Friday, May 28, 2010

Blog time, Memorial Day weekend edition

Tonight's writing is back to basics. There's only one reason for me to be sitting here typing right now, and it is because I made a commitment to myself, and I'm trying to follow through. The commitment/goal: Post something at least once a week, a goal later refined to mean don't go more than seven days (Saturday to Saturday, etc.) without posting.

There have been things I've wanted to write about (Relay for Life; joy of working hard; a fascinating Psalm passage; getting locked out of choir practice) before and since I posted last Saturday, but I've ended up being too tired by day's end to even try. It would have been nice to have one of those rare moments where words and inspiration just come, but that didn't happen.

I know most of the reason. For the past two weeks, two key people on the reduced staff at work have been gone, one for vacation and one for medical reasons. I haven't worked all that much longer these days, but the intensity has been high. By the time I get home, I feel mentally drained. Unfortunately, rather than go to bed when I feel tired, I'm more likely to lose focus and end up watching TV, surfing the Internet or reading when the very best way to spend my time would be with my body in bed and my head on a pillow.

Now it's Memorial Day weekend. I'm so far behind, I don't even know where to start in trying to catch up at home and then also to enjoy the holiday. I guess I've started by blogging. Tomorrow, I may watch the Texas Aggies play baseball here in the Big 12 tournament. I can't even justify in my own mind why that's worth doing, but I want to do it, and I can, so I think I will. (I think I'll take a book and some paper to write on, though, in case my mind starts wandering, I start second-guessing myself, and the ideas flow!)

For some reason, that made me realize the holiday also brings up some emotional issues, involving such things as my own lack of knowledge of history and my connection to it. It's one of those times when I think there are probably things I should be doing, but again, I don't even know where to begin.

Tonight, it starts with writing and posting. Before the weekend's over, it will include some precious time spent visiting my parents and other family members. Maybe there will be questions and conversations to stir memories. Or maybe there will just be the peace and comfort of shared presence and being away from the craziness of work for an extra day. I'm ready.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

P.S.: Lessons from a friend

In difficult times, it's easy to become negative and cynical (and, especially at work, it seems being inept can add to the negativity, probably due to fear and insecurity). But some people manage to stay competent, capable, skilled, willing, patient, productive, optimistic and good-natured. You might think the latter would have a great deal of job security over the former, but life isn't always fair, is it?

The amazing thing is, the competent, capable, skilled, willing, patient, productive, optimistic and good-natured one still has a great attitude. On the one hand, she can honestly say it seems as if her dream job cost her her job. (It was a position deemed expendable, even though the tasks have been farmed out to others.) And she can honestly say it seems as if her ability to get the job done without causing a fuss or needing lots of help put her at a disadvantage, because no one realized just how much she did.

But perhaps most incredibly, even though she's now without a job, she sees the silver lining. Because of circumstances in her nonwork life, she very matter-of-factly notes that maybe there's a reason for this, because she needs to be at home right now, instead of at work. And then she talks about future job possibilities, perhaps in a new career field.

Her words and example provide important lessons for one who still has a job but struggles to accept what seems like the unfairness of it all.

Thank you, friend.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Staying the course

Psalmcat 51:5.16.10

I just spent about 40 minutes I didn't have, trying to write a descriptive narrative rather than another post that's all about my perspective. As I could see a powerful, insightful sermon unfolding this morning, I started taking notes, about the Scripture, the context, the unexpected and beautiful musical accompaniment. I looked forward to "reporting" about it, capturing not only the words but the spirit, emotion and meaning.

Instead, I learned again why I'm no longer a reporter. For now, I still cannot do it. I thought I would at least be able to string together words into phrases and sentences and paragraphs to convey the impact of the message, even if I knew I couldn't provide detailed quotes. But when I sat down to write that, it just didn't work.

And so, as I told my Mom this morning, I have to remind myself again that, as much as I would like to entertain and enlighten, that's not my goal. I'm writing to discover and share my heart and my spirit, prayerfully and honestly. The worship service and sermon I wanted to write about are part of that process.

The sermon title was "Jailhouse Music." The Scripture was Acts 16:25-34. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly, there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, "Do yourself no harm, for we are all here."
Then he called for a light, ran in and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household. Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their (wounds). And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household."

These are powerful words of Scripture. I've read them many times. but having them followed today by a simple but dramatic first-person retelling, accompanied by spiritual songs from piano, guitar and voice, helped me really read and contemplate the words. I was trying to describe the sermon to a friend, with whom I often discuss matters theological and spiritual, and the friend expressed some concern about mixing Scripture and dramatization/interpretation in a sermon. It was an interesting conversation, and I still don't understand all of the concern. I do know that the preacher's words, plus one soloist's original song and accompaniment, another soloist's "Nobody Knows the Trouble I See" and then a quartet's rousing rendition of "He Set Me Free," seemed effective in punctuating the Scripture, saying "Amen" to the Scripture, and not adding to or subtracting from it.

But the phrase I jotted down that really caught my attention was after the Scripture and the piano solo. "I want to know the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (Isn't that from Scripture, too?) This was before I had realized the pastor was expounding on the Scripture from Paul's perspective. But the thing it did is make me realize: I want to know the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I think God is trying to reveal that power to me and others who are seeking. I see evidence of people responding in new ways to use their God-given gifts to His glory. Today, many of those gifts helped bring Scripture alive, at least for me.

As I also told my Mom, I like it when it I can write tight, right, bright and light. But it seems like things I think no one will even read, much less understand, are as likely to make a connection with a reader as those that I think are pithy! The hardest thing, still, is setting boundaries. I could write and write and write and write. I pray to know what's important to write about at any moment, and how to express it. I leave it in God's hands. And I continue to be amazed by his graceful touch on my life.

(Now, it's been an hour. But it's done, expressed. Another step. Thank you, God.)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sometimes it's just a web log

I haven't blogged since Sunday, when I posted two items. Since then, a close co-worker had a heart attack, tornadoes twisted through the Norman and Oklahoma City areas, I kept praying and reading the Bible, I won a newsroom award, and I worked as hard as I ever have at my job in the continuing aftermath of the previous week's layoffs. I've come to the computer more than once today, thinking I could find some words to put things in perspective. But I guess that's not going to happen today. Sometimes a blog truly is just a web log, an online (and public) diary, per se.

The closest thing to insight or inspiration came today, when I helped distribute Angel Food boxes at church. More than anything, Angel Food reminded me that I often take things for granted. Being there this morning, I could see that people are very, very grateful for this food. One woman mentioned how she and her husband often don't have meat with their meals. Another woman, a first-time participant, had tears in her eyes as she filled her box. Asked if anything was wrong, she said she was just so grateful to be able to get this food. The Angel Food ministry, which our church has been involved with for several years now, helps provide quite an array of food for a low cost. I don't understand how it all works (I think it's nationwide; I know it's throughout the southern and middle U.S.), but I know when it's distributed one Saturday each month, many people are blessed.

In addition to the reminder that I often take eating what I want when I want it for granted, Angel Food distribution reminded me that I also take church volunteers for granted. Some of the men and women are there every month, without fail. I just make it when I don't have something else to do, and that something else often includes catching up on my sleep. There also are other volunteers who are sporadic, and some of the regulars weren't there today, so every body -- including mine -- was appreciated!

Looking back to the early parts of the week, my co-worker's heart attack and the worst tornadoes, all on Monday, made me realize there are some things you can't really plan for or schedule. You just have to deal with them. The co-worker seemed to have done many things to improve his health, and still he ended up with a heart attack. He survived the company layoffs -- and then suffered a heart attack. And those still on the job, all grateful to be employed even in conditions that involve fewer people doing the same amount of work, are left having to fill another void. (And vacations scheduled before the layoffs are still in effect, so now another key co-worker will be gone for two weeks.) Meanwhile, tornadoes, strong winds and hail -- the stories of the randomness of the onslaught and damage are almost as amazing as the stories of survival and picking up the pieces.

The other weird day was Thursday, which started with news that I had won a monthly award for my work as a copy editor ("catches" that kept more than a dozen significant errors from getting into the newspaper). With all the changes going on, I wondered whether those catches even matter. Maybe they do, even though it's harder to catch mistakes when you're working faster than ever. By the end of that day, another unexpected meeting brought news that a post-layoff routine that had just started to seem workable was being shaken up again. "Stunned again!" is how I expressed it to a friend Thursday.

In the past, I would have wanted to give up, feeling frustrated, exhausted and hopeless. But in a continuing pattern that I hope never ends, by Friday morning I was able to go to work and give my best effort to whatever tasks would come my way. For the foreseeable future, I'll probably go to work a little earlier and stay a later to get it all done, but I just cannot really complain. (Whenever I do find myself talking to someone and I hear it start to sound like I'm complaining, I catch myself. Truly, how can I complain? I CANNOT complain.)

Two big challenges regarding work for me are to not let it consume my life as I've let it do in the past, especially when I was a reporter, and also for me not to fall into compulsive eating habits. Excess food -- even healthy food -- does not help me work or live better. If I'm tired, I need to rest. If I'm bored, maybe I can take a quick break, walk a flight of stairs or something. If I'm frustrated or overwhelmed, I can pray at my desk or, again, take a quick break for prayer or maybe a phone call to a friend.

That's another reason I'm glad I helped with Angel Food this morning. No one makes me feel guilty if I don't help. But it feels so good to help. It's just a small thing, but small things can make a difference. My weekly 12-step meeting and now trying to get some of this confusion expressed in writing helps round out the day. I pray it will free me to focus on some chores. I feel more confident than usual that it will.

Since this has turned into a catch-all blog entry, I want to also mention a few other things, "for the record":

-- I'm probably not going to meet my fundraising goal for Cleveland County's Relay for Life. In this tough economy, it's hard for me to ask people to donate money for research. I think research is important, but it seems to me that giving money to help people have food or medicine is more crucial right now. But I'm totally supportive of keeping the awareness going about the importance of the fight against cancer and support for survivors.

-- I had wanted to do a mini-concert at church of about three of my favorite inspirational songs and then a few songs my sister and I rewrote for Relay for Life. But I didn't act to find a time. Part of that is because I didn't want people to feel pressured to give money. Another issue is that it really still is hard to invite people to hear me sing.

-- I e-mailed a letter to the service department of the Ford dealership that had told me nothing was wrong with my car. (A second Ford dealership I took it to confirmed the problems I had mentioned and fixed them under warranty, at no charge to me.) I sent e-mail because I didn't want to talk about it on the phone. I didn't include a phone number. But the corporate service manager called me, AT WORK, on Tuesday. I finally was able to say to the guy that he should respond to my e-mail. And so he did. He said he wants to make it right and regain my trust, but how he proposes to do that is not really clear from his written reply. I'll be following up on that this weekend.

-- I haven't followed up on my eyeglasses. The bifocal line isn't stressing me out anymore, but I'm still not sure everything is OK. But in the scheme of things, this doesn't seem to be a problem right now.

-- I want to put more songs on YouTube. I don't ever expect to be a YouTube sensation, but I do see it as a way to preserve songs that have meant a lot to me, some of which I can't even find recordings of anymore. I'll see how that goes.

I guess the bottom line is that I continue to make small steps of progress. Those steps start with prayer and Bible reading. They include doing what I can, but also learning to set priorities and let go of what's less important on a given day or week. I'm grateful for each step.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Grace and healing

Workforce reductions hit way too close to my comfort zone this week. Amid all my glorious spirit- and prayer-filled, sunshiny recent days, management at my workplace was moving behind the scenes to deal with some harsh economic realities. And the result was a round of layoffs that seemed to catch everyone by surprise.

The great news for me: I still have a job. No way would I want to be among the ones who don't. But a difficult reality for me is that I don't understand why I'm still there and some other skilled, productive and loyal people are not. As I said when my sister was laid off earlier this year after less than a year on a job after more than a year of unemployment before that, "There but for the grace of God go I" doesn't seem to apply at all. I have to believe the ones who are now unemployed are just as much in God's grace as I am -- and as I would be in that situation.

The layoffs were announced just hours after I had experienced a joyous "Seeking Hour" that started at 7 a.m. Wednesday at my church. The rest of Wednesday, all of Thursday and most of Friday, I just felt stunned. Not that cuts had occurred -- I keep up with the news and know that although the recession was slow to reach Oklahoma, it's now here with a vengeance -- but just something about the process.

During those days, I kept praying and asking for prayers (from a pretty close circle of people). I prayed and asked for prayers for the people who had lost their jobs, but I also wanted prayers for me and others who might be struggling to get their minds refocused to go forward in a positive but humble way.

I experienced a visit from an old, familiar acquaintance: "survivor's guilt." I distinctly remember how, less than a week after I bought my first convertible on April 15, 1995, I was driving from Norman to Oklahoma City for work, and just as I reached the part of my drive where I pass downtown, my radio station was interrupted by news of a bombing downtown. As the reality of that horrible April 19 tragedy unfolded -- including that 19 young children had perished -- my flood of emotions included a twisted guilt. That's because, after I had finally accepted that my husband and I would choose not to have children, I said, well then, I'm going to get a convertible. In the warped mind of a thirtysomething, it seemed that I was being punished for thinking a fun car could replace the void of not having children. It took well over a decade to get some of that emotional mess straightened out for me.

So, let me just say when this past week's sudden sense of loss followed such fun and uplifting days, and I was visited by that strange sense of guilt, I was grateful to find that my faith is more firmly rooted. Near-daily Bible reading and prayer are bringing about true change in me. I can't remember how it fit in with the sermon, but just this morning, I think I heard the pastor say faith and salvation don't mean we will no longer face obstacles, but they do give us what we will need to face it. They can help us bring moments of grace and healing amid some of life's harsh realities.

Happy Mother's Day

Through the years, I've written many words for Mother's Day. I had hoped to add a chapter today. Instead, I'll just offer a link to another gift my mother gave me. Happy Mother's Day.

"My Mother's Faith," sung by Patricia. Adapted from a song by Kasia Livingston recorded by Cynthia Clawson on her 1999 "Broken" album.

Before singing this at church today, I mentioned how most of us who have grown up "in church" have benefited from the faith of many mothers. And I suggested we take a moment to say prayers for women and families who grew up without connections to such women of faith. It actually turned out to tie in with the sermon (starting at Revelation 21:22 and continuing through about Revelation 22:5), in which the pastor talked about doing what we can in our daily lives to be leaves of healing in the world.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Glimpses of the Spirit

Psalmcat 51:5.5.10

When I first heard the concept for "The Seeking Hour" at my church, I was intrigued. Members were being invited to come and pray, study Scripture and share communion with the pastor at 7 a.m. or 6 p.m. on Wednesdays. Having grown more disciplined, faithful and committed to Bible reading, prayer and responding to God's call in recent years, I could tell this was another opportunity for growth.

And even though the thought of being at church by 7 a.m. on a Wednesday seemed about impossible (largely because work hours have shifted my routine to where I often don't even get up until 7:30), I knew my only real excuse for not being there would be lack of desire.

So, I began praying to be ready. And God began making the path easy. The invitation to "The Seeking Hour" was issued Monday, April 26. By Tuesday, I was aware that some physical and respiratory issues had eased, and my mind and outlook seemed clearer. Somewhere along the way, the weather seemed more springlike. Smiles came easily, and a song resounded continually in my heart and often on my lips.

On Saturday, it was a joy to be rained on driving from Norman to Oklahoma City with the top down on my convertible. I was aware of wondering what others on the road thought, seeing a woman driving in the rain with the top down on her Mustang. And I realized I didn't care. Then, the following Tuesday, I enjoyed one of the days that is why I drive a convertible. With a clear blue sky overhead, sun fading into the western horizon, surprisingly fresh, clear air and good Christian music on the radio, the 27-mile drive home became a soul-cleansing pleasure ride instead of a dreary commute. I needed it after another long day at the office, not leaving until almost 8. Fresh fragrances included moist, recently cut grass and crops. After 15 miles on I-35, I took the backroads from Moore to Norman, through pastures, horse farms and fields of grain. (Although I grew up on a farm, I don't know whether they were wheat, oats or something else! They smelled kinda like fresh hay, so I'm leaning toward oats!)

Tuesday night, I set the alarm for 6:10, praying I'd not ignore it. From the time I awoke this morning, it seemed like Easter. I thought of one of my favorite Easter choruses: "Was it a morning like this when my Lord looked out on Jerusalem? He is risen!" Driving to church, top still down, sky still clear and blue (with the sun now just over the eastern horizon), radio still on Christian music ("I want to sing a song for You, Lord," Mac Powell of Third Day proclaimed, as I sang along!), I felt hopeful, joyous, grateful, blessed.

Four people, including the pastor and three other women, joined me in the search today. Our focus was Isaiah 40. I hope they shared the sense of glorious anticipation and the presence of God. May that sense of renewal continue, one moment at a time, to God's glory.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May 1, May I?

Psalmcat 51:5.1.10

More writing spawned by wordplay, noticing that May 1 seemed to beg a question: May I?

So, on May 1, what would I like to ask?

"May I" often involves a request for permission. But I prefer to go with supplication, as in a continuing prayer to the Almighty God. It's the same prayer I pray daily; in fact, I pray it many times a day, because that's still how often I find myself losing my focus:

Dear Lord, May I know and do Your will, one moment at a time, in all things, to Your glory.

May that continue to be my prayer, on May 1 and always!