Archives for September 2019

How to Deal With Telemarketers

I am not always friendly to telemarketers. I am ashamed to say that occasionally, I have slammed the phone down and been rather short-tempered about the times they call my house. However, all that changed a few years ago when I decided it was time to reclaim control of my telephone calls.

How To Deal With TelemarketersLike most people, we receive so many annoying telemarketing calls each day–for credit card offers, vacation packages, pledges to various charities and insurance companies–that I spend a good part of my evenings complaining about those irritating calls. I almost know the ring and usually try to let the call go to voicemail.

One evening, when I knew it was a telemarketing call, I decided it was time for me to start asking questions. After all, as a writer, one of the things I do well is ask questions.

The first call I received that day was from a woman in Arkansas selling vacation packages. You know, the one where you get free travel and hotel stay for two days if you spend a day and a half looking at overpriced property you can’t afford.

After she read her script, I asked her some questions about her job and herself. She turned out to be a pleasant young mother who goes to an office with other telemarketers each day. When I asked her if she liked her job, she said it worked for her because she had young children and could work only a few hours a day while they went to preschool. I asked her what she did when people hung up on her or got aggravated about her phone call. She said it didn’t upset her because she expected many to do that. “I just whisper a little prayer for them, and dial the next number,” she said with her southern accent.

It was an interesting conversation. The next telemarketer that called was a North Carolina college student who worked soliciting applications for low-interest credit cards. “It’s a great job for me,” she said. “I can do it in the evening after classes and the money I make is not bad.”

I could picture the young mother dropping her children off at the preschool and working until it was time to go back and get them and the young girl trying to make a little extra money for college.

Putting a face and life with those voices took a little irritation out of answering the phone for me.

When telemarketers call, it’s easy to feel like they’re the ones invading our privacy, but these people have been hired by companies and given a script and the time of day to call as part of that company’s marketing strategy.

Telemarketers are ordinary people doing a job that usually pays no more than minimum wage and offers little or no benefits. Many people like to make fun of telemarketers and the irritation they evoke when they call at inopportune times. Radio commentator, Paul Harvey, told a story about a comedian, Tom Made, who went to a telemarketing convention in Washington, D.C. He said he disguised himself as a telemarketer and called the other telemarketers in their hotel rooms at 3 am. When they answered, he asked them questions for his Insomnia survey.

That is probably every consumer’s dream, but there are some practical ways to rid yourself of telemarketing. The National Do Not Call Registry (Go to or call 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236) was created to stop unwanted sales calls. It’s free to register your home or mobile phone number. It can take up to 31 days for sales calls to stop.

If you’ve already added your phone number to the Do Not Call Registry and are still getting a lot of unwanted calls, odds are the calls are from scammers. Read about blocking unwanted calls to find out what to do about them. If you answer one of these calls, hang up and report the call to the FTC.

If you don’t want to do any of these things, you can do what my daughter said she did when we were discussing this column. “If it is something I am not interested in, I just tell them I don’t have time to listen and wish them good luck,” she told me. After all, mom, they are just people trying to make a living, just like you and me.


Children Remember so Much

One weekend I traveled to Tennessee to visit our grandchildren without my husband, who was not able to get off work. Alex, our oldest, and I went to the grocery store together to pick up something for lunch.

Children Remember So MuchWe were getting ready to get out of the car when he said, “Nana, are you and Papa sorry?” Startled, I said, “Sorry for what, Alex?” “Sorry for taking my Grinch toys away from me,” he said. “What Grinch toys,” I asked him. I couldn’t remember that he had any Grinch toys. “The ones I got at Burger King,” he answered, looking up at me.

I had to think for a moment, and then I remembered that he had gotten some Grinch toys when we were all together at Thanksgiving. Then it all came back to me.

When our family met in Florida for the previous Thanksgiving holiday, our three grandsons rode in the car with us to Payne’s park outside of Gainesville. Since there were four families, we had to go in separate cars and follow each other. The three grandsons were in the back seat, and suddenly they weren’t the little angels we thought they would be when we suggested they ride with us.

Our middle grandson was in a bad mood and kept picking on his big brother. Alex tried to be patient and just kept turning away, but his little brother kept at it the entire trip there.

When we finally reached the park, they played hard, so we figured they would nap on the way back to the condo we had rented. Instead, Donovan started picking on his big brother again.

Suddenly he let out a scream, and I turned to see what had happened. He was crying so hard that I couldn’t understand him. I figured Alex had gotten tired of being picked on and pinched him or something. But then I realized the window was rolled down a little. By then, I could make out what Donovan was saying. “Alex threw my shoe out the window,” he wailed. We had already come a long way, and in that part of Florida, there are actually alligators on the sides of the road, so we decided it was best not to go back and look for the shoe.

My husband and I mustered up all our sternness and told Alex that we were disappointed with what he had done, and reminded him that he would have to tell his parents that he threw his brother’s shoe out the window.

To make our point a little clearer, when we stopped at Burger King for lunch, we took his kid’s meal toys. He was so disappointed that he wouldn’t eat. Just before we left, Alex asked me if we were proud of him. “Of course we are,” I told him. “We just weren’t proud that you threw your brother’s shoe out the window.”

When we got home from the holidays, we realized we still had the happy meal toys and laid them on our dresser.
Every so often, we picked up the toys and laughed about the incident and wished we could give them back to him. It was amazing to me that he remembered all that, and it was still on his mind.

So I told him, “Yes, Alex, I wished we hadn’t taken your Grinch toys away.”

“I’m sorry I threw Donovan’s shoe out of the window,” he said. But what did you do with the happy meal toys, Nana?” I told him we would talk about that when we got back to his house.

After we put our grocery items away, I called my husband and told him about our conversation, and then I gave the phone to Alex.

My husband assured our grandson that we loved him and were always proud of him, and said, “Go look in Nana’s suitcase, Alex.” By this time, I had my suitcase unzipped. He ran into the bedroom, stuck his hand down into the side of the suitcase and squealed with delight when he pulled his Grinch toys out! Children remember more than we think.


Happiness is How We Treat Our Families

Think for a moment how we treat our friends. We laugh with them, share good times, listen to them, and always try to be fair. We comfort them when things are going bad, and we would never interrupt them or allow ourselves to be Happiness Is How We Treat Our Families Updatedistracted while they are talking to us. In the workplace, we treat our coworkers with respect and would not dare tell them to shut up or accept a kind gesture without saying thank you.

But how do we treat our spouses and children when we get home out of the view of people who admire us?

Last week I went to a banquet where the speaker spoke of the most crucial trait young people should strive to be successful in life. He said how we treat others in the workplace lays the foundation for success in life.

If I were to add anything to what the speaker said that night, it would be that how we treat our families also lays the foundation for happiness in life.

For some people, it is easy to be kind to the people they work alongside. However, many successful people in the workplace are not always successful communicators in the home.

A good example is a child that came quietly into the kitchen while his mother was cooking dinner. He startled her when he yelled the surprise. She became angry and scolded him for yelling and tracking mud into the house, and sent him to his room, even as he was trying to tell her something.

Later she felt terrible for yelling at her child and remembered he said he had a surprise for her. She went into his room, where he had fallen asleep on his bed. She gently woke him and asked him what the surprise he was trying to tell her about when he was in the kitchen was.

The child smiled and opened his hand to display a small crushed blue flower. “It’s for you, mom,” he said. “I found it in the grass, and I knew you would like it because it was blue.” The mother took her child in her arms and told him she was sorry for yelling at him. Children are so forgiving, and we should be glad because we sometimes fail to remember that they have feelings too.

Having a friend is a beautiful gift in life, and having a good relationship with our peers in the workplace is vital to our success. Jobs are relevant, but for most, jobs are what we do to provide for the needs of our families. If we don’t take care of the relationships we have at home, then we can lose our purpose in working so hard.

Children and spouses deserve the same respect we give to our coworkers and our friends. The essential things in life start at home. It is how we treat our families because long after the job is over, the relationship you build with your family will be there.

If we treat our children and spouses with respect we give our coworkers and share the best of ourselves with them as we do our friends, think about how relationships would grow and possibly heal.


Wiggly Messes and Tasty Memories

All the students in the room wore full aprons to protect their clothing. They needed to because they were a group of wiggly 2 and 3-year-olds in a cooking class. My daughter scheduled the class at the local community center for my Wiggly Messes And Tasty Memoriesgranddaughter and me when she knew I was coming to help her during the arrival of their second child.

“You’ll love it, mom,” she said. “You and Clare can have some fun together and make cookies.”

Eight little squirming bodies stood on chairs around two long tables with seven moms and a couple of grandmothers holding onto them as though they were wild horses waiting to take off for a race.

I was a little excited, but the grandmother next to us didn’t look too excited. The teacher started the class by announcing to the children they were going to make ginger cookies.

Their cooking tools–which consisted of a small bowl, a measuring cup, a little measuring spoon, and a long wooden spoon for stirring–were placed in front of them. After the teacher dropped a ball of shortening in their bowls, she explained how white and sticky it was, and told the kids not to touch it–which translated into toddler language means, “This will feel great between your curious little fingers, so dig in.”

Our job, as assistants, was to hold the bowl until she was setting the next ingredient before them, which seemed like a long time. It was time to dip their cup into the sugar bowl and measure out the sugar.

When I released Clare’s hands, she grabbed the cup and dug deep into the sugar bowl. As she lifted the cup, sugar went on the table, on her apron, in my face, and a few granules went into the bowl.

Mixing was a little tricky because the shortening mixture was so thick that the adults had to do the stirring while the little ones discovered how good sugar tasted.

The next ingredient, the teacher said, was what made the cookies sweet. It was a big cup of brown molasses that was passed around to each child. They were to measure ½ cup of molasses into the shortening and sugar mixture.

The grandmother next to us had come along with her daughter and granddaughter, but I could tell she was focusing on the mess more than the fun when her granddaughter wiped her curly locks away from her forehead with her sticky little molasses hands.

Fortunately, I had kept the molasses contained in our bowl, so when it was time to add the flour, Clare only had sugar in her hair.

It seemed that the reason the grandmother wasn’t having such a good time was that she was trying to keep the area clean while the mom was trying to help the child have fun.

When the cookie mixture was all finished, the teacher told the children they could put flour on the table to roll out the dough. Flour went everywhere all at once before any adult could stop it. I grabbed my camera and took pictures through sprays of white flour and gleeful children. The grandmother beside me, at this point, had to walk away from the table.

The teacher told the children to take the mixture out of the bowl and roll it into a ball. Hmmm, taste and feel the time I took the mixture or as much as I could retrieve from Clare’s sticky hands and rolled it into a ball and gave her the rolling pin. She loved that part and at first did quite well, but after a while, the mixtures were very thin. Every time I tried to turn it over, she protested.

The grandmother had come back to the table this time to get things under control. She began rolling out the cookie dough while the little girl was wailing to roll the dough. Finally, the cookie cutters were distributed. The grandmother helped the little girl next to us cut out perfect cookies. Ours were vague images of cats, leaves, pumpkins, acorns, and a few unidentifiable shapes.

The cookies went into the oven while the little ones continued to roll the rolling pin in the flour. When clean-up time came, each child got to choose a wet sponge in their favorite color. So that you know, when wet sponges and loose flour meet, it becomes a sticky mess.

After a while, the mothers took over. They helped the children out of their chairs and cleaned up the mess while the teacher read to the children. They were adorable sitting on the floor with flour in their hair, molasses stuck to their eyelashes, and dough underneath their fingernails, but at least their clothes were clean.

As for the grandmother next to us, she looked like she needed another adult to talk to, so I introduced myself. We talked a little about raising our children. She told me about how she taught her daughter to cook when she was little. She looked happy when she related several cooking mishaps to me.

The class at the community center was not necessarily about teaching toddlers how to make cookies. It was more about giving parents and their child time together, teaching coordination, and having fun. I asked the grandmother if she remembered the kind of cookies she and her daughter cooked when they were younger, and she said, “No, not really.” Then we smiled at each other.

With flour in our hair, molasses on our blouses, and ginger as our perfume, we knew these moments with our granddaughters were more about making memories than making cookies.


Our Crafty Gift Moments

Crafty gifts are usually unique because the person receiving the gift knows that the giver makes an extra effort to show how much they care. My youngest son still has a quilt that his grandmother made him when he was 8 years old. He was so excited when he woke up one morning at her house and found it lying on his bed. She sat up all night to finish it so he could take it home.

When my daughter was expecting our new grandson in September, she painted his room a bright blue with red trim and had drawn animal characters on the walls. I thought it would be a special gift if I could quilt a baby blanket to match his room.

With my friend guiding me, I visited the fabric shops in town and was amazed to see that several offered quilting classes. Today, you can go online for these same classes. The quilts displayed on their walls were so beautiful that I had my doubts about whether I could complete the project, but my friend assured me I could do this.

Our Crafty Gift MomentsI picked out an animated piece of jungle fabric so I could cut out the animals and some additional bright colors to frame around them. After I framed each animal piece with strips of colorful fabric, it became a block, and then I sewed the blocks together.

I worked on it each evening and found that it was a very relaxing task to do at the end of a busy day. Seeing all the colorful strips scattered on my table and some falling on the floor, I was reminded of another time when bright colored pieces of material and a crafty idea brought out emotion in someone I love.

It happened one snowy day in Minnesota when I was repairing a pair of jeans for my husband. The weather was cold, and the snow was relentless. The children could not go outside because the wind chill factor had fallen below zero.

I was running out of activities to entertain them with, so I decided to let them play with my sewing supplies while I repaired the back pocket of my husband’s work jeans. They pulled out buttons, ribbons, and bright-colored patches I used to repair their play clothes. When I got the pants ready to work on, I realized I was out of the blue jean patches. The children suggested we use their colorful patches to fix their dad’s pants.

Being stuck inside and feeling our creative juices flowing, we decided to cut a red patch in the shape of an apple. It was presentable, even though it was red, but with time on our hands, we decided to give the apple a little character. We cut out a bent brown stem and bright green leaves to add to the apple.

I knew this was pushing it a little, but the day was young, and the children needed more entertainment, so we added a cute wiggly worm with glasses coming out of the apple. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it made our long day inside more bearable and enjoyable.

My husband came in after the children were in bed that night, and I forgot to tell him about his new patch. The next morning he got up in the dark and found the work jeans he had asked me to repair. Not wanting to wake the children or me, he could feel the pants had been patched and got dressed in the dark and left.

That evening when he came home, he was very agitated. He took his pants off and came down the hall, looking at them incredibly. The children ran to him and asked him did he like the pretty patch we made.

Looking at them with one look, and at me with an entirely different look, he says, “yes, of course, he did.” However, when they were out of hearing range, he told me it had been a miserable day because all the other guys on the construction job had teased him about his bright red apple patch and the wiggly worm grinning at everyone all day. What was cute and funny to the children and me was not funny to him.

When I finished the top of the quilt I was making my grandson, which looked similar to a box of animal crackers, I began adding the batting to make it soft and then a bright blue backing. Even though it was my first quilt, I was happy because I knew my daughter was going to be excited about our grandson’s welcome gift.

My friend told me to save all the left-over pieces of fabric because I could use them to make another quilt, but I am not sure my next one will be so colorful. I thought about other crafty things I could do with scraps of colorful fabric, but I guess repairing my husband’s jeans would not be one of them.

Why it’s Important to Show Kindness

I read recently a story of a man who had bought a brand-new car with an area in the back that would accommodate his large, furry dog. Not too long after purchasing the car, he had it washed in an upscale, expensive car wash.

Afterward, however, he noticed that the back portion of the car was still filled with dog hair. Because he had paid a significant sum of money for the wash, he felt ripped off and became upset. He complained to the staff, but no avail.

They insisted that their policy was to “not vacuum the trunk.” Obviously, they considered his “dog space” to be a trunk and, therefore, refused to do the extra work.

When it became apparent that his complaining wasn’t going to help, he demanded to see the manager. He spent the next five minutes yelling at the manager of the car wash in what he described as a harsh, obnoxious, and arrogant tone.

Why Is Important To Show KindnessWhen he finished yelling, the manager looked him in the eye and, with a gentle, undefensive tone, asked the man if he was finished. He said that he was.

The manager then told the customer in a calm, unthreatening tone that he would go ahead and vacuum the car himself until every dog hair was gone.

Then in a compassionate but firm voice, he said, “I have to ask you one question, sir.” “What is it?” The man replied, still angry. “What makes you think you have the right to speak to me or anyone in that harsh, demanding manner?”

The man in the story said he never again treated anyone that badly or with so little respect. “Even when I have been justifiably angry or disappointed, I realize that I am still responsible for my behavior and how I treat others,” the man said.

The manager could have easily justified being rude back to the man, but he chose not to do that. And we have that choice every day, too.

Understanding that we are responsible for our behavior and choices, regardless of those around us, gives us a lot more control and peace in our lives.

Taking responsibility for our actions are lessons most parents teach their children. When one child complains that the other is calling them names, adults say, “That doesn’t mean you have the right to hit him or call him names back. Just ignore him.”

When they come to us in middle school and say, “But why can’t I wear that, everyone else is.” We patiently say, “If everyone else jumps off the building, does that mean you do it, too?”

In young adulthood, when someone tells our child they can’t accomplish something, most parents would tell them, “You can do anything you want as long as you set your mind to it.”

All those little lessons about being kind to others, doing what we know is right, and believing in ourselves are how we teach our children to live responsively. They become a lot more useful when they see them in action.

How to Move Forward in Life

Streams are plentiful in East Tennessee. They trickle down the sides of mountains, run beside the shaded rural roads, and flow joyfully into the rivers. If you sit quietly in a wooded area, you can hear the water spilling over rocks that have become smooth due to the water’s consistency.

Occasionally something huge, like a huge rock or fallen tree, will trap the busy water and stop it from flowing. It can’t go around; it can’t go over or under its obstacle. The water feeding the little stream feels the sudden halt and detours around the trapped water and continues to flow, but the water trapped behind the fallen tree becomes very still.

How To Move Forward In LifeFor a moment, the still water is pretty, but after a while, when nothing comes in, and nothing goes out, it becomes stagnant and gives off a foul odor for lack of freshness.

The same thing happens when we stop the flow of life. However, when you are a mother, you often want to stop everything because it is all going too fast.

Lots of moms feel like this at the beginning of the school year. Some have to say goodbye to their children going off to college, while others stand in the doorway watching the last of their little ones leave for kindergarten.

A friend told me she was having a challenging time in her life emotionally because her youngest child was going off to college. “I want to keep him home with me,” she said. “I am having such a hard time letting go.”

I understood her emptiness. The year before we moved to Texas from Tennessee, we said goodbye to our three children, all in the same month. The oldest graduated from college and moved to D.C, to spread her wings. The middle son was a sophomore in college. And the youngest graduated from high school and went off to college.

Right afterward, my husband’s job situation relocated us to the Rio Grande Valley. I left behind a great job, lots of good friends, and children scattered. It was very hard, but change doesn’t have to become our enemy if we understand how it works.

Life has to change for us to see it all. I missed the beautiful streams flowing throughout the hills of Tennessee, but I found many beautiful things in the Rio Grande Valley, and I stayed close to my children.

When we visited the botanical gardens in Corpus Christi, I was fascinated with the multicolored Lily garden at the beginning of the self-guided tour. Right away, I knew it was going to be difficult getting through the entire gardens before closing time because everything was beautiful.

I took pictures from every angle of the lily garden, and tried to pour the sight of the pretty flowers into my memory for later, but as we moved around the landscaping. I discovered a garden the size of a large room planted with deep purple Pansies. It was even more beautiful than the Lily garden. My entire day went like that. Just when I thought I had seen the best the gardens had to offer, there would be something even more enjoyable and exciting around the corner.

The same can be so when raising children. Every phase of their lives can be like that. Even the difficult times can be turned into good memories if we can always share those memories with them.

Just around the corner for the mother of a kindergarten student is the thrill of seeing her child make friends, seeing them learn to read and displaying their drawings up on the refrigerator for all to see.

Just around the corner for the mom of a young person going off to college is the realization that her child can make decisions, get up by themselves when they fall and develop talents and skills she never realized they had.

However, much like the little streams making their way through the hills of Tennessee, if we don’t let them go, they will detour around us or come to a halt, and we will miss seeing what is around the corner.

What’s the Best Thing That Happened Today?

“I had a bad day, Nana,” my grandson, Donovan, said to me on the phone once when I called him after school. He was only four years old at the time, and he went to Head Start.

“Why did you have a bad day,” I asked him. “Cause I couldn’t do nothing right at school,” he answered as though it had been on his mind all evening. “What did you do wrong, Donovan?” “I couldn’t do good on my speech,” he said.

I reminded him of all the incredible things about himself, and by the time we hung up, he seemed to be thinking about other things, like picking on his brother. I understood precisely how a little thing could have made his day terrible. Sometimes it’s the small things that can mess up our day.

SunshineRichard Carlson wrote a book called “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff”. The book is full of phrases that gently remind us that life can be great, even if it’s not always the way we planned it.

At the time, I worked with a friend who told me that she was happy even though she had to move around a lot because of her husband’s job. I asked how she did that. She said, “It’s because I carry my happiness with me.”

Carlson, who also wrote a book called “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff at Work”, writes that in a typical day, the average person may have 10 things happen. Nine of those may have gone fine, but one did not work out so well.

People often find themselves focusing on the one thing that didn’t work instead of the nine that were fine. And if you do that every day, after a while it will seem like everything in your life is going wrong, when it isn’t.

Sometimes at the end of the day, it is good to ask yourself, “What’s the best thing that happened to me today?” If you wrote it down, you might see that the good things outweighed the bad things.

There is another book that is good for people who feel like they have a lot of bad days. It is “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” by Dale Carnegie. Carnegie suggests that when you have a problem, you should do three things: write it down, decide if you can do anything about it. If so, make a plan, and then let it go.

Not a lot different from the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,”

I knew my grandson was too young to understand all this right now, but I decided to call him back the next day to see how his day was. When his mother gave him the phone, I asked, “How was your day, Donovan?” “It was a good day, Nana,” he said.

“Is that because you did well in school today?” I asked. “Nope, I didn’t go to school today!” he said, and then he handed the phone to his mother and went back to playing with his toys.

Friday the 13th

When you woke up this morning and realized it was Friday the 13th, did you hesitate for a moment and think, “Oh no, everything is going to go wrong today!” Many people do. Some people don’t get out of bed all day or leave their houses. Fridaythe13thThere are hotels that do not have a 13th floor and streets that go from 12 or 12A to 14 to avoid using the number 13. The reasons for ducking out of sight on Friday the 13th can range from battles between mythological gods to Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden on Friday. Even to the Last Supper, when 13 disciples were gathered, and Judas betrayed Jesus the night before He was crucified. Psychologists say that sometimes it is easier for people to blame the bad things that happen to them on bad luck or bad days, rather than take responsibility for the choices they make or to accept the fact that bad things happen to lots of people.

You may have heard the story of the bricklayer who gave the following reason for requesting his sick days: “When I got to the building, I found that the hurricane had knocked off some bricks around the top, so I climbed onto the roof and rigged up a beam with a pulley and hoisted a couple of barrels full of bricks to the top of the building. Then I went to the bottom and holding onto the line; I began releasing it. Unfortunately, the barrel of bricks was much heavier than I was. Before I knew what was happening, the barrel started coming down, jerking me up. I decided to hang on since I was too far off the ground by then to jump. About halfway up, I met the barrel of bricks coming down fast. I received a hard blow on my shoulder. I then continued to the top, banging my head against the beam and getting my fingers pinched and jammed in the pulley. When the barrel hit the ground hard, it burst its bottom, allowing the bricks to spill out. I was now heavier than the barrel, so I started down again at high speed. Halfway down, I met the barrel coming up fast and received severe injuries to my chin. When I hit the ground, I landed on the pile of spilled bricks, getting several painful cuts and bruises. At this point, I must have lost my presence of mind because I let go of my grip on the line. The barrel came down fast, giving me another blow on my head, putting me in the hospital. I respectfully request sick leave.”

The point of the story is: Everyone has bad days. Sometimes they are on Monday and sometimes they are on Friday. So, it’s OK to get out of bed, and if something does go wrong, you can do what Norman Vincent Peale, minister and author of the book, “The Power of Positive Thinking”, does. Peale said that he always does three things when something goes wrong: writes down exactly what it is that is wrong, decides whether he can do anything about it or not, and then makes a plan. His approach reminds me of the Serenity prayer that first appeared in the New York Herald Tribune in 1942. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

There is More to His Story

When I was a writer in South Texas, one of my first assignments was to accompany students at Fort Worth to cover the International Science Fair. Each day, with my laptop, slung over my shoulder, I walked to the convention center to observe and interact with the students to write about their reactions to being a part of an international event.

As I walked by the park near the convention center, I noticed a homeless man lying on a bench. I couldn’t help but gaze longer than I should, and feel a need to sit down next to him and talk.

There Is More To His StoryJust like everyone else, I sometimes reject the idea that pain like this exists beyond the comforts of my home. I wanted to write a story about this homeless man, but I felt that it was a selfish reason to invade his privacy. And truth is, I just didn’t have the nerve to walk up to him and say the first word.

After a week of writing stories and following students around, I hesitated as I took one of my final walks to the center. There he was, with his dark gray coat and a plaid blanket wrapped around him, stringy hair, and a dirty, disheveled look leaning back on the bench.

I knew to be careful, but the park was very open with people sitting all around. As I approached, I said hello, but received no response.

What could he possibly have to say to me? I asked him how he was doing, which was ridiculous, as I could see his situation. Finally, I decided to sit on the bench beside him, and even though the stench and the flies that surrounded him was near unbearable, I let my sleeve touch him, so he would know his condition did not repulse me.

I asked him his name. He said it was Clifford. He said he had been living on the streets for 15 years. I told him that I passed this way every day for a week and noticed he was always here.

My next question was careful because I understood it was intrusive. I asked him why he lived on the streets instead of in a home with a family. He said he had no family. Even though he would not look at me, I knew he would talk to me, so I relaxed.

He told me that he worked for a factory in Ft. Worth. I forget the name. He said it closed down and he lost his job. When he came home and told his wife, she left him, took his children, and after that, he lost everything. “I’ve been here ever since,” he said. I wanted to know why he just quit. Families break up all the time. People lose their homes and jobs, but they don’t just quit.

I noticed the discoloration in his feet through his ragged shoes and asked to see his feet. He did, and I could see gangrene had set in. I suggested he go to the hospital, but I could see our conversation was over.

The only response I got after that was when I asked him what he would like for me to buy him to eat. He told me he liked Vienna sausages and coke, so I walked to the nearest store and bought him a bag full of what he requested, along with other things that I thought would help.

I told Clifford I was a writer and asked to write about our conversation. Glancing at my camera, he said that was OK, but I could not take a picture.

The next day I came by the park with a bag of food, but Clifford was gone. There was a Street Dance scheduled in the park, and a policeman told me they had taken him to a hospital.

When I came home, I turned in all my stories, except for the one I couldn’t write. It was the story of a man who had lost hope. I told a friend about Clifford. He asked me why I didn’t write the story. My response was that there was no good ending. There were no words of wisdom that I could impart as a result of the encounter.

But we know there are a lot of stories without happy endings. There is much pain we can’t see, such as the person who feels hopeless in their hearts.

I see homeless people a lot. I always notice it. I think about why they won’t ask for help or go to the shelters, and I wonder what happened to Clifford. I know we can’t fix all the pain we come in contact with every day.

One thing is for sure, though, before we can help anyone, regardless of what age they are or what kind of pain they are facing in their lives, we have to be willing to listen.

It doesn’t matter if we have all the answers; everyone deserves the dignity of being heard.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

The first time my husband received a cross over hearing aid, he was astonished when we stepped outside the doctor’s office. “Do you hear that,” he asks. “What?” I asked. “The wind,” he said. “I can hear the sound of the wind.”

Most people take hearing for granted until they lose it. My husband is deaf in his left ear due to a severe injury he sustained as a child. He lost much of the hearing in his right ear when he served in Viet Nam.

A crossover hearing aid is a hearing aid that you wear on your deaf ear like an ordinary behind-the-ear hearing aid. It picks up sound from Can You Hear The Windyour surroundings and transmits it over to a hearing aid on your other ear.

I have many friends who have hearing loss; some of them wear hearing aids, some refuse or live in denial that they need one.

Think about all the sounds in your life; birds singing in the morning, a child laughing, a friend chatting, or a great song on the radio – it is this symphony of sounds that make life more abundant.

Having hearing loss tends to isolate people from others. When you have to struggle to converse, you’re less likely to want to socialize in groups or go out to restaurants.

My neighbor told me she doesn’t like to be in big groups because she can’t hear much and often feels left out of the conversations.

There is a social road that people who are hard of hearing go down. First, they strain to hear; they try as hard as they can. Then they pretend to hear, often answering all the questions and comments wrongly. Then they sit there and try to be a part of the social group just with their presence. And usually, lastly, they give up and withdraw or retreat unto themselves. This begins their social isolation.

This social isolation can lead to cognitive decline and dementia, according to new research by Frank Lin, M.D., an Otolaryngologist and Epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Dr. Lin theorizes that two causal factors prevail. Like many Alzheimer’s experts, he pinpoints social isolation as one. “When you can’t hear the person across from you, you won’t be engaged in conversation,” says Dr. Lin. This social withdrawal leads to loneliness, which many studies have shown increases dementia risk. Another cause may be cognitive overload, he says. “When the brain expends so much energy trying to decipher garbled words, it diminishes other cognitive functions.” This does not mean that everyone who has a hearing problem develops dementia.

Hearing aids don’t always solve the problems, especially when they don’t work correctly or batteries give out in the middle of a conversation. Sometimes the hearing aid picks up all the sounds in the room, and that, too, can be frustrating. Here are some tips that can help when communicating with someone who has hearing loss.

  • Get their attention.
  • Speak loud and clear. It is very natural for our grandchildren to use their “papa voice” when they sense that he is not hearing them. Having a grandparent who doesn’t hear well has taught our grandchildren to be sensitive to others who have hearing problems.
  • Reduce background noise if possible. In noisy restaurants, I use my phone to voice text. I speak into the phone, and it turns my voice into words, which my husband can read. It works great.
  • Make eye contact and don’t cover your mouth with your hands. Many people who don’t hear well lip read.
  • Repeat or rephrase your words if necessary
  • Be patient The thing about hearing loss is that no one can see it. People who have hearing problems are often misunderstood, considered rude, or short witted.

When someone in the family has a hearing loss, the family has a hearing problem.(Mark Ross, Ph.D.)

Hearing loss can cause a strain between couples because conversation is supposed to be a two-way process. The one who can’t hear talks, but can’t always hear the replies of his partner. Intimacy can be lost between a couple who cannot talk to each other.

My husband lets me know when he is having a difficult time hearing. He says I cannot hear well today, so you must speak closely into my ear. Every time we talk like this, he holds me close to speak into his ear. Even if I am upset about something, this holding me keeps me feeling close to him.

There are many excellent hearing devices available now. My husband has tried them all. Even the ones you buy at your local drug store can help.

He has a Bluetooth hearing aid now. It is the best the Veterans Administration has to offer. I have a microphone I put on my jacket, or he can lay the receiver on the pulpit at church so he can hear our pastor. It automatically connects to the cell phone and the TV when he walks into the room.

However, with his chronic ear infections, sometimes it doesn’t work, and he is left in total silence. Helen Keller said blindness separates us from things; deafness separates us from people.

In My Corner of the Field

I grew up on a farm. At the end of each summer or harvest year, my dad set fire to the fields to make ready for seeding the following spring. My brothers and I helped him by containing the fire in our corner of the fields. We didn’t have vast fields, but this was a low-cost alternative to tilling in the previous year’s crops, and my dad also believed it killed unwanted insects.

My Part Of The FieldOur job was to stand in our designated section of the field with a large wet cloth or a wet broom and make sure the fire did not go beyond our corner of the field. If the fire began to spread beyond where our charge was, we were to beat it out with our wet cloth or broom. I can still hear my dad’s deep voice. “This corner of the field is your responsibility, this is what you concentrate on, and we will be all right.” There was a lesson that formed in my mind while helping my dad take care of the yearly burning of the fields: if I take care of what I am in charge of, the world will be all right.
Our son, who donates his free time working as a counselor in homeless shelters, call to discuss politics one day. He, like so many others, is concerned about the presidential election and the direction the country is heading, which is already the topic of the daily news commentators and pundits. I wanted to encourage him, so I used this story to help him understand that he was making a difference in this world, right where he was. “If you take care of your family and teach your children the values you believe in and make a difference in your community, as you are doing, you will be doing your part right now,” I told him. Having access to the news all over the world, with just a click of the remote, sometimes makes us feel like we are not doing enough. We feel helpless and want to do more, but the truth is that if we want to change the world, we have to start with where we are. The difference we make in our families, our friends, the people we interact with daily, and our communities is where the significant changes in our world begin.

I think lots of men and women have decided to be politicians to change the world or gain national fame and, in the process, failed and even lost their families. It doesn’t just happen in the political world. Sometimes, it happens in the world of missionaries and pastors, too. As Christians, we think we know in what direction our country is supposed to go, but it is my humble opinion that only God knows, and He expects us to do an excellent job at what has been placed in our charge. It is not like God doesn’t know what is going on or that he can’t do anything about it.

My teenage daughter once gave me a mouthful of wisdom when I told her that I felt I had failed God and messed up His plans. She looked at me with incredible innocence and said, “Mom, surely you don’t believe God would not be able to complete his plans without you?” She was right. It is a privilege to be used of God to complete his will, but God’s plan, even though it includes us, is not dependent on us, because God has his way in this world. He was the beginning, and he is the end. The world is a broad field; the government is only one part of that field, and the only way we can have input is to vote or to run for office, and even then, things may not turn out the way we believe it should. A precious chaplain friend also gave me a mouthful of wisdom recently when I asked him what he thought about the elections. He said, “I don’t plan to spend my time pouting about the outcome. I plan to keep on praying and doing what God has called me to do.”

Pouting takes a lot of time and energy, causes bitterness, and often isolates us from the ones we love. The best way to get over disappointments is to focus on what we have control over. For example, what is in front of us, the next thing, our choices in life, and the way we treat our families and those we meet. There was a song written in the “90’s” called “My Corner of the Field” sung by Bill Morgan. The last two lines of the chorus defined what was important in life to me: “Don’t let me bruise one and Lord, don’t let me lose one…in my corner of the field.” It kind of goes along with what my dad used to say–if we take care of what has been placed in our care (our corner of the field), we will not have to worry about the fire getting out of control.