Sunday, April 26, 2015

If I had a bucket list ....

Several things this past week and weekend reminded me of some suggestions I offered to a co-worker recently who was needing suggestions for a bucket list. 

I'm not good at those kinds of lists, but I thought about it, and these are two of the things I came up with:

-- headline a concert.
-- endow a scholarship. 

Enjoying three concerts (John the Franklin, Full Circle, and the Larry Pierce Jazz tribute concert) and a few songs from a fourth (Al Goode Orchestra) made me wonder if I will ever follow through with my dream of really singing. What would it take? How important is it to me?

Two things came to mind. 

First, it won't happen unless I make it a priority and believe it is possible.

 Second, it's possible the best I will do is become a more active supporter of musicians. I know the reasons I have held back. But my enjoyment of listening to this wide variety of talented artists made it clear something is missing from my life when I don't interact more with musicians. 

As for the scholarship, I know that it is possible, but it also would take a commitment I'm not sure I have. But my pride for relatives who have done this inspires me not to give up the dream. 

Again, it's possible my reality will be to provide support to the major contributions of others. Time and again, I see my best place is in a smaller scale and often behind the scene. And I generally think  I'm ok with that. 

But this week's experiences leave the door open to greater possibilities. As usual, I am praying to know and do God's will. And I'm grateful for the blessings He lets me be a part of along the way. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

20 years later -- and always.

On the 20th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, people's stories about where they were, how they responded and what it has meant continue to inspire and encourage. Some shared publicly on a deeper, more honest level than they have in the past. Others, perhaps, still cannot find their own words and are grateful to be able to share the heartfelt expressions of others. 

A 20th anniversary is significant, as the passage of time brings generational changes in families and societies. Some of the key players from the time of the event won't be around forever, adding to the poignance of their participation today.  The passage of 20 years is seen in the gray hair of many of those who spoke -- and also in listening to young adults who were babies and children when they survived, some battling through horrific injuries, others suffering the loss of a parent. 

But the call to remember continues every day. The call to choose goodness continues daily. 

If you or I didn't find our own words on this 20th anniversary, maybe We can tomorrow. Or next year. And certainly we can be grateful for and supportive of those who did so eloquently capture another important moment in the process of healing and moving forward. 

And we can be grateful to God for His unfailing love, mercy and grace. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

For God so loved ...

This has not been an easy week. I wrote that Thursday, but the evidence had stacked up Wednesday. 

I entered the week with a goal of working faster and more efficiently. I've held on to my way -- which involves taking extra time,  if needed,  to dot all the i's and cross all the t's, so to speak -- as long as I can. It's past time to join the just-get-it-done crowd. 

My hand was forced by circumstances that have my area's small staff down one person for at least two weeks. Some computer problems have slowed things down even more, making it hard to tell whether I've made any progress toward faster and more efficient. But I think I have. Friday will be the biggest test. So far, breaks for prayer and deep breathing have kept me going. I am grateful. 

The work issues have made it easy to push aside thoughts about the other challenges I knew this week would hold. Sunday is the 20th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. Reminders are everywhere. After my visit to the Oklahoma City National   Memorial & Museum last week, I had hoped to compose some reflections about what it means to me. Instead, I've concluded that although it was finally time this year for me to go inside the museum with its vivid reminders of that fateful day and its aftermath,  it's still not time for me to write about it. And that's ok. 

The other memory tied to this middle week of April each year is the death at 5 months of my Daddy's only grandson to bear the family surname. In so many ways, Ryan Michael's April 17 death makes the bombing memorial mantra of "never forget" so much more personal.

 What can I do to honor that life and those lives? I feel inadequate. 

And yet, again, the Scripture that came to me today as I was trying to stay thankful to God even amid challenges was this: For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but would have eternal life. (John 3:16)

I'm praying to stay grateful and faithful and gracious and focused on God and open to know His will for me.

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6, KJV)

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. (Isaiah 12:2)


Friday, April 10, 2015

Hallelujah!

It was fun to spread some Easter tidings into the week by sharing a video of the Goodrich Memorial United Methodist Church choir singing the "Hallelujah" chorus from Handel's Messiah. The recording starts after the choir is already singing (the director succeeded in his surprise start!) -- and it's shot from the back of the church using a cellphone. These circumstances limited the production quality. Should I even post something like that on Facebook? But I couldn't resist. Something about the heart of those 17 singers, the director and pianist necessitated sharing. And the response was genuine and gracious. 
The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ. And He shall reign forever. Hallelujah!

It required perseverance to finally get that video where people could see it. The effort was rewarded not just by the appreciative responses, but also a sense of lightness and joy. Other things also seemed to be falling into place during the week. I learned I would be getting the full reimbursement on my flexible spending account, instead of losing about $200 as I had feared. I followed through with action to help out a relative. 

I planned a partial fast Tuesday, but just couldn't bring myself to do it. So I pushed it to Thursday. It's still not easy for me to follow through on this discipline, but again I persevered. And at the end came such a sense of gratefulness and peace. 

Every day, I hoped to get to bed early enough for eight hours of sleep. It never happened. I was in bed eight hours Thursday night, but the light was off only about seven and a half hours or less. At the end of Friday, it's well past midnight and I'm still writing. 

And Saturday is my date with the Oklahoma City National Memorial. I visited the memorial briefly for the first time about three weeks ago with my mother. I knew then I wanted to go back on my own before the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. As I wrote to my pastor this week, the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Murrah Building was a defining moment in my life as a journalist, not as much for what I saw and covered as for what I didn't witness and write about. And it was pivotal for me as a wife, daughter and one who is not a mother -- as a Christian woman trying to find her place in the world. I struggled with plenty of life issues before that date but the dynamics changed afterward. The  $25,000 Mustang convertible I took possession of four days earlier also fits into this story somewhere. As does the unexpected death two years later of a precious, 5-month-old baby.

The message of Easter 2015 and the sharing of a joyous chorus have helped me prepare for being with my memories and thoughts about the bombing. I am ready. 

The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ. And He shall reign forever. Hallelujah!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter is my story, too

Last Monday, pastor Jim Shepherd of Goodrich United Methodist Church sent out a Facebook invitation for people to help with his Easter sermon: "Easter is our story, too. I would like to hear why Easter is important to you.  ... I want to hear how the resurrection of Christ has changed your life."

I didn't manage to write up anything in a timely fashion to contribute, but the question stayed with me all through Holy Week. And now it is the end of Resurrection Day. I don't want to go to bed without exploring this. 

It may not be as much how it has changed my life as how it is changing my life. I grew up attending Methodist churches -- sprinkled in baptism as an infant, confirmed into membership as a preteen and married as an adult. I  think I have probably attended worship at a Methodist church somewhere every Easter of my life. 

I have always been a believer in what we sing and recite and hear preached and proclaimed -- but I also know that I take it for granted on some level and also struggle to understand. 

-- "He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today ... You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!"

-- "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow ... all sin is gone ... Life is worth the living ..."

-- "For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life."  

-- My sins are forgiven, covered by His sacrifice, and as He rose to new life, I, too, can be transformed. 

For many years, I've taken on various spiritual studies during Lent, trying to grow deeper in my faith and understanding. 

 I believe, but what does it mean to me to believe? Again this Sunday, I found myself pondering my belief as a knelt for Holy Communion. What does it all mean?

I know I believe, but what does that belief mean for me? What difference does it make in my life?

I still can't put it into words. Hope and transformation are key. 

A thought I've had as Lent and Holy Week gave way to Resurrection Sunday is that I plan to continue some of my Lenten disciplines past this Sunday. 

Somehow, the 40 days of Lent were too quick a period for this slow learner to embrace those 40 things I wanted to give up. Why not start over and take my time to study the suggestions and related Scriptures and questions? That is my new goal. 

I also want to continue the partial fast one day a week (but NOT Friday!!).

Continuing these disciplines  won't answer my question -- what difference does what I believe about Christ's resurrection make in my life? -- but I think they can help guide me in my search for the answer. 

Lord, I believe. And I don't insist on understanding. But I wouldn't mind having a stronger sense of what it all means. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday is over, but is it finished?

Good Friday has come to an end. I've finished my Lenten fast, if I can even call it that. I didn't eat much less. I just ate differently.  But the commitment on Ash Wednesday and each Friday in Lent required conscious thought and discipline -- which kept me cognizant of the purpose for which I was doing it: to heighten my awareness of my need for Christ and also my awareness of His sacrifice for me. 

Tonight, I wasn't able to let go of work  to make it to the traditional Good Friday worship service at what I still consider "my" church in Norman. I missed the familiar, cross-focused, plaintive songs associated with this day and also the Goodrich tradition of pounding nails representing my sins, weaknesses and-or failures into a wooden cross. 

Instead, I was grateful to be able to go across the street from my downtown Oklahoma City office into a park, where a Norman church was having its Good Friday program. The contrast to what I would have experienced at Goodrich was  great. The mood was festive instead of somber. The "good" part was emphasized over what Christ endured on the day we were calling to mind. But the cross is still the cross, even if the preacher mostly softened the image by referring to the tree. 

Somehow, the absence of emphasis on the cruelty of Christ's passion made me more aware of it. Adding to my awareness was a brisk north wind. The night before, the park would have been pleasant. This night, the cool of the night -- and the call of the work waiting to be finished -- made it a challenge for me to stay. But how could I not? Such a small sacrifice ... a minor inconvenience. And then I could return to a warm office to wrap up work,  and eventually to a warm car for the drive to a warm home. (And besides that, I had a jacket and scarf; I just didn't have gloves or something for my ears.)

Now, I've stayed up late. I'm so aware that I'm not ready for Easter. Lord, help me prepare my heart and soul. Help me live for You alone. 

This morning, I was distracted by thoughts of what would I do with my life if I weren't overwhelmed with trying to meet all the expectations I feel are on me.  And my thoughts have returned there. 

I would write. The  reason I've quit making any commitments that involve writing is because I'm so slow. As I thought of it this morning, I was aware that I no longer feel justified in describing myself as a writer, even though in my heart I still think I am. Would I be able to write if I could take my time? Or is that wishful thinking??

I would sing. 

And I would do meaningful things WITH other people. I am not a leader or innovator or originator.  I am a helper and supporter and encourager. 

But so many things get in the way. 

I had hoped to give up some of those "things" this Lenten season. It seems I did not. Nor did I nail them to that whimsical tree at the park.

Why??

Lord, please help me prepare my heart and soul. I want to live for You alone.   

Monday, March 30, 2015

It beats the alternative, part 2

I'm at that stage in life where I pay money to find out I'm OK even though I'm not as good as I once was or would like to be. 

Less than a month after my eyes got excellent reviews during my mostly routine visit to the optometrist, I was visiting an opthalmalogist to find out the source of some flashes and floaters I began experiencing midway between those visits. The conclusion after tests that will cost me about $200 (toward my medical deductible) is that I have a posterior vitreous detachment. 

The good news is that it isn't a retinal tear or detachment and probably won't become one. The frustrating news, part 1, is that I have to get rechecked, again with dilation, in about a month anyway.  The second part of frustrating is that the doctor says even though this diagnosis probably won't turn into anything serious, it is unlikely my eyes will get back to where they were two weeks ago.   

In other words, it's just a part of aging. 

(BUT I'M NOT THAT OLD!!!)

After that appointment, I stopped by two other medical providers' offices to get information I needed to finish filing claims for my flexible health expense account, for which the claims period ended March 15 and the filing period ends tomorrow, March 31. Procrastinator that I am, I was feeling good about finally  getting all of these issues  resolved. 

But when I returned home and logged on the claims site, I noticed some of my most recent claims had been denied. After a lengthy time on hold, I learned I'll probably end up losing significant unused funds in the account. 

Progress is that in my frustration, instead of just sitting and sulking, I went for a walk and prayed and counted my blessings. 

I'm grateful that miscalculations in my flex account won't mean I can't afford my next meal or tank of gas or medical expense, even though it does mean I had unused funds in the account that are forever lost to me. 

I'm grateful that I have insurance, a job and money that allow me to get my concerns about my eyes and other issues checked out. (My former tendency was to self-diagnose and seldom seek a medical opinion, and it is tempting to revert back to that, especially as my checkups come back negative. This is still a confusing area to me.)

I'm grateful that praying on a late afternoon walk on an early spring day can change my heart and attitude. 

I don't know where the unused funds in that health account end up, but I can  write them off as the price of learning -- if I don't repeat the mistake that involved a good dose of procrastination. (I waited until the last minute to file all the claims, instead of filing them as the expenses came in, in which case I would known there was a problem.)

In all these things, what happened beats most common alternatives I can think of. 

And there is one other bright and interesting aspect. For me to come up short of using all my flexible health expenses account meant 2014 was a good year healthwise. But less than two weeks after that period ended, I'm already tallying unexpected expenses for 2015. 

My hope and belief is that some of this -- especially the quicker rebound in my attitude -- will push me toward more healthful and productive choices.