal joy. Of course she’s happy.

So Mom, Happy Birthday! I know you are enjoying an amazing celebration! And you deserve it!

I miss you, and I love you so much!

When the Rings Get Too Tight

Several weeks ago our daughter had complained that her engagement and wedding rings were so tight on her finger she couldn’t get them on any more. So she took them to her jeweler who re-sized them for her, and now they once again fit perfectly. You see, her hands had been swelling during her pregnancy, and when she finally delivered our granddaughter, her fingers never quite got back down to their pre-pregnancy size.

How simple…our rings get too tight, and we get them adjusted. We don’t take them off and discard them. We don’t say I won’t wear them any more because they hurt. We fix the problem so we can continue to wear them.

But what happens when those wedding rings start feeling too tight, and it’s NOT because of swollen fingers, but because of other reasons? Feeling trapped, unloved, and unappreciated. Feeling like so many mistakes have been made, that those rings just keep getting tighter and tighter until you have no choice but to do something about it, and either take them off and put them away, or have them re-fitted so you can keep wearing them.

While you may be tempted to just put them away and be done with them, along with the reasons you’ve been wearing them in the first place, that’s not the answer.

Remember when those rings were new? You’d just bought them, and both of you tried them on, excitedly anticipating the day you’d place them on each other’s fingers, never to be taken off again. You wondered what that would be like, and if it would be hard getting used to wearing them.

And now….they aren’t new anymore, and sometimes they feel heavy, tight, really uncomfortable. You’re so ready to take them off.

But it’s not about jewelry. It’s about your hearts. Which may need fixing a lot more than your rings.

Those rings are a perfect circle. Not just because that’s how they fit best on your finger. But that never-ending gold circle also symbolizes the never-ending love between husband and wife.

As your officiant said in the marriage ceremony as you prepared to exchange your rings: “These rings are an outward and visible sign of your love for one another, and the promises you just made to each other as a result of that love. They are a perfect circle, representing your love which, when given to one another, comes back around again and again; never ending. They are made of precious gold, which has been refined by fire, yet still shines brightly.”

You nervously slid them on each other’s fingers, which wasn’t as easy as you thought, and said to each other, “with this ring, I thee wed…and pledge my life and love to you for the rest of our lives.”

And you were married. Those rings fit so beautifully and comfortably that day.

So why don’t they now?

Maybe it’s not that your fingers have swollen. Maybe it’s because your heart isn’t where it needs to be, and it’s causing those rings to be uncomfortable. And taking them off isn’t the answer, is it? After all, it’s said that there’s a vein in your ring finger which runs directly to your heart, so of course if your heart isn’t feeling the way it should, your rings will be uncomfortable.

Marriage isn’t easy. If it were, there wouldn’t be as many broken homes as there are today. Marriage is a lifelong commitment that you must work on every day.

Were your dating days all easy, or were there days you decided you never wanted to see each other again? But those days didn’t last that long, and you always came back to each other and worked things out. That’s why you got married, because you knew no matter what, you were meant to be together.

It’s the same now that you’re married; only you can’t, or shouldn’t, just not see or talk to each other until your issues are resolved. This time there’s a lot more at stake, and just because those rings are uncomfortable doesn’t mean you take them off and hide them away.

It means you clean them up, and adjust them to fit again. By talking to each other and working out your disagreements; getting your hearts right again. And remembering why you married each other.

When you do that, the more comfortable those rings will become again, and the brighter they’ll shine. Remember, the rings themselves were refined in the fire, made stronger, as they were made. Just as your marriage becomes stronger as it endures through both the good as well as the bad times.

So take those rings, clean them up, and slip them on each other’s fingers again, and remember how you felt that day. Speak your promises to each other again. Remember why you made them.

And look at how those rings are starting to shine again!

Difficult Decisions

A few years ago the media had stories on top of stories about a young woman who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer for which there was no cure. She decided that rather than endure a debilitating and painful death, she would choose the “death with dignity” option and select the time of her own demise, before she was no longer able to make that decision herself.

britanny-maynardBrittany Maynard was married in 2012 to her sweetheart of five years. They had their entire lives ahead of them; to travel, to enjoy being a wife, and then eventually become a mother. But within a year, at the age of 28, Brittany was given a devastating diagnosis. The doctors painted a horrible picture of what she would go through as the disease progressed, including horrible headaches, frequent and severe seizures, eventually being unable to care for herself at all. Suddenly both of their lives changed. Together they made the difficult choice for Brittany to enjoy the activities she loved as long as she could; to travel and see the places of the world she’d always wanted to see. To participate in all the activities she loved and those she’d always dreamed of doing.

And then, when she was at the point to where she was going through so much pain, and daily seizures, she would end her life when she chose, surrounded by her family who loved her so very much.

She gained national and even international recognition because of her decision. Many people were very outspoken about her decision, criticizing her for “committing suicide” rather than fighting; for going against God’s commandments against murder by killing herself; for not having enough faith that God would heal her. Many others supported her decision, and still others cried out that this would eventually lead to laws forcing euthanasia for the elderly and terminally ill.

Brittany ended her life the way she had planned on November 1, 2014.

Betsy DavisA few weeks ago I read about another young woman, Betsy Davis, who had been diagnosed with ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is always fatal; there is no cure. Persons with this disease end up wheelchair-bound, eventually unable to do anything for themselves at all; their muscles atrophy and do not work any longer. Not only can they not do anything for themselves, they cannot move, or even blink their eyes; their lungs slowly stop working and they end up suffocating because they can no longer breathe. It is a horrible death.

Betsy had been a painter, a sculptor, and a performance artist. Towards the end she could do none of that, nor could she move on her own or even scratch an itch. She spent most of her last days in a portable bed, facing the possibility of choking to death when she tried to eat or even take a sip of water. So she decided to throw a two-day “rebirth” party for friends and family, sharing memories, dreams, food, and just having fun. She encouraged her friends to take whatever mementos, books, paintings, etc. from her home as remembrances of her; she asked her girl friends to try on clothes from her closet and take the ones they liked the best, enjoying a private fashion show just for them. And after two days of partying with her favorite pizzas and tamales, she drank a specially prepared “cocktail” and passed away peacefully some four hours later, surrounded by her loved ones. She was 41 years old.

I am sure there will be many other Brittanys and Betsys who will end up in similar situations and will make similar decisions.
But Brittany and Betsy were the only ones who could make that decision. We have no idea what they were going through. What pain they were in. They both knew exactly what they were facing; we do not. While I have total faith in the Lord to heal, and I have seen Him do miraculous healings, I can also say that were I in that situation, I have no idea what I would do. I haven’t walked in those shoes, and I do not ever want to.

This does not mean that my faith is not strong. It is. But I also know that the Lord elects to heal in His own way. There are times that He heals through doctors. There are times that He heals by His miraculous intervention. And there are other times that He does the ultimate healing, and calls that person Home to be with Him in Heaven. Scripture tells us in Hebrews 9:27 “…it is appointed unto men once to die.” Even though Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, Lazarus eventually died and passed into Heaven. We don’t understand how this all works. But one day we will. And on that day all of our questions will be answered, before they are even asked.

I do know that God loved Brittany and Betsy, just as He loves us all. He loved them before they made their decision, and He loved them after they made the decision. And I truly believe He was there to greet them and welcome them when they arrived at their final heavenly Home.

I cannot say these women did or did not make the right choice. They both made THEIR choice; the one that was right for them. From all I’ve read, their families and friends supported their decisions. As a mother, I do not know if I could support a decision like that if my daughter felt forced to make it. I doubt I could be that unselfish. While I wouldn’t want her to suffer, I also wouldn’t want to lose her and would fight for every chance until the last breath.

But that’s me. And I have not been in that place.

I have lost many friends and family members to terminal diseases, even though I prayed with strong and absolute faith, believing for their healing. And they were healed; just not in the way I wanted. But I do know my prayers were heard, and answered.

The Lord gives us free will to make our own decisions. While He may or may not agree with what we ultimately decide, He still gives us that right.

I pray for comfort and peace for the families of these women, and for other families facing similar situations. I do not judge either of them for their decision; that is not up to us. “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Why do I write this now? Actually, I began writing this at the time Brittany was making headlines. But I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, or publish it, until now. But at this time, I have several friends who are facing, and have been facing, severe and potentially life-threatening illnesses, not necessarily their own, but in their families. And I felt the time to post this was now.

I am not an advocate of assisted suicide; I am not an advocate of anyone taking their own life. However, there are circumstances in which hospice is necessary to assist our loved ones in their last stages of illness. How is that different to what Brittany and Betsy faced?

Life is precious. It is our most precious possession. We must value it. Be thankful for it. But we cannot judge others who are in terminally ill situations, in severe pain, and know that there will be only one end. Yes, the Lord heals us all. But sometimes the healing comes in the form of the ultimate healing and going to our heavenly home to be with Him.

What would you have done in their situation? Can you honestly answer that question?

I can’t. I pray I never have to.

The Bridge is Calling

My bags are packed and I’m ready to go. As ready as I can be. I know you want me to stay, but you always knew I couldn’t stay with you forever. So did I.

We’ve had a wonderful life together, you and me. And my kitty brothers and sisters. And those funny doggies who didn’t know whether to be afraid of me, or play with me. But it’s time. I’m tired and I’m in pain now, and that nasty tasting pain medicine doesn’t help all that much. And I’m having trouble breathing comfortably. It’s even hard to purr.

I’m going to miss purring for you. I’m going to miss cuddling with you. I’m going to miss trying to sneak outside when you’re not looking so I can explore the world. But now I’m going to have a huge back yard…and front yard…that I can explore with my friends. I’ll finally get to chase mice and bugs and roll around in the soft grass. And my back won’t hurt. And I can scratch my claws on anything I want!

You won’t have to worry about me getting lost, because I’ll always know where I am, and I’ll know when you’re coming to get me and take me with you to your new home. That’s a promise. And kitties don’t break promises.

I know you’re sad, and you’re crying, and I’m sad, too. But it’s ok. We both knew this day would come. And once I cross that Bridge, I’m going to be like a little kitten again! And I’m excited to be able to feel good again!

So please dry your tears quickly, and remember the fun we had together. We did, didn’t we?! But there will be more to come….it’ll just be awhile. And when we meet again I’ll be able to communicate with you and you’ll understand what I’m saying; we’ll have wonderful talks together. That’s just part of the wonder of the rainbow bridge. I can’t tell you any more about it now, but believe me it’s such a special place. God created it for all of us beloved pets because He wants us to be happy together again. That’s how much He loves you as well as me.

And don’t feel guilty when you get a new kitty that looks like me. It’s ok, because I’ve already put in a request for you, and you’ll love that new kitty just like you loved me. I know you had another one that looked like me before, and I’m sure Mischief will be waiting to greet me, so I can tell her all about what’s been going on with you since she left.

And now, let me go. It won’t hurt me. And then I won’t hurt any more. You will for a time, but you’ll understand.

It’s going to be ok….Meow!!!

Artwork by Stella Violano…Fine Art America

Meet Me at the Rainbow Bridge

You know, it was a little over ten years ago that we first met. I was a small little kitty. I’d left my mom, and my brothers and sisters, and I didn’t understand why. I missed my mom a lot. And I missed my siblings. We’d had so many good times, playing and sleeping and purring together. It was fun.

But then we were all separated. One by one we all said a quick good bye to each other, and had to go our separate ways. We didn’t know why. We didn’t understand, and there was no one there to explain it to us.

EXIF_JPEG_T422 And then you came along. You had been looking for a kitty just like me, and you’d been looking for a while. And as soon as you saw me, you ran over and picked me up and held me, stroking my fur and kissing me and telling me I was just purr-fect! And as nervous as I was, I couldn’t help purring back to you. It’s how we kitties communicate, you know.

And I knew. I knew you were the one I was meant to be with. You knew it, too!

And I went home with you. We had wonderful times together. I met my new kitty brothers and sister, and we became great friends! We had wonderful times together. Especially in the middle of the night when we’d chase each other up and down the steps and wake you and the rest of the house up late at night. But because we were so cute, you couldn’t be mad at us!

There were doggies there, too. I’d never really been around dogs before, so that took some getting used to…on both sides. I had to show them my claws several times before they realized who was the new boss in the house. But they learned, and we all eventually became good friends. I bet you didn’t know about all the times we got together and played tricks on you, throwing pillows around, and eating each other’s food, and watching those doggies chew the baseboards while we dug holes in the plants and tried to get in the fish tank and make friends (sort of) with those pretty fishes that were swimming around.

imageI cried with you when you lost those two doggies you had when I came to live with you. That was awful. But I have to tell you, before Lassie and Rocky left, they had the chance to tell me some things that I’ve never forgotten, and I feel like I need to share them with you now.

Because, well, you know why….

They both told me the story about the Rainbow Bridge. It’s a place that we animals go to when it’s time to leave the earth and meet up with all the other pets you humans have had over the years. It’s a special place. It’s a place where we’re not in pain any longer; where we can run and play like we used to do when we were kittens and puppies. Where we’re free to roam wherever we want; where we can eat whatever we want and it won’t make us sick; where our claws won’t need clipping, and we won’t need those baths we hate so much.

It’s a place where old and sick animals go, and we’re suddenly young and well again. There are fields of flowers and grass to play in. For us kitties, there are mice and butterflies and bugs to chase, and there’s catnip growing everywhere. For the doggies, there are balls and frisbees to chase and pools to swim in, and socks and bones to chew on. And all the dog treats they could ever want! For us kitties, there are soft warm beds to cuddle up in, and balls of yarn to bat around. There are spots of sunlight to chase, and all kinds of furniture to jump up on….we can go as high up as we want and play King of the Mountain. And we won’t get hurt when we jump down.

Christmas KittyDoesn’t it sound like the best of places? The bad part is, we have to leave you, our very special and very beloved owners, in order to go there. It means we’re both going to be sad, because we have to say good bye. And sometimes it’s a painful good bye. Neither of us wants to do it, but we know there’s not really a choice.

But the good part is, when we pets get to the Rainbow Bridge, and we cross over it, we’re not only young again, not sick and hurting any more, but we’re there waiting for you to come and get us.

Don’t worry, because we’ll have plenty of things to do while we’re waiting for you. It may be a lot of years before you come for us, but we won’t forget you. We’ll just be waiting there with our friends, playing and eating all kinds of wonderful treats. For us, the time will pass so quickly we won’t even know how long it’s been.

But we won’t forget you. Just like you won’t forget us. And on your way to Heaven, you’ll either stop by and get us, or we’ll be waiting for you in your special heavenly mansion. That’s not our decision to make, you know; only God plans that. But we WILL be with you again. Forever.

And now, I know you don’t want to hear this from me, but you have to. I’ve had the most wonderful life with you. It’s been everything I could ever hope for. You’re the best kitty mommy ever. But it’s time now for me to leave. You see, I’m in pain. My legs don’t work very well any more, and I can’t walk without hurting. And I’m not able to digest my food the way I used to anymore, and that’s making me feel worse. The pain meds you’re giving me help, but they can’t make me well. I really don’t want to leave you, and I’d be happy to keep lying beside you every night purring you to sleep, but it’s just not something I can keep doing. I’m tired, and I need to go where I can be pain free again.

imageI love you. I know there are people who say we animals don’t know what love is, but they’re wrong. We animals know love. Unconditional love. I would do anything for you. And now you have to do this for me. Let me go to the Rainbow Bridge. Let me go with my friends and wait for you. I promise we’ll be together again. And I’ll be ready to play and purr and cuddle, and I’ll even let you clip my claws without trying to bite you like I always did.

Until that time comes, please know I love you. And I always will.

Until we meet again……

Artwork by Stella Violano…Fine Art America

Remembering the Promises

It was a beautiful day. Picture perfect, as the saying goes. The sun was shining, the temperature was perfect. All your friends and family were there. Both sets of parents cried as you said your vows. And so did both of you.

You posed for pictures, toasted each other with champagne, cut the cake, and danced into the night. She tossed her bouquet, and he threw the garter. Then you left for a wonderful romantic honeymoon. You spent a week enjoying the perfect vacation, and you hated to leave. But reality called, and as much as you wanted to stay on that honeymoon forever, you had to return to real, every day life.

But you knew it would be great; it would be perfect. After all, you were finally married, and ready to officially start your forever life together.

But after a while, the newness wore off, didn’t it? The almost-magical, too good to be true feelings started to fade as bills came in the mail; the air conditioning gave up in the house; the car decided it needed a major repair; and you got really tired of cooking and eating dinner at home every night because you needed to stay on a budget.

But do you remember those vows you made? What you said to each other? Let’s take a look at them.

“I take you today to be my husband/wife…to have and to hold from this day forward…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death we part.”

And you meant those vows. With every inch and every part of your being. Sometimes you need to be reminded of what you promised. Especially that “for better, for worse” part! Because no matter how good things can be, there’s always something that comes along that upsets the way things should be.

That’s where the “for worse” part comes in. And it may seem to last a long time, but that’s only if you let it. When you work through that part together, it works itself back into the “for better”. And it actually becomes a lot better, because surviving the difficult times together make you stronger together.

No one ever said marriage was easy. Because it isn’t. Even the officiating pastor at the beginning of the ceremony usually reminds the couple, “Marriage is a binding and true commitment of two people vowing to love each other for a lifetime. It is a commitment not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly. But reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.”

They weren’t just words you said for the moment, you know. You promised, and promises are just that. They’re meant to be kept.

The wedding itself only exists now in the beautiful pictures displayed around your home, but the marriage…that keeps on going. It’s a work in progress, with highs and lows. For better or for worse.

It’s what the two of you make it. Together.

Don’t forget those promises made in love in the heat of a disagreement.

The heat of love is much hotter and far brighter.

Looking in the Mirror

One weekend a few months before my dad died, he and my mother attended a wedding of the daughter of one of their friends. It was a cold Saturday, and a rather dressy wedding, so my mom borrowed one of her sister-in-laws’ fur stoles to wear. Of course back then, kids didn’t go to weddings unless they were part of the wedding party, so I stayed behind at my aunt and uncle’s house.

But before they left for the wedding, it was photo time, and my mom and dad posed, all dressed up, in front of the living room fireplace. I actually remember standing beside my uncle giggling, as he took their picture, which is framed and proudly displayed in our family room.

Mom and Dad 2And if you look very closely, you’ll see a little girl reflected in the mirror at the top left corner of the photo, which was taken before the days of digital photography where we can do re-take after re-take until we get it just like we want. Today we would have edited that little girl out of the picture so we’d have it perfect!

But to me, it’s perfect just like it is. It’s one of the last photos taken of my mom and dad together, and my mom’s even smiling (something she rarely did when pictures were being taken). It’s even more special because I’m in it, too. And no one even knew until the pictures were developed.

Today we call it photo-bombing. I call it another precious memory that I wouldn’t trade for anything, because I have very few pictures with the three of us together. Even though this one wasn’t planned, it’s still perfect!

Sometimes in our striving for perfection, we overlook those unplanned special moments that will never come again. They’re memories that get erased because they don’t look perfect. They’re real-life. And real life sure isn’t perfect.

Do you sometimes look in the mirror and wonder who that is looking back at you? Wonder where the time has gone? Do you sometimes imagine you’re seeing a second reflection in that mirror…a reflection of your younger self in the background looking ahead to the person she’s now become? Do you think that younger you you’re seeing ever expected your life to be what it is now?

I’d love to know what that younger me in that picture used to think when she saw herself in a mirror. I don’t really remember, except that I didn’t like the way my mother made me wear my hair (those permanents we had back then were awful – and we all had them at one time or another), and I hated my teeth because they were ugly (oh, what wonders braces can do!). I wonder what she’d think now, seeing herself grown up, married, with a daughter and a granddaughter! What she’d think of my career choices, and more importantly, my life choices.

Or maybe you see a reflection of the person you’re becoming in the next several years…and you don’t like what you see. But if you don’t, there’s certainly time to do something about it; it’s never too late, you know.

But here’s something else to think about…not only about that younger you looking back at you in the mirror…but what about the other people looking at you? Do you see yourself as you think others see you? Or do you see yourself as you’d like to be, but don’t think you have a chance at being?

Your reflection in the mirror is no more perfect than an un-airbrushed or unedited photo. But it’s real. Just like all the photos in your phone and on your computer. As much as we’d like, the photos we take today, unless we take the time to edit them all, are still like the old ones we cherish from the past. Honest, and truthful – showing us how we really are.

As for me, I want my reflection to tell who I am, or should I say, who I hope I am. But my true reflection is who others see me as. And I’m not sure I’d always be happy knowing what that is.

I’m not that little girl making faces in the mirror any more. That was some almost fifty-eight years ago. And we aren’t those same people any more, but we are a grown up reflection of who we were.

So what is your reflection like today? I hope mine mirrors someone who is loving, compassionate, and a good wife, mother, and now grandmother.

Many more pictures will be taken over the next years, and posted for the world to see. I hope mine still reflect the wonder in that little girl’s face as she watched her mom and dad getting ready to go to that grand event. The little girl who had no idea what life had for her in the future.

And still doesn’t, because I still have many years ahead, I hope, to continue to make that future happen!

Weddings and Marriages

What comes to mind when you hear the word “wedding”? Most of us still think about brides in beautiful long white dresses, with gauzy veils, carrying a beautiful bouquet of flowers, surrounded by several close girlfriends as her bridesmaids, all dressed in identical pastel colors and smiling happily at their friend who’s ready to walk down the aisle in a flower-filled church or other romantic setting. We picture the groom, nervous in his rented tuxedo, surrounded by his friends in their rented tuxedos, anxiously waiting as the bride is escorted down the aisle by her father. Vows are exchanged and the two promise to love each other until “death do we part”. There’s an amazing tiered wedding cake the two of them cut, feed each other a piece (hopefully not smashing it into each others’ faces) and then leave on a magical honeymoon.

And then it’s happily ever after. Right?

Or does that exist only in storybooks and fairy tales?

What is “happily ever after” anyway? Is it what little girls read about in Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty where the handsome prince sweeps his lady love off her feet and they live together forever in total wedded bliss, with a perfect home, perfect kids, and no worries ever?

It sounds good, doesn’t it?

But marriage is a lot more than having a perfectly planned and coordinated wedding. Once the dresses are put away, the tuxes returned, the wedding cake eaten, and the honeymooners return from their trip, then the marriage really begins.

And as much as you love your spouse, you begin to realize that the marriage is a lot harder than the wedding ever was. Planning a wedding can certainly be stressful, because you want everything to go perfectly. (And there’s almost always a little glitch that almost no one except the wedding coordinator notices.) But no one ever stops to think about planning the marriage. That is, planning what happens after all the wedding festivities are over and the real life together begins.

In reality, marriage is a lot more difficult than planning or coordinating any wedding!

For a number of years I was very much involved in wedding planning and coordinating. It was a lot of fun, and each one was different, each couple had their own definite ideas about what their wedding should entail, and each one had little glitches that happened at the last minute that we had to handle. One couple had a heavy metal band playing the Wedding March, which raised many eyebrows among the guests. One bride was adamant about certain family members not being allowed at the reception. One bride tried to add a bridesmaid the day of the wedding. One wedding entailed three groomsmen being almost an hour late for the ceremony, setting our time schedule in turmoil. One wedding involved the bride’s shy 5 year old son walking her down the aisle, and having to have a backup plan in case the young man got scared at the last minute (he didn’t and happily walked his mom down the aisle!).

All of these weddings came off perfectly to the guests. No one knew what went on behind the scenes, except those of us involved in the coordination.

But during one of the planning sessions for one of the couples, I distinctly heard the words, “don’t be so concerned about the wedding; be concerned about the marriage”. And those words weren’t aimed at just that couple, because I heard them several other times planning several other weddings. And before you begin to think it was because the marriages were possibly destined for failure, that was not the case at all. In fact, for all of the weddings I coordinated during that time, all of the couples are still together, and their marriages, although not without ups and downs, are still going strong.

On the contrary, the Lord obviously told me that statement to remind me that marriage is a lifelong process. Although the actual wedding may take months to plan, the actual event lasts only a day. The marriage is supposed to last a lifetime.

Good advice, but as a wedding coordinator I’d never thought about it that way.

Most couples don’t either. They’re more concerned about everything being “perfect” for their big day. They don’t stop to think about what happens after the celebrations and parties are over; when reality…life…sets in.

The truth is…marriage is not always easy. It takes a lot of work. The honeymoon was great. Your life as a couple is all brand new and fun; there’s no worries, no hassles. You’re on vacation, and vacations are meant to be fun and relaxing.

But then you return, and suddenly, you realize you’re married! This is it! And when the first thing goes a bit wrong in your relationship you immediately wonder “Did I make a mistake? Isn’t it all supposed to be happily ever after? What’s wrong?”

Nothing is wrong. You’re just learning to live together as a married couple. And there are going to be hard times as well as good times. Fun times as well as angry times. You’re still two individuals with your own opinions and your own ideas, but now you have to mold those ideas into one plan, one life. And both of you have to learn to adjust to each other. That doesn’t happen overnight; it takes years. My husband and I have been married almost 32 years, and we’re still learning. It’s a lifetime of learning.

All marriages start out with the idea of how perfect we are for each other; how much in love we are; and how great our life is going to be. But as daily life sets in, we can lose that perspective. Because a good marriage is hard work, and our human nature doesn’t always want to deal with the difficult.

Does every marriage have a happy ending? Unfortunately not. For many reasons. I can say this because my first two marriages didn’t last. They were weddings, but the marriage part, well, I won’t go into the reasons. But I can also add that my husband Ben and I have been married for almost 32 years. Has it always been easy? No. Of course not.

But if you love your spouse, isn’t it worth it to make that extra effort? Everything that’s worth having, worth keeping, is worth that extra effort it takes to keep your marriage as happy as you were the day of your wedding. Sometimes even happier!

After all, a wedding only lasts for a day; a marriage should last a lifetime.

When Families Feud

It’s not a game like on TV. Not by any stretch of the imagination. And certainly no one would want to watch it.

Because when families feud in real life, there’s no prizes; nobody wins anything. Because everyone is too busy making other family members choose who to believe in an often senseless argument, taking sides, spreading rumors and often lies about this person or that, and causing unnecessary strife and dissension.

All because someone, or several someones, think they’re right and everyone else is wrong. And they set out to prove it to the rest of the world.

And by the time it’s all said and done, no one can even remember what started it. Or when. Or why. But they sure remember WHO started it…not them. Someone else. The funny thing is, there are usually at least two or three people saying two or three other people started whatever it was.

Sadly, everyone is usually too busy accusing others than to bother to try to end the feud. Because it’s more important to be right. And to be right at any cost. It doesn’t matter who gets hurt; or how many innocent bystanders are dragged into a family situation that should be kept private, and be resolved privately.

It doesn’t matter that family members become estranged, and remain that way for years, even decades, and sometimes only a family tragedy will get everyone back together again. At least for a time.

Usually there’s no one specific reason the feud started. It usually starts with a seemingly innocuous comment that someone takes the wrong way, and before you know it, it’s a forest fire raging out of control. And putting it out requires a lot more time, energy, and manpower than most families are willing to give.

Family feuds have been going on for centuries. They’re nothing new. Sometimes people are killed because of them. Wars have even started and resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, because of family strife.

I think it’s time to look at each of our families and see if there’s a feud brewing. And stop it before it starts.

If there is a feud going on, whether you think you started it, or someone else did, do your part to end it. Cutting family members out of your life does nothing but destroy the family itself, and in the end, when it’s no longer a possibility to ever make things right again, you’ll regret it.

I know a number of families going through this very thing right now. No families are perfect. But this message is for everyone who reads it. There are no accusations, and no taking sides. There’s no right or wrong. It’s just time for families to band together and love each other the way families are intended to do.

Before it’s too late.

Before You Say I Do

He had it all planned. He’d already bought the ring. He’d asked her father. Now all he had to do was put his plan into action; make all the arrangements; and then get down on one knee and say those words. Ask THE question. And hold his breath until she answered. He knew she’d say yes, at least he thought he was sure she would.

And her…well, she was just waiting. They’d looked at a few perfect engagement rings, so she knew it was on his mind, and they’d talked about it a lot, but she just didn’t know when he’d be ready to finally officially ask her. And she knew that’s what she wanted. She just didn’t know for sure if he was ready.

Young love. It’s always a great story. How you met, when you started dating, when you really thought you knew he/she was “the one”. You’d talk about your future together for hours at a time. And you wondered…what would marriage be like? What would it be like to be together all the time?

So he finally found the perfect time to ask. Maybe it was at the place where you’d had your first date. Maybe your favorite restaurant with the waiter bringing the ring out nestled in whipped cream on an ice cream sundae. Maybe during a walk along the beach in the moonlight, or at an ice skating rink with “your song” playing in the background. But you really were surprised. You’d really had no idea. And of course you said YES!!!

And so then the excitement began. Setting the date. Planning the engagement party, selecting bridesmaids and groomsmen, dresses, flowers, cake, food, bridal showers, planning a honeymoon. It was a whirlwind.

Plus deciding where you’d live, picking out furniture, dishes, linens, signing up for the bridal registry and adding things you’ll probably never use!

So much to do. It was so easy to get caught up in all of the plans and details, that at times you wondered if it was all worth it.

Yes, you really did wonder that at times.

Because there’s a lot more to plan for than the wedding details.

There’s a life together to plan as well. And that’s the hardest part. Because wedding planners don’t help you with that part. That you have to do yourselves.

And no amount of planning can ever prepare you for what marriage is actually like. Each one is different, because each person is different; each personality is different. Each of you has set ideas about what marriage will be like. And you’d better discuss them together before you say “I do!” Because discussing them afterwards and finding out your ideas are different is not the right time.

Too often couples neglect the most important part of the planning process: pre marriage counseling with a pastor or other professional who knows the questions to ask, as well what the answers to those questions should be. And if your answers are totally different, the counselor can help you figure out compromises before those differences cause major problems later on. There’s nothing wrong with having pre-marriage counseling. It’s a necessary step in the wedding

Because a wedding lasts less than a day. The marriage that follows should last a lifetime. Are you ready for that lifetime together, because it’s not all wedding cake and flowers.

Each married day brings a new challenge to a husband and wife. Some are tiny, and some are big. Some start out tiny and become huge before you know it. And before you know it, in the shadow of your favorite wedding photo, you’re sitting in the same room not speaking to each other because you’re so angry.

Yes, it happens. And it happens to every couple. You’re not alone. Marriage is a process and a daily work in progress. Not all days will be picture perfect. Not all weeks will be easy. There will be disagreements, arguments, disappointments, and accusations.

It’s how you handle them. Together. It’s not always blaming him or her, but looking at the part each of you played in causing the problem. And then sitting down and talking it over. And solving your problems together.

So…are you sure you’re ready to do this?

The wedding will be much easier compared to the actual marriage. But when you really love each other, it’s all worth it. No one said it would be easy.

But the rewards of a happy marriage far outweigh all the rough parts along the way.