Friday, November 30, 2012

They're Back!

As I rounded the corner yesterday, I was quite shocked to see four red balloons flying in the wind. Yes, the balloons I just wrote about are back!

My kids were ecstatic. My son's face was shining, lit up with the biggest smile you could ever imagine. The balloons they were hoping to see...for so long...they were back! I even circled the block so they could see the balloons a second time because my daughter didn't get a good enough look at them the first time round.

My kids talked about them the whole way home.

For me, this had a whole different meaning.

I took this as a small message, a personal love note from my Father Above, saying to me...Don't give up hope. Just like the balloons you've been waiting to see are back, the day you are waiting for will come. Hang in there.

Thank you Hashem, for the message of hope.

May you all be able to continue holding on through the tough times, using them to come out stronger. And may your deepest desires and things you've been hoping for come true in the best possible way.

Good Shabbos.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Balloons of Hope

I have a lot to learn from my children.

I take the same route home from work every day.  Each day, as I'd turn a certain corner, my children would cheer from their seats, "I wanna see the balloons!" And as we'd pass by the store with the balloons right outside the window, they'd shout out happily, "balloons, balloons!"

Usually, there were balloons outside the store window. But some days, they weren't there. Those days were disappointing to them.

"Maybe tomorrow the balloons will be there," I'd reassure them.

And usually, by the time the next afternoon came around, there they were, swaying in the wind, giving my children such simple, untainted pleasure.

It's been a really long time since we've seen those balloons. I can't even remember the last time I turned the corner and those balloons were flying in the wind. Maybe some time in the summer? Maybe longer?

But my children do not give up. Every day, as we turn that corner, they say, "Maybe today we'll see the balloons!" 

And when we pass the store and the balloons aren't there, they always have something to say, some hope to hold on to.

"Maybe they're blowing up the balloons."
"Maybe we'll see them tomorrow."
"Maybe they needa buy more balloons for us."

But tomorrow comes and the balloons still aren't there.

My children are so disappointed. You could hear it in their voices as I turn the corner and pass the store.

Yet...they still come up with excuses, with reasons...and they are still so very hopeful. Hopeful that the day will come when I will turn the corner and the balloons will be back, back in their familiar place, giving my children the pleasure and enjoyment they used to get from looking at them.

The two second pleasure they would take with them for the rest of the ride home. "We saw the balloons today!"

They're waiting for that day to come. And they aren't giving up. They're holding on to the smallest thread of hope.

I'm learning from them.

No matter what happens, no matter what goes on, there is always  hope.

We are now in the month of Kislev, approaching the yom tov of Chanukah. Perhaps one message we can take from this is the message of hope. That no matter how dark life seems, no matter how dark life is, there is always hope.

The chashmonaim searched through the devastation and rubble, through the destruction and the mess...and at last...they found one jug of oil. They didn't give up. They kept searching until they found what they were looking for.

I look to my past and I see those brave Jews who persevered, never giving up hope.

I look ahead of me, at my precious little children and I see innocence in their eyes. My children never give up hope.

And so...neither will I.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Kislev-My Miracles

One of the things I learned from my mother was the importance of expressing gratitude. Not just for the big things but for the little things as well...because they may not be so little. She was very big on thank you cards, sending them out often to those who did favors for her.

Even after my brother Shalom a"h, was niftar, my mother expressed her appreciation to all those who assisted in trying to save his life-the main lifeguard in camp who came running to the scene after he fell from the tree, the assistant lifeguards, the rebbe who said shema with him in the hospital in his last moments...all of them received thank you cards in the mail after my brother passed away. She wanted them to know that our family did not chas v'shalom blame them for not working hard enough and that we were sure they all did their utmost in trying to save Shalom's life...and that this was a decree from Hashem and we were accepting it. They were in no way at fault. And she used those thank you cards to put her feelings into words.

She was always thanking our teachers, the school staff, the delivery guy, the neighbor who did her a favor. She said thank you to the car service driver, giving him a tip, even though this was his job. She'd thank the cashier as she left with her bags....everyone. She took note of every single thing, little and big and showed her hakaras hatov. And I took this lesson from her and try to carry it with me wherever I go.

Just yesterday, I received a phone call from my son's school. A phone call I've been waiting for ever since the beginning of the school year. The person on the other line confirmed that everything was in place and some important paperwork we were waiting for finally went through. Things should be smooth from here on.

Interestingly, the day before I got this phone call, as I left my son's school building knowing I was still waiting, I turned to Hashem and said, "Hashem, that's it. This is in your hands. We did whatever we could and there's nothing else that could be done. Now I'm turning to you and relying on you completely. Please...make this work out already...make it happen soon. How much longer can we wait for this?" 

The next day, I got that phone own, personal miracle.

And after I got that phone call, I sat down and penned the following,

Here's a little note to say thank you,
For all the behind-the-scenes work that you do.
We don't usually get to see the details,
And we don't know exactly what your job entails.
But for us - you worked hard, giving up was not an option
And for that we'd like to express our deepest appreciation.
You kept trying - calling and emailing too,
You listened to our (almost) daily question of "anything new?"
And now that all the paperwork finally came through,
We have two words for you-Thank You!

How much time did it take me to write that? Just a couple of minutes. But do I know how much that thank you means to the one who put in all the work for us?

I learned this from my mother-to take a few minutes to express my appreciation in this way.


Just that same evening, something happened that made my heart stop beating. It still continues pounding every time I think about it and replay those few moments in my mind.

I was home alone with my children and was busy in the kitchen when I heard my little baby, who is at the crawling stage, start screaming. I ran into the next room and saw the front door-the door right above my staircase, wide open. My heart froze. I stood at the top of the staircase and for a split-second I knew he fell down the long flight of stairs. 

I was wrong.

I looked down the steps...but he was not there. Then I saw a flash of orange-he was right at the top of the staircase! He was lying up side down, with his head on the third step from the top and his feet on the second step-right where the staircase starts to turn. Had he chas v'shalom been one step lower, where the staircase leads straight down...I can't imagine where I'd be at this moment. But I wouldn't be here typing up this blog post.

I scooped up my baby and hugged him so tightly, my hands trembling and shaking. I kissed him and cried knowing that I just experienced my own little miracle.

I felt like...this is what I needed right now. I needed this two second scare as a reminder of what I have and what I need to appreciate. I have three little miracles in my care, three precious little children. Although it's true that Hashem watches over them, over me, every minute of the day, it took this to show me just how closely He is watching over my family.

Today is Rosh Chodesh Kislev. It is the month of miracles. The month when we experienced the miracle of Chanukah-of light in the darkness. 

May you each experience your own personal miracles this month and may you feel Hashem illuminating your path, illuminating your life. May the darkness you've experienced be transformed into light and may you be blessed to notice and appreciate the miracles in your life...because the small miracles...they are really big.

A gutten chodesh.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Easy to Say

It's easy to talk about emunah when things go smoothly. When everything about you is positve and happy. The real test, the real test of our strength and belief is when things get tough. When we do not understand.

I have been thinking about this ever since my last post about Hurricane Sandy. I wrote: Trees got thrown down just a few inches away from houses and cars. I saw with my own eyes the precision of the every inch is calculated. Another inch-and that car would have been smashed. Another inch-and that house would have had major damage. This showed me how every little detail is calculated, every inch, every moment of our lives. The same One who made the tree fall directly in front of that house and an inch away from that car, is watching over me every moment. The details of my life are calculated; Hashem works with precision and care.

Yes, all of that is true. But what about the trees that fell down and did cause destruction? As I was driving on the day I wrote that post, I passed a minivan that was completely shattered-from a huge tree that fell right on top of it. It wasn't a new model. I thought about the family whose car that must belong to. I thought about their pain, how hard it might be for them to replace their car. Maybe they were struggling and this was the last thing they would they get their children to school? How would they get to work? Forget about waiting on line for gas. They didn't even have a car!

What about all those who lost homes due to flooding and who will have to pay to redo all or parts of their homes? The amount of damage, the pictures I've seen...they moved me to tears. It didn't hit me until I saw Hamodia's Supplement, Waves of Wrath, Waves of Chessed. Pictures of seforim floating around in feet and feet of water, the beautiful aron kodesh knocked over...and the men and boys who continued learning and giving shiurim in the dark, by candlelight or flashlight. All of this made me cry.

We do not understand.

I do not understand.

I do not claim to have reasons. I do not claim to know why this happened. Who am I to pinpoint and say that it happened because of one specific aveirah I am guilty of, or one specific mitzvah I am not performing properly?

R' Fishel Schachter gave a very powerful speech about this. He spoke about how when something of such catastrophic proportions occurs, people try to give reasons and tell other people what it is that they need to change and do better.

He repeated a story that took place one summer. There was an accident that affected a certain family in Camp Ohr Shraga. After it happened, one rav got up and said that the accident happened because of bittul torah and proceeded to give a fiery speech about the importance of Torah learning and the danger of wasting time when one was meant to be learning.

After he concluded his speech, R' Yakov Kaminetzky stood up and said to the rav (in yiddish): Are you a navi? Are you a ba'al ruach hakodesh? Shamefully, the rav answered no to both of those questions.

R' Yakov continued, "So then how could you say that this happened because of bittul torah?? If it's true that this is why the tragedy occurred, then yes, everyone should work on strengthening themselves in the way they learn and the amount of time they spend learning. But if it is not true, since we do not know the cheshbonos of Hashem, you have to go back to the family who was affected by this tragedy and ask them for mechillah, for forgiveness...for speaking ona'as devorim, for causing pain with the words you said! Because they will be thinking, If only people would have learned better, if only people would not have wasted an extra minute...this would never have happened. And THAT is a very dangerous way of thinking and causes tremendous hurt and guilt to the family involved."

And then R' Yakov gave his own passionate speech about bittul torah. R' Yakov, who knew what it meant not to waste a minute of learning, who learned while wearing his boots and would fall asleep before he had the energy to take them off, he gave a speech about the importance of utilizing every moment to learn.

That is a gadol.

We do not know why things happen. None of us are great enough or big enough to give reasons. We can take personal messages from the events that happened-and we should. We should look inside our hearts and see what we need to change, on a personal level. But we cannot go around making broad statements saying exactly why this happened. We simply do not know.

It's when things are tough and we do not understand...that is when we need to work on strengthening our emunah. On knowing that no matter what happens, there is a reason for it. And even though we do not know why, there is a reason, there is a Creator. He is my G-d. I trust Him completely, especially when I do not understand. Especially when I am confused. Especially when life doesn't go the way I want it.

Hashem knows. Hashem runs my life.

It's easy to say. It's easy to talk about when things go smoothly. Now it's time to put it into practice. To internalize this trust, to work on it, to strengthen it, to make my emunah rock-solid, super strong.

It's easy to say.