The Full Moon

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For the last few nights and early mornings, the moon has been especially beautiful- round, full and bright. For me a full moon conjures up many different images:

  • Being at school as our kids excitedly moved through the hallways, as we (the teachers) passed each other shaking our heads murmuring “Must be a full moon!”
  • Sitting on the porch at the beach looking out over the ocean, watching the moon rise, big and beautiful- never being able to quite fully capture its’ beauty with my camera.
  • Watching the sunrise on a cold February morning as my college buddies and I sit huddled together waiting for the sunrise, as the moon slowly fades from our vision.

However, what I ALWAYS think about when I see a full moon is the night my daddy died. As I walked out early yesterday morning to take Freddie for a walk, the moon was gorgeous. As I stopped to stare at the wonder of God’s beauty, images of the night Daddy died flooded my mind. Today, February 15th, would have been his 78th  birthday. He passed away in 2006 after complications from prostate cancer. The Hospice nurses told us his death would be soon. My mom, my sister, my brother and I thought about whether we wanted to be there when he slipped from this world into the next. My sister and my mom knew they wanted to be there and my brother knew that was something he could not handle. However; I was the one unsure of whether I could handle being there or not.  Afraid to be there when it happened; yet afraid I would regret not being there. Thankfully, the decision was made for me. I was in the hall when my mom yelled for me to come into the room.  I rushed to Daddy’s bedside as Daddy died peacefully, surrounded by my mom, my sister and me. God knew this was where I needed to be and I have always felt so thankful I was there at that time.

As we walked out of the hospital on that chilly March night, I looked up in the sky and saw the most beautiful full moon. A feeling of peace came over me. Seeing this moon made me realize that things would be all right- now daddy was free of pain and living in God’s eternal kingdom.

I think of daddy daily and so often wish I could tell him many things. There are so many things that immediately bring thoughts of him to my mind: eagles, lighthouses, Lake Lure, Carolina Beach, birds, dolphins, Furman University and of course the full moon. As I have been working with and writing about my work with people who are faced with food and housing insecurity, so many people have said, “Your daddy would be so proud of you!” That is the greatest praise I could hear. I choose to believe that God does let our loved ones know of the good things we do, things that would bring them delight.

Among my prayers today: God, please pass along to my dad, “Daddy, thank you for instilling in me a love for helping others. Happy Heavenly Birthday. I love you! “

 

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The Black Trash Bag

“Can I trouble you for a black trash bag,” the kind gentleman asked me at the end of lunch at Pullen Round Table. I replied not at all and went into the pantry and started going through our bag of plastic bags looking for a black trash bag. Since he was standing there holding a sleeping bag, I assumed he needed it for his sleeping bag. Since I could not find a black bag, I came out with a large clear trash bag saying “How about this one?” He chuckled good naturedly and said, “Nah- that won’t work, but thanks for checking.” One of the other volunteers whispered to me, “he needs something dark to cover himself with.”  To say I was horrified was an understatement. He was asking me for a black trash bag so he could cover himself up like trash so no one would see him as he slept huddled up next to a building. I have not been able to get this image out of my head all week!

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I have been volunteering at Pullen Round Table since October of 2016. I have grown in so many ways since my 1st day there when I just served them food. I have learned so much about poverty; food and housing instability, and homelessness in general. I find myself thinking about ways we can help the homeless in our city. I talk about Pullen Round Table all the time. I ask for donations and bring in toiletries, plastic grocery bags, extra food, etc. that I feel will help my friends at Pullen. I enjoy serving them lunch and spending time talking to them. I have researched agencies where many can get help. I have even spent hours at an agency with a guest, only to be told we would need to wait another three hours or come back on Monday. I have listened to those more experienced in working with this population to learn how best to help them- to give them a hand up- not a hand-out. As mentioned in a previous blog, I have even trampled through the woods moving a couple from one camp site to another.

However, I can honestly say this one statement and event probably hit me harder than anything I have experienced yet in my “Pullen Career.” I sadly picture this distinguished looking man, who has not been around in a while, huddled against a building covered in a black trash bag, praying someone won’t see him and report him for trespassing. Is that how we see our fellow-man- as garbage along the side of a building? Something we can just step over as we go about our own plans for the day or night?

If you came to Pullen Round Table, it would take you awhile to even realize that the majority of the people in there were facing housing and/or food instability. “They” look just like you and me, though some may have all their belongings in a rolling suitcase or a reusable shopping bag sitting beside them at the table. They spend the hour at Round Table enjoying a meal and good company with friends. You hear laughter and lots of conversation. It is an hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays that many ride an hour or two on buses to get there for or even walk several miles to attend. That is how special this time is for them.

Although I don’t have to ride the bus or walk miles to get to Pullen each week, I can honestly say that Tuesdays and Thursday are my favorite days. I cannot wait to get to Pullen; to help set up for the meal; to help serve and then spend time talking to my friends there. It always seems that I make a new friend each week!

…and today- I will bring in a roll of black trash bags in case anyone asks for one!

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You are leading me where, God?

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Since the beginning of this school year, as much as I have wanted to steer my own course – God has definitely been steering me in the direction HE wants me to go. For several years a close friend of mine and I have longed to start a non-profit that would combine literacy and food. Instead my friend and mentor Sue suggested I c0ntact Maggie Kane- Executive Director of A Place At The Table (APATT), a relatively new non- profit related to food and community. After some research, I realized volunteering with APATT was a good starting point for me. I loved the concept and quickly became very involved. (Dragging chief dishwasher husband Tony along with me!) We both love volunteering with APATT and promote APATT wherever we go.

As I volunteered with APATT, I took advantage of the opportunities to attend events with their Community Advisory Board (CAB) to help become familiar with other resources in the Raleigh area related to food insecurity and homelessness. One such agency we visited was  The Round Table at Pullen Memorial Church. That day, with other APATT CAB Members, we served lunch to the guests who attended Round Table (Full disclosure here- in typical “Beth Fashion” I volunteered to “serve at Pullen’s Round Table” without even asking what I was volunteering to do.) I ASSUMED I would be serving lunch to a group of people participating in a roundtable discussion. I had no idea I would be serving lunch to the homeless, but thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Later, I contacted Brian, Pullen’s Community Ministry Coordinator, to ask if I could volunteer weekly. As I talked to him, he described Round Table as a place where the guests could come, not only for food and bus tickets, but as a community where the guests could find someone to listen to them; look them in their eyes, and make them feel welcome. I was quickly hooked! Without a doubt, I get more from being there than the guests do. The experience is that powerful for me!  I have made new friends and have connected with many of the guests. I even recruited my friend Dianne, another retired teacher, to join me. Serving at Roundtable is the highlight of my week. I love being there that much!

One afternoon after attending a meeting, I was talking to some women from Oak City Outreach who were planning to help move a homeless couple from a campsite. I realized the people were two people I had really connected with at Round Table and before I knew it, the words, “Can I come and help?” popped out of my mouth! If you had told me last year, I would have been traipsing in the woods, dressed in relatively nice clothes on a cold, rainy night helping move people from a homeless campsite, I would have assured you that you were CRAZY! That was NOT ME! I volunteer in many ways- but THAT would not be one of them. However, I can honestly say this experience was the most rewarding and humbling experience I have had in my “volunteer career.”  When I got out of the car, my friend from the Round Table excitably hugged me saying “What are you doing here?”  She only knew me from Round Table where we talked and I served her lunch. As we walked up the hill to the campsite, she seemed nervous as she warned me that “it was a mess up there.” As I tried to pick up things, she would say “Put that down- you should have gloves on- there may be spiders in that.” As I carried something down the hill, she asked if it was too heavy for me to carry. Despite what little she had, she was concerned for me. I was so touched by that. Tears came to my eyes as I saw the pride radiating from her face as she showed us how they had set up their new “housing.” Oh, if only all of us could be as thankful for the small things in life. That experience opened my eyes and enabled me to better understand what homelessness looks like.

What a journey the end of 2016 has been for me! I cannot wait to see where 2017 leads me.

So in words reminiscent of a favorite book of my youth, Are you There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume-

Hello God- It’s me Beth- Where are you leading me next?

 I CAN’T WAIT!  

“In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”
-Mother Teresa

Don’t Postpone Joy!

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Saturday, December 3rd was the birthday of two of my former roommates from Furman. We lived in The Shack by the beautiful Furman lake and were affectionately known as The Shack Girls (a name we still cherish and refer to ourselves as to this day.)

Shack Girl Kathy Smith Beal turned 56 on Saturday and was celebrating with her family in Virginia. Shack Girl Nancy McWhorter Steele passed away during the summer of 2015 and would have been 55.

Since learning of Nancy’s death last year, I have struggled with so many emotions and have had difficulty dealing with her death. I have felt guilty because, as people often do, we lost touch with each other through the years. During my family’s Thanksgiving vacation in Florida, I spent an afternoon with Perry, Nancy’s husband and Kathy, one of Nancy’s childhood friends. The day was filled with laughter, tears, and many stories of times with Nancy. After that day, I believed I could FINALLY write about my dear friend. I planned (I love a plan!) to write about her on her birthday. I started writing and the words were flowing, something that hadn’t happened for me in a while; which is why I haven’t posted on this blog lately. However, as I was writing this post, I received some sad news about another close friend. In typical Beth fashion, anxiety kicked in and I became consumed with thoughts of this friend and my writing for the day was over. So, more to come about our beloved Nancy!

Not long ago- another Shack Girl roomie Nancy Altman called and said she had seen a bumper sticker that made her think of me. It said “DON”T POSTPONE JOY!” This has become my new mantra. I know in the past, I have been very guilty of putting off doing the fun things because I had to (or thought I had to!) clean the house, wash that load of clothes, make that new sight word game, work longer, etc. By remembering to say in my head ““DON”T POSTPONE JOY!” I am now doing more things than I have ever done before. My life is beginning to become more balanced and I am becoming less anxious and more relaxed. This mantra has even more meaning now as I think of how I had not seen my sweet friend Nancy in so many years. We never know what the next day holds for us- so remember  “Don’t Postpone Joy!”

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                                            Happy Heavenly Birthday to you Nance!

 

(The above bumper sticker can be purchased at http://www.peaceproject.com)

You SHOULD……

A benefit to not working full time is that I can take advantage of going with my husband Tony as he travels to train people for GE Healthcare. So far, he has not gone anywhere I have been too excited about going. However- I jumped at the chance to join him in Ft. Lauderdale!

The 1st night we were there we ate dinner with Mary Lou who would be presenting with him. She lives in the area. She named all of these wonderful places I SHOULD go see the following day while they were working. She even kindly offered to drive Tony so I would have a car to drive to all of these wonderful things I SHOULD do and see while here.

I did not want to admit to her that not only do I not like driving in unfamiliar places; I really am not a very adventurous person when I am on my own. So, I listened to all of the wonderful places I SHOULD go. They did sound great! Maybe I SHOULD! I even picked up pamphlets from a stand showing all of the exciting things this area had to offer.

 

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Looking through the pamphlets, I was quickly able to throw away a number of them. Was I REALLY going to take a helicopter ride over South Florida? I don’t think so! Or go to the waterpark and slide down the big water slides and ride the waves? Nope! I did save a few pamphlets of some things I thought Tony and I might do over the weekend together.

As I walked back to the room, I kept thinking about how I really just wanted to hang around the hotel- do some reading, take a walk; catch up on my Bible Study; maybe even take a nap. But then I thought I am in Florida, I SHOULD do something!

I passed the front desk and a quote caught my eye. I stopped and couldn’t help but start laughing. So, I pulled out my phone and snapped the picture you see below.

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I believe God was telling me to do what I wanted to do not what I felt like I SHOULD do! So, I spent a wonderful day reading; doing my Bible study; taking a walk and just relaxing by the pool. When they returned at the end of the workday, we went to a fabulous Cuban restaurant. I had never had Cuban food before. Wow! What awesome food! I am hoping we have a Cuban restaurant in Raleigh.

Through therapy, I have learned that in the past I often did many things I felt like I SHOULD do rather than making my own decisions and doing what I wanted to do. There are many reasons why I do this- I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings; fear of what the person might think of me; my own indecision, or because I just felt like if someone was suggesting it- then I SHOULD do it. I often found I was never as happy as I was when I just chose my own path to take- regardless of what the others are doing!

So- Remember- Do What Makes YOU happy!

 

YOU LOOK SO HAPPY!

After my last post, a wonderful friend wrote, “You look so happy, Beth!” I can honestly say I AM HAPPY. Do I still have periods of anxiety? Of course I do! But I am learning to deal with these feelings in positive ways. What I find most frustrating is when I think about the past.

In the past, my general feeling at school was HAPPY! I laughed! I talked- A LOT! My class was filled with laughter and talking. It was fun and I found my kids to be quite funny. In addition to being at home and with my family- school was MY SAFE PLACE! It was the place where I felt the best about myself- where I did not worry about my weight (Well- except for those few times when a sweet little child would say- “You got a baby in your tummy?”) At school I felt good about myself. I KNEW I was a good teacher. I KNEW I was good at “getting kids” I KNEW I could listen to and help beginning teachers. I KNEW I was a leader at the school. I KNEW I was loved and that I loved the kids.

Sometimes, I loved and cared TOO much! (At the time I didn’t even realize someone could love or care TOO MUCH!) However, in a profession such as teaching, this can happen easily. With me, caring too much lead to anxiety. When we thought the health problems I was having were heart related, I went for a cardiac stress test. The technician asked me if I worried about things and I said- “yes- I worry about my kids all the time.“ She asked me the ages of my kids. I had to explain to her that I meant the kids I taught rather than my own biological children. She seemed confused, so I explained just a few of the worries I had. I worried about whether the children had eaten breakfast or even dinner the night before. I worried about whether they slept on the floor; if they had appropriate clothes for the weather, and even IF their parents were home at night.

Although I am no longer in the trenches, I do still think about my kids and wonder about things. I wonder instead of worry, because I am trying to be more proactively positive. This morning I attended Hayes Barton WOMEN Kick-off Event.  It was exciting  to realize I have the time and energy to give more of myself in volunteer opportunities.   I may not be able to reach each child, but I can donate food to Backpack Buddies.  I can work with others in the community to help A Place At The Table get off the ground in Raleigh. I can donate bedding to The Green Chair Project. I can make donations to various organizations such as EdNC, Jamie Kirk Foundation, Stop Hunger Now and Hayes Barton United Methodist Church. I can also volunteer with different organizations that help those who need us the most like Neighbor2Neighbor, StepUp and in the WCPSS schools. I can vote in the upcoming election. I may not be able to save the world, but these gestures add up! We are making our community a better place! I am finding many places that can use my talents! GUESS WHAT? YOU CAN TOO!

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Tony and Beth after a Stop
Hunger  Now Packing Event

 

First Day of School Blues

 

Teachers are the hardest working people I know. Even when not working, our minds are constantly spinning with ideas of ways to teach a particular skill; how best to reach “that” student; how to complete the mile-long TO-DO list and after a summer of no paychecks-“Is it payday yet?” Although I did not have these things spinning in my head this year, I found myself still waking up at 3:30 am once August 1st rolled around. Once a teacher, always a teacher!

Sunday night, it took forever for me to fall asleep. Once I did fall asleep, it was a fitful sleep. I woke up at my magical hour of 3:30 am Monday morning just like in years past. It was the 1st day of school for Wake County Schools! In the past, I would have hopped out of bed and headed to the computer to check my email and send messages to my team members and administrators containing all of the things that were going through my head. Since I was not teaching, I had the luxury of staying in bed. I thought about my nieces and nephew and prayed they would have a great 1st day of school. I also relived those “1st Day Jitters” that even teachers get. We feel excited, nervous, and scared just like the kids do. So, I said a quick prayer for all of my teacher friends.

Later I found myself looking at post after post on Facebook showing the awesome “1st Day of School” pictures everyone was posting. With tears in my eyes, I commented on each picture. There were pictures of students I taught recently, as well as students who were entering high school and even college. Although I knew I should just close the computer, I could not stop looking at these pictures. THESE WERE MY KIDS! As the day went on, I found myself continually checking Facebook to see who else had posted pictures. It was like watching a train wreck. I could not stop myself. However, the more pictures I saw- the more upset I became.

Instead of taking Freddie for a walk or doing something to take my mind off things, I sat there staring at my computer for a long time. I thought about previous classes and all of the wonderful children and parents I had gotten to know. I realized how blessed I am to have had the opportunity to have taught such wonderful children.

I have been very open with people about my anxiety issues and decided I wanted the parents to know why I was no longer at the school I loved. I sent an email to as many of the parents whose emails I had. As soon as I sent the email- ANXIETY reared its ugly head. Swirling in my head were thoughts like: “Should I have told them what was going on with me?” “Will they feel they have to respond to me?” “Will they think- I KNEW something was wrong with her! “

For those of you unfamiliar with anxiety, thoughts of doubt, low self- esteem, worry, fear, and feelings of inadequacy all pop up even when you least expect it. No matter how many supportive emails I received; no matter how many happy tears I shed as I read the most wonderful emails from parents, I still found myself questioning whether or not I was a good teacher and whether I should have even sent that email at all.

In the past, these doubts would have taken over and I would have been paralyzed by the anxiety. However, that day I was able to reach into my ever-growing toolbox and choose strategies to help me deal with my anxious feelings. After a few minutes of mediation, I took a very happy Freddie Dog for a walk. During the walk, I began focusing on the things in my life I’m thankful for and just like that, my spirit was lifted. What a wonderful feeling to have my mind swirling with visions of all the things I am grateful for instead of all of the things causing me anxiety. There are different methods of meditation. One method I use is to come up with a “mantra” and repeat it over and over, allowing the thought to seep deep into your psyche. It worked for me and rescued me from what could have been a really bad day.

 

The secret to being grateful is no secret.  You choose to be grateful.  Then you do it again and again.  Every day.  When you forget, begin again.”

  -Marc and Angel Chernoff