Monday, February 20, 2017

In God's Presence

My exercise in writing continues. Today I do not have the TV on. I've only allotted 30 minutes to write. I've already used some of the time to track down the HTML code for the em dash. How good that makes me feel is proof that I am an editor in addition to a wanna-be writer.

What would be great to write about is this morning's prayer time and then going to visit a dear friend at the hospital. Those words are harder to find, for some reason. The experiences are so positive, but much seems to get lost as I try to capture them in words.

I believe in the power of prayer, and I believe God has called me back to the prayer group at 10 a.m. Mondays at the church. The women who gather there inspire me. I feel humbled, grateful and honored to join them. Today I let the Spirit to move me to end my portion of prayer with the upbeat version of the Doxology: "Praise God from Whom all blessings flow. Praise God all creatures here, below. Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise God the source of all our gifts. Praise Jesus Christ Whose power uplifts. Praise the Spirit — Holy Spirit. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!"

While there, I learned my dear friend Mac was back in the hospital. And the church is closer to the hospital than my house is, so being there made it easy to just go on that little bit farther to visit him. I enjoyed spending time with him and his daughter, and then his wife and another daughter when they arrived. I was grateful to be able to sing a couple of hymns of faith for this couple that I associate with the music ministry at church, even though it has been years since they could  participate. I sang a verse of "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" and two verses of  "Blessed Assurance." Mac had trouble understanding me when I talked, but his steadfast gaze as I sang conveyed complete understanding. Thank you, God, for allowing me to stand in Your presence with this precious family.

My journey to regain my skill and confidence as a writer is part of a larger endeavor to become more aware of and focused on my purpose in life. I believe God is the Author of that purpose and wants to help me know and fulfill it. I believe prayer and relationships with people in His body of believers are essential to this process. I am grateful to finally be acting on opportunities to build and deepen these relationships.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

An exercise in writing

Tonight I am setting aside an hour to write, and something from what I write I will post on the blog.

It's 7 p.m. Sunday. The NBA All-Star Game is about to start. I have it on but don't plan to watch too closely. It's possible Gene will interrupt me so I can watch him work on QuickBooks.

I want to regain confidence in my writing so I can return to writing for pay. Is there a class I need to take to move toward this?

I Googled "how to become a better writer." Ah, yes. That's the ticket. (Although what I really need is how to get back to writing, period. Fortunately, this addresses that, too!)

I found 15 tips from Leo Babauta, a professional writer who blogs about goals, habits, productivity, simplifying and more at http://zenhabits.net.

I think the most important one for me is No. 5, and he describes my situation well:

"Just write. If you’ve got blank paper or a blank screen staring at you, it can be intimidating. You might be tempted to go check your email or get a snack. Well, don’t even think about it, mister. Just start writing. Start typing away — it doesn’t matter what you write — and get the fingers moving. Once you get going, you get in the flow of things, and it gets easier. I like to start out by typing things like my name or a headline or something easy like that, and then the juices start flowing and stuff just pours out of me. But the key is to just get going."

That's actually what I'm doing right now ...  (Unlike this next one, which I may not try until Tuesday.)

Probably second most important for me is his No. 6, and I'm sure it will be the hardest for me:

"Eliminate distractions. Writing does not work well with multi-tasking or background noise. It’s best done in quiet, or with some mellow music playing. ... Turn off email or IM notifications, turn off the phone and your cell phone, turn off the TV, and clear off your desk … you can stuff everything in a drawer for now until you have time to sort everything out later … but don’t get into sorting mode now, because it’s writing time! Clear away distractions so you can work without interruption."

Other ideas that resonated:

"Get feedback. You can’t get better in a vacuum. Get someone to read over your stuff — preferably a good writer or editor. Someone who reads a lot, and can give you honest and intelligent feedback. And then listen. Really try to understand the criticism and accept it and use it to improve. ..."

"Put yourself out there. At some point, you’ll need to let others read your writing. Not just the person who you’re allowing to read it, but the general public. ... If you’re already doing a blog, that’s good, but if no one reads it, then you need to find a bigger blog and try to submit a guest post. Putting your writing out in the public can be nerve-wracking, but it is a crucial (if painful) part of every writer’s growth. ..."

Among Babauta's other suggestions:

* Read great writers. (I struggle with this. Maybe I need to also schedule at least 30 minutes a day to read. I don't think I've ever done that.)
* Create a writing ritual. "Whatever works for you, make it a must-do thing every single day. Write for at least 30 minutes, but an hour is even better." (I am working on this. It's been a goal for a couple of weeks, and maybe tonight is the start.)
* Plan.
* Experiment.
* Revise and rewrite.
* Be concise.

I like these ideas and I think they will help. I have to admit I just looked at the clock -- 7:50. Ten more minutes. Then I started trying to find out how to get those two hyphens to be a long dash. I found the instructions, but it didn't work. I guess I'll work more on that tomorrow.

Because:  It's 8 p.m. I'm out of here. But this was good. I am grateful.

Postscript: The next day, I found the HTML code for an em dash in this operation — but did it work? Yes! Yay! (I also see now that I could have copied and pasted an em dash from the "Just write" text I copied and pasted above. But then I would not have learned this code that will be good for me to know.)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

What if it's really OK?

This week I'm aware how sad/pathetic it is that I can't even seem to do unemployment well!

There's really no good reason for me not to be enjoying this time off from work. But I find myself stressing out every day over what to do. And whenever I do that -- get stressed out about what to do -- I typically get nothing done.

All of my strategies for changing this situation seem like good ideas and inspire me for a day, or hour, but before long, they are just another source of discouragement.

I've said it and written it before, but I need to repeat it: What would I do if I really could do whatever I wanted, without any repercussions or without disappointing someone else?

I would relax.
I would write.
I would sing.
I would straighten up my messes.
I would spend more time praying.
I would spend more time helping people.

So, why am I not doing these things? The biggest reasons involve time management and priorities, and what I think others expect or think of me.

I would like to write, but I am a very slow writer. My awareness of how slow I am distracts me from really thinking about and developing what I want to say. My mind wanders to what I think I should be doing instead, but instead of doing that other thing, I get into a mental battle with myself. And there is no peace. I would like to get back into writing for pay, but to do that, first I need to get back to writing. And that's where the struggle is. How do I justify the time it takes to get it going again?

As for singing, I totally don't see how I can justify taking time to work on that.

As for straightening up my messes, I want them straightened up, but I don't know where to start.  And it's another process that when I do start it, the results come very slowly. And I guess I get impatient. I've read a great book with suggestions -- and now it is part of the mess!

Praying -- another thing that I have trouble focusing on, because my mind wanders to the other things I think I need to be doing.

Helping people -- I don't even know where to begin.

The people pleasing part is paralyzing. I don't want to disappoint anyone. But that fear keeps me from doing what I want to do and also what the other person might prefer me to do, and that ends up being a lose-lose situation.

Somehow, I've got to be patient. And I've got to trust God to take care of the people I fear will be disappointed by me being me.

Sigh.




Sunday, February 5, 2017

Still haven't found the write way

I envy people who can write in a way that turns everyday experiences into fun-to-read accounts. Occasionally I have done that, and it gives me a sense of satisfaction. But more often I just write to document something I want to remember. As for why I post it on a blog and sometimes share the link on Facebook, that's less clear to me. It surprises me when people seem to relate to and-or appreciate my fairly simple observations.

On Tuesday, Jan. 31, my Facebook "memories" offered reminders and I hoped inspiration to get me back into a writing routine.

I shared this with one of the "memories," from 2015: This is another timely memory/reminder. I realized yesterday that I need to be setting aside time each day to write. For many years, I have pushed writing to the side, and I often end up frustrated when I can't compose my thoughts on demand in the scrap of time I allow. I'm grateful for this period in which I have time to reconnect with my muse.

My comment went with this 2015 post shared from The Writer's Circle: "If you're going to be a writer, the first essential is to just write.  Do not wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn the faucet on before the water starts to flow."  Louis L'Amour

Here was my comment spurred by a blog post from Jan. 31, 2014, about my struggles as a writer: Ok, this is the last (but will it show up as the first?) of the memories Facebook has resurrected this morning. I've shared a lot on the last day on January in the seven years I've been on Facebook. A lot of it has involved my trials and triumphs as a wannabe passionate and creative person. Today, I will use it as inspiration.

But I didn't even blog that day, and here I am again, scrambling to come up with something -- anything!

I want to schedule a minimum of one hour a day to write. But it seems like I need to get other things done first, so I don't get to it. And I pay a price of frustration. But I will keep trying.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

The right place

This was one of those days when I wish I could have been two places at once. 

Earlier in the month, I had marked today's date on my calendar because I wanted to go with Mom to attend the open house for longtime family friends' new ranch house in the Gainesville area.

Shortly after marking that date, I learned my home church's annual chili cook-off and talent show would be that same day in Norman. Gene and I enjoy the chili, and I also like the chance to sing in a less-formal setting than worship and support the chili cookers and the other performers. 

I decided to stick with my original plan, because it was a one-time thing, and the talent show happens every year.

Along the way, more things came up at my church in Norman that I didn't want to miss. And I was having doubts, as I often do, about whether it really was worth the time and gas to make a one-day trip to Texas.

Nevertheless, I got up early this morning and headed south from Norman. I hadn't been at Whaley United Methodist Church in Gainesville long before I knew I was where I was supposed to be. My sister said the choir could use me. They just had one soprano and wondered if I could be a quick-study on the anthem. I love to be asked to sing, so I was eager to give it a try. The anthem was a rousing number, "Move That Mountain, Lord." The fact that the rest of the choir knew it already helped me learn it easily. I was glad to sing along. Adding to my sense of belonging was that, besides my sister's encouragement, one of the other choir members made it sound like it was an answer to prayer for me to be singing with them, something she wished could happen regularly! (And I would love to sing with that choir -- but I also want to sing with the choir at my church in Norman.)

It just so happened that the pastor was out of town, so the choir director gave the sermon. And the message was on faith that moves mountains. All it takes is the faith the size of a mustard seed. He had prepared cards for each person with a mustard seed taped to it. The message was filled with joy and strong guidance for making sure we have love, joy, prayer, peace, Bible study and faithful action in our lives. And seeing as how he was doing everything else to lead the service, he did just a bit of a tap dance! Talk about inspiring!

From there I went to lunch with Mom, two of my sisters, a brother-in-law, niece and her four kids. Then Mom and I headed to the open house on a ranch in a part of the country that is very near and dear to my heart. I can't find words right now to  express the thoughts and feelings it evoked. Friendship. History. Memories. Families. Love. Heritage. Gratefulness. Spirit. Laughter. Smiles. Hospitality. I had instinctively known I didn't want to miss it. My instinct was right.

And then I headed back to Norman. Even though the cities are about 120 miles apart, I was able to make it back to Norman in time for the talent show at Goodrich Memorial UMC, where I met up with my husband, who was already there for the chili cook-off/dinner. He was just finishing with helping to put away the tables and chairs, so we headed to the show, which offered an interesting variety of entertainment. Conversations with people afterward again had me feeling I was at the right place!

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am blessed to have two churches where I feel loved and very much a part of the family. I had the hardest time deciding which place to be, but as the day unfolded, I knew I was at the right place. I thank God for that.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

No laughing matter

I sure hope I'm done with dentists for awhile. My drug-enhanced journey via a root canal was not quite the trip I expected. I'm pretty sure my anxious mind was overthinking what was going on, causing me to resist the effects of the nitrous oxide, at the same time I was hoping and praying the gas would take me to a happy place of lightness and laughter. 
At age 57 and after a lifetime of receiving dental work -- including cleanings, fillings, crowns, removal of wisdom teeth and, most recently, a root canal -- this was the first time I opted for the so-called laughing gas.
I'd always managed to be calm enough for the injection of the local anesthetic and, despite the physical discomfort of having to keep my mouth open wide and all the various poking and drilling (and the drill's mind-wracking sound), I never experienced real pain. In fact, typically, the worst pain came at the site of the injection after the anesthesia wore off.  

However, my anxiety had increased noticeably after my two most recent major procedures: my original root canal on Nov. 15, as well as the prep work Sept. 13 to replace a crown (the procedure that seemed to have started the whole ordeal on tooth #19). Sure, I had endured both of those, but I recalled some extremely tense moments.
Unfortunately, I continued to have pain after the root canal, and after several follow-up visits to my dentist, I was referred to an endodontist. During my consultation Tuesday, the endodontist quickly ascertained that the dentist, with his level of equipment, had failed to get all of my damaged roots treated and sealed. He said I needed more root canal work on the same tooth. He explained it in such a way that it seemed like the right thing to do.

The only dilemma: I would have to go through that again.
I kept thinking back to the previous experience. I remembered hearing the dentist react to various "surprises" that caused it to take much longer than he expected. I recalled how tense I felt, wondering if it was ever going to end, and how uncomfortable so much of the procedure was. I hadn't panicked, but I came closer than ever before. But I made it through.

Could I do it again? 

One thing that added to my angst was that the endodontist said he would have to drill through the crown. In the overall scheme of things, I'm not sure why that concerned me so much.  But my mind kept sticking on him saying that. And when my active mind gets stuck thinking about something, I'm using headed for trouble!
I had contemplated using nitrous oxide during dental work in the past, but the truth is, at those times I had about as much anxiety about the gas as I did the dental work itself. 
I know the stereotype is that it's all fun and games and makes everything wonderful. But my gut instinct was skepticism. The added cost, which my research showed me might be as much as $90, added to my reluctance to try it.
I figured I could discuss it when I got to my appointment at 8 the next morning (today, Wednesday). I found out it would cost $100. I was talked through the process and decided to go for it. I could call it a gift to myself. Or maybe research.

Although I didn't know what to expect, I'm pretty sure it didn't go at all like I expected. And yet, without a doubt, I am glad I chose to go for the gas. 
Because .... 
As I wrote in a text when I was finished but before I drove home: "If I had not had gas I think I would be dead. Done now but may wait to drive." Yes, that was an exaggeration. I wouldn't have died. But I would not have been good. 

Among other things, it was harder for the endodontist to drill through the crown than he expected. (As he was trying, and while I was wondering if the gas was going to start working, I heard him say it took a record number of burrs/cutters to get through it.) And then at some point, I heard him say later, the crown popped off.
Afterward, he said what he found when then crown came off was very little tooth structure. After doing the root canal work, he had to build up the tooth and add metal posts to support the crown. He marveled that the dentist had been able to get the crown to stay on.
He assured me it's fixed now. But if anything goes wrong now, the tooth will need to be extracted. I asked what I can do to prevent that? "Be gentle," he said.
So, the visit to the endodontist was no laughing matter. As for the gas, I'm not sure what I think of the experience. I still felt some tension and discomfort (not relaxed!), especially in the first 30 minutes or so and a few times in between. But considering the whole process took more than 2 hours, I think I would have been in a world of hurt -- or at least major mental distress -- without it. I think I have no awareness of what was going on for about an hour. Some of the times I had awareness had the sense of observing from outside my body. Through it all I heard classic rock music, for which I was grateful. (I hope this doesn't forever taint my enjoyment of the tunes of the Eagles, Bob Seger, Rod Stewart, Fleetwood Mac and others that accompanied me on this strange journey.)  I was aware at various times of the endodontist talking about the surprises he had encountered, such as how hard it was to get through the crown, and what was revealed later when the crown popped off!! 
He seemed confident he got it all taken care of. I hope and pray and have little doubt he is correct. In other words, I believe him. 
Now I'm just dealing with the post-procedure discomfort, especially the FOUR or FIVE places where local anethesia were injected. I'm grateful for strong pain reliever and that I didn't have a job to go to. And I'm grateful that little trip is over.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Maybe tomorrow

Sweet music of life.

I MUST SING! So why don't I?

I thought these words from my First 15 devotion this morning would get me back on track:  

But you have a choice today. A radical life of wholehearted love for God awaits you. It’s waiting for you right now. It doesn’t mean you have to pack your bags and head out on the mission field. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to lead someone to Jesus today. It could be as simple as opening your heart fully to God and allowing him to fill you with his love to overflowing. Commit your life to him in full surrender today. Respond to his leadership with a continual “yes” in your heart. Give yourself to him completely that your life would be marked by a wholehearted pursuit of the perfect, pleasing and powerful plans of your heavenly Father. .... 

... Now ask God to reveal to you how he wants you to live wholeheartedly today. He has a plan each day for you; one that will give you joy, passion, and peace on a whole new level you’ve yet to experience. There’s more for you everyday. 

... Ask the Spirit to help you live the life God has shown you. Ask him to fill you with a desire to be obedient and wholehearted in response to God’s love. Ask him to help you be aware of what he’s speaking to you and to walk in full obedience to it. Take time to rest in the presence of God.

I wrote down four people I would like to reach out to and truly thought this would lead me to visit at least one of the four, all of whom have been in my prayers. One is a person I want to sing to. But at the end of the day, I hadn't even called one person or sent a card, much less gone to visit. Maybe tomorrow.

I did sing around the house. But that's like hiding a lamp under a basket. What good does it do? Well, maybe it did a little good, as it brought songs to mind. And singing does take practice. I haven't been doing much lately.

Maybe tomorrow ....