Thursday, July 29, 2010

Growing through cycles

When I mentioned to my husband this morning that one of the advantages to the exercise bike versus the regular bike is that I can pedal after I've washed my hair but before I get dressed, he said then I should just give back the bike.

But why should it be all or nothing?

Since my exercise bike was still in need of repair, I headed off for a quick, mind-clearing ride. I saw a couple of kitties (first time I've seen cats in about five neighborhood rides) and was generally having a great time. But then I couldn't resist riding around the lake in our neighborhood. I've walked it many times and know that cyclists often share the concrete path. I was trying to decide whether bikes were actually allowed to be there. I decided I didn't really care, not for the first time, anyway. So, I took the little curb-cut to the path and started the route that was much more winding that it seems when walking. And then I got to one of my favorite parts, where the path winds between a house with a beautifully landscaped pool on one side and a bunch of trees and shrubs and the lakeshore close by on the other. I had some anxiety that this might be tricky for me. But I kept going. And the next thing I knew, the front tire was off the concrete, onto dirt and then grass, and I was sliding onto the concrete, scraping my knee and elbow and apparently landing harder than I realized on my hip.

What do you do when you fall off a bike? You get back on. And so I did.

I like riding the bike. I like the variety it adds to my exercise arsenal that includes the exercise bike, walking, a small amount of taking the stairs at work and some regular pacing, fidgeting and generally staying in motion at home, at work or when waiting in line.

Each activity seems to have a place. As I mentioned to Gene and others, the exercise bike is great because I can do it any time, any weather, any attire, without risk of sunburn or mosquito bites. And I can multitask -- watching TV, reading, doing arm exercises, meditating, practicing singing or, very occasionally, just pedaling. (But even then, yes, the TV is on.)

Walking actually seems like the best exercise for me. It seems the most invigorating in terms of my breathing and also the overall workout for my body. I enjoy viewing the houses and trees and landscapes and clouds and just everything in my path. I don't mind sweating in the sun. But I can't stand bug bites, and that's kept me from walking since at least June. (After reading all the warnings on bug repellents, they just don't seem worth it, and I usually end up getting bitten anyway!)

What I like about the bicycle is that it is smooth and makes its own breeze. It's a different pace. I enjoy the fresh air, and the same houses and landscapes somehow look different when passed by more quickly. And I can pray and meditate and reflect as I ride. And I really enjoyed the one day that my husband and I were up at the same time and rode together. (When he rides, he's usually back before I even get up in the morning.) But there are definite things I don't like, especially the limitations of when and where I can ride. Back when I was in college (1977-1981, Texas A&M University in College Station), the bicycle and shuttle bus were regular means of transportation for me. My sister and I traveled some of my routes by car when we were there again last fall, and those roads still seem more bicycle-friendly than anything I see around here. Here, the lanes seem narrower, and I just don't trust car traffic anymore. Because of what I know about motor traffic from my 50-plus mile round trip daily commute, I do not feel comfortable riding the bike the two miles to the mall or shopping center, much less across Interstate 35 to church. I hate that, but it's true. And if you can't tell by anything I've ever written, comfort, convenience and safety are critical for me.

So, fortunately, I don't have to choose just one way to be active. I can enjoy the exercise bike and the bicycle. And amazingly, even after taking a somewhat messy spill and being frustrated to realize I probably shouldn't ride on what look more like sidewalks than roads, I don't want to get rid of the bike. I'm grateful for the variety and hope to keep making good use of it.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Great is God's Faithfulness and the support of His people

Psalmcat 51:7.25.10

My midweek emotional meltdown wasn't much fun, but I sure did learn a lot from it. I think what brought it on was a combination of work pressures; a larger than usual number of friends burying parents or other loved ones; summer heat and humidity; and the cumulative and emerging stresses of aging, which include anxiety about the continued disarray of the "stuff" of my life, and possible hormonal changes.

The result was that sometime between when I left work Wednesday and when I was trying to get ready to return the next morning, I felt so distressed, depressed and frustrated that I just had to express. And so I posted on Facebook:
I've about decided work is never going to get better, only worse. I've tried to stay positive, but that seems like denial. I'm praying for God to keep showing me how to bring His light into the situation. (And please, if anyone comments on this post, do not ask or mention where I work, OK?)

I added the comment: And yes, I'm grateful beyond words to even have a job. But is it worth it if it exhausts me mentally and spiritually? I guess that's why I'm praying for answers. Sometimes it seems as if work is my God and my life. I can't let that happen.

Of course, I'm well aware of the dangers of posting things about work on Facebook, so within five minutes I pulled that post and replaced it with something more general: "I've about decided a big part of my life is never going to get better, only worse. I've tried to stay positive, but that seems like denial. I'm praying for God to keep showing me how to bring His light into the situation.
" I also revised and reposted the followup comment.

I don't know which surprised me more: How that wave of hopelessness had overtaken me and demanded expression, despite my awareness of the risks of expression; or the outpouring of support and concern I received from friends and family. And then I noticed something else: How positive most of the people in my life are. A niece, a librarian friend, a couple of pastors -- all routinely post things on Facebook that make me smile. And Thursday was no exception. But I noticed at work, too, of all places, that even amid a seemingly impossible summer workload, people found reasons to smile, to care, to share at work -- and to make it a point to have lives outside work.

And I realized that I'm usually very positive, too. It seems there was a fairly extended period in my life best characterized by self-pity and worry. But over time, much of that has been transformed into faith, hopefulness and a positive, encouraging outlook. I'm sure that transformation has been a direct result of beginning to grow spiritually through a commitment to read the Bible and pray regularly, and to take my commitments to family and friends -- including my church family -- more seriously.

There was so much more intertwined into all this, but I want to wrap it up because of time and space. But here are a few observations I can't leave out:

I think it was before Wednesday that one of my Facebook friends posted this Daily Question:
Which of these song titles best describes your year of 2010 so far? (a) Father Along We'll Know More About It (b) Why Me Lord? (c) When the Battle's Over We Shall Wear a Crown (d) This Is Like Heaven to Me. I don't always comment on these questions, but this one seemed to call out to me. My response: OK, I have to admit that out of those choices, it's D, praise God! But I was hesitant to admit it, because I thought, now there will probably be new challenges and puzzlements. So far this year, God has been constantly revealing heaven on earth. I'm grateful for that.

Then, at Wednesday morning's Seeking Hour at church, the Scripture was 1 Kings 19:1-8. We talked about Elijah's meltdown and how could something like that happen to him and could it happen to us and what could we do to keep that from happening. I left singing "Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine!" And yet, before the day was over, I was feeling as hopeless and helpless as Elijah had in that Scripture, despite all I supposedly know about God and His faithfulness.

And for some reason, I couldn't just keep it inside me or share it with just my confidants. I kept hearing myself talk about how negative and hopeless I felt. But somehow, even as that was happening, I could sense another transformation was occurring. I made it through the day, and I slept better that night than usual. And I woke up Friday morning feeling mentally and spiritually refreshed. Nothing had changed in the work situation that had frustrated me so much, but it now longer seemed hopeless. And it hasn't since.

Thankfully, it now seems Wednesday-Thursday was just a little Elijah meltdown. I'm better now. Great is God's faithfulness -- and the support of His people. Life is good. Not quite sure why I had to express that negativity on Facebook, but maybe that was part of the prayerful process!

A young friend recently posted on Facebook: "I'm living life until it hurts."
To which I commented: And when it starts hurting, just keep on living, because the best is yet to come!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Side trips on the way to the train ride

When I decided to ride Amtrak's Heartland Flyer from Norman, Oklahoma, to Gainesville, Texas, after checking to find out the fare was reasonable ($25 one-way, because of booking so close to departure), my plan was to drive my car to the Norman Depot and leave it until I returned, either that evening or the following day. But my husband, Gene, mentioned on the Friday afternoon before I was to leave Saturday morning that a co-worker had told him it wasn't safe to leave a car overnight at the depot. I don't have anyone (besides Gene, who would already be in Texas) I'm comfortable calling on short notice for something like a ride to the train station on a Saturday morning. So I really didn't know what I would do. If I hadn't already booked my reservation, I probably would have canceled the trip. The fun, convenience and spontaneity of riding the train was lost if I had to start calling to find a ride! On top of that, it was hard for me to believe the city of Norman (and Amtrak, for that matter) wouldn't make it a priority to keep passengers' cars as safe as possible. And the train station is right across from the Sheriff's Department and not far from the police station. But it's also right across the tracks from services for the homeless. Because of that, after Gene raised the concerns, I didn't dare want to risk leaving my car there and having it stolen or broken into.

So, acting on about the same kind of whim that led me to even make the train trip, I checked the Yellow Pages to see what kind of taxicab service Norman has. I called and found out a trip to the depot would be about $12. That seemed pretty reasonable. I called for the cab to arrive about 8:15 a.m. for my 8:50 train departure. The driver seemed to be glad to have a fare in what he said is a pretty slow summer in Norman (although not as slow as it used to be). It was a pleasant, leisurely way to get to the depot, and I figure the fare plus a small tip was worth it for convenience and car insurance!

At the train station, I had the pleasant surprise of realizing the depot is home to the Performing Arts Studio of Norman, and on display was an art exhibit for which I had just edited the newspaper's review at work the day before. Dixie Erickson's excellent "Instrumental Art" centered on banjos.

From The Oklahoman's review by John Brandenburg: "This banjo was the director of my band — I played all the variations," the Norman artist said of her use of various media and methods to celebrate the instrument. "My music is sight, not sound — all the different styles, all the different mediums, all the different looks of the banjo."

I never seem to make it to galleries to see art exhibits, so I was glad this was placed along my pathway to ride the train! Adding to my enjoyment of the exhibit was the juxtaposition: To see the single-themed artwork, I had to look above the wide variety of people seated below the mounted pieces, waiting for the train to arrive.

I guess the point of all this is to note that my decision to take a different route to a familiar destination led to unexpected perspectives and experiences. And that seems to be how it always is with life. I'm glad I was open to the opportunities. I hope to experience more soon.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Carried away by the train!

Something there is about riding a train. I don't recall getting excited about the arrival of a Greyhound or Continental Trailways bus back in the day. But some 30 years ago and again Saturday, I shared in the almost magical anticipation along with people from toddlers to grandparents and a range of couples, singles, families and even a 20-strong group wearing shirts proclaiming "The Royal Family of Lunch Ladies" -- all waiting for the train to arrive. "How will we know when it's here," a pretty young girl, maybe 4 or 5 years old and wearing a flowery summer dress, asked her family. Oh, you'll know, I wanted to tell her!

And soon there was the distinct sound of the train whistle, and then the vision of that intense light, for a short while barely seeming to move closer, and then suddenly at the station.

People seemed exceptionally good-natured awaiting, boarding and riding on the train. The Heartland Flyer's crew was friendly and professional. For someone more used to traveling in a plane, the seating seemed roomy and comfortable. The ride was smooth and amazingly quiet. The pace seemed leisurely.

In the nearly 29 years I've lived in Norman, Oklahoma, I've made the trip homeward to Gainesville, Texas, many times, mostly in a car or pickup, occasionally passing overhead in a plane. Except when construction causes traffic to bottleneck, I don't mind the ride along Interstate 35 at all and in fact enjoy parts. But making the journey on the less-traveled tracks of a train, through trees and brush and pastureland and right up against a face of the Arbuckle Mountains at a couple of places, provides a refreshing new perspective.

The people: I don't recall wondering about the stories and destinations of fellow vehicle-bound travelers on the highway, but aboard the train, leaving the driving to someone else, it was fun to wonder, eavesdrop and share stories. The guy sitting next to me was using the first of his 18-trip ticket package to travel from Purcell to Fort Worth to see his girlfriend. They hoped to watch a Rangers baseball game, even though it looked like the trip south was headed toward rain. In the row ahead, a 60ish couple traveled with two young grandsons. They, also, were trying to plan adventures around the rain; would it be the zoo or a museum? And of course I regret not getting to find out the story of the Royal Family of Lunch Ladies, but they were boarding when I spotted them, and I'm not sure where they ended up sitting.

The scenery: I think my favorite view is gliding through tall grass, brush or trees that seem to grow right up to the tracks. The recent rains added to the lushness, I'm sure. They also enhanced the view through the Arbuckles, where twice we got a good look at the winding Washita River. (The stewardess -- is that what she's called? -- described it as looking like a sea of chocolate milk. I think it had some strawberry in it, too!) I'm also fascinated by running so close to cow pastures, small towns, oil-industry compounds and railyards. And something intrigues me about crossing under the highways that are my normal pathway. The final fun perspective was actually crossing the trestle bridge over the Red River that I seem to always notice to the west when I cross into the home state on the highway.

I was met at the station by my mom, and after some shopping, we went out to the family farm, where I spent the afternoon visiting my parents and catching up and getting the facts straight on some family history. Then my husband, who had driven to Texas earlier to take care of some things, came over for steaks and then to drive us back to Norman.

To my surprise, as we headed across the Red River northbound on Interstate 35 about 7 p.m., just to our west was the leisurely Heartland Flyer. Rainbows to the east for much of the return trip were one more reminder that this was a day trip for which I had been destined.

I'm not sure when I started hearing the low train whistle calling me to ride, but I'm blessed to have responded by jumping on board! If I'd taken time to plan my trip, I could have saved money. But I probably never would have made it to the train station. I would have convinced myself it wasn't worth the cost, that it wasn't convenient or that it wasn't practical. And I would have missed a great day!

Sometimes God clearly says: This one's yours. ... I'm grateful I was able to hear, and I pray to continue to grow in awareness and responsiveness to such calls.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sometimes God says, 'This one's yours'

Sometimes God clearly says: This one's yours.
That's what happened after my friend Kathy's husband died. My first reaction was to feel regretful and ashamed that I had not visited Chuck or even sent a card during this extended hospital stay. I did pray often for him and for Kathy. But I felt like I should have done more.

The next day, during my prayer time at church, I mentioned that I felt ashamed and regretful for not being a better friend. As I journaled while I prayed, I wrote down that whatever I did now would be too little too late. But I continued to pray. Another thought was that maybe God is calling other people to visit and comfort now, and my time will come later. But that seemed pretty much like rationalization to me.

I was actually surprised when, soon after I returned home, I picked up the phone and called Kathy. I usually procrastinate or make excuses not to call (she'll be too busy, etc.), but this time I did call. And Kathy answered. And we talked. We spoke of Chuck's indomitable spirit and optimism and Kathy's loving care. I mentioned that I had recently tried to find the words for the song she had asked me to sing at their wedding 20 years ago ("Mizpah [May Your Love Flow Like a Fountain]") -- and she asked if I would sing it at Chuck's memorial service. I don't think that had even occurred to me. But how could I not say yes. And so I did, even though I had been previously unsuccessful in tracking down those lyrics. Not surprisingly, after I hung up the phone, I went to the computer and found the lyrics. Six days later, I sang at the celebration of this dear man's life.

This may sound like it's about me, but it is about God. OK, maybe it is about me: How I see God working. (I know I only see a glimpse of what God is doing, and I don't know whether my perceptions of what I see are even accurate.) Anyway, throughout that week of remembering and celebrating Chuck's life were reminders of how God calls us to live. Listed as Chuck's favorite quotes: "Trust God, clean house and work with others." "Live in the now." "I try not to complain, condemn or criticize." Also included were the Rotary Club four-way test (is it true? is it fair ...? will it build goodwill ...? will it be beneficial ...?) and the long version of "The Serenity Prayer." Chuck lived these principles, providing an example that these nice platitudes really are possible to exemplify, even in the face of massive, ultimately fatal health problems, not to mention a difficult childhood and many other kinds of rocky places in life along the way.

As I've written before and found myself pondering again with the memorial service Tuesday, I don't understand why I fail to act on so many opportunities to call, send a card, visit or help, whether it be just to maintain a friendship or to be Christ's love to someone who is lonely, grieving or in need. But even when I seem to fall short, I just keep praying to know and DO God's will. And sometimes, such as this, God seems to clearly say: "This one's yours." I'm grateful I was able to hear, and I pray to continue to grow in awareness and responsiveness to such calls.

Words worth remembering and sharing

I wanted to post the words to a song ("Mizpah") and a prayer ("The Serenity Prayer") shared at the recent memorial service for a dear friend, Charles Robert "Chuck" Collins. My impression of Chuck was that he lived these words. That gives me hope that others, including myself, can also live these words .....

"Mizpah" by Byron Walls
May your love flow like a fountain. May your days be free of doubt. May your life become as effortless as breathing in and out. May you always complete what you begin. May you never have so much that you're a slave to what you own. May you always have the wisdom to leave well enough alone.
May your always wake up cheerful and give thanks for every day; know the love that you receive comes from the love you give away. May your faith be a cushion when you fall. May you know you always manifest whatever's in your mind. And if good is what you're looking for, then good is what you'll find.
When dark clouds close around you, may you feel God's light (love) surround you when you pray. When you need someone to guide you, may you know God walks beside you all the way.

The Serenity Prayer
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference: living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Freedom to be

Psalmcat 51:7.4.10

For weeks, a recurring theme that has come up in places such as my 12-step meetings, Sunday school and Bible study has to do with being the best versus being my best. And today, when the Fourth of July with its focus on freedom comes on a Sunday, I must exercise what I see as my responsibility to write about it! My prayer is to keep it short and simple so I can go forth and serve (or at least celebrate)!

I've listened as people talked about what seems to be the norm: the desire to be THE best. For many years, that was me. Whether it was to be the best student, the best majorette, the best singer, the best writer, the best daughter, the best friend -- being the best was the goal. Of course, only one person can be THE best, so that was a sure-fire formula for disappointment and disillusionment. And after a fair amount of success through high school, a world of disappointment and disillusionment is where I found myself for many years.

In the interest of trying to keep this fairly short and quick, I won't go into details of all those years and the long road out of that world. But these recent discussions have reminded me of principles and beliefs I hold onto today that keep me from going back to that place.

I guess the most basic and essential change is that, as I've become a regular reader of God's Word, I've been convinced that God created me; He proclaimed me good (despite all of what I see as my shortcomings, weaknesses, failures, mistakes and imperfections, etc.) and He loves me so much that even if I were the only person on Earth in need of salvation, He would have sent His son to die for me so that I could live with Him forever. I'm not sure when I truly began to believe that. But I know it came as a result of being around people who have loved me forever (my parents, relatives, church family, dear friends) and people who I've met along the way, even in the worst years, who saw good in me and offered love, acceptance and understanding. Eventually, out of deep personal need, I embraced that God's love is the source of all that love. And I guess that's when I started wanting to know God better, so I started reading the Bible. Not surprisingly, before I started reading the Bible regularly, I knew more about God from what other people said than from what God Himself said. No wonder I was so confused!!!!

I'm still confused a lot of the time, but it's easier for me to come back to those basics. Another of those basics for me is that God's not asking me to be the best. He wants me to be my best -- the best at what He created me to be. I think it was a couple of weeks ago during Sunday school that I realized that's at least a two-part deal. First, I have to seek to know what God is calling me to do and be. And then I have to do it, which often requires overcoming fear (of failure, of being overwhelmed, of being ridiculed or embarrassed, possibly of even being viewed as vain or childish), procrastination, and lack of necessarily knowledge, skill or resources. I think some of the results of that search have been more regular Sunday school attendance; commitment to attending a midweek prayer time; a better attitude at work even when circumstances seem impossible; sharing my heart and journey on my blog; and most recently, recording beloved songs and posting them on youtube.

I can tell you this for sure: If I thought I had to be the best, I would not be blogging or recording things and putting them on youtube. The blog and the recordings are living examples that, for me in certain areas including these, the call is to just do it. I'm free to resist that call, but I've found that the blessing comes from doing it. With the songs, my focus is on the beautiful words and melodies, not the singer. As for the blog, I still don't know. It's something about the spirit's call to my heart: Sweet music of life -- To hear it! To share it! Maybe I fear that if I don't share it, I'll quit hearing it. And God knows I never want to quit hearing that beautiful sound!