The Kindness Circle

Dad and I on a trip to Ireland in 2019

My Dad was sitting across the table from me with a cup of coffee, smiling. At 60 years old, his white hair and wrinkles still didn’t hide the spark of youth lingering behind his eyes. “You know, when I was a little kid, I made this wooden cross in Oxford with some church thing. I gave it to Mr. and Mrs. Smyth, and they hung it over their table there in the dining room.” He took a sip of coffee and expressed the accompanying ahh of satisfaction. “And you know, they never took it down. All these years later. I just went there the other year and they still had it hanging in the same place, and at that time I was in my fifties!” 

It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard that story, or the second or the third, and I know my Dad well enough to know that when he repeats something, it means something. He isn’t a man of emotions or a man of expressive words, but I’ve learned to tune into his behaviors and little ticks over the years. We talked about how kind Mr. and Mrs. Smyth were during his childhood, how ornery Dad and their sons were together, and how they always treated him the same no matter what. Both of them have since passed, but whenever their name comes up, so does this story.

“I wonder what happened to that cross,” Dad mused. “I’m sure they just threw it away, it was just some piece of junk or something made by a kid. It wouldn’t mean anything to anybody else, right?”

When my Dad left, I thought about that cross. I had no idea if it still existed, no idea if the house was even still there. After all, the couple had been gone for well over a year and the chances that anyone even noticed it there was slim enough. Mr. and Mrs. Smyth had five children of their own, so surely the estate had been sorted and settled long ago. I pushed my idea to the side and moved on.

Then, out of the blue, one of the daughter-in-laws contacted me unrelated. We talked, and after we hung up I remembered about the little cross. Was this a sign I should pursue it? I wasn’t so sure, sometimes when I crave sugar my husband brings home donuts and I’ve learned that isn’t a sign. Ha ha! Days later, the idea still nagged at me so after discussing it with my Mom I sent a text. The daughter-in-law let me know right away that they were still sorting, and kindly promised to give a look. I wasn’t hopeful, and although I can’t speak for her, I don’t think she was either.

Weeks went by, and with no word I assumed we had hit a dead end. I was shocked then, when I received a picture of a wooden cross and a message asking if that was it. Of course I had no idea, having never seen it. It was a little rugged, and did appear to be handmade, so I asked if I could have it anyway. She agreed, so I made a little card for the family to sign, and picked it up the next morning. When I walked in the door to my parent’s home I was excited and confident, truly convinced that I was about to make a difference in this man’s life in a special way.

“That’s not it,” he said when I walked in and his eyes fell on the cross. But then, before I could react, he laughed, “I’m kidding, that’s it!!” He didn’t open the card but smiled, he wouldn’t meet my eyes, and before any emotion might possibly bubble up, he changed the subject. For the remainder of the visit he randomly sprinkled one-liners like flecks of pepper, “I need to find a place on the wall to hang that,” or “I’m going to hang that, yeah.” And I remembered, when he repeats something, it means something. The mission was successful. It meant something to him, and while I may never know or hear about it again, he now has a private way to cherish and remember the couple that had been kind to him so many years ago.

Kindness is a circle, as my Aunt often reminds me, and this is but one small example of human kindness coming full circle. From the provision of a church group hosting an event and project for a little boy, and from the little boy to a neighboring couple, and from the couple to a wall in their home treasuring the boy’s kindness, to a story told by the boy who is now a father to his daughter. And then, from a caring daughter to share the story with the family, and finally from the family the initial item of kindness, the cross, came back to the now grown little boy. 

We don’t often get to see our kindness circles completed, but they are there. It’s in moments like this we can be certain that a kindness done, no matter how small is never wasted. 

Pennsylvania Press Club Announcement

To My Dearest Followers,

Have you had a chance enjoy Crutchprint’s book published in 2020? It is worth a look as “Crutchprints in the Sand: Chest of Timeless Treasures” has now received honorable mention as the 2021 Pennsylvania Federation of Press Women’s Award. In addition, my article, “Public Whispers, Relations and Funerals” received third place in the personal blog communications category.

To get your copy of the book click here. The book includes a copy of the article.

To read a free copy of the article, “Public Whispers, Relations and Funerals” , which is included in the book click here.

As always, thank you to all of my followers, readers, and audience! Dreaming Despite Disability is my tagline, and one that you are helping to propel forward for awareness, education, and diversity.

Warmest Regards,

Ashly

You Can’t Be Your Own Hero

I’ve recently had a first. At my age, I didn’t feel there were too many more firsts that I could experience so I was pleasantly surprised. We were watching a movie about a woman that was an amputee and hero in WWII, and I felt convicted. Wow, I thought, If she could do all of this as an amputee then I need to step it up! As odd as it sounds, this feeling is something that I haven’t experienced much in my life. When we watch movies or read books about inspiring people, they nearly always have two feet or are completely abled in order to meet the challenges before them. My mind’s deductive reasoning translates this to be impressive but not possible for someone in my situation, and so I dismiss any conviction subconsciously. It felt like a breath of fresh air to me, seeing someone like me on the screen accomplishing things beyond my wildest imagination!

Virginia Hall was an American woman from Baltimore. She lost her leg in a hunting accident below the knee as a young U.S. government secretary in Turkey. She dreamed of becoming a diplomat and was turned down in letter after letter of rejection due to her “condition”. Not only was she a woman, but a disabled one at that. Even the disabled President Franklin Roosevelt was not prepared to make such an exception at that time in history when her case was presented to him. 

Virginia persisted and went to France, there she drove an ambulance on the front lines of battle during the Nazi invasion. (Purnell, 2020) Her bravery was remarkable during this time and she learned nerves of steel, perseverance, and the importance of hiding her disability from the masculine and able-ism views affronting her.

Later, she was dispatched successfully by Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE, a WWII secret-service organization) to pave the way into occupied France. She worked to build a network for resistance to aid the allied war efforts. She had a wooden leg she named Cuthbert, which caused hardship, bleeding, and much pain on a regular basis. She dealt with the shortages of soap and food during France’s Nazi occupation, and risked her life at every turn. She was the first female SOE personnel successfully placed in enemy territory, and the first agent to successfully nurture the resistance and network successful air-drops and inroads for the allies in France. (Purnell, 2020)

Her escapades in France led her to be one of the most sought after enemies of the Nazi state, and the price for the “limping lady’s” capture was steep. When careless personnel inadvertently blew her cover, Virginia, along with Cuthbert, were forced to  cross the Pyrenees mountains, only to be imprisoned in Spain. She eventually made it back to England but was not permitted to return to the field by SOE due to her cover being extensively blown. (Prahl, n.d.; Pilcher, 2021.) 

Not having any of this, she learned the holy grail (and most dangerous) of secret-agent skills: wireless operation. Her new skills made her invaluable and she joined the American equivalent of the SOE (the OSS, Office of Strategic Services Special Agent Branch). As the first woman within this new American organization, she subjected herself to the disguise of an old woman, going so far as to have her own teeth ground down in the manner of country women in France, and returned to assist the allied war efforts to prepare for D-day on the mainland. (Purnell, 2020)

This should be enough by any average standard, but Virginia’s standards were not average. After the war, Virginia married fellow OSS agent, Paul Goillot, and attempted to fulfill her dream of becoming a diplomat. She was denied, again. Resigned, both Virginia and Paul worked for the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) where Virgina served as the first female agent within. She finally retired in 1966 with Paul and lived in Rockville, Maryland, dying at the ripe old age of 76.  (Prahl, n.d.)

An exceptional story, is it not? Her duties were performed in spite of being an amputee much like myself. Reading her biography and seeing the movie was truly humbling for me. The possibilities of willpower and resourcefulness convict me to take a fresh perspective on life as an amputee.

Unrelated, I saw a question posted on an amputee Facebook group last week: “Who are some Amputee heroes in real life?” In a group with over 3.5k members, only two people (I am one) named someone other than “myself”! I was astounded, appalled. How can you be your own hero? It usurps the very purpose and intention of having a hero to begin with. (Hero, n.d.) The number of amputees that reported believing themselves to be their own heroes quite unsettled me over the course of the next few days.

A quick google search reveals there is an entire movement about becoming your own hero and the ways in which this inspires and creates a sense of wellbeing. I wholeheartedly disagree with this. While we must definitely be filled with self-compassion, admire and celebrate our achievements, and try to be the best that we can possibly be, we cannot also be our own standard!  (Hero, n.d.)There must be something outside of ourselves that holds a standard for us or represents to us the best version of humanity. In this age of narcissism, to be your own hero comes off to me as being one’s own god, one’s own surgeon, one’s own psychologist. It simply cannot be. We exist to work together and to raise humanity to greater levels by each achieving and inspiring those around us to be better. The bar must continually raise in order for there to be movement in that direction. But who can both hold the bar and jump over it at the same time? 

Learning about Viginia Hall’s life of selfless devotion and sacrifice to freedom and humanity, I am inspired to be a better person. That is not a standard or perspective that I would have garnered without the inspiration of her life, apart from my own. I am inspired to hold my values and purposes in the front of my mind with my disability in the back. I am inspired by her not to conform to the conventions of the time or socially acceptable standards of one considered disabled. I am inspired to push towards my own purpose and calling regardless of the obstacles at hand. I think the artist Charlie Mackesy puts it best, “Isn’t it odd. We can only see our outsides, but nearly everything happens on our insides.” (Mackesy, 2021.)

Sources:

Hero. (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2021, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hero

MACKESY, C. (2021). BOY, THE MOLE, THE FOX AND THE HORSE. S.l.: HARPER ONE.

Prahl, A. (n.d.). Biography of Virginia Hall, WWII’S Most WANTED Spy. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from https://www.thoughtco.com/virginia-hall-4690641#:~:text=Virginia%20Hall%20Goillot%20(born%20Virginia,by%20the%20Nazi%20German%20regime.

Pilcher, L. D. (Director), & Thomas, S. M. (Writer). (2020). A Call to Spy [Motion picture on Amazon]. United States.

Purnell, S. (2020). A woman of no importance: The untold story of the American spy who helped win World War II. New York, NY: Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

The Master’s Plan

God has a long history of influencing leaders. It may even be argued that he likes using difficult leaders at times. To me, these stories have served as a wonderful reminder that he is the one true God, he is the one in charge, and man’s folly cannot undo or stop his goodness. 

In Genesis 20 we see Abraham give his wife Sarah to the king, Abimelech, in a ploy of deception (the king thought Sarah was Abraham’s sister). Without any help, God intervenes in a dream before the king lays a hand on Sarah. The result of this was that Abimelech enriched Abraham as a way of apology and received a peaceful prayer and blessing from Abraham in return. 

Further on in Genesis we see God giving the Pharaoh of Egypt a dream which only Joseph, one of God’s own, can interpret. God uses this influence to place Joseph in a position to prevent starvation for the whole country over a course of fourteen years. (Holy Bible, Genesis 37-50) Entering Exodus, we watch on as God uses Moses to speak and influence the Pharaoh via a series of God-sent plagues. The result? The Pharaoh freed an entire nation after nearly 400 years of slavery. And think, we are still only looking at the very beginning of the bible!

Moving forward through the pages we can see the way that King Nebuchadnezzar was influenced by God through dreams and through Daniel. (Holy Bible, Daniel 4) Esther was placed by God to influence her Persian King, Xerxes I, and stop the genocide of Jewish people. (Holy Bible, Esther 5) Nehemiah, cup-bearer to the king Artaxerxes, asked for permission to reunite the Jewish people from exile and rebuild the city of Jerusalem with success. (Holy Bible, Nehemiah 2) All of this evidence of God influencing leaders and we still aren’t even halfway through the bible!

When it comes to leaders and politics I feel God has quite a track record of being influential and working in mysterious ways. Whether or not an individual leader is a follower of Yahweh, or Christ, does not seem to be a qualifier. Look at the way in which George Washington, with an entire army behind him, handed the reins of an entire nation over to the people. How about the way that Abraham Lincoln was placed in a unique situation that caused him to be influenced to free an entire nation of slaves in America? During WWII I have no doubt about the way in which God influenced many of the greatest world leaders such as Roosevelt, Churchill, Truman, and even Stalin to stop the mass genocide his people. And if you want to stick only to the bible, let’s talk about Paul: Former Christian killer- turned author of nearly a third of the new testament. 

So where do we stand when politics do not go our way, as Christians? I think it is important to recognize that regardless of God’s will in the matter, no man (or woman) would stand in a position of power unless God allowed it. Yes, God grants free will to his people on earth and we have permission to elect leaders according to majority rule. However, throughout history we see evidence that God alone has the final say. He will use his people, he will influence leaders, and he will work things together for the good of those that love him. It is up to us to be available for God’s use and to answer the calls that are placed before us on a daily basis because each moment leads us to a contributing purpose in the bigger picture.

I do not like to speak about politics and religion on my blog. I don’t enjoy making a commitment to one party or another in my writing. The fact is, on both sides of the aisle we will find Christians that love Jesus with all of their hearts, all of their strength, and all of their minds. It doesn’t matter to me which side of the aisle my brothers and sisters in Christ tend to reside. What matters to me is that we are all acting in a manner that is worthy of the call Christ has given. What matters to me is that each and every one of us is trusting God with the bigger picture. After all, isn’t it a bit silly for us to think any one political party has the entire plan of God in the forefront of their agenda? My final vote: Let’s trust the master with his plan. 


It is with regret that I take this opportunity to inform you, dear reader, that I have decided to cease posting book reviews on Crutchprints. While these have served to increase both traffic and overall number of followers, the direction is pulling me away from my vision for this site.

What can you expect from now on? More of the traditional posts that Crutchprints is known for: Journey articles, humorous stories, minimal poetry, and relational tools. In addition, I will be releasing works of fiction that highlight social issues and insights in the form of short stories. Thank you for following, and I hope that you continue to enjoy posts by Crutchprints.

God IS.

Last night our beloved 4 lb Chihuahua came up to us and within mere minutes she transformed from the bundle of love that we knew into an unresponsive and dying dog. She was only eight, but an exploding tumor or aneurysm took her from us suddenly. Having no children, it is a loss that I feel acutely, especially in this time of pandemic and isolation. Amid a torrent of support, love, and prayers from friends and family a particular conversation stood out to me.

A friend of mine has recently felt loss even more acutely, and on more than one level. This person is someone that since making a commitment to the Lord many years ago has lived and breathed in a state of worship. This person has been a stellar example and has challenged me to live consciously for the Lord more times than I can count. Seeing the level of suffering and pain that 2020 has brought into their life, I was particularly touched last evening when I received a message reaching out to encourage me. One part of the message stated, “Have to remind ourselves constantly that God is good!!” Sometimes, God doesn’t feel like he is good. Sometimes all circumstantial evidence seems to portray a very different verdict. I felt the mental dissonance of declaring God’s goodness in horrible circumstances sharply. 

In Exodus, God tells Moses, “I AM who I AM […] I AM has sent you.” (Holy Bible, Exodus 3:14.) This message was to be proclaimed to a race of slaves existing in bondage and being promised freedom. God didn’t promise them that there would be no hunger, he didn’t promise that Pharaoh wouldn’t pursue them, he didn’t promise there would be hardship or death. He simply said that I AM had sent someone to set them free.

When Job was suffering beyond belief and questioning God, God finally responded to him, “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”  God asks a series of rhetorical questions that span over the chapters of Job 38-40 including: Will you discredit my justice? Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn it’s place? Have the gates of death been shown to you? And where does darkness reside?

It is easy in the midst of pain to declare and question the Almighty. It is just as easy sometimes to proclaim and repeat over our lives that God is good in spite of the way we feel or the questions that we have in our circumstances. Over the years I’ve found a response that works for me. One that I believe is mindful, true to my heart, honest, and most reflective of the reality I see in that moment (being the finicky, narrow-sighted human that I am). That response is to tell myself to remember that God IS. He simply IS. 

No matter how I feel, the fact remains he is Almighty God and I am but a drop in the sea. No matter how unjustly I see things happening around me, that fact doesn’t change. If I should choose to throw a book off my roof, the law of gravity God established would cause that book to fall. God himself wouldn’t reach down from heaven and slap that book onto the ground. No, he established laws and free will on earth and he himself follows and respects his own rules. Does this mean that God is helpless to the chaos and events that take place on earth? Certainly  not, but it does mean he is a gentleman and might even await our invitation for involvement through prayer and petition. He promises to work all things together for the good of those that love him. He doesn’t promise to prevent all bad things from happening. 

Reminding myself in hard times that God IS, has been a simple way for me to turn my heart back to worship. Regardless of anything that happens to me, around me, or to those I love, God is still God and he is worthy of my worship. Even if I believe there is injustice and feel that God should have handled something differently, he is still God. Nothing can change that fact. It is a message that God has put before his people again and again through the bible’s old testament in all manner of circumstances and situations: Who will you worship? 

“As for me and my house, we will worship the Lord.” (Holy Bible, Joshua 24:15.)

Book Review: How the Penguins Saved Veronica by Hazel Prior

A heartwarming story about a woman nearing the end of her life, seeking purpose as well as legacy. Veronica finds herself in Antarctica with a friend, one of her first in fact, a grandson she only recently learned existed, and a penguin pet. From a prickly exterior that even readers feel adverse towards, Veronica transforms herself and those around her during her fabulous adventure of a lifetime. While not in the young adult genre, this fictional piece is appropriate for all ages and guaranteed to leave readers with a kind appreciation of life and delicate approach to aging.

Book Review: Hyper Focus by Chris Bailey

Bailey does a great job of sticking to the point. While the book’s title leads one to believe there is one topic to this book, there is actually two. Bailey discusses the tools to maintaining productivity and balance in life and introduces to us hyper-focus and scatter-focus. He provides a lot of scientific data to back up these theories while he explains the perpetual state of over-stimulation we live in today due to technology and distractions. Learn how your mind processes distractions, the ways in which letting your mind wander will benefit you creatively and productively. Don’t worry, he maintains focus and keeps it brief!

Book Review: Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon

Follow Naomi and her family on their journey west via covered wagon and the Oregon trail. A theme that maintains constant throughout this book is: Open your eyes. Naomi falls in love and finds herself a widow at only 20 years old. Will she find love again? Will she make it out west in spite of the perils and dangers of the trail? The prologue of this book will leave you thirsty for more and most readers either love or hate it. This historical fiction was gleaned from real journals and research by Harmon and is a heartwarming yet insightful read.

Book Review: Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern

Minus the cursing and a few awkward sexual references, this was an outstanding and quick read that will have the most conservative of us struggling to keep our laughter inside. The ridiculous side of me wanted to remember and capture all of the hilarious responses of Halpern’s father, recognizing that the generation and their peculiar outlook is a fading gem in time. Comparable only to Hillbilly Elegy, this is a surefire way to lift your spirits and enjoy a quite Sunday afternoon.

Book Review: How Fires End by Marco Rafala

Thankful this book was a gift as it is not a book I would dream of choosing for myself. Taking place in Italy, this book is an illustrative example of how feuds can be passed down through generations, across continents, and almost always cause needless pain and suffering. This book also provided an objective look at the way religious beliefs, beliefs in a Saint specifically, can lead to extreme behavioral dissonance. I am thankful that I read this book because the characters stick with me still and the insightful revelation of social psychological patterns are exquisite in this book.