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Introspective Sojourner

The journey inward following Christ’s path to that person I was uniquely created to be.

The 11th Mile

“How is your soul?” our pastor asked us to ask each other. “Tired”, “Fine”… I heard around me. “Wounded and a bit beaten,” was my response. It was such a small moment with such a big impact. My words stuttered as they came out. Emotion caught in my throat as the truth of them hit me.

As the day wore on, flashes of five years ago kept creeping into my mind. Five years ago my husband and I trained for a Disney Half Marathon – which we completed. For some reason my mind was connecting the feelings my words had described to that day.

I am not a runner by nature, and I’m slow.  My husband said when I jog it’s more like a cross between moseying and jogging. He’s not wrong.  It took a little over a year from when I first got off the couch and prepared for my first 5K. I was diligent at training. Don’t applaud my efforts too soon. I’m an “all in” and then “quickly all out” kind of girl – I get bored easily. Injuries have sent me back to my old ways and I have gained back the weight I lost. But that day when I was “all in”, despite an injured ankle – I finished my race. The finish line is not where I felt those feelings – that was at the eleventh mile.

At the eleventh mile I stopped and soaked my sore knee and ankle in bio-freeze, as did many of the other runners.  I made a pit stop, and when I came back out, I saw her run by; the balloon lady.  For those of you who have never run a half marathon, or didn’t run it at the back of the pack, there is a pacer and she has balloons tied to her so that you know that’s who she is. For a Disney half, you end up out running on the streets near the park. So for safety reasons, if you are behind the balloon lady at a mile marker, there is a bus sitting there ready to take you to the finish line. You are not allowed to continue – it’s a hard and fast rule.

As I saw her run by, my heart sank. I was already exhausted and there was over two and a half miles left to go, and now I was behind the absolute slowest I was allowed to go. I immediately took off in an attempt to catch up with her. I caught her and fell behind her several times in the next mile.  At one point she reminded several of us that if we were behind her at the mile marker, we would be asked to stop. I remember thinking I wasn’t going to make it. I had trained so hard and yet I was going to be asked to stop. It was defeating.

Then several of us began plotting her demise as we ran just in front of her.  She would laugh and tell us that she could hear us. It helped to lighten that despair, even if it was silly. Somehow the journey took on a value of its own. I was laughing.  I was enjoying commiserating with others but knowing I wasn’t going to give up. We encouraged each other. Eventually I would pull away from her enough not to have her presence be a constant worry. Worry is exhausting. I found my second wind, somewhere deep down and finished; running into the happy arms and smiling face of my husband who had finished much sooner.

That feeling I had at the eleventh mile – that’s how my soul has felt many times recently. I suppose I’m in the eleventh mile of my career. Close enough to want it to be over but tired enough to also want to give up and get on the bus. Some days I’m not sure I’ll find my second wind.  

I lost my job a little over a year ago. I was not a match for this little company I had joined. It’s been a hard battle back for my self-esteem. I was injured in the process. Injured where it doesn’t show, if you don’t know me. I long for retirement – the finish line. But in the process, I’m missing the journey.  In the process, I’m longing for my future and dismissing the value of my present. I see the balloon lady and I’m discouraged. It’s hard to keep working when you aren’t sure you can do it. When with every mistake made or unrealistic deadline missed, I wonder if this failure will be my undoing. The voice in my head is my own worst enemy. It’s like running and trying to keep up with the balloon lady, passing her only to have her pass you again.

Our pastor told us to pray for those answers we heard. Pray for those, like me, who answered honestly from a place of less than victory. And now, after my pastor’s question – I’m looking for my pack. The one that will plot the balloon lady’s demise… and make me laugh, and make me enjoy the journey again. I need to find my “communitas” as our church calls it. I need to fight for my joy and I need their help with that.

I’m looking for them now. I’ve realized how much I need them, so I won’t end up on the bus. How much I need them to change my focus because I’ve realized I don’t want to quit. I want to finish the race. I want to finish and run into the smiling arms of Jesus. Somehow I think someone else out there is looking for their pack too. I want to encourage you to fight for your joy. Find your pack. Don’t miss out on the journey wishing for the finish line. Because the best memories are there even in the eleventh mile and you’ll miss them if you get on the bus.

 

 By

Vicki L. Pugliese

The Search for Joy

There’s something very attractive about Joy. We seem designed to search for it, to fill our insatiable need. It warms us and lingers. The belly laugh of a baby, or the antics of a puppy; they bring a smile to our face. That look on an old friend’s face as you walk through the door; so happy to see you. We long to have our lives filled with it, and will do almost anything to obtain it.

We’ll substitute Joy’s cousin happiness, if our cup gets too empty. Happiness seems so much easier to find. We find happiness in relationships, achievement, and material things. But happiness is intricately linked with disappointment. Relationships that start out somewhere in the stratosphere end up being plagued with boredom, or worse – apathy. We are selfish by nature, and the work it takes to maintain a relationship gets tedious. Our prior achievements quickly lose their sparkle. The happiness they brought inevitably devolves into “what have you done for me lately?” The next shiny new toy only makes us long for more. Happiness becomes, at best, contentment with a side of obligation.

The difference from true joy seems obvious, even though, at first, they felt the same. We are drawn to it.

Our pastor regularly tells us “There’s more joy in Jesus” and that he wants us to have more joy today than we did yesterday. What seems like a simple focus change, in practice, is not as easy as it sounds.

I try to trust and follow, only to find I’ve wandered off. I go through the motions of church attendance, and reading His word. It isn’t changing me. There isn’t a list of minimum things to do to achieve Joy. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m certainly going to end up looking to do the minimum even if I start out zealous.

Once I mess things up, I’m quick to hand it over to Jesus, but when things get back on track… Well… then I start pushing Him off the throne of my heart. I forget and strike out on my own – hoping to find an unending source.

And in the process, walk away from it.

Jesus doesn’t need my help. There is no minimum list because nothing I could ever do could ever earn what He has already done for me. He wants my whole heart. His plans are far greater than anything I could imagine. Complete with the redemption from careless actions I’m sure to take.

But do I trust Him enough?

I want to hang on to my pet wound that I’ve tucked down so deep. I want to pick it up and hold it close, to shed a tear. I want it healed – but I don’t want to let go, even as it leads me away from joy. I allow it to hurt me all over again. Had I only let Him heal it, I would have found joy in that story. Over and over I could return to His healing to find strength, faith and hope. Over and over I could have received the joy He intended.

All He ever wanted was for me to trust Him, to follow Him, to allow Him to be in control – and then my life would be filled with the Joy I so deeply desire. My cup would be filled and overflowing, so that I might let His love flow out onto others. So that I might be this joy that someone is drawn to, and I could tell them of the unending source. I could tell them of Him.

By Vicki L Pugliese

DO I TRUST GOD?

My childhood was filled with song. My stepmom and my dad were both prone to breaking out in song for no particular reason. Sometimes it would be hymns or Barber Shoppe songs or even silly children songs. One would start and the other would usually harmonize. It was common to go for a “drive” to give us more chances to sing as a family.

We sang at church as well. Sunday evenings were my favorite because most of the service was spent singing hymns. The pianist would ask for favorites. People would raise their hands and if selected, call out the number to their favorite hymn. You could count on being called on a couple of times each Sunday, if you wanted. I made my fellow congregation sing “In the Garden” most weeks. It has always been my favorite.

I remember just singing to God when I was by myself as a teenager. I talked to Him far more regularly then. I did have more time. My faith was strong, before life had a chance to batter it – tarnish it. Not that my childhood didn’t have struggles too. I have the emotional scars and abandonment issues to prove it. I had reason to need my faith just as much then. I clearly recall the whirlwind moments when the enemy was screaming lies and fear in one ear. God always sent someone to whisper gently the truth in my other. He has sent His love for me through the arms of His followers so often that I can’t count them.

This weekend our Pastor was reminiscing about a trip he just returned from. His sermons often remind us that “God’s better is better.” This weekend he completed that conversation and his words pierced my heart. He had asked himself, “Do you trust God?” Of course this is always the point of God’s better is better. His reply is what struck me. “I do but not enough.”

“I do but not enough.”

Me too, I thought. As a kid, I believed without a doubt that God had a plan and all of my sorrows would be used for good. I did my best to follow His leading. Do I still do that? Mostly, but it’s often not my first instinct.

Life has a way of wearing you down, stealing your innocence, beating you back until your faith is not your first response. Fear has a way of being my gut reaction. I know it’s the opposite of my faith. I have to remind myself of all the angels in my life, all of the times God rescued me from my own bad choices or the wrong instincts of others.

When I remind myself “God’s better is better”, I am putting my trust in God. I would not have survived my last job loss without that phrase and I truly hung onto it every day. But I wished God might bring his better to fruition a little faster, as if the timing wasn’t also just as perfect – because I do trust God, but not enough.

That kid, the one who’s home and life was filled with song, mostly worship, she did. The beauty of that childhood is a blessing. Not everyone had parents who valued music like mine. Not everyone had parents that valued the community our church brought to our lives. The blessings I had as a child, humble me.

It takes more work to polish up that faith that life has tarnished, beaten. I can’t help thinking the big difference is that life and work have marginalized my faith. I no longer run around the house worshiping, and I should. I no longer talk to God throughout the day as effortlessly as I once did. He is still faithful, waiting, working in me. He still rescues me and has plans that are far better than my own. I do still trust Him.

But maybe not enough

By Vicki L Pugliese

Make America Kind Again

We’re expert judges. Shows like So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing With The Stars, American Idol, The Voice have given us years of experience and a feeling that we’re entitled to notice the mistakes of others. We have no problem, even though we are not in the industries discussing how a contestant is a little “pitchy”.  It’s easy to walk right on passed the line and declare a song or a dance a disaster, as if we could easily do better. Over a decade of judges like Simon Cowell and their harsh comments have desensitized us and sometimes find their way into our own words or at least our thoughts. We easily compare two dancers, singers and even songwriters now, forgetting that each person has their own gifts and strengths.

I can’t throw the first stone. As I have learned what the judges are looking for I now spot those tiny imperfections and jump to give my opinion to those watching with me. Not that I could ever dance or sing at those levels. I dismiss their hard work and dedication and the situation these reality shows have put them in as if it’s an easy undertaking.

Social media is not much different. We judge politicians, and even the general public without knowing these people at all. Sure some of us are very informed, but all of our life experiences and those things we hold dear color our perception of them. Words are taken out of context and compared with something someone else says. And for some unknown reason we have decided it’s fine for us to judge even common people we’ve never met. We make meme’s of silly pictures, ridiculing them. I can count myself among those who quickly share. I do enjoy a good chuckle. 

When social media first took off we were more careful, cautious with our words. We didn’t get into lengthy discussions with others of issues, some of which, don’t really mean that much to us. We simply get caught up in the conversation. Bullying on the internet is a well reported phenomenon and perhaps many of us have found ourselves on one side or the other of biting comments. We know better. We don’t treat each other this way in person. We’re much more apt to hold our tongue when we disagree face to face. Or maybe that’s just me. Little by little we slide. Little by little we change the line of what’s acceptable – so that we no longer expect people to be good citizens, kind and polite. We shrug off bad days and laugh when we feel like “what a B*!ch I was”. Little by little, that becomes the norm. Our language slightly looser than it was a decade ago. We’re actually impressed when someone is a decent human being. Suddenly they’re considered a hero. Someone who kindly brings a meal to the homeless, or helps a child with their bike chain. These are no longer common place and so, now, we consider them special for being so kind.

It didn’t happen all at once. The slip was slow and constant. I have seen the change in myself. In my expectations, my language and my actions. It’s easy to shrug them off instead of being saddened by the change, or embarrassed. It’s not really embarrassing anymore, if everyone around you is the same, is it? Or is that just me.

For me it’s time to turn around. Start the walk back up that slope. Be intentional about acts of kindness. Put others before myself – at least as often as I put myself first. It’s time to take my standards and place them somewhere above my expectations, not below. I’m only one. I can’t change anyone else’s mind. I can’t drag people up the hill with me. But I can openly admit I’m turning around, so at very least there are others out there who might question me if they find me heading back down. Accountability. I need that and if you find yourself on the other end of my unkindness – feel free to point that out. Because I want those standards of years gone by, and if my actions or my words might inspire you to join me – even better.

Today perhaps America or even the world is the tiniest bit kinder because I made that choice.

 

Written By

Vicki L. Pugliese

God did

Just because they danced in darkness, doesn’t mean God didn’t feel their joy.

Just because they sang softly, doesn’t mean God didn’t hear their worship.

Just because they loved unnoticed, doesn’t mean God didn’t know.

Just because they laughed alone, doesn’t mean God didn’t share their joy.

Just because their heart broke in silence, doesn’t mean God didn’t feel their pain.

Just because they held their tears back, doesn’t mean God didn’t know their sorrow.

Just because they felt lost in loneliness, doesn’t mean God ever left their side.

Just because grief broke them, doesn’t mean God didn’t pick up the pieces.

Just because no one heard them scream, doesn’t mean God didn’t.

Because God did.

By Vicki L Pugliese

Sequel to Shades of Blues Available Now

The Light and Dark of It; A Journey Back

The Sequel to Shades of Blues; Into a Fractured Mind

Available Now on Amazon.com and Kindle.

How do you convince others you’re mentally stable, when you can’t trust your own mind?

Eloise and Grant desperately want their fairytale life back. When Eloise returns home from North Warren they are filled with hope – and a little anxious. Treatments, meant to cure, have damaged her mind, and her mental stability is constantly in question.

If she’s not careful she may find herself back in the hell of North Warren. Except now there is no dying child, no sympathetic story and no one at North Warren who cares enough to save her.

 

THE LIGHT AND DARK OF IT; A Journey Back delves deep into the challenges faced once someone is released from institutional care. Set in the 1950’s, THE LIGHT AND DARK OF IT; A Journey Back is the thought-provoking, heartbreaking and heartwarming conclusion of SHADES OF BLUES; Into A Fractured Mind that will leave you cheering Eloise on as you fall in love with the small town of Titusville, Pennsylvania.

 

Don’t have your Shades of Blues copy yet? Order Now.

 

Shades of Blues; Into a Fractured Mind Book Release

When tragedy happens unexpectedly, it changes everything.

 

Shades of Blues Paperback on Amazon

 

Shades of Blues; Into a Fractured Mind by Vicki Pugliese is available NOW on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle eBook Formats.  Available soon on Kobo.

Set in rural Titusville, PA – SHADES OF BLUES; Into a Fractured Mind is a powerful and compelling tragic story filled with grace and redemption. Feel free to share! Be the first to own your copy.

You Never Had a Choice

I didn’t realize my worth,
That I’m precious as any gem.
So I didn’t expect to be valued,
And I wasn’t offended by him.

Instead I believed – deep inside,
What he said could not be lies.
I just wanted to find love,
So I took everything in stride.

And when he left, I thought to myself
Surely this is what I deserved,
It must have been all my fault.
I just didn’t know my worth.

So I believed the final lie,
And now I hated me.

 

But there was you and suddenly,
I couldn’t just walk away.
I wanted to forget it all
But you tied my past to today.

And I believed all of the lies,
No soul, and there’s no pain.
This is my life and my choice.
Putting me first in vain.

I couldn’t see that I was tied,
To how I valued you,
The way that I see all life,
So my past is my future too.

And because I hated me,
I had to hate you too.

 

I knew they were lies,
Deep inside somewhere.
The biggest of them was,
That I wouldn’t care.

My life would move on,
I could put you behind,
A much brighter future,
I was so sure I’d find.

But stripping you of your value,
Now I would never find mine,
I never fixed the problem,
It was all just a matter of time.

And because I hated you,
Now forever I’ll hate me.

 

I stole your voice,
I dismissed your worth.
I made a choice,
I denied your birth.

My smile is just a mask,
And the world may never see
The biggest lie I hide,
Is just how much I hate me.

I wish I’d know my value,
That someone would see me.
And love me just the way I am,
Instead of how I should be.

You never had a choice,
Dear God, please forgive me.

By Vicki L. Pugliese

I made the other choice, for which I’ll always be grateful, but I believe perhaps I understand. I hope you find your value, and you find it in our Lord. If this is not your story, and you can’t identify; I hope you will be gentle to those who cry inside.

I’ll Stand Beside You

Bullies come in all sizes. I grew up in a great small town, but it had a clique system and bullies. Those who were different or had lower self-esteem seemed to end up more frequent targets, in my opinion. I grew up when diversity wasn’t something that was relished or embraced. I had friends that were wounded, deeply, by unkind actions and words – wounds that have lasted into their adulthood. Bullying is not new.

I can place myself on the list of those who have experienced bullying; an unkind nickname, comments meant to injure, I’ve been picked last for dodge ball, and physical threats. I experienced the same, not only as a child, but in most places that I have worked, from the criminal to a minor slight. I am no stranger to bullying.

Standing up to bullies is not an uncommon stance. I have been a proponent myself. Although, when I was bullied, that was not how I responded. Instead I shutdown and withdrew. This is the behavior that you would think is the most damaging to someone’s soul, but it is not. The most damaging behavior, in my opinion, is when you find yourself on the other side. When you know how it feels to be bullied but for whatever reason, you find that you yourself are the one being dismissive or unkind to someone who just wants a friend or to be understood.

As a kid, one of my dear friends was frequently bullied by one of the kids who was more popular, more self-assured and more aggressive. What this bully didn’t have was more friends. When our little group decided that our friend had had enough and we were going to stand up to this bully together, we crossed that line. We became the aggressors and we confronted this bully publicly and in force. She had no option but to back down. All she could do was retreat. As a kid, we reveled in our victory. We congratulated each other in our success. We believed in our loyalty. But were we right?

It’s such a gray area, isn’t it? We all hate bullies. We love movies where the underdog standups up to his bully. We love the scene that I lived as a kid in support of my friend. But is that right? How did the bully feel – whether she deserved it or not? Didn’t we commit the same offense as her?

I hate new places of employment. I hate feeling like I don’t belong until I create friendships – that waiting to be picked for a team feeling. Those first weeks where I’m unsure and self-conscious, especially if I’m also struggling to feel competent, they are difficult for me. I’m often not fond of people who make transitions like that difficult.

Nonetheless, I can’t say I have never made someone else’s transition difficult. I have made snap judgements about new coworkers, and not treated them warmly, while they were struggling to fit in. I have withheld my friendship, for sometimes valid reasons. Still, I have committed the offense I so dislike. Where do I draw the line? I can’t throw the first stone.

Recently an old friend told me of the bullying that he experienced as a kid. We were decent enough friends as kids, yet I had no idea he was ever bullied. When he first told me, I was angry at my little town for being so unkind. He deserved better. He deserved to know that he is valuable the way he is, and that people loved and accepted him. He deserved friends who stood up for him as well, and to feel that he didn’t have to fight his battle alone. I wish he had believed in our little group enough that things could have been different for him. I’m not sure they would have – it was a different time.

I hate bullying but I am concerned about how easy it is to become the bully in return. How easy it is to hold someone else to a standard I don’t hold myself to. I want my own way, as much as the next guy, but I need to find ways that use compromise and consideration of others while protecting my boundaries. I need to respect the differences of others better. We all need someone in our corner, that group that says, “I’ll stand beside you.” I need to be in more people’s group.

Determining where the boundary is between self-care and our own bullying in return, may be the most difficult line to find, and one I find most damaging to my soul.

 

By Vicki L Pugliese

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