Do I think too much? I often wonder if I make life harder than it should be. Do I engage my brain instead of listening to my heart and spirit? Do I simply exist instead of living life fully? Am I letting stereotypical expectations of what I should be and how I should act stop me from being true to myself?

There are a number of pithy little sayings floating about in the ether of the internet or self help books that I could apply to my feelings to create a feel good factor, but how many of them really make any difference in the long run?

I guess we all need to stop and do an internal check to make sure we are staying on the right course. Allowing ourselves to buy into the popular ala carte culture of self analysis is the easy way out of negative feelings. However, if we don’t delve a bit deeper than surface feelings, we are wasting time. None of the quick fixes out there will last beyond the next critical meltdown in our lives.

Oh, I don’t mean we need to run out and spend thousands of dollars sitting in some analysts office talking about how rotten our childhood was and how our relationship with our mother was horrific. If that makes you feel better, go for it, but I am talking about is taking the time to get to know what we really want in life and why we aren’t doing something about it. I am talking about taking the time to really learn what we feel about our lives, and to know our spiritual beliefs and needs are fulfilled.

As I age, I have less patience for people who constantly look for reasons to be unhappy and unfulfilled. I want to throw my hands up and shout, “For heaven’s sake, get off your duff and out of your pity puddle and DO something about your problems.” Inaction is no excuse for failure to thrive. We can always play the unending blame game rather than change what needs to be changed in our lives so we can flourish. It takes courage and determination to actually take steps to transform our lives. If you don’t like what you live, then alter, amend, modify, convert, exchange, or replace the things about your life you don’t like with things that you want or dream of doing. As long as you are inactive or a non-participant in your personal growth and dreams, you will never achieve happiness. Learning to be proactive in all areas of your life will give you the ability to attain all that you desire.

I recently had a conversation with my husband about how fast life has gone by. It seems that just yesterday I was a mother of two young boys, and now I am the mother of grown men and a grandmother. The years just whizzed by without my noticing; it was shocking for me in a number of ways. He pointed out that if I broke down the years, I would be amazed at all I had done, almost without noticing. He was right, and I really had no reason to be feeling sorry for myself. I had accomplished a great deal in my life, and in doing so, became the person I am today. Bumps, warts, and all, life experience has helped to make me who I am, along with all the spiritual moments that strengthened me.

We can’t go back and redo the past. It is over, to paraphrase a song by Brooks and Dunn, “[Life] is like the Mississippi, when she’s gone she’s gone.” It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking “if only” we had done things differently or made a different decision our lives would be better, and we would feel happier. Nonsense, what is, is and cannot be changed just because we wish it so. We live with what we have earned through our life experiences. I can’t make any difference in my life if I spend all my time thinking ‘if only’ about the past. What I can do is move on from this instant, right now. I can mend relationships, ask for forgiveness, and try to make restitution for the hurts I have caused, but I cannot take back what I have done and relive the past. Despite what all the science fiction stories tell us, time travel is still just a fantasy.

We could waste time beating ourselves up over our mistakes, after all, misery loves to propagate and the best way to do that is to use our guilt or frustration as fertilizer. All we will end up with is a patch of weedy discontent. If, however, we have the courage to pull all those weeds of discontent and replace them with the ability to bloom in a garden of possibilities, we can enjoy our lives.

At one point, I was a young mother, and you know, those days were so full of things to do, teaching moments, and work, I didn’t know how fast the years were going. I didn’t have time to sit around and feel sorry for myself back then. I had two little boys who were busy and growing, and I needed to be there to support that growth emotionally, educationally, and physically. I was the home room mother, Cub Scout Leader, and Sunday School Teacher. I squelched through mud and muck finding ‘treasures’ for their nature project, stood knee deep in a pond teaching them how to fish, stayed up late helping them learn to saw, nail, and glue together Cub Scout Derby cars, and had more than one battle over math homework. It was what moms did without question or thought; it was simply part of the job.

As they grew, I taught them how drive a car, work hard on a job, hygiene, and dating manners. I struggled with them through their final exams and yelled about homework more than once, and I was still there for them when they came home after curfew and ended up grounded. I learned to let go and let them make their own mistakes, and to make them be responsible for cleaning up the mess they had made with those mistakes. And, I had more time to think, and to do things for myself. I was so lost I finally went back to school to have something to do when my nest was empty. And, I started the downward spiral into feeling sorry for myself because I was no longer needed so much.

I wasted a lot of time feeling sorry for myself, until I had an epiphany one day. I realized that no one was going to feel sorry for me but me. Sympathy was not forthcoming from anyone, and not one single person was willing to join me in my pity puddle. I sat in it so long I was getting pruney and soggy. No amount of whining or moaning made any difference, except encourage people to move further away from me as fast as they could without making a scene. So, without a real plan, I just stood up and walked away from that pity puddle and began to find a way to overcome self pity and my patch of weedy discontent.

The how isn’t all that important, because it will be different for each of us. What is important is that we take the step to over come what ever it is that is keeping us from being joyful and content in our lives. Not every day will we be able to overcome the discontent in life; we have too many issues in our lives for that to happen, but with practice and dedicated attempts, each of us can have joy and contentment more often than not. For me, the most important step I made was to consciously decide that I was going to be a feisty old lady someday, and to do that I needed to practice being spirited and determined. I had to stop allowing my inner fear of making a fool of myself stop me from trying new things and learning new ways of doing old things. I had to learn to speak up and state my mind. And, I had to learn to be willing to be wrong now and then.

The second most important thing I had to do was find something to be passionate about. My passion was teaching and through that writing. For someone else that passion could become politics, women’s issues, health food, diet and exercise, learning to sing, or learning to paint. The choices are endless. What ever it is that you choose, make sure it is something to which you want to dedicate your time and energy. And, if you find it wasn’t your cup of tea after all, then admit it and move on to something else. I started out thinking I would love to teach high school, something I quickly learned was not for me, so I switched mid-stream and decided to teach at a university level. That passion I had for teaching finally manifested itself in tutoring women who were learning to speak, read, and write English as a second language while we lived abroad. My point is, without something in our lives that we can be passionate about, we have no direction for our energy. We cannot be joyfully engaged in life if we don’t have something to be joyful about.

So that leads me back to my original question, do I think too much? Am I searching for a quick fix, or am I really engaged in life to the fullest? Am I still waiting to be rescued, or am I really out there making choices and mistakes as I give every adventure a chance to enhance my life? Life has changed for me in the past few years as my health has become an issue. I don’t teach any longer, and now I need a new passion. I guess its back to practicing to be a feisty old lady, after all, someone needs to help set a good example for the next generation of up and coming feisty old ladies. Why not me? I guess I had better go and explore my garden of possibilities.

Cinema Passion

Some people go to the movies because they are bored. Some people go because the kids are driving them crazy and it is too hot to send them outside, or they refuse to go outside. Some people, especially teenagers, go to hang out with friends and to see the hottest, new movie. Not that they actually watch the movie with all the socialization going on between them. Some people go to the cinema out of habit, and some because it is a particular genre they enjoy. There are some people who actually go just to be entertained. There is, however, a breed of cinema goers who are in a class all their own.

These are the people who have a true passion for movies. Some of them are passionate about certain actors, making it their business to know all the statistics about each and every one in every movie they see. They can recite chapter and verse about all their favorite actor’s parts and quote, line for line, the dialogue from their favorite scenes. They are fanatic about every detail of the character, and will argue endlessly about what scene in what movie was the best scene for the actor they adore.

Another group passionate about the movies is the technical fanatics. They love to go to the movies and pick apart the special effects, point out the obvious continuity flaws, pour over the scenes and pick out tiny mistakes on the set, or, in some cases, huge flaws. In this group is the sub groups of Sci/Fi technical fanatics who have read every book in a series, like Lord of the Rings, and love to note what scenes have been left out, combined, or changed beyond all recognition. They are passionate about the story, but also the way in which technology was used to create the movie. They will sit and watch the credits to the bitter end to see who did what in the movie.

There are people who are passionate about the whole movie experience, regardless of the genre or the technology. These are people, of which I am one, who have grown up in the cinema all their lives. Going to the movies is as much a part of who we are as anything else in our lives. Some of us can quote favorite lines from movies, know every word to every song from the musicals of our youth, and have favorite actors, but aren’t fanatic about them. Children of the cinema love the ambiance of a large screen, dark auditorium, and the expectation of the movie bursting on to the screen with sound and color. We are the people who get annoyed at the whisperers, bag rattlers, ice crunchers, and crying kids because it ruins the show for us.

The children of the cinema have certain rituals that must be observed. Buying the ticket, the popcorn, the soda, and sometimes candy are an important part of the process. We can hardly wait for the previews of coming attractions so we can plan for future cinema experiences. We wait with excitement for a new movie to come out so we can find ourselves involved in a new story that will make us laugh, cry, jump in fear, or feel romantic. The cinema is an escape, a place where we can leave our worries of real life behind and live in a fantasy world for a few hours. Knowing, however, that soon we will be back to dealing with life as usual.

Even leaving the theatre is something of a ritual. Waiting for the final credits to roll, the last note of music to fade, we gather our detritus, and depart as the lights come up in the room, are all part of the encounter. Children of the cinema blink in the bright lights of the lobby as we make our way out into the real world, already dissecting the movie, and comparing it to others that we have seen as we plan the next sojourn into the magic that is our passion.

Serendipitous Day

This was written just before Easter in 2003 when we lived in Karori, New Zealand, a suburb of Wellington.

Today was one of those days when the normal turns serendipitous without notice. I got up and decided today would be a good day to walk into Wellington to get the things I needed for Crystal’s Easter Basket. It is about an hour’s walk if I don’t get in a big hurry. When I got to the Botanical Gardens, about half way there, I sat down on a bench to rest for a minute. I don’t usually do that, but today I simply felt a need to sit down.

As I was sitting there, an elderly man came along at a good pace. As he passed me, he said good morning, and I responded the same. He stopped and asked me if I was from America. We began to chat about where he had visited in the US and general information that two strangers usually exchange. He sat down and that is where things shifted to serendipity.

We began by talking about the beauty of the gardens, then that shifted to gardening in general, and before I knew it, we were talking about the magical wonders of creation. One topic led to another and we wandered through comparative religion, the occult, historical fact versus fiction or oral misinterpretation of the Holy Bible. Then we went back to the topic of astrology and the modern day fascination people seem to have with things like earth worship and the odd factions of fanatics who can ruin an entire religious concept by being over zealous and pushy. We talked about the differences and similarities between many religions and we discussed our own spiritual paths.

During the discussions things came up that we used to illustrate our personal growth. I may have lost my son to a murderer, but John lost his wife to one, and the killer was his own son. Oh, the horror of that! John said that was when he began to search for a spiritual balance and meaning in his life. Because he loves his wife so much, he knew that she could not be dead. We talked about the spiritual visits some people have and how powerful dreams can be in our lives. We discussed how people have to find the right path for themselves and the first step is to begin searching.

During our talk, we found out that his friend’s daughter is in my granddaughter’s class at school, and they play together a lot. We found out that we know some of the same people involved in different things that we do, and he said he had a lot of respect for the Mormons because of all they did to help people find their roots with our genealogy programs.

But the best part of the talk was when we were discussing what different religions believe. We agreed it came down to several concrete things that seem to be innate to the human spirit.

1. Less is more. The less we have of material things, the more we learn to depend on God for help.

2. To accept others who believe differently means we must have an honestly open mind.

3. In all religions, it all boils down to this: If we give, we get much more in return. One must learn to give of self to gain spiritual enlightenment or growth. In all religions, that one precept seems to come through more than anything else. In sacrifice we learn humility and compassion.

We had a spirited discussion on the impact the Old Testament has on the New Testament and Christian patterns of belief. Then we had a discussion about my beliefs and how I came to that through the experiences of my life. We talked about how neither of us believes in coincidence. We called it-planned coincidence, because everything happens for a reason. I never sit on a bench when I walk into Wellington. He usually doesn’t cut through the gardens on his way either. Usually he doesn’t do more than say good morning, and I rarely talk to strange men other than to respond to a greeting. I guess we were meant to meet. He called it fate.

It was a wonderful, serendipitous morning that required me to think, laugh, talk about things that I often ponder, and share my inner most feeling about God. As we parted ways, he shook my hand and said that he hoped one day he would have the spiritual strength and balance that I possess. What a great compliment to get from someone I’ve only known a few hours.

I don’t know that we will ever meet again, but today was meant to be and I feel wonderful. My brain got a workout, my spirit got a boost, and I laughed a great deal. John is 72 years old, fit, agile in mind and body, and he is finding his spiritual maturity a very interesting path indeed. I am so glad I got to be a part of his journey.

Life As I Know It

KJ Combs

There are a lot of things you must have to shop with a 13 year old girl. They are: a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of patience, and a lot of willingness to bite your tongue on a regular basis.

School starts in a few weeks. It is time to revamp and recharge my daughter’s wardrobe from top to bottom. It doesn’t matter that it has only been two months since school let out for the summer and I just bought her the clothes she had to have to look cool, cute, or awesome for the end of the year. They are déclassé now because something else is in and she just can’t be out of step, or, if she is like my daughter, she doesn’t want to look like anyone else.

So, off we go, both girded for battle to the local shops. She wants to go to the newest IN place. It is, to my mind, filled with overpriced tiny scraps of fabric that leave my daughter looking like a cross between a low rent hooker and an extra in a low budget vampire movie. Besides, I refuse to pay that much for a pair of jeans that look like they have never been washed after being run over by a Mac truck. And she can just forget the ugly trousers covered with chains, weird metal bits that have no discernable use and cost nearly as much as a new car. She refuses to go to the local discount place because she will not, according to her, dress like a homeless person. The lines are drawn, the budget is set, and the limits of compromise are clearly defined.
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Going Home

He stood in the rain, looking with longing at the door.  He knew they would welcome him home, all he had to do was knock, the door would open, and he would be invited in. As the night closed in around him, he watched in quiet despair as each window began to glow with a warm, golden light. The urge to cross the street and walk into the house was so strong he actually took a step before remembering he had left that security of his own volition.

When he was a rebellious and angry youth, he walked away from the love and sanctuary the house represented. He felt stifled and misunderstood. He hated the rules, the consequences, and the smothering love of the people who were in that house. He wanted freedom, a chance to explore the world on his own terms, and he didn’t need anyone protecting him while he did it. He was, after all, autonomous and independent. Despite the pleading of those who professed to love him, he pushed everyone away when he finally broke free and moved on.

He found, as days and, eventually, years went by, that the world wasn’t as wonderful as he thought. Trying all the things he had been warned against, at first, was a thrill. But, it was a thrill with a price and the more he paid, the less thrilling each forbidden act became. In time, he became jaded and lost in the haze of addiction and desperation as he tried to find purpose and value in the life he led.

Loneliness plagued his life. Friends came and went, not one of them willing to make the effort required to be a true friend. It was always good until the next thrill came along, then the friends drifted away like smoke in the wind. Empty days followed by vaguely remembered nights were his standard, eventually evolving into an unending desire for something of value.

One afternoon, he got on the familiar bus that took him by the house. The unintentional act brought back the memory of security and love that he experienced in his younger days. So, there he stood in the dark, pouring rain, staring with yearning at the house of his youth. The door opened and closed as people arrived. Laughter drifted out, and people could be seen in the windows talking together. The desire to be part of that grew with each breath he took. But the shame within him for the way he lived his life created a barrier he couldn’t over come.

As he turned to go back to the bus stop, a man touched his arm and asked if he needed help. He said that he had made a mistake and was leaving. The man recognized him, offered a hand in friendship and asked how he was doing. His heart suddenly broke, and he told the man what had happened in his life, and how he was lost, and unworthy of the love of those in the house before them. The man listened attentively as he slowly drew him across the street and to the door of the house.

He stopped, suddenly confused. He glanced at the man’s face, seeing both a welcoming smile and tears in the man’s eyes. He took a step back, intending to turn away to the bus stop and his lonely life. The man’s caught his arm, turned him toward the warmth and light of the door, and said, “There is the doorway, no one can make you enter, but only you can take the steps to go inside. It is your choice.”

He stood in a pool of light, glanced back into the darkness and rain, and realized it had been his choice all along. He took a step. He was going home.

****Our oldest son was one who wandered his own path.  At the age of 21, with a one year old baby at home, he was murdered.  Thankfully, he came home after several years of wandering the year he turned 19.  In the process of becoming a father, he turned his life around.  We deeply miss him every day.  Karron****

Why We Need Friends


By KJ Combs

When I was a child, I was a loner by choice. That behavior stuck with me through most of my life. I prefer to stand back and observe humanity more than I desire to engage with others. Perhaps it is an innate shyness, or perhaps I am simply uneasy becoming deeply involved in the lives of others. Either way, I am still, in many ways, a loner.

Over the years, however, I have developed deep and abiding friendships with other women. I tend to not like women, simply because of the manipulative games they play, and I don’t have a great deal of patience with histrionics and emotional drama. But now and then, when everything falls into place, or, despite myself, I become friends with someone extraordinary. In time, that person becomes entrenched into my life and in my heart. The unique characteristics they exhibit begin to impact me, and how I think and feel. They set examples for me to follow, and they encourage me to be more than I think I am.

I am often surprised that I have friends, as I am rather blunt and forthright and fight emotional overload with practicality and sarcasm that tends to be either salty or cutting. In some strange way, that seems to endear me to those who decide I am worth having as a friend. Why they need me is a mystery to me, but why I need them is crystal clear to me.
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