Friday, August 10, 2012

A Reason to Wake Up

The note came down the table, surreptitiously passed from one hand under the tablecloth to the next, with the same feigned nonchalance and baited breath middle schoolers use. When it slipped into my hand from the teacher next to me, I cracked a sideways look down the table to see who the intended target was. My friend, sitting several people down from me, nodded her head once, firmly, to indicate it was for me.

I held it in my lap for a bit, not wanting to rouse the attention of our two workshop presenters,  and a little embarrassed my friend had resorted to this. My phone was off, though, evidently leaving her no choice. I unfolded it bit by bit until I could put it on top of the table and mix it in with my notes to see what it said.

"WHERE ARE WE GOING FOR LUNCH???"

I smiled and rolled my eyes at her. We hadn't even gotten to the first morning break and her mind was already plunging into lunch. A woman dressed in a bright blue nun's habit with a polished wooden crucifix around her neck sitting on the other side of me glanced at the note. I pushed it away, discomfited that we'd been caught at something so juvenile.

My attention moved quickly back to the presenter as he said, "Write your philosophy of life in ten words or less."

My mind wrestled and struggled and finally I prayed I wouldn't be called upon to share as I wasn't satisfied with how mine sounded. The nun beside me possibly didn't pray that prayer, though, as she was asked to share hers.

"There's always a reason to wake up each morning," she intoned pleasantly in a soft, exotic accent. The presenter raised his eyebrows.

"Quite interesting, ma'am," he replied as he looked at her carefully with a nod. "Very interesting indeed."

It wasn't long before the session came to a pause.

"We'll see you back in 15 minutes, " the presenter reminded us. "Please don't be late!"

With that, we filed out as orderly as ants traveling two by two, all of us headed to the restrooms.

As is the case with most teacher workshops, the participants are overwhelmingly female, and the two stall bathroom was quickly overwhelmed as we lined up in a queue that snaked out the door.

I noticed the woman in the nun's habit behind me in line. She was long and slender, with rich, mahogany colored skin and teeth as white and lustrous as pearls. Her burnished wooden crucifix took on a soft sheen under the bathroom lights.

"That is a lovely cross," I remarked. "It is hand carved?"

"Yes," she answered as she nodded, a polite smile raising the corners of her lips. "Actually, my father made it for me many years ago. He spent almost a month carving it, and I was so happy when he gave it to me."

"He's very talented, " I told her. "Does he still do woodworking?"

"He's already passed away. He was killed before I came to the United States."

I inhaled. "I'm so sorry. That makes this piece even more special."

She looked for my eyes. "It truly does. You see, this is the only thing I have left of him. In fact, this is the only thing I have left of my entire family. I treasure it, " she ended with a warm smile.

Stumbling for words, I stuttered a little. "I, I, I'm so sorry. Where are you from?"

"I was born in Rwanda. I'm sure you heard of the troubles we had there, the awful times."

I nodded and involuntarily brought a hand up to my mouth.

"People we grew up with, celebrated holidays with, shared dinners with, people we thought were our FRIENDS...." she drew out. "They came one evening with machetes and, and..."

I mutely touched her hand to let her know she didn't have to continue.

She shook her head and shoulders as if to knock off the heaviness of the memory. "How I survived would take much too long to tell you in here," she explained as she looked around the bathroom. "For a long time after I found out my whole family was gone, even my cousins, aunts, and uncles, I thought there was no reason for me to live. I just couldn't see a purpose."

The line moved and we inched closer.

"But I had this cross, and I would imagine all the time and love my father put into making it for me. I would stroke it and wonder how I could continue. And I imagined him speaking to me."

She paused before continuing.

"And I could hear him saying, 'There's always a reason to wake up in the morning. You're breathing, you've been given a new day, so there's ALWAYS a reason for you to wake up. Don't waste it.' "




73 comments:

  1. Oh Shelly, this is such a beautifully written record of that lady's message. It was good that you found the words to encourage her to share it. We often forget how good we have it, how little our troubles are, compared to many. Thank you for this.

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    1. jenny_o: I really wish I'd had more of a chance to speak with her. It really does make a person thankful for what we have~

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  2. "This is the day the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it."

    Daily I am trying to keep this in mind. I will admit some days it is hard to be mindful of this.

    Another wonderful blog post, Shelly! ♥

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    1. Cindy: You are right- we have to be mindful because so many have it so much worse. We truly are blessed~

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  3. I only wish everyone could read your post and rejoice in the day they have been given. A powerful well-written message.

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    1. Stephen: It really made me re-assess my own life and react with much more thankfulness. We just have to look a little for it~

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  4. The part that caught my attention was when you involuntarily brought a hand up to your mouth, a body language sign indicating discomfiture and reluctance to continue a conversation. What began as polite small talk with a stranger in a public restroom had suddenly taken a turn, opened Pandora's box and led to the telling of an intense tale of personal tragedy. Little did you know when you paid the African nun a compliment on the crucifix she wore that it would strike a nerve and lead her to share a disturbing back story about the loss of her family to savagery in her home country. Nevertheless, much good came from the encounter. It gave the nun a moment of catharsis to share her history with a stranger. At the same time you (and we) were taught an important lesson about what it really means to lose everything. You (and we) witnessed a powerful example of the resilience of the human spirit which enables us to extricate ourselves from the bondage of past circumstances and embrace each new day as a clean slate ripe with opportunity and hope. Thank you, dear friend Shelly, and have a wonderful weekend!

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    1. Shady: I felt bad at first for having unintentionally gown down that path, but hers is a message I will never forget. I wish I had been able to talk with her more. She's an amazing woman who's personal strength and fortitude inspire me to better things. We need more of her in this world! You, too, have a wonderful weekend!

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  5. Incredible story for us today, Shelly, and how utterly heartbreaking for that poor nun, to lose all her family like that, and from people that they had actually shared meals with. How dare we complain about things, when some poor people have had to (and some are still going through) go through so much tragedy in their lives. We should, indeed, be grateful for every single day that the Lord gives us, for each day is a blessing.

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    1. Thisisme: So true, my friend. It made me realize how very much I take for granted, and the things I take for granted are the things I'm not grateful enough for. You are absolutely right- each day we have is a huge blessing, and should be filled with thankfullness instead of complaints and whines.

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  6. ah MAN..this made me cry. I lose my breath at thethought of losing any of my loved ones..especially my children. This is special soul you met. special soul indeed.

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    1. Christine: I have to admit I shed some tears over this that night, back in the hotel room. She is indeed an extraordinary woman~

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  7. WOW, What a story!! made me cry :( so touching..
    xoxo

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    1. LoLy: I think her story is so moving!

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    1. Sweet Tea: Gives a whole new perspective on things~

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  9. Such wonderful advice! Just goes to show, whenever you think you have it bad, someone else has it worse!

    Yes, I'm thankful for each new day!

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    1. Saimi: And I pray I remember that each day~

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  10. I daily express my gratitude for waking to another day, yet this puts that waking in a new light. I need to be more mindful of the purpose for which I was granted another day. Touching story, well-told.

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    1. vanilla: And we all have a grand purpose and design for each day. As you said, we need to be mindful of it~

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  11. This was excellent - no more reasons to feel sorry for ourselves and I am thrilled she had the beautiful cross from her father. sandie

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    1. Sandie: It really touched me, looking at that cross the rest of the workshop~

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  12. That is one wise woman. You were really blessed to have the opportunity to talk with her.

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    1. Odie: I am so glad she and I crossed paths~

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  13. It must have been nice to talk to some one who in spite of going through a lot was hanging on to courage and wisdom. Also some thing as significant as the Cross can help, specially if given by her Dad. Thanks for sharing this inspiring incident:)

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    1. Munir: I am so thankful she had that cross, the one last thing from her family, to hold on to.

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  14. Dearest Shelly,
    After I posted mine this morning, I found your post in my dashboard; I cannot believe myself how I can easily in tears recently..... took me a while to start this comment.
    That lady (nun) came from Rwanda, living in Japan we take it for granted the peace we have here now. Oh, not the whole world and it must be so surprising to hear directly like that!!!
    Wonderful philosophy of hers and your friend's quote "This is the day the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.". Thank you very much for this post, my friend.
    I was SO moved about "the cross". I treasure the stainless steel paper weight my father made for me (he was a lathe worker). Haha, no comparison with her story.
    Sending you lots of love and hugs from Japan, xoxo Miyako*

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    1. Orchid: I shed some tears after meeting this woman myself, my dear friend Miyako. I am also touched by your stainless steel paper weight your dad made for you. What a treasure!

      It was a shock to meet someone in my orbit who has been through so much, and really made me realize what a blessing it is to live in a place where there is no war. We are immensely blessed just for that, my friend.

      Enjoy your visitors this weekend!

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  15. Wow...really makes us remember we never know what another is carrying. I think of the charity you have in your kind words, how many would even say anything to a nun? Probably not many. I think you were both gifts to eachother this day. This is something that is never not on her mind, I'm sure and you let her share it. What a blessing for her also.

    Have you read "Left to Tell"? It's a great book, about a survivor, she lived in a small bathroom for, I think 90 days, with several other women. Her story is remarkable and miraculous, and tragic at the same time. I'd love to send you my copy, if you want to borrow it. You can read about it here:

    http://www.amazon.com/Left-Tell-Discovering-Rwandan-Holocaust/dp/1401908977/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1344655825&sr=1-1&keywords=left+tell

    Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Jamie: I felt a little guilty that I had somehow unknowingly led her down the road to telling that story, so what you said makes me feel better. I also hadn't thought about this that you said, "This is something that is never not on her mind". I had not thought about that, that it's never off her mind, but of course that's true. Makes me admire her all the more!

      Thanks for the link to the book! I've heard of her and now I really want to read her book!

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    2. Jamie: Thank you for your sweet offer to borrow the book- I just got it on my Kindle! Can't wait to get started on it!

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    3. That book is WONDERFUL!!! What an amazing woman she is, to be able to survive, love, and forgive.

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    4. Isn't it? It's one of those books I couldn't put down and literally read every spare moment I had, carried it everywhere and finished it in like 3 days!!!

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    5. I've already been recommending it to others~

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  16. Oh, yeah, I forgot, the thing that is so shocking, is that this didn't happen that long ago...and we, here in America, just went on with our lives, as it were nothing. Easy to do. We are so blessed to live where we do.

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    1. Jamie: I so hope I become more aware of the suffering that is going on in the world instead of just going on my merry way. We indeed are so blessed here.

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  17. Such a lovely yet sad story. We all have so much and never ever consider the fact that we are so blessed. I would have loved to meet this lady and becoming her friend.

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    1. Crystal Mary: We have so many blessings that we never even consider giving thanks for. I am changing that in my life!

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  18. What a nice and sad story. Sometimes we just don't know how very blessed we are!
    Enjoy your weekend!

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    1. Eva: So true! Thank you, and I hope your weekend is spectacular~

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  19. I can't even imagine her life. What a strong woman!

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    1. Missed Periods: Just goes to show the outwards appearance of a person is no indication of their strength and courage, because I wouldn't have thought that just by looking at her~

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  20. I'm speechless. I'm overwhelmed. I'm moved...Unfortunately, my ex-husband was one of the soldiers in Rwanda after the massacre, and I've seen the remnant of that nun's homeland. For her to have such a positive spirit truly is inspirational.

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    1. Sandra: My heart hurts at not only the atrocities committed there, but at what you've seen, the scars that are sure to last many generations. I am so moved by people who come out of the horrible with more strength, courage, and purity of heart.

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  21. Well, a story like that certainly humbles you in a hurry, doesn't it - makes you get your priorities straight very easily. I'm always in awe of those who have endured great trials like that and still get up every day determined to do their best towards humankind. Truly humbling.

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    1. Karen: I hope for the rest of my days I will be mindful of this. There's just no excuse, when our days have been so much easier than others. I also think we're all a lot stronger than we think we are.

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  22. Talk about a touching and moving story and really makes one realise how bloody lucky she is, I can't imagine living such a life thank you for sharing this with us........

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    1. Jo-Anne: I hope I sincerely count my blessings now every day since hearing her story~

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  23. puts life in perspective, doesn't it?! wow..
    one of my all time favorite books is Left To Tell...a true story about the massacre and faith...reminds me of this woman you wrote about.

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    1. Annmarie: Yes! I was just turned on to that book by one of my dear blogging friends (in the earlier comments) and I read it almost in one sitting. Completely amazing is the power of forgiveness~

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  24. I just had to say I love your picture, is it sunrise or sunsett and did you take it yoursef?

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    1. caswebb: Thank you! I took it myself at a sunrise here on a beach in Texas just across from the Mexican border called South Padre Island. Nothing lovelier to me than a beach at sunrise~

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  25. I'm going to write it down and post that quote above my workspace. You are a source of wonderful, inspiring energy within my heart and mind.

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    1. Jenny: Thank you my friend- I truly feel the same way about you~

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  26. Dear Shelly, this post left me literally breathless. Without breath. I wasn't breathing. You put me into a story that was so poignant that I felt I needed to take off my shoes before the Holy Oneness of the African nun. I stood, figuratively, before the holiness of presence. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing this story. I will think of it when I wake each morning. And I will know that "there is always a reason to wake up each morning." From now on I'm going to look at each day as a gift. Thank you. Peace.

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    1. Dee: I am honored and moved by your comment. I agree- those who come through such horribleness and evil with such a purity and strength of spirit tap into a level of holiness that leaves me awestruck...and wanting more.

      Thank you for taking the time to put this into words-

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  27. Good grief, Shelly! Not only do you have the most amazing stories to tell, you write them in such a way that I am sitting here stunned. I have goosebumps!! It would be good to start every day with a healthy dose of perspective like this.

    I read the book, Left to Tell, by Immaculee Ilibagiza. Such a heartbreaking but hope filled story from the Rwandan Holocaust.

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    1. Nancy: had it not been for that long bathroom line, I would probably never have known about the part of her story she told. It's all I could think of the rest of the time.

      I just read that book thanks to Jamie, and I'm in total awe- at her grace, love, and forgiveness. There's such a well of goodness most people never tap into.

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  28. What an amazing story to hear and to pass on. It does put things into perspective and how good we've got it hear. Thanks for sharing it with us!

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    1. Becky: I hope I remember it every day of my life- thank you!

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  29. Shelly, I've also been meaning to ask, what does the title of your blog mean? Or is it a place and now I've just embarrassed myself by revealing my ignorance? :-)

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    1. Becky: It's Spanish and it means The Texan (actually, The Lady Texan!). And no, it's not ignorance at all- I ask questions all the time! :)

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  30. Her strength astounds me. I wonder if i would be so strong given the same circumstances. I often feel that I live for my loved ones. Everything I do is to make them happier and more comfortable. If I did not have them in my life I don't know that I could continue. But perhaps I could? The will to live and carry out God's will is strong innate for many of us. Food for thought.

    This was beautifully written, Shelly. As always. :)

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    1. Crystal: As wives and moms, so much of our identity and purposes in life are wrapped up in our families. You are right- it is something to think about, whatever lies beyond that, although I hope to never have to live it.

      It's great to have you back in blogland!

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  31. Wonderful encouragement Shelly. I do not take lightly the days the Lord has given me. Blessings to you.

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  32. Oh, Shelly. I got goosebumps, reading this.

    *shaking head* It is heartbreaking, the evil that men can do...

    Pearl

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    1. Pearl: And yet, in some people, great good comes out in the face of the evil. Mind boggling-

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  33. Shelly,
    This is another wonderful story/post. And another showcase of your remarkable talent. Blessings to you ~Marsha

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    1. Marsha: Thank you for your very sweet words. Hers was a humbling story to tell~

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