Lessons in a Trash Bag

Friday, September 29, 2017

I put a couple of fleece jackets, a long sleeve shirt or two, and some sweaters in a trash bag today.

You wouldn't think that was the start of a compelling story about faith, but it is.

You see, my mom texted me today and asked if I was going to Walmart this weekend. The reason is that she is going out of town and she needed me to run an errand for her there. A man who is a big-time volunteer at one of our local food and clothing pantries, the Eastern Cabell County Humanities Organization (ECCHO), stopped into her office today and informed her that ECCHO is really in need of clothing for children ages infant through age 16. My mom wondered if she could give me a gift card so I could shop for clothes for her. Pick out things to donate with someone else's money? That sounds like a ton of fun! And it was.

I don't have a lot of extra money in my budget, although I do try to give where I can (like most people I bet), but I do have a closet that has clothes in it. In fact, I have two. (The big perk of living alone in a two-bedroom apartment, formerly shared by a rabbit who took up very little space. Except in my heart.) I decided it was time to take a look in my closet. Even though I am 33 and have one foot in the grave, I thought I might have something that a high school girl wouldn't feel totally embarrassed to wear.

Now, I love to clean my closet out, and, in fact, do it about every month or so because I pretty much live for throwing things away. (Well, not throwing things away, but getting rid of things.) However, I had done this pretty recently and wasn't sure what I'd find to give to ECCHO. But then I remembered, "... this was our one opportunity to give to this specific family, just this one moment in time."

You see, I love a blog called Tiny Green Elephants written by my role model and wannabe friend, Amy. Amy is about my age, and she has one biological son, and three adopted children, two of whom are from Russia, and the other is from Ethiopia. Naturally, when you're young (we're young, right?) and are paying for multiple adoptions and trips across the world to get your children, money is tight. So Amy has written a lot in the past about giving and what you do with opportunities to give. The quotation that I cited above is just one of the many times she's said something along those lines.

Her point is, sometimes our window of opportunity to give to a specific person or need is small, and we need to do what we can in that window. She says, "Even when you feel like you have nothing to give, you just say yes, and try, then God makes your gift bigger than you could make it, it’s really good."

That's what I thought about as I talked to Joe on the phone on the way home from Walmart. "Why should I hoard a sweater I might wear a couple of times this January when there might be a little girl IN MY OWN COUNTY who could wear the sweater all winter?" I said to him.

Fast forward to me getting home. I peered into my closet, and I immediately found a couple of fleece jackets that are still nice and in good condition. Because Joe has a huge heart and wants to make sure I'm taken care of even though he's far away, he has purchased me a couple of jackets in the past year, one of which is more like a really warm zip up sweater. I told myself that I do not need all these jackets, and those nice fleece ones could hopefully find a new home with a sweet girl. I found a couple long sleeve shirts that I also thought would fit the bill.

Well, this is fun! I told myself.

Until ...

(You knew this was coming.)

... I saw two sweaters in my closet that I have been contemplating donating for some time now. There's nothing really special about them. One is a cardigan (sort of, it's hard to describe) from the Ann Taylor Loft and one is a pullover by Lauren Conrad for Kohl's. So nothing fancy, just a couple sweaters I've had for a couple of years.

As I looked at them, I thought, "Well, I really like these sweaters. And what if I want to wear them? I will be so cozy ..." and then I had this fun dream sequence where I wore my lovely cream pullover sweater by a crackling fire. (In reality, I hate winter and will more likely be wearing the donut leggings Colleen bought me with a shirt that doesn't match whilst I pray for summer. )

I hope you read that in a whiny voice because I was totally whining.

Then, I heard a voice that cut into that whining, and that voice said, "DONATE THE SWEATERS, ANNA."

Yeah. That was God.

"What was that? I couldn't quite hear you ..." I said to myself, still around that crackling fire.


Yes, sir. Got it that time.

So the sweaters went in the bag.

And I remembered those exact words I said to Joe: "Why should I hoard a sweater I might wear a couple of times this January when there might be a little girl IN MY OWN COUNTY who could wear the sweater all winter?" 

I say all this to say, I am a sinner, and a materialist, and my first instinct is to keep my stuff because MAYBE I will want to wear it once or twice this winter.

Luckily for me, God (and Amy) was ready to step in and remind me about what giving is about.

Giving is not about getting rid of things you don't want or spending your "extra" money.

Giving is about actually GIVING someone SOMETHING YOU YOURSELF MIGHT WANT. I've even told the students that before. "If you think carrots are gross, then please do not bring a can of carrots as a donation to the food drive!"

Giving is about thinking about someone else before yourself.

Giving is about realizing that some of us are blessed to not only have more than one sweater, but to also have the ability to go and buy a sweater if we really needed one.

Bottom line: was Jesus hoarding sweaters like Anna? Um, no. Jesus did not hoard sweaters. Jesus literally gave his ONE life for us, so I can probably give a couple sweaters.

Maybe one day I'll learn my lesson.

I also wanted to mention how fortunate I am to have people in my life who, when I hear "ECCHO needs clothes," I can immediately text and know they'll come through. Thank you so much Kim, Dave, and Eileen for being three people my mind goes to when I know there is a need to fill at ECCHO. I am humbled to serve with you.

Two College Football Seasons.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Yesterday at school was Fatima Family Day. It's pretty much what it sounds like -- each student brings a family member or family friend to school. They spend an hour doing a lesson in class, and then we all go to an assembly in the gym.

Yesterday's assembly was about character. At the end of the assembly, the presenter told a short story. In a nutshell, a teacher wanted to teach her students about patience, so she put a jar on her desk and told the students that if they were patient and waited till the end of the year to look in the jar, they would each get a diamond. One student couldn't wait, and he knocked the jar off the desk and saw it was full of coal. The teacher, of course, puts all the coal back in the jar, except one piece, and, at the end of the year, every student received his or her diamond, while the student who knocked the jar over had to keep the coal. This story was told to illustrate the virtue of patience: the students who were willing to wait each received a diamond in the end.

And it hit me, I waited for Joe (sometimes not so patiently), and I got a diamond in the end too.

And I don't mean my ring, although it is beautiful.

I mean him.

This post is a couple of days late, but on September 11, Joe and I celebrated (although long-distance) the fact that we have now been together for one year. On September 11, 2016, Joe and I met for lunch at Black Sheep Burrito, which turned into a long walk in Ritter Park, which then turned into a very long talk in my living room. All in all, it lasted 9 hours, and it was the last first date I would ever go on. I think I even knew it that day.

Because Joe doesn't live here, we had to celebrate a week early, when he was here over Labor Day Weekend. We recreated that date, eating lunch at Black Sheep and walking in the park. (We recreated it so well that I put on what I wore on our first date, which Joe remembered I wore, and then I saw he was wearing what he wore that first day as well. :) ) Of course we had many conversations about how different our lives were last year, how quickly things can change, and how we can't wait to get married.

I think my favorite part, though, was this:

Me: "Can you believe we've been together for two college football seasons?"
Joe: "Is that how we're going to measure this? 'How long have you two been together?' 'Well it's been 13 college football seasons now.'"
Me: "YES."

Joe has said to me before that he couldn't believe I was still available, and I have said as much to him. And then we both agreed that we've just been waiting for each other.

And waiting.

And waiting.

But as I told him once, I'd have waited even longer for him.

But I'm glad I didn't have to.

The truth is, there were a lot of times in my life when being single was very hard. It was hard to watch friends couple up, get married, and have children, while I just got older. I didn't always handle it gracefully, and God and I had many talks about it.

And then, about two years ago, I just decided one day that if this was all my life was -- this school, this apartment, this rabbit (rest his sweet soul) -- then okay. I was good.

And I was.

And then I met Joe.

And then I realized what God had been doing for me all these years. He had been keeping me away from people who weren't right for me, while preparing my heart (and Joe's) for real love. The kind of love you hope for.

Joe is a good man. His aunt (my second mother) described him as "loyal and good-hearted," and that is what he is. For sure. He gives and gives and never asks for anything. He listens to me when I am happy, sad, frustrated, upset, and not being nice. When I get short or salty with him, he responds in kindness. Always. He's never been short with me. Not once. He's never even gotten an attitude with me. Never anger. I've never seen him angry. (Except when he's in traffic. He hates traffic. :) ) He doesn't raise his voice, and he's not scary. He's calm, he's constant, and he is whatever the opposite of volatile is. (I just looked it up. It's "steady," "enduring," and "steadfast." And that's what he is.)

The truth is, I could go on and on about him.

The truth also is, I do not deserve him.

But, he doesn't deserve me either.

And what I mean by that is that we are two imperfect people who are trying to do our best with this relationship that God has entrusted to us. (Originally I ended that sentence with "blessed us with," but I don't think I like that because I'm not sure it's okay to make people feel like God "blessed" me with a husband but is withholding that blessing from them.) Love is not something that you earn or deserve (truly, I know many women much more deserving of a man like Joe than I), and I have no earthly idea why God saw fit to bring the two of us together. But I hope and plan to spend the rest of my life not making God sorry. In fact, the Catechism tells us that the purpose of marriage is to get the other person to Heaven. (Amongst the many other things it has to say about marriage!)

When I was in elementary school, I remember that a teacher once told my class that God has our futures written on our hearts before we are born. She said that our hearts said things about what we'd be when we grew up and who we'd marry.

And I smile when I think of little first grade Anna who had no idea her heart said "Teacher" and "Joe."

Joe, you are magic. I love you so much.

Incidentally, I saw the following online today. I sent it to Joe. Isn't this written so beautifully? 

Stuff and Things.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

I hope everyone is settling in nicely to their fall routines. It's been a bit crazy over here, getting back into a routine with school, the Junior League, exercising, and mainly just being back in town after a summer away. Here are some things that have been happening!

1. I would be totally remiss if I did not start with this.

So, last Thursday night I was anxiously awaiting Joe's arrival in Huntington for the holiday weekend. He had been sending me texts as he crossed various state lines, and, finally, I got the one that said, "West Virginia!" Having already send him a text stating that West Virginia is the best Virginia as he crossed the Virginia state line, I decided I need a fun gif to send. Therefore, I hit the gif button on my iPhone's text message app, and, naturally, I searched "West Virginia."


That, my friends, is my sister Emma, playing air sax, as the TOP CENTER iPHONE GIF on the West Virginia search. She's before the dang team!

Naturally, I text Erin and Emma immediately, asking them if they knew about this, etc. To make a long story short, this is a gif Erin created from Emma's WVU marching band hype video they made her senior year and showed before football games at Milan Puskar. Apparently Erin posted it on Imgur once, promised Emma she'd delete it, and that, "No will ever see it, Emma."

I pretty much lost my mind. The funniest part of the conversation is when Emma sent this text to Erin and me ...

... and literally one second later I get a private text from Erin that says:

Are you guys dying? It's pretty much the greatest thing that's ever happened to me. If you have an iPhone, you must search West Virginia in the gifs, find Emma, and send it to everyone you know. (Sorry Emma.)

2. It is no secret that I have encountered my fair share of wildlife in my current living situation. My most recent thing was that a squirrel had her babies in my bedroom window (a VERY long story for another day). They were eventually removed, only to be replaced by wasps building a nest. (The word nest now makes me want to vomit, by the way.) So I said to Joe the other day, "Do you think the wasps will keep the squirrels away?"

Then I said, "Do you think I'll ever get to a point in my life where I will look back and laugh about the fact that I was living in a place where I was hoping that the wasps building a nest in my window would help keep the squirrels away?" Like those are my options.

Maybe. Maybe I will.

3. Some ridiculously kind, thoughtful, and generous soul left this in my school mailbox yesterday.

There was a note, but it was typewritten and unsigned, so I figure this person wants to remain anonymous. At any rate, it totally has made my week. This person even marked a couple pages about writing, which I plan to share on the blog soon, as they really spoke to me. People are so cool.

4. I'm a couple weeks late on this, but I got my wedding dress! As I said on Facebook, because appearing in the doorway to walk down the aisle is the fashion moment of my life, the dress is staying under wraps till the big day! I took a cue from one of my peers on this -- Kate Middleton's dress was kept secret till the big day also. And since our lives are so similar, I thought I should do the same. :)

5. Speaking of the princess, Colleen and I can't wait to find out if we're having a new niece or nephew.

6. I have been known to enjoy a good murder or two in my life. In fact, it's become a joke among the students I've had for a couple of years now that the biggest thing I ever taught them was how to murder someone and then hide a body effectively. (Before you get too worked up, it's literature! Is it my fault that Agatha Christie, Natalie Babbitt, Robert W. Service and others love this topic? Is it my fault that researching the effects of cyanide on the human body is considered an English/Science cross-curricular learning opportunity? It is not.) Maybe I didn't realize how insane this had become until this interaction in eighth grade the other day:

A: *Tells a story about a golf match gone wrong, in which a goose is accidentally killed by a golf ball hit too hard in the wrong direction.*
Me: No!!! Don't tell me about animal murder! I don't like it!
L: But Miss Lafferre, you like human murder.
Whole class: Nodding.
Me: Point taken.

7. There is nothing that gets me going like a good West Virginia football hype video. "This is who we are."

"Almost Heaven. West Virginia. Welcome home."

Cue the chills. And the tears.

8. And, finally, just a note that I still come home every day thinking someone will be here. I miss Snicks as much as I ever did. Sometimes I talk to him when I get home, falling back into my old pattern -- "Baby Snickers, mommy's home! How was your day Baby Doodle?" -- before I remember. What a sweet, gentle soul he was. I desperately miss his company, and I have a very big little rabbit sized hole in my heart. Love you, sweet boy.

So this post doesn't end on a sad note, here's a funny Snicks story: I took a framed photo of him to school to put on my desk. Clearly the students aren't behind the desk often, so they're not seeing it from the front. A week or so ago, one of my students ends up on my side of the desk, and goes, "Miss Lafferre, I thought that was a photo of your fiance!" Nope. That's Snicks. (Love you, Joe.)
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