Monday, June 26, 2017

Girls' gadabout, Part 1

This will be another of those blog posts that I consider a work in progress. It's not my favorite thing, but sometimes it's a necessary step to finding my better way. I started writing this June 10. I came back to it at least twice but was never pleased with how it was going. But I want to share the story and pictures. So here I am again. My new realization is that I can do this in parts. So, here goes to Part 1:

This past year my oldest sister and I both found ourselves unexpectedly among the ranks of the unemployed, Becky after a career in public school education and me after 35 years as a journalist. One of the things we talked about doing was taking a road trip, with her coming to Oklahoma for us to cruise in my convertible.

A few weeks ago she called and asked if the first week of June would work. It looked fine on my calendar, but so often that changes at the last minute. Still, we penciled it in. We had no set plans, but one idea we had considered was driving to Pawhuska to visit The Mercantile -- the restaurant, bakery and store opened less than a year ago by The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, in her hometown.

Becky rode the train up from Gainesville, Texas, to Norman on June 4, a Sunday evening. The train arrives after 9 p.m., so I knew all I would do is meet her at the station and bring her to my house that night.

We didn't have firm plans for the next day, but I was grateful that Becky is laid-back enough that I could let her stay at the house with Gene while I went to my Monday morning prayer time at church. I thought we would leave pretty soon after lunch to go to Oklahoma City's Bricktown entertainment district, but humidity made the outside air seem pretty unbearable by 1 p.m. So we were content to stay in the house and visit most of the afternoon.

Trying to think of something cool to do, we came up with going to see a movie, and "Wonder Woman" was a perfect choice for two sisters on a girls' gadabout (as another sister aptly labeled our adventures). With me being a former longtime journalist and her a former history teacher, we agreed not to overthink the movie and instead just be entertained. And we were. (We wanted to take a picture in front of the "Wonder Woman" poster but couldn't find one, so we just got the theater in the background.)

Afterward it had cooled enough that we could enjoy a stroll along the Bricktown Canal to find something to eat and decide what was next. Before we had gotten too far, it was time to head to the Mustang convertible. I wanted to show Becky some of the development of downtown, including where I used to work, the Myriad Gardens and where the Stage Center, where she remembered watching me perform in the Oklahoma City Gridiron Show, once stood. As we rode in the now-pleasant evening air, she reminded me that she had never been to the Oklahoma City Memorial. Although it was getting late, we stopped to spend some time at the beautiful yet heartrending tribute to the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that claimed 168 lives, including 19 children. She and I agree she must come back, hopefully with her husband and-or some of her kids and grandkids, when she can spend more time there. (If you want to know more about the Oklahoma City Memorial and Museum, go to

In the three photos above, the Gates of Time (9:01 and 9:03), flank the Field of Empty Chairs that represent the 168 people who died as a result of the bombing.

Above, The Survivor Tree, an American Elm, bore witness to the violence of April 19, 1995, and withstood the full force of the attack. Years later, it continues to stand as a living symbol of resilience.

By now, it was past 9 p.m., and we knew we wanted to get an early start Tuesday for the 2½-hour drive to Pawhuska, not knowing how much time we would need to explore the Pioneer Woman's Merc as well as the Lodge where she films her cooking show for The Food Network. So we headed back to the Mustang for a top-down cruise back to Norman, but this time I insisted on trying to get a picture before we headed onto the highway. Unfortunately, the light wasn't good, and my phone won't let me use flash on a selfie. (We "staged" the other two photos the next morning, when cooler heads prevailed and we opted not to drive all the way to Pawhuska -- or even just out of Norman  -- with the ragtop down.)

Monday, June 19, 2017

40 years -- Celebrations of love and letting go

As I seek to regain my voice as a writer, I thought I'd try something different. How about some pictures? These should be worth thousands of words.

Both pictures are of things that were new 40 years ago.

The first picture shows Samsonite luggage my parents gave me when I graduated 40 years ago in May, Muenster High School class of 1977. This summer, I've been trying to cut through some clutter in my house. When my United Methodist Women's group was seeking donations of "luggage that closes" to help out women at a local shelter, I thought of these pieces in the attic. I probably haven't used these in 20 years, and yet some nostalgia kicked in as I thought of letting them go. I was reminded that pictures can preserve the memories, so I snapped this after doing a pretty thorough cleaning to remove layers of dust. I hope they were able to help someone get a fresh start.

The second picture shows my sister Becky and her husband, Tom, whose marriage was new as of June 18, 1977. They celebrated their 40th anniversary on Sunday, and they are still going strong. No need for a fresh start here!  

I guess this is the place where I'm supposed to draw some profound conclusion or make a keen observation. The thing that comes to mind is that the luggage looks old and outdated and I can only hope it had some use left in it and celebrate that I was able to let it go. Becky and Tom, meanwhile, look young and vibrant and full of joy. There's no question they have a lot left to offer this world, starting with those smiles! What a privilege to honor and celebrate their love!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Backwards and forward ...

Not unlike during my days as a newspaper reporter, I find my list of ideas is growing much faster than my production of finished prose.

I know the problem, but I don't know the solution. I enjoy gathering information but I have a hard time putting that information into readable form. I've always envied people who could experience something and immediately know how they would write about it. I've always gone at it backwards: I start writing and eventually organize it into something readable. It has at times produced impressive results, but it's seldom a fast approach. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

I've been exposed to and tried to learn better techniques, but I've not -- in 35 years as a professional plus four years of college training -- been able to implement them effectively.

Interestingly enough, deadline pressure is what helped me get it done all those years as a journalist. But after a time, deadline pressure became the reason I could no longer function in the quickening pace of news journalism, with my slow technique.

I thought now that I don't have deadline pressure, the words might start to flow more easily. So far that hasn't happened. I'm stuck in the dreaded and familiar traffic jam on the expressway of my thoughts.

Yesterday, I started writing about a fun trip, but after about 500 words, I gave up, frustrated at how long it was taking me to get to my point.

Lying in bed later, I realized I need to keep writing on that project until I reach a conclusion.

I have neither deadline pressure nor length restrictions. So what's stopping me?

Here's what's stopping me: I am my own worst critic and judge. With singing, I fear I will be off-key and agonizing for people to hear; as a writer, I fear I will be boring, inaccurate or irrelevant. How many times have I let that self-criticism stop me in my tracks?

As I've shared before, I'm at a point in my life where I have an amazing amount of freedom, opportunity and resources to decide what I want to do and take the steps to accomplish it.

I need to wrap my mind and soul around the fact that just because I want to do something doesn't mean it will be easy. It may be difficult to get past the writer's block, but I can remain grateful that I have the luxury of re-engaging the muse in about as low-pressure circumstances as one could ever encounter.

I believe God is guiding me to where He wants me to be and how He wants me to use the skills, talents and passions He's given me. I know I just need to stay faithful and take the next action He places before me, whether that involves writing, singing, cleaning the clutter out of my house, hanging out with family and/or friends or reaching out to others in service with the love of Christ.

Right now, moving forward means reopening the travel file and getting back to writing, inspired by my faith in God and the pleasure of the trip.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The perfect time

The perfect time never comes. 

Just do it. 

I may not feel ready for my sister to visit. But if I wait until I feel ready, it will never happen. So just say yes. 

Just say yes. 

Say yes to working with someone in my 12 step program as her sponsor. 

Say yes to committing to donate stuff. 

Say yes to sing. 

Say yes to serve communion. 

Say yes to God. 

Say yes!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Joy: How sweet the sound

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me 
I once was lost but now am found 
Was blind but now I see ...

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear 
And grace my fears relieved ...

Nowhere in the lyrics of "Amazing Grace" is the word joy, but joy is surely a fruit of God's amazing grace. The celebration of life for a beloved fellow church member on Saturday affirmed this for me.

Wayne Hooker was one of those people with a personality that could not be ignored. On the surface, he could seem gruff, ornery, maybe even a bit of a trouble-maker. He definitely had a sense of humor, but he didn't hesitate to let another person be the butt of one of his jokes or pranks. I was among those who felt a sense of pity for his sweet wife, Kathy.

I'm not sure when I started to notice how much more there was to Wayne than that. I know it should have been much earlier. But I may not have really noticed until watching him and Kathy serving when Goodrich United Methodist Church was part of the Angel Tree food ministry. In more recent years, I became more and more aware of how much service they provided and how much of a team they were.

When a knot on his hand yielded a troublesome diagnosis last year, I was among the many who went into big-time prayer mode. And when follow-up diagnoses were even worse, my heart ached with so many of his family members, friends and others.

But several things were quickly clear. First, Wayne was not going to let a cancer diagnosis get the best of him. He was going to stay active as long as he could. Second, he was not going to let it steal his personality. Even when the pain made it difficult, he seemed to find a way to make people laugh or at least smile.

Right after Easter, I wanted to go by for a visit. I knew a lot of people took food, flowers or other gifts when they visited. Cooking isn't my thing, but God put it on my heart to see if Wayne and Kathy might welcome a song or two.

I remember as I was driving to their house, knowing that he was already to a point of having some pretty rough days in which he preferred not to have company, I wondered what he would be like, even on a better day. I prayed that no matter how he was feeling, I wanted to be a bright spot. I wanted to bring a smile, if not a laugh.

Of course, it was quickly apparent he would be the one eliciting the laughs. Even when pain momentarily interrupted a sentence or gesture, he wouldn't let its effects linger.

Before I got ready to leave, I explained that I didn't bring food or flowers, but that I would like to sing a hymn or two, if he thought he would like that. He asked if I had the accompaniment on my phone. I said no -- I can sing without that. And so I did. "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow" and "Great Is Thy Faithfulness." Praise, prayer and hope through a song. My heart overflowed with joy for these precious people.

The next time I called about visiting, Kathy said Wayne did not feel up to having visitors. I mailed a card that Wednesday instead, as I prepared to head for a long weekend in Arkansas, Wayne's native state and the home of his beloved Razorbacks. While I was there on Sunday, I learned that Wayne had died.

And then I learned that he had asked Kathy to ask me and fellow church and choir member Shirley Franklin to sing a duet of "Amazing Grace" at his celebration of life. Now, Shirley is an amazing singer. I love to sing, as well, and have actually sang at funerals and celebrations of life. But our voices are quite different. As Shirley tried to explain to Kathy, it's like a mashup of "a little bit country" and a "little bit rock 'n' roll" (although I don't know which voice would be which in that equation; I thought it might be more like oil and water -- something that would not blend easily at all).

Kathy asked if we should instead do separate songs, but Shirley insisted that, no, we should and would honor Wayne's request. We accepted the challenge in his amazing (or twisted) spirit. And we trusted that God would either bless it -- or we could blame it on our departed friend!!!!!

I must admit that, along the way, I stressed out a bit. I felt certain Shirley would do a much better job if she just sang "Amazing Grace" as a solo. But I was determined to trust God and to honor and respect Wayne.

After practicing quite a bit and trying to find a way to blend my voice with Shirley's, by the night before the service, I wasn't feeling too anxious. And Saturday morning, my devotional readings strengthened my faith and confidence in the Lord, reminding me that I should and can be joyful rather than anxious.

Shirley had urged me, "Don't overthink it, Pat." But I do overthink things. And God's grace saves me, again and again and again.

It was an honor and a privilege to share in the celebration of Wayne's life. I thank God for the gift of joy He gave me through Wayne's life and the heart of "Amazing Grace." I pray in faith that God's amazing grace will bless and sustain his family as they move forward in these days ahead.

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)

"Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.
"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 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.
For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
    an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off." (Isaiah 55:6-13)

"He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God's gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him."  (Ecclesiastes 3:11-14)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Another time

It's been quite a while since I've posted such a blatant place holder, but that's what I'm doing tonight.
It's the deadline day if I'm going to meet my self-imposed quota of at least one post every seven days.
And I've got nothing to share. No, that's not true. I have a lot to share, but I don't have time to think it out and put it into words.
Sometimes going to bed is the more important thing. This is one of those times.

Ecclesiastes 3
To Everything There is a Season
1To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

To be continued ... 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Step after step after step

Last week I accomplished some things I had doubts about. I was grateful as the week went along and I felt my confidence growing that I would be able to follow through on a couple of goals. An area where I had struggled and struggled to even get started finally seemed reasonable to take some action on that might achieve a noticeable result. As I saw it happening, I prayed that it might become a foundation for continuing success at breaking through some of my inertia.

This week, I still have greater confidence than usual that I can achieve my goals, and I have already had some success. I also have to face the reality that I may have waited too long to start a couple of projects I hoped to complete this week but really don't even know how to do what I want to get done. So I'm having to assess and consider reprioritizing. It's too early to decide whether I need to go a different direction, but it's good for me to be aware of my options.

Words from last week's blog are worth me repeating today:

I keep wanting to know exactly what I'm supposed to do and how to do it effectively and efficiently, yes, even perfectly. In Your love, Lord, You seem to be telling me that's not Your plan for my life. Yes, You have a plan for my life, and yes, it involves sacrifice and service as well as blessings and honor. But it's not necessarily something that's going to be clear to me. I just have to have faith as I take step after step, seeking Your face and loving You and Yours always.

"You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12-14)