Mark Ballard

Taking notice of our surroundings can melt away stress

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The last month has been extremely busy for me. There were several times when I didn’t know if I would make all the deadlines. It happens every year around this time. I become tired and overwhelmed and always need a little encouragement.

There are times when we all need a little comfort from life’s daily responsibilities and hectic schedules. A little pat on the back always give us the boost that gets us through a challenging time. From the bottom of my heart, I truly believe that when we most need comfort, it will come to us in some form. Sometimes a friend drops by for an unexpected visit. Other times, we receive a friendly call completely out of the blue. There are even times when we see something that clearly connects us with a loved one who has passed away.

I found out last year, when I drew a series of red birds, that they have a special meaning to many people. When a cardinal flies by or perches on a nearby branch, some folks believe that they are being comforted by a loved one.

For some, it’s as simple as a penny. Just seeing the sun reflect on the shiny copper coin takes them back to a time of reflection and peace. My granddaddy refused to walk by a penny without stopping to pick it up. I have passed that on to my son, Blake. I never see a penny on the ground that I don’t think of both of them.

Whatever calms us is very important. For me, it’s a feather. It doesn’t have to be any particular color or size. It can be fancy or plain but just seeing a feather makes me think of my parents and takes me back to a place where I can hear them saying in a loving voice to me, “Mark, things are going to be just fine!” Last week was a perfect example.

On just about every single day, a feather of some sort appeared directly in my path. One day, as I was walking down to my car from our back door, I literally saw three feathers. Not just in the vicinity, but directly in front of me. The first one made me smile. The second one offered comfort. The last left me feeling better and ready to tackle the rest of my day.

The feathers kept coming. They came to me on more than one day and at several different places. One day I was getting out of my car at the gym when one slowly glided down in front of me coming to rest at my shoe. Later that same day, I saw one at the parking lot while on a late-night grocery store run and then the next day at the entrance to the post office.

For me, all these feathers worked together to wrap me in a lingering hug as if transferring the energy I desperately needed to positively tackle each day. They offered me extra strength at just the time when I needed it most. “One day at a time!” Mother used to say. Sometimes we have to tackle our days minute by minute to make it through.

Whether you believe we receive these signs or not isn’t really important. What is important are these gentle reminders make us pause and remember a less hectic time or a special memory that offers comfort like a big hug. They melt away stress and tension and leave us feeling stronger. They are the pat on our back we all need.

Something tells me that for the next two months we are all going to need signs to help us through the hectic holiday season. Whenever you see your particular sign, remember to pause, take a deep breath, re-focus and charge forward. I guarantee you it will help!

▪  Sunday is the last day of Christmas Made in the South. Join Mark and many other artists and craftspeople at the Macon Centreplex from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email; follow him at creates; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.