Thursday, December 7, 2017

What matters

What matters.

Do I want to approach this as a question or as a statement? (Upon writing that, I realize the approach is one thing that really doesn't matter.)

When I tried to think about what matters, my first thought was of things ("matter") that have value. But that thought was quickly replaced by the importance of experiences and relationships.

Maybe that shift in perspective goes along with aging, even though I don't think 58 is that old. But I find myself focusing more on my health, relationships and experiences. And my memories.

Unfortunately, it seems my health and memory may be starting to decline, much earlier in my life than I would expect. Even as I try to turn those trends around, I find myself in a new quandary regarding material things. Pictures, newspaper and magazine clippings, greeting cards, letters, souvenirs, collected trinkets -- even clothing -- unlock memories for me. If I get rid of these memory triggers, will I lose these moments from my past?

Does it matter? What is the value of holding on to details from the past? I don't have an answer right now.

I do know that whatever value material things may have is diminished when they are stored in a disorganized mess. But I have no good answers on how to sort through it.

Another area where I wrestle with "what matters" is  how I use my time. This week's theme in the First 15 daily devotional by Craig Denison is on boundaries. The readings have offered plenty of guidance as I try to discern what God wants me to be doing.

Denison wrote several things to which I related:

"I thought if I didn’t work my fingers to the bone day in and day out for the kingdom that God’s will wasn’t going to be accomplished. It’s as if I believed that I was a savior, the sole hope of the world. And all these misconceptions led to a constant weight I couldn’t seem to shake. But Isaiah 55:10-11 says, For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. The truth is that God absolutely has good works laid out before me every single day. He has a plan for me that will impact eternity. But his chief desire in everything he asks of me is that we would do it together. He doesn’t need me. He wants me."
Denison often includes some questions, and the one with this hit home. My response is in the parenthesis.

3. What would it look like to live an abundant life today? What do you need to create boundaries around? What would God use today to fill you up and satisfy the dry and weary places in your heart? Take time to rest in the love of God.

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

(Maybe this would be a reminder that I need to put boundaries around my food, to keep it healthy and wholesome; maybe also Facebook or other distractions. And how does getting enough sleep translate into a boundary? That may also fit with the Facebook and distractions boundary. Plus, is there a boundary that translates to making sure whatever I do is based on love of God?)

GO ...
The best boundary for maintaining a sense of health is a having a weekly sabbath. Genesis 2:3 tells us, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” To rest is holy. It’s a declaration to yourself and the world that life is about far more than work. It’s a reminder that work is just a way that we live in relationship with God. May you find grace and courage to live in line with the culture of God’s kingdom as you set boundaries around what you need in order to live an abundant life.

(Maybe this also needs to translate to my daily sabbath; respecting the time I need to set aside for rest and sleep; a declaration to myself and the world that life is about far more than work. It's a reminder that work is just a way that we live in relationship with God.)

I also ran across this, from a Dec. 3, 2013, blog post. Much of it is pulled directly from "My Utmost for His Highest" by Oswald Chambers for the day before.

For me, it's not even about being perfect. It's about wanting to be useful, helpful, meaningful, loving, caring and have purpose in God's world and in relationships with people. What the text helped me see is that I do tend to focus on or worry about whether I am letting God use me the way He would like to. I tend to think I fall short. And this helped me again to fathom that I truly just need to focus on the love of God through Christ, and to TRUST HIM. Last weekend was one more example of how, when I do trust that part of me that is focused on God, I end up where I am supposed to be. I have no doubt that was the case then. So how can I not also trust Him to help me take care of what's in front of me now. And so I will. (Excerpts from the pilfered text follow, with emphasis added.) Not that I have already attained, or am already perfect . . . —Philippians 3:12 It is a trap to presume that God wants to make us perfect specimens of what He can do — God’s purpose is to make us one with Himself. ... What shines forth and reveals God in your life is not your relative consistency to an idea of what a saint should be, but your genuine, living relationship with Jesus Christ, and your unrestrained devotion to Him whether you are well or sick. Christian perfection is not, and never can be, human perfection. Christian perfection is the perfection of a relationship with God that shows itself to be true even amid the seemingly unimportant aspects of human life. When you obey the call of Jesus Christ, the first thing that hits you is the pointlessness of the things you have to do. ... I am called to live in such a perfect relationship with God that my life produces a yearning for God in the lives of others, not admiration for myself. ... God’s purpose is not to perfect me to make me a trophy in His showcase; He is getting me to the place where He can use me. Let Him do what He wants.

I'm also trying to tie this in with what Charlotte Lankard, a licensed family counselor, wrote in her column for The Oklahoman.  She wrote about what a difference it can make to change one's attitude from "I have to" to "I get to."

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Inspired by the Wonders of Wildlife

When I made arrangements to tour Johnny Morris' Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium while my husband and I were in Springfield, Mo., on a trip related to his work, my objective was to write a story for the local newspaper and take a step toward accomplishing a goal I set in March.

That mission was accomplished, and the article was printed on the Outdoors page of The Oklahoman on Sunday, Nov. 26. Here is a link:

An unexpected side benefit was that I truly was inspired by the vision of Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops and a leading national conservationist. So much of his message was about the value of getting outdoors and enjoying nature. As I listened to his welcome video and then throughout my tour of the museum and aquariums, I kept thinking that I really needed to try again to enjoy fishing with my husband.

So, when the weather happened to be sunny, with light wind and about 70 degrees on the day after Thanksgiving, I suggested to my husband that not only would it be a good day for him to go fishing, but what if I went, too? He said he also had thought of that, so instead of me looking for Black Friday shopping bargains while he went fishing, we headed together with the jon boat to his lake of choice.

There will be more to this success story .... I'm posting the unfinished draft to get the November time stamp, even though it still was a draft when the November wrap-up was published!

Wrapping up November

Here it is the last day of November, and I actually have more blog drafts than published posts for the month. And this one likely will be a placeholder, that either I'll follow up on later or actually come back to this post and finish writing what I wanted to say.

It's been a months of highs and lows -- experiencing, learning, excitement, "blah," progress, accepting. Exciting goals required some long nights and new methods to accomplish.

More than once, a desired outcome brought an immediate sense of pride and satisfaction that was followed -- somewhat surprisingly, and certainly more quickly than I would have expected -- by a stark emotional letdown and lack of focus.

Throughout it all, I've tried to stay focused on God -- praying, trying to obey, trusting and thanking Him even when it seemed like my inadequacies continued to get in the way.

And on this last day of November, I see so much goodness. My only regret is that I haven't taken time to document more of it, and I don't trust my mind to remember. That's why I hope and pray I will make the effort and find the time to come back to this and fill in some of the rich details.

Until then, and always, I will continue to strive to stay focused on God -- praying, trying to obey, trusting Him and thanking Him.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The power of gratitude

Gratitude is my superpower. 

I’m sure I’ve heard that before my friend repeated it Tuesday. And it’s not original with her. But it resonated in a superpowerful way this Thanksgiving week. 

God is the source of all good — and with an attitude of faith and gratitude, I see that God continues to work ALL  THINGS for good.

Gratitude to God for His goodness frees me from thinking and acting like it’s my responsibility to make things turn out right.

Gratitude takes willingness. No one can force another to be grateful. It is a personal choice.

Gratitude changes situations and outcomes. Gratitude changes perspectives and attitudes.

God’s gifts are all around. Look and see.

Let go. Let God. And give Him the glory. 

What a joy it is to have so many things I'm grateful for that I don't even know where to begin in trying to express! And I'm sure I'll leave out some that are just as important as the ones I include.

Among the things for which I’m thankful today are these basics, which may seem trite but is ever so true.

— Despair transformed into hope, and self-doubt into confidence through him.
— Faith.
— Family.
— Friends.
— Second chances.

I am grateful to know that God is at the top of my list!

In gratitude, I accept God’s goodness, today and always. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Backroads, crossroads and connections

Saturday was the celebration of life for my Aunt Amma Belle, who on Tuesday joined my Dad, their sister and their parents in heaven. She was a sweet and gentle woman, and her death at age 95 marked the end of an era for that family.

Like me, she was married and had no children. But she loved and was loved by her nieces and nephews and their families. Many of us, along with other relatives and friends from the church and community, were able to attend the service at the Methodist church in Whitesboro, Texas.

I was surprised to see at least 15 cars in the procession from the church along the relatively backroads of Highway 377 and Farm to Market 922 over to the cemetery at Valley View, to avoid having to travel on Highway 82 through the larger town of Gainesville and on Interstate 35.

The death of a loved one brings a tangle of memories and emotions for me, because I'm aware of how much more I've forgotten than I remember about people, places and experiences.

When I think of Amma Belle, what I remember most are the summers from my childhood when my younger sister and I would spend two weeks with her and Uncle Bo at the mobile home park near Lake Tawakoni. I think of that narrow home; the bunk beds in the tiny room where we stayed; the kitchen with all of her decorative plates and ceramic figurines, where we ate pudding and pound cake and played Yahtzee; and the living room with some kind of a decorative horse, maybe a clock. I think of  steeply sloped property filled with trees and rock pathways; beautiful flowers and bushes; and a two-seater swing. And I think of the tall trees along the lanes my sister and I walked most afternoons through the trailer park. As I recall, I was intimidated by Uncle Bo and didn't mind that he was at work most of the days when we were there. And I may have been scared of, or at least uncomfortable around, Amma Belle's chihuahua, Buster.

I also clearly think of Amma Belle as part of a unit with Daddy and their sister, Ella Frances. Now, they and all of the spouses are gone except for my Mom. I realized Saturday that I don't associate Mom with that group; to me, she represents her family line, the Siegmunds. But now I see her also as a treasured link to Daddy's family.

So -- traveling along unfamiliar roadways through rural communities with familiar names (Collinsville and Tioga) to get from one familiar place (Whitesboro) to another (Valley View) added to the tapestry.

I also pondered anew why Granny and Grandpa -- Daddy's parents -- are buried in Valley View. I'm told that's probably where she grew up. Did I ever know? Would I remember if I tracked it down now? I don't have answers.

But I do have more fascinating connections from the weekend. The next day, quite unexpectedly, I had the opportunity to go with Mom to what is called a charge conference of her church, Whaley United Methodist in Gainesville. This was interesting to me on several levels. First, I knew that my church, Goodrich UMC in Norman, Oklahoma, was also having its charge conference that Sunday. I also knew that Goodrich, like Whaley, was having it in conjunction with several other churches.

In Gainesville, the fun surprise came when I read the list of towns from which the churches at the  Northwest District, North Texas United Methodist charge conference came: Gainesville and Sherman, of course, but also Whitesboro, Valley View, Tioga, Collinsville, Bells, Callisburg, Denison, Era, Forestburg, Howe, Saint Jo, Sivell's Bend, Tom Bean and Whitewright. As I wrote on Facebook, "If I can’t be at the one with my Goodrich family, this is the next best place. So many connections in this United Methodist family!! These churches are places where my family has roots!"

Many of those names are tied to memories of people and places from the past, including school competitions and hometowns of friends and relatives. The only one missing was Marysville, but unfortunately, that Methodist church from my childhood closed long ago.

I wish my memory was better, and in absence of that, it sure would be nice if I was organized enough to keep records of family and friends and places and experiences I don't want to forget. That's not likely  to happen.

For now, I'm grateful to enjoy present moments along with the treasured reminders of the past when they come. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Clowning around

#WOW I had great fun clowning around with my favorite furry fish and seeing the other creatures — living and stuffed — at the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in Springfield, Mo., while we were there for the grand opening of the home of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame!

I’ve had a soft spot for these velvety-looking fish ever since I first learned of them all those years ago at Disney’s EPCOT. So I could not pass up the chance to clown around some. I think Gene was pretty embarrassed as I kinda rushed some little kids along so I could pop up in the aquarium but he humored me by taking pictures anyway!

He also humored me by letting me take HIS picture!

And then there was the toothless shark. Really! I think it’s called a Wobbegong or carpet shark. I never knew such a thing existed!

 Overall, it was a pretty cool adventure, with the main drawback being we had to rush through in two and a half hours. It would have been wonderful to linger and more fully experience all the WONDERS OF WILDLIFE!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A bazaar weekend and its aftermath

Wow! I just noticed it's Nov. 11, and I haven't posted since Oct. 30.

I guess I was too busy baking -- two cakes and a batch of brownies, all from mixes but still tasty, according to the tasters! Helping with the bazaar put on by the women of the church last weekend took me out of my comfort zone and rewarded me with fun, fellowship and the satisfaction of supporting worthy missions.

For a while there, I thought I might actually fit in as a United Methodist Woman. Besides baking, I helped with the set-up on Thursday; with making sandwiches on Friday and with cleaning it all up on Saturday. Along the way I talked and listened and laughed and greeted visitors as well as longtime friends. And strategic shopping fulfilled some of my needs and wishes while supporting specifically chosen creators and causes.

Before the weekend was over, I had driven a friend to a funeral and also helped serve Communion at church and delivered Communion to a homebound friend.

Maybe I'm becoming a less self-centered person, someone capable of getting things done, serving others -- just doing it!

I doubt it. Busy, productive, selfless weekends continue to be followed  by a letdown and questioning, wondering why such a desired lifestyle of serving, caring and generosity seems impossible for me to maintain. More time is spent thinking than doing.

Will there ever be an easy rhythm to doing the right thing? Good works can seem exhausting! Being present, even in a labor of love, can tire me out.

Maybe it's because I'm out of shape when it comes to service.

I've recently started jogging at least 2 minutes during my 30-minute walks on the treadmill. I wanted to increase the intensity of my workout time without stressing my knees. At first I could barely jog 30 seconds, then a minute. Now, I may include two or three 2-minute jogs in my time on the treadmill. When I think I can't, I remember the reasons I want to. And I continue. And it's becoming routine.

That's how I want acts of kindness and service to become. Routine. Second nature. Part of who I am.

I thank God for my recent experiences. They give me hope.