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Confessions of a Snow Shoveling Nazi

This blog is a little nostalgic because my days of snow shoveling have come to an end. (Which may become a cause of celebration for my family.)

Confession: I am a snow shoveling Nazi who insists on a spotlessly shoveled driveway and walks. What made me that way?

During the terrible winters of 1977 and 1978, I was in middle school and had a paper route. My route was one on foot, and I appreciated those who shoveled their walks so much that I resolved to have well shoveled walks the rest of my life. For those who have to make deliveries in the snow, those shoveled walks give them respite. We live in an urban neighborhood that still has sidewalks – though more people seem to saunter down the middle of the street than use a real sidewalk.

So I embraced the perfectly shoveled walk with the zeal of Martha Stewart and grace of Clark Griswold. My children have grown up with the obsessively snow-shoveling mama who was adept at the fine art and science of a well-cleaned walk. The only winters I didn’t shovel were when I was pregnant and one year post op after surgery.

When I shoveled snow, I felt like Momzilla Versus the Snow Mound. And I always won at the end of the movie.

Until now. What makes a driveway well shoveled?

  1. Shovel early and often. If you shovel snow throughout a storm, there is less to shovel at one time. It can be easier to manage when it’s not in huge drifts. There have been times in my life I’ve been known to shovel at midnight, at 3 a.m., and again at 5 a.m. Part of it was to not only make the shoveling easier but also to make sure we always had the cleanest walks shoveled first in the neighborhood.
  2. A good shovel is worth its weight. I pushed snow more than I threw it. This reduced the effort but worked effectively.
  3. Shovel to the ground. Don’t leave a little at the base. Get it to the sidewwalk or concrete. If you do this, your walks will also melt faster as soon as the temperature gets close to 32 degrees.
  4. Shovel the walk, the whole walk, and nothing but the walk. When you shovel your walk, if you make the effort to do the whole walk instead of a shovel wide path, you decrease the likelihood of drifting.
  5. Clear cars completely. Make sure not only cars are cleared but the paths to get to them are as well. What’s the point in shoveling a driveway if people have to climb over snow to get into the car?
  6. Dress warmly and stay dry. Nuff said – let common sense prevail. Layers are a very good thing.
  7. Two can shovel faster than one. As soon as my kids could walk, they had toddler sized shovels to “help.” Granted, their early help was more play than work – but it built a habit I hope continues.
  8. Finish with hot chocolate. Make sure you have marshmallows too.
When the walks were done well, birds would flock into puddles as they desperately sought water. The funniest part for me is watching our cat; he likes to venture in the snow but prefers to walk only on the shoveled walks and driveway so he doesn’t get his paws snowy.

So now I’m recovering from a heart attack and have been told there is no longer a snow shovel in my future. Under 50, and I’m already a has been shoveler.

With this storm, my kids shoveled for me. I gritted my teeth and said nothing as they chose to sleep in. No shoveling before dawn. But they did go out and do it. They shoveled the whole walk and did a good job. Perhaps something that I taught them will steak.

Part of me suspects a snow blower may one day be in my future. When I told a friend of mine this, he commented if I bought one it might now snow for 10 years. To which I observed that it would then be an excellent preventative investment.

What I will miss most of my snow shoveling was savoring the silence of a snowstorm, as the flakes muffled sound and for a few moments, I felt like the world was at my footsteps, waiting for me to rush at it with my shovel.

 

 

Singing Turn to Me

Church music done well cuts through the distracting stuff and brings our souls closer to God.

Tonight, as we sang “Turn to Me,” I had one of those moments when we are called by name, after which nothing is the same.

Turn to me, oh, turn and be saved,’ says the Lord, ‘for I am God.’
‘There is no other, none beside Me. I call your name.’

As we sang, I flashed to my heart attack two weeks ago, when I lay on the operating table about to have an emergency cath, which begins in an artery in the leg. When I flinched, I was told,

“If you move your leg like that again you could die. Stay still.”

For the next hour, as the cardiologist worked, I stayed still. From my experiences with PUBS 16 years earlier, I knew how not to flinch during a surgical procedure.

Tonight’s hymn continued, and my attention returned to the song:

‘I am He that comforts you. Who are you to be afraid?’
‘Flesh that fades is made like the grass of the field, soon to wither.’

Then I flashed back to the operating room. Something wasn’t going well. Someone told me to cough. After I did, the tension decreased. “Why did you want me to cough?” I asked them. They told me my heart rate had slowed, but after the coughing it was doing ok. During my later recovery, I learned that my heart rate had slowed to 20.

I continued thinking while singing – on that operating room table, I didn’t know if I would ever sing in church again. What if this were my last Sunday on earth and the last time I would ever have a chance to sing to the Lord in worship?

So I began to sing with gusto…savoring today’s song and giving every note I could sing my heart and soul. I was called by name to sing tonight – not as a cantor, not as a leader, but as the quiet lady sitting in the pew who was neither standing nor kneeling but sitting, to preserve energy during my recovery.

And the song concluded,

Lift up your eyes to the heavens,  and look at the earth down below.
The heavens will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment.

If we open our eyes, every single day, we are each called to sing a song, where we are, with everything we have at that moment. Make the most of that moment and the others that follow.

One More Day

One thing my heart attack taught me is that I am not invincible. “I am not having chest pains because I don’t have time for them” doesn’t wish them away. No matter how important the things I want to get accomplished are, I cannot ignore my human frailties.

Now, each morning when I wake, my first thought is a prayer – “Thank you God for one more day.”

That changes my perspective completely. If today is our last day – and I don’t believe in any silly Mayan prediction – what will we do with this day to make it count and make the most of it? How will we harness our thoughts and our words, what we do, and what we fail to do?

What are really the most important things we need to do today? Focus on those and think of everything else as gravy.

Seek out and seize joy wherever you find it. And share it with whomever your life touches today.

If we’re lucky, then tomorrow, we can again say, “One more day.”

Love’s the Perspective that Matters

Talking to my kids on a cell phone for moments before they took me for a cath, immediately following my heart attack, has changed my perspective. Things that mattered to me don’t.

Even if someone close to you does something that is stupid and out of line, is it worth getting angry about? Can it be fixed? Is there permanent damage? If you had a deathbed conversation with this person, the last you would ever have, would you talk about it?

If no one was hurt, it can be fixed easily, and you wouldn’t bring it up in a deathbed conversation, maybe it’s just time to let it go. If injustice was done, ask God to fix it.

The sooner you let it go, the sooner it no longer has power over you. And then you can enjoy the here, the now, and the gift of today’s joys.

If something terrible happens, where we see evil that happens in our world, it can also be a reminder to us to show our love for those with whom we are close.

Faith, hope, and love — the greatest of these is love.

The 7 Days of an Angry Irish Prayer

Yes, I have an Irish temper, which is most profound when roused in defense of those I love.

When that happens, I have the most interesting chats with God, all attuned to my wanting to fix the problem now and be the instrument of divine vengeance against the oppressor. A timeline of my prayers as I wrestle….

Day 1: God, I can’t frickin’ believe it! How could you let something like this happen? Please restrain me before I march myself over there and say exactly what I think and give that jerk a punch in the gut.

Day 2: God, I trust in your divine judging and timing. My only request is that you let the true colors of that no good such and so show themselves and that good people get protected from the likes of him. I’m still ready, willing, and able to be the instrument of your justice. Give me a sign, and I’ll go stop it. I’m thinking to the tune of peanut butter jelly time – “Mary Biever justice time, Mary Biever justice time. Mary Biever justice and a baseball bat.”

Day 3: Thank you Lord for restraining my Irish temper. I no longer want to punch him in the boxing ring, but I can use my words instead. Written words. I’ve written a first draft of just what to say and send. Let me know if it’s ok.

Day 4: Are you there, God? It’s me, Mary. The one who told you about that problem and the bully who needs to be stopped and the innocent victim who needs to be protected. What time frame are you on? I’m waiting….

Day 5: Lord, this is wearing on me. Show me the path you want me to take. How do you want me to handle it? The bully’s still at it. Is it time now?

Day 6: God, this whole problem is horribly frustrating. Can you show me some way – any way – that a situation like this can be used for good purpose? I just don’t see it.

Day 7: God. What? Are you talking to me? What is that? You say you’re going to handle this your way? I gave it to you, and now I need to give it to you? And I need to remove this problem from my head and think about the people I’m supposed to care for – as in my family? Are you sure? Well, if you say so….

And with that answer, I resolved to let go of the problem and trust that God will handle it better than I ever could.

As each hour passed, I felt as though the weight of this terrible problem was gradually being taken from my shoulders. For the first time in a week, I could breathe.

So I guess you could say – on the 7th day, I rested.

 

For the Guys Who Get the Glasses

Tonight in church, the pianist started to play before the service began. That’s when I saw the unseen action few will ever know.

Her husband quietly walked up behind her and set her reading glasses beside her. She had apparently left without having them, and he went back to the car to get them for her.

She put them on, and I doubt 2 other people noticed the exchange.

The first reason I noticed is  because of my own relationship with my reading glasses because I’m determined that I’m too young for bifocals. Sometimes I forget them, and things become a struggle.

The second is a hat tip salute to all the guys who get the glasses and behind the scenes people who make things work seamlessly. We often praise the performer, the person who is front center stage. But we may forget the person who build the stage, who cleans the stage, and who manages the money so the organization stays afloat. Their roles are all vital.

And I know how many times my own bacon has been saved by my husband. He’s found my reading glasses, found my keys, and help me find my way home when I’ve been hopelessly lost.

So the next time you go somewhere, look for the guys who get the glasses, who prepare the programs, and who do the thousands of behind the scenes things we all enjoy but sometimes forget to appreciate. And thank them.

When Rudolph Quit Playing the Reindeer Games

Another version of Rudolph’s story.

When Rudolph was little, he wasn’t very good at the other reindeer games. Dasher was the star, the leader. He took poor Rudolph in and told him, “You don’t have what it takes, but do what I say, and I’ll take care of you.”

So for a long time, Rudolph stumbled through the games, following Dasher’s lead. He was grateful to Dasher and would do whatever Dasher needed.

Even as he tried, Rudolph continued to fail at the games, and his well-being on the reindeer playground was utterly dependent on Dasher’s benevolence. The other reindeer laughed at Rudolph but tolerated him because of Dasher’s protection.

One day, Rudolph got tired of playing reindeer games. They  bored him, he had never liked them, and he wanted to do something different.

So he didn’t go out to play. Dasher went to him, “Why aren’t you there? You need to get out there. Do you realize how much trouble it is for me to keep you in the game and how much harder it will be when you’re late?”

Rudolph told him, “I quit.”

Dasher pranced angrily. “I didn’t tell you to do that.”

Rudolph continued on his path to do something different.

Then Dasher raced to him and patted him on the head saying, “I understand sometimes we make foolish mistakes. This is yours. If you turn back right now, I’ll forgive you and we’ll make everything well again. I want to help you succeed.”

Rudolph continued walking away.

Dasher bounded in front of him, trying to get Rudolph back into the game.

Rudolph went his own way.

Once Rudolph was on his own, he began to play games with his red nose – how to make it light, how to direct the light, and how to play his own games with it. He taught himself to fly with his red nose flashing.

All was well, and Rudolph was on his own.

One foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came and asked him to lead the reindeer.

When Rudolph went into Santa’s stable, Dasher went to him and told him, “All is forgiven. Rely  on me, and I’ll show you the ropes.”

Rudolph told him, “Thanks. But I’m fine on my own.”

When the sleigh ride began, Rudolph lit his nose, his way. All the games he had played had perfected the skills he needed to save that Christmas.

The question is – if you’re the one with a red nose that’s different from all the other reindeer, what are you doing to nurture your talents?

Your singular talent could be just the one that will one day be needed to save everyone else. It’s the talent you were born to share.

Beyond the Tough Thanksgiving

As I sat in Mass this morning, I reflected on our blessings this year and remembered when times were tougher….

Eleven years ago, we sat together at Mass on Thanksgiving morning, grateful that our burned out home had been rebuilt and we had just moved back into our home. We had only had a refrigerator since that Monday, and we were celebrating our own personal homecoming. Times were still tough; not only our home, but our family business had been hit by the fire.

Then I thought back to a Sunday months before that 2001 Thanksgiving. Our home and business had burned the night before. We knelt that Sunday in the same Church we were in this morning, wearing borrowed clothes, walking in borrowed shoes, unsure of where we would spend the night or how we would provide for our young children.

What do you do when you lose everything, and where do you go?

You slowly rebuild. With hard work, the help of good friends, and the faith of a mustard seed, it is possible to rebuild and start anew. Our faith carried us when we had nothing else upon which to rely. Those young children are now nearly grown. One is in college. The other now stands taller than his father.

On the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving, they too gave thanks after their surviving terrible challenges. (Granted, our challenges were nothing compared to theirs.)

Every Thanksgiving morning since our fire, we’ve gone to Mass and I think back and thank God for giving us one. more. year. So long as I am able, we will be there each Thanksgiving morning. Giving thanks is a great way to begin a day of Thanksgiving.

None of us knows what the coming year will bring. It will have its own joys, sorrows, and challenges. Whatever it brings, I know we will not be alone. As Corrie ten Boom once wrote, there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.

And for that, I am most thankful.

Grocery Cart Giving

Grocery cartsA few years ago, when Aldi’s opened in Evansville, I was having a very bad day one day. As I drove into their parking lot, I prayed for God to send me a sign – any kind of sign – that things would be okay.

Then I went to get my shopping cart. In an effort to curb costs, Aldi’s shoppers pay a quarter for a grocery cart. After they finish shopping and load their groceries into their car, they return the cart to get back their quarters. The carts are kept in shelter, don’t crowd the parking lot, and save the store money in labor and replacement.

That day, a lady handed me a cart she had just used and refused to take my quarter. “Pay it forward,” she told me.

She made my day and filled me with hope.

Since that day, I’ve resolved to pay it forward whenever I shop at Aldi’s.

It seems other people have had the same idea. Yesterday, when I walked into Aldi’s, I saw four different people pay it forward. A lady gave me my cart. Everyone who shared a cart had a special glow – that glow of giving something to a complete stranger. What struck me the most was this was the Saturday before Thanksgiving. That’s a grocery shopping nightmare day of packed aisles, long checkout lanes, and more.

Yes, I paid it forward.

An interesting take-away from this is that with something as trivial as returning a grocery cart, Aldi’s raised the bar in a simple way – if you don’t put your cart back, you lose a quarter. It uses a carrot, not a stick. Their parking lot never has extra carts in it.

They reminded people of that kindergarten lesson: put things back where you found them. An unintended consequence of their raising the bar for customer behavior, I think, is that it has reminded every-day shoppers to take care of themselves and the things they use. And that has inspired many people to reach a little higher – to help strangers.

This year, I am thankful for the continued generosity of the shoppers I saw yesterday morning.

Something as simple as sharing a grocery cart and saving a stranger a quarter can change your day and the stranger’s.

A Modern Mom’s Pilgrim Progress

 

When everyone started posting their daily thankful lists, I felt guilty because I was too busy to participate.

Why is it that the unexpected always happens during weeks when my schedule’s so tight the overlapped seams have no wiggle room?

Yesterday, as I dashed out the door to teach a corporate Excel class on a college campus a 30 minute drive from my home, I accidentally grabbed my husband’s phone instead of my own – and didn’t realize it until I got to the college. Fine – I was teaching for the afternoon and had no time to text.

After the class ended (and it was after dark), a battery light lit on my dashboard. When I looked in the manual, it said it could be the alternator. Great. I talked to Richard and decided to chance driving home – we’ve dealt with dying alternators before. My concern was getting home in the dark, when I had to use headlights. I had a choice of driving through town with stoplights or along country highways, and I opted for the highways with fewer stops.

Halfway down that lone stretch of highway, the check engine light came on. I was out of state, in the middle of nowhere, and even though the lights were on, the car seemed to be driving okay. It only started getting tough when I got in town, in the land of stop lights.

There were a few popping noises, but they stopped, and the car ran fine so long as I didn’t stop; at each red light, I kept one foot on the gas and one on the brake, praying my way home. At times, I put Richard on speaker phone and talked to him about updates and where I was.

Normally, had I had my own phone, I would have spent the entire trip home phoning a friend. But their numbers were all on speed dial, on my phone. In Indiana. So I prayed and drove and rejoiced when I arrived in Evansville and saw an Auto Zone on Covert. It was closer than where I planned to go.

When I pulled in, they agreed to check it. The car died, and they had to jump it to test it; the alternator was going out. They couldn’t install one and I quickly called the Pep Boys to see if they could install a replacement. Pep Boys was 5 miles away, an 11 minute drive. I hoped to avoid a tow charge and could tell the car was struggling harder. I thought it was going to die again when I put it into reverse to leave the store.

Richard pulled up, and I yelled at him where we were going and zoomed out of the parking lot.

When I drive, I seek ways to get places the quickest way possible and have been known to grab side roads to shave seconds off my destination time. Last night, that experience prepared me for finding a  fast way to the store, in the dark, avoiding as many stop signs and stop lights as possible.

As I started and the engine sputtered, I didn’t know if the car would get the entire way there. Richard was driving behind me.

What to do? It wasn’t easy to phone a friend, so I decided to pray one. I have pretty colorful chats with Jesus on a regular basis.

Then I remembered that we give thanks in all circumstances. Next week is Thanksgiving. So as I drove, I began thanking God for the many blessings – even that the car hadn’t broken down the weekend before when we were in two different cities on three different days. It waited until after my class so I could earn money.

The car’s sputtering continued. My prayers often turn into song, so I began “Amazing Grace.” Even singing the verses I knew, there were more miles to go before we got to Pep Boys. So I went to old hymns, with Alleluias galore.

I wasn’t exactly sure where the Pep Boys was and stumbled a little when I got close.  So I asked my guardian angel to show me the way – I had no idea which roads to turn onto and couldn’t afford to make a mistake.

By the grace of God, the car made it to Pep Boys.

It turns out the problem was a little more complicated than just an alternator.

But in this circumstance, I can give thanks that it kept going to the garage, kept going while I was driving in the dark on lonely out-of-state highways, and it happened at a time when we could get it fixed.

Even though I didn’t do the daily thankful posts, I can still appreciate God’s work in my life and thank him for showing me how to make lemonade when the occasional lemon gets thrown in my path.

 

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