Author Archives: Karen Valentine

The Other Side of the Bed

The Other Side of the Bed

It’s coming on Christmas

They’re cutting down trees

They’re putting up reindeer

And singing songs of joy and peace

Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on.

River, Joni Mitchell


Not everyone looks forward to Christmas, for years I was one of them. It was more comfortable to ignore it, pass on all the festivities, and my life has been a cake walk compared to many. In some parts of the world, happy Christmas celebrations are nothing more than a distant dream and have been for entire lives.

We do not have to look to other countries to witness Christmas angst though. It is right here in front of us, but we are too self-concerned or self-congratulatory to awaken to it.

For me, it was not the reason for the celebration that made me shrink away; I treasured the divinity in the celebration, the birth of Jesus. It was the holiday gatherings I dreaded.

Sadness does not take a powder because it is Christmas; it is magnified, and the stress of wanting to make the holiday perfect for everyone becomes bone numbing. Already fledgling financial resources can become more unstable with hearts wanting so badly to gift those they love. Lack is fatiguing; souls can grieve for what they have never had as well as for loss.

All one has to do is look to the other side of the bed, the empty side, to feel the deep pang of loss for a spouse or lover who has passed, or a dream that never materialized.

Even those who typically have wonderful Christmas seasons have known the harsh truth of laughter you can hear but do not feel part of, tasteless food, and forced smiles. For some, this scene is repeated year after year.

Christmas is a reminder of what was lost in the fire, of being alone, of physical fatigue caused by ever-present illness, what is missing, who will be absent this year, that life is sadly different now, or that time is running out.

Let’s suspend judgment of those who view the holidays differently, who opt out, or don’t seem to engage. It is not their responsibility to perform for us.

We can love those struggling, pray for them, their families, their physicians, and other caregivers. Given an opportunity to tell their story, to be heard, they do feel lighter. We can make time to be that listener.

If Christmas is uncomfortable due to harsh feelings, we can go to the person we have wronged and gift them with a sincere, mature, apology. Someone once said to me, “I can’t apologize enough.” I wanted to say, “Well try!” He was correct, he could not and did not. A mature apology is looking the person in the eyes, taking their hand and telling them you know you hurt them, you are sorry, and hope they can forgive you.

If you have a parent still living this Christmas, do whatever they want to do, and let them know how crazy you are about them. Even eat the shitty fruitcake.

Tell your siblings how dear they are to you, how very much you love and treasure them, even though your brother and his buddy Jerry Stow stuck their big toes in your coke while you were out of the room when they were kids.

Parents, listen to your children, kids or adults, really listen. They need to know you love them and respect them.

Bring the pets in from the bitter cold; if you cannot do this simple thing you do not deserve to have them, give them to someone who gets it.

As we are able, let’s help those who clearly need help; they are everywhere. Maybe next door.

If you are an employer, give your staff enough time off to breathe in Christmas. It is the right thing to do.

Think. We are callous to congratulate ourselves for what we have in the presence of those who are lacking, whether it is gifts we have received, financial success, years of wedded bliss, or a fantastic job. Remember everyone is really doing the best they can.

If it is you feeling the pain this year, give thanks.

Years ago, about the time I was diagnosed with Lupus, I sustained a serious back injury and could not work for months; eventually, I had to resign from my job. I was in terrible pain each day and depressed.

My spiritual director, Pat, told me to focus on gratefulness. I told her she’d been smoking too much weed. But, Pat was right, I started a gratitude journal, listing several things each day I was grateful for. That was twenty-three years ago.

I can’t wait for Christmas.


“Eucharisteo—thanksgiving—always precedes the miracle.”

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are– Ann Voskamp
























One More Midnight Confession

One More Midnight Confession

Sometimes I miss the younger woman I was. I do not look back and wish I had done this or that; I did most of it. What I do look back at with longing is the untamed spirit I had. The years have refined me, smoothed out my uncultivated surfaces, and tamed me.

Something as simple as driving, I saw as an adventure. I have collected more miles than average on my vehicles and it has not always been smooth cruising, or parking for that matter.

After overspending at the mall, I returned to my Jeep to find a policeman waiting for me. “Mam, your vehicle has been involved in a hit-and-run” he announced.

I told him I did not have a self-driving vehicle, so that was just not possible. He ushered me to the side of my car which revealed the entire side smashed as if I’d been in a significant accident.

A very-sturdy looking soldier approached, telling us he had “seen the whole thing.” We inquired how my car got smashed with no driver. He replied, “See that big green truck parked five spaces down?” We did see it. “He missed the space beside you and hit your car, got out, surveyed the damage, then moved his truck down a few spaces.” When the young driver returned to his green truck, he had quite the greeting party.

Even in my driveway, dubious auto Karma followed. I backed out one morning to a c-r-u-n-c-h. It was my niece Jessica’s car, parked down-hill, right behind me. I awakened her from a sound sleep and gave notice that her car was now shorter. She peered sleepily up at me with surly eyes and said: “I don’t care, just move it out of the way.” The girl was no more a fan of mornings than the perpetrator was back then.

Wrecks can be funny. I backed-ended a woman’s car, then walked to her window to inquire if she was all right. “Hell no, I have whiplash,” she growled in a rehearsed tone.

The firemen arrived quickly, as usual. They told me nothing was wrong with her but gave her a neck brace to appease her. Ladies, these were fine firemen. They each put a neck brace on, cocked their heads to the side and moaned “Ooh, I have whiplash.” If you don’t love the firemen in central Oklahoma, you just ain’t right! She sued. My company paid. I sure miss those company perks. This is the confession part, sorry Paula.

It is the law of averages you see. The more time you spend in a vehicle, the more likely you are to have these–mishaps. That’s my story. When you put twenty-four-thousand miles a year on your car, things go awry.

Waiting at a stop light, the senior motorist in front of me put his car in reverse instead of drive, then slammed into me. He ambled back to my window with a sheepish “mea culpa.” He got back in his car. When the light turned green, he did it again!

There was the incident with the deer, poor thing. I went back to say grace over her and make amends, but she had vanished.

Back in my sports car days, I drove around the narrow, winding, lake road to work, shifting gears, singing, putting my mascara on, doing my hair, and drinking coffee at the same time. It is a wonder I was not one of those people they find at the bottom of the lake during a drought.

That slick little car landed me in soo much trouble. . .

It was low to the ground and lightweight, and did not navigate well on ice or snow. Going around the lake on the ice, I would do a 360 and plunge into the ditch backward. The third time in a month I called Ray’s Towing, Ray said: “I should just drive you to work, it would save me time.”

I earned more than few speeding tickets back then. At one point the state sent me a strongly worded letter, “inviting” me to attend a driving class.

Traveling near New Boston, Texas I was stopped by a patrolman, aka Jethro of the Hillbilly variety. He made me follow him to the police station, which seemed peculiar, but it was a big ole Jethro with a big old gun strapped to his big ole ass. What can you do?

He led me through town to a house. As we entered, I could see a small side room that served as the jail with guests in it. Jethro and another bubba wrote me up and asked for cash payment. I did not have that much cash, so they told me I would have to go to the little “house jail.” I had NO intention of doing that. I announced that two grown men should be able to determine if my check was good, to which Jethro literally replied: “Don’t know whut JD gonna think bout that!” I did not care what JD thought bout that; by then I was screaming at both bubbas.

The bubbas took my check. I doubt they stopped another woman in a beige 280Z for a very long time, if ever. My Dad thought this incident was hysterical.

Kelly and I successfully bribed a young cop with a bag of homemade chocolate chips cookies when he stopped us for speeding, circa nineteen-eighty-six. Most unfortunately, that cute and convincing ship has sailed.

When I lived in Memphis and worked downtown, I had a flat one night. I could not change it, it was too late to find anyone to help, so I took the bus home. I started thinking about the Mighty Maverick down in the hood and called the police to see if I could leave it until morning. Ya gotta love that youthful optimism. The officer said, “Sure, when you go get it tomorrow, and it is on blocks with the tires and anything else they can carry missing, I’ll be happy to come down and make a report for you.” I rode downtown at midnight in the tow truck to retrieve my very first car.

Most tragic of the incidents occurred inside a car wash. Don’t look so shocked, it happens. I hate those car washes where you must align your left tire inside the little track. I don’t really know what happened, it was sooo bad. The end result was poorly backing out of the car wash, damage to said car wash, parts falling down, and a speedy exit.

This last event still makes me cringe. When my little Georgia died, I lost my mind for a while. Lisa took me to lunch to cheer me up, and I stopped for gas after. Did you know that gas station owners become very angry when you forget to remove the gas pump handle from your car before driving away? Come to find out, those suckers are made to pop right off the gas island for special people. Still, I was told I could not go back there. Sixteen years later, I have not.







Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

Grandmother God rose last night in the face of the full moon.

 I stood out in the still summer heat watching her.

How pale you look I said.

How hot you look she said.

We shared a smile.

Knowing God is seeing God where you find her.

–Stephen Charleston, Cloud Walking


Have you ever noticed that the everyday morphs into the rare and remarkable on closer inspection?

Taking photos is something I’m obsessed with, not great at it, but drawn to like a menopausal woman to chocolate. I want to look at the same places, same things, same people, and see something different. Something that will wake me up, stir my spirit into knowing I am alive, not just walking through a bland dream.

From my backyard, what’s left after the Clematis blossom fades.

It’s been suggested that I take a photography course, or at least buy a good digital camera with all the glickins. That would take the fun out of it for me, the spontaneity in seeing what I can produce with my little iPhone five. The blog most likely deserves better, but I am resisting as long as I can.

The bottom side of a mushroom, from my yard.

Revealing the spectacular in the ordinary does not disappoint. It is a meditative practice for me. What we seek cannot be found in our iPhones, television, Facebook, dinner out, or any other distraction “out there.” It is always here, inside us. If you slow down and resist being sucked into today’s negative drama you find an entire other world to concern yourself with, vastly more interesting and soul nourishing.

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Could We Be Wrong?

Could We Be Wrong?


“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.”          ― Carl Sagan

An amateur Spanish archaeologist, Marcelino de Sautuola, and his eight-year-old daughter Maria were exploring a cave in Altimira Spain in 1879 when Maria looked up and found striking paintings of bison on the ceiling.

Sautoula had seen similar displays of Paleolithic painting in Paris at an exposition and assumed their Altimira discovery might also date from the Stone Age. He and an archaeologist from the University of Madrid published these findings to quite a stir in the scientific community.

They presented the paper at an International Scientific Congress and were ridiculed. He was accused of forgery because he could not account for why there were no soot marks on the walls and ceilings of the cave. His accusers said Sautuola had the images painted by a modern artist.

The scientific community took issue with de Sautuola’s findings; so did the church. The theory of evolution was new in those days and his theory of a very talented Paleolithic painter who lived 15,000 years ago did not sit well with them, so de Sautuola was discredited even further.

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If It Has Tires or Testicles. . .

If It Has Tires or Testicles. . .

“The warnings grew worse, depending on the danger at hand. Sex education, for example, consisted of the following advice: ‘Don’t ever let boy kiss you. You do, you can’t stop. Then you have baby. You put baby in garbage can. Police find you, put you in jail, then you life over, better just kill youself.” ― Amy TanThe Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life


The rare advice my Mom gave did come from left field, but thank God it was not as daunting as the warnings issued by Amy Tan’s Mom. Moms will dish out advice, generally unsolicited. My Mom was a different bird; she had a unique way of seeing the world and responding to it.

Mom shared her opinions frequently but seldom words of advice. She was terribly in love with her kids and guided us the best she knew how. I found her funny and intimidating in equal measure. Some of her words of wisdom still make me howl with laughter.

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What We Have in Common

What We Have in Common


“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” — Albert Einstein

The campus chimes begin to toll as I step out onto the labyrinth at University of Central Oklahoma, one, two, three, four, five o’clock. A lovely, simple melody follows, and I continue on the red winding path. The music ends, and the chimes from a nearby church echo the same tune back, then play a hymn. It is Good Friday and the campus is deserted; I love the quiet and the peaceful setting. Perfect for my walking meditation today. I am in the first hour of a four-hour silent retreat and prayer vigil.

As I walk I think back over the past six months; I have been part of a group engaged in the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius. This daily retreat focuses on the entire life of Jesus and places the participant emotionally into scenes of his life with prayer, meditation, contemplation, and journaling. Total immersion. I first participated in the exercises sixteen years ago, and as my first experience, this one has been intimate, imbued with spiritual integrity, tolerance, and revelation.

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Dreams, Memes, and Circus Clowns

Dreams, Memes, and Circus Clowns

“The circus is a jealous wench. Indeed that is an understatement. She is a ravening hag who sucks your vitality as a vampire drinks blood – who kills the brightest stars in her crown and will allow no private life for those who serve her; wrecking their homes, ruining their bodies, and destroying the happiness of their loved ones by her insatiable demands. She is all of these things, and yet, I love her as I love nothing else on earth.”

-Henry Ringling North, The Circus Kings: Our Ringling Family Story


At about seven years of age, I first went to the circus in South Dakota. I was overwhelmed with the largest crowd I had ever seen, the organ music, the enormous animals, and sheer excitement of it. They were selling tiny green chameleons that magically turned the color of your blouse or anything else you placed it on. I never gave a thought as a child to the fate of the little creature, the performing animals who were constricted to circus life, or the folks who lived the circus life.

I haven’t been to the circus for forty years. Even before we knew of the alleged mistreatment of animals and the perils of circus life for performers, I hated to see wild animals in captivity. I remember the last time I attended watching a regal white tiger run circles ad nauseam within a huge sphere; it was heartbreaking to me. I’m sure it was to the animal too. That was my last circus.

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Seven Cold Weather Cures

Seven Cold Weather Cures

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.” ― Ernest Hemingway


I have books all over my house, on my shelves, on my bedside table, on my couch, and on the floor. I think there are books in my underwear drawer. I l-o-v-e to read. Reading transports us to worlds we may never get to see, to ideas that would never come to us otherwise, to characters with depth of purpose we may never experience. Time and perception are altered, and we are given the opportunity to experience our wildest dreams.  Could anything be more delicious on a freezing afternoon than a good book, time to read, and a cup of hot chocolate?

On the road incessantly, I often listen to books that I download from the library. That four-hour drive across the state seems to float by in about an hour. Wonderful wizardry!! Sometimes I read on my iPad, laptop, or iPhone, but I prefer the real deal, an actual–book. You cannot really “curl up” with a Kindle.  Besides, my books are highlighted and underlined, with notes in the margins, and many, many, dog-eared pages.

“Must Reads” suggestions are rotated on the home page of the blog, (Yes, I have read each of them.) but today let’s focus on seven books that touched me, taught me, and opened a door I was better for having walked through.

City of Tranquil Light, Bo Caldwell, 2010

Caldwell’s story broke me open. It is historical fiction, but inspired by the lives of her grandparents, American missionaries with family in Oklahoma, who served in China under horrific circumstances. As a Christian, it revealed to me what purposeful, intentional trust in God looks like. It also reminded me of the sacrifices made by those who choose to share their spiritual gifts, and do so by listening rather than preaching and by healing rather than judging. The story also schooled me regarding life in mainland China in the early twentieth century during civil war. Caldwell delivers scene after scene with such clarity and devotion that I was brought to tears over and over again.

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Uncommon Mercy

Uncommon Mercy


I looked up from my hymnal to see bright, brown, innocent eyes peering back at me from two pews up. Fresh-faced and beaming, most likely of Chinese heritage, she looked about fourteen. My heart stopped, and I gasped out-loud.

I didn’t recall ever seeing her at St Augustine’s and have not seen her since. Looking back at the day, I am not sure I physically saw her.

The night before I watched a movie called “The Flowers of War.” I was drawn to it because my favorite actor, Christian Bale, was in it. I got a great deal more than I bargained for; the story had a profound effect on me. Six months later I feel compelled to tell the story.

Nanjing City

The movie was about the Chinese city of Nanking, the setting of one of the most horrific war crimes in history. I had never heard this story; it awakened me and revealed a depth of sacrifice I am not sure I possess.

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Are You Ms. Letters?

Are You Ms. Letters?

“At Midnight, even bad days come to an end.” —


Ninety-nine percent of the time I am not naked when I write my blogs. I guess that begs an explanation.

With meticulous detail, I dressed this morning, a new blouse, my cutest crème colored jacket with the cool belt that ties in the front, and my best Antonio Melani slacks. I took extra time with my eye makeup, careful to enhance my blue eyes. I even wore my best bra, not that anyone ever sees one of my bras, but I just wanted that extra confidence boost you have when you know the girls are up in the general vicinity where they belong.

When I arrived at the restaurant where I was meeting my manager for lunch, I jumped out of the car eager to be on time. The only parking place was on Sheridan Avenue, after all, it was Bricktown, Oklahoma City; there is never any parking. A man in a big truck squeezed into the last shaded spot; I inched into the last sunny spot.

West 50

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