Tuesday, November 30, 2010

More than a month of thanksgiving

Much about the month of Thanksgiving has seemed difficult for me. It seems as if ever since we changed back from daylight saving time, I've been more tired, and day-to-day life has been a struggle. Does winter get harder as we age? That's seeming to be the case, but maybe (I hope) I'm just going through a phase.

Even as much about November has seemed difficult, and I'm still more tired than I think I should be, I cannot contain the joy and gratitude I do feel. It's readily expressed in smiles and excited conversation when people at work or church or elsewhere ask me how my Dad is doing after his lung surgery. I can go on and on talking about those precious moments that make my heart sing and my soul rejoice. Writing about them isn't as easy. (And the pictures I took didn't adequately capture the moments, either.) But I want to write about them, to help me never forget.

Highlights, as simply as possible:
-- Knowing Daddy was back on the farm Nov. 24, the afternoon before Thanksgiving. How I wish I could have been there to see him. But it was enough just to know. Daddy was born on that farm and has lived there most of his life. I like that Mom picked him up at the rehab hospital and drove him home and didn't call to tell any of the kids until they were there. But from what she said, after that, the house had a steady stream of family members until Sunday afternoon.
-- Hearing Daddy tell the stories of my only brother and my youngest of four sisters working together to rearrange furniture to make things a little more convenient for Mom and Dad. Mike and Amy also did projects around the farm and went to a ballgame together. To hear Daddy tell it, neither one was in charge; they just worked as a team. I don't know how often they've done that through their 40- and 50-plus years. Daddy knows they got a lot done, but he seemed to think that even if the results hadn't been great, just watching them work was worth something.
-- Daddy saying grace for the roast dinner Mom fixed for Gene and me and Daddy on Saturday. I wondered if we'd say grace and who might be asked to do it. There was no question; Daddy just did it, humbly and from the heart.
-- Daddy's determination that he would go to church Sunday. The weather seemed cold and windy, and his immune system is probably still not up to par and he would need to take the portable oxygen container and he hadn't had a bath since Wednesday morning, but none of that seemed to deter his desire. I was grateful for that desire, and I prayed he would be able to follow through. But I was prepared for it not to work out. I told him that if he tried but ended up getting too tired or it was too much trouble, he could wait until next week. But when I got to church in Gainesville Sunday morning, Mom drove up with Amy and Daddy right behind me. Again, I cannot express how much that meant to me. The people of that church are like extended family to me, and to see how joyful people of all ages seemed to see Charles back -- again, it just makes me smile. (There's so much more that I want to write here, but again, I'm trying to keep it simple.)
-- And then there's the gratitude for Mom and the lessons I learn from her. This is probably the hardest to put into words, so I won't get it done tonight. I just know that I learn so many valuable lessons of faith and action and support and love and endurance and so much more from her. She's definitely the glue that holds our family together. She is an amazing woman. (I had a bad experience at the dentist today, and one of my thoughts was that my Mom certainly did not raise me to be such a whiny, easily frustrated person! I'm still learning!)

One of my recurring awarenesses in November and probably even before we learned of the possibility Daddy might have cancer in mid-August is that I don't understand why God keeps being so good to me and my family and why, even when it looks like things could get bad, we keep receiving blessings. I know God is that good, but I also know that the reality of life is that His goodness often will be manifest in times of pain and suffering and grief and sorrow, not just during the celebrations and healing and recovery. I do know that, as a family, we have managed to stay focused on the blessings even in what mostly seem like relatively minor or routine sufferings in the scheme of life (and yes, there have been some major ones, and we've kept a faithful focus in those, too). I pray that I will never fail to praise God for His blessings -- including the blessing of seeing His goodness when the good isn't obvious. But when the good is obvious, I just want to shout and sing and praise God.

And so it is as the month of Thanksgiving draws to a chose. Thank you, God!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Simple Thanksgiving

I don't want to let Thanksgiving Day end without writing some words of gratitude. I'm going through a phase where I'm so tired I can hardly think, but I still need/want to write. Last night, I went to bed without reading my Bible, brushing my teeth or washing my face for the the first time in longer than I can remember. And I still woke up tired for an untraditional Thanksgiving. I didn't watch any parades or fix or eat turkey, dressing or any of the familiar foods. Gene and I just had grilled fish and veggies. Yummy! No visits or company. Just us and the cat. And morning to bedtime sports on television. It's not my preferred way for spending Thanksgiving, but this year I think it may have been perfect.

One thing that made it right is that I know my Daddy is back on the farm, just short of two months from when he went to the hospital for surgery for lung cancer. I think it actually took him longer to get back home than we expected, but I cannot express how grateful I am that he had the surgery and that it was successful and that he and Mom persevered through all of the hospital and rehab stays to make this possible. I would have loved to have been there to share those moments as he arrived back at the home place, but my heart rejoices just to know. Knowing other siblings were there for Thanksgiving made it easier for me to wait until the weekend to visit. I can hardly wait!

But I'm also reminded that this is the first Thanksgiving without a dear loved one for many people. Several who are dear to me lost parents or spouses or other close loved ones this year. I know of at least one instance in which my excitement about my father ended up being painful for one of these people. And there was nothing I could do to make it OK after the pain was realized. I'm still praying to know the proper balance.

As I often write on this blog and was reminded when I reviewed some things for my blog "anniversary," I'm grateful to have the freedom to write down my thoughts and publish them even when they're not very well developed. Posts such as this seem to plant seeds or cultivate thoughts or habits that lead to the few posts that I really feel good about.

So, I still haven't said what I mean to say about thanks and gratitude. This year, I've tried to keep in mind to Whom my thanks and praise are due. It is God. I thank God for the good, and I thank God as I face challenges. I praise Him for Who He is. I try not to just thank God for what He's done for me. I'm learning and really taking to heart that God is worthy of worship, praise and thanksgiving no matter what is going on in my life. God loves me unconditionally. That alone should be enough for unending praise and gratitude. But in addition to that, because He loves me, He just keeps blessing me. On Thanksgiving and always, I pray that my life will be one that reflects my gratitude and praise, to God's glory.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The journey continues

I realized last Saturday that I missed my blog anniversary. And I'm just now writing about it! Amazing.

I started Nov. 5, 2009. My goals were pretty meager.
-- Post at least one thing each week.
-- Feel free to go back in and edit.
-- See where it leads.
-- Give the glory to God.

The good news is that I can say I've achieved them. The bad news is that the goals were pretty meager, so I'm not sure I accomplished much.

It's been much more me-focused than I had hoped. I would like to be writing more descriptive narrative expressing appreciation for things I see outside myself, rather than so much about what's going on in my own life and mind. But maybe that's like wishing I could sing with a more resonant voice, or wishing I could swim and dive. I've made attempts to learn those things, and what I was being taught just didn't seem to work for me. It's like trying to write right-handed. Some people can do it well, myself included, others not so much. Maybe my distinct writing voice, like my singing voice, is destined to be fairly simple. To the casual observer, it probably seems immature and undeveloped. And maybe that's OK. Simple things deserve appreciation, too, perhaps.

One of my recent spiritual lessons has included a look at why some churches are good at raising money and doing whatever it takes to accomplish great things, while it seems as if the ones I am most closely connected to struggle even to meet operating expenses and adequately pay the pastor and staff. Yes, we get a lot done in ministry and fellowship and caring for people within and outside the congregation, but when it comes to doing GREAT things for God, it seems I'm not the only one who's holding back mightily. A thought I had about this during last Sunday's sermon (drawn from verses in Nehemiah 6) was that maybe I'd get lost in one of those churches filled with supergenerous saints. Maybe God also needs the witness of churches filled with people who struggle to respond to His call. And maybe I need the struggle to stay real.

I was pondering some of this as I drove to work one day this week, and I had to ask myself (again): Who am I to say this isn't exactly how God wants me to be? As I told a friend, the way I am seems pretty lame to me, but God keeps finding ways to use me. But how do I know for sure whether this is God's perfect will for me, or whether He's just continuing to work all things, even my failure to achieve my best for Him, to His greater good. (Did I say I have a simple voice? Maybe I should have said simplistic -- underdeveloped and confused. Fortunately, it's also a probing voice that keeps seeking to know more.)

So, I'll keep on keeping on, with the blog and with life and with seeking to know and do God's will. Sometimes an anniversary or birthday or new year prompts me to set new goals. I think I'll just keep the ones I have for the blog. But I am praying to become willing to be willing to set some goals for specific aspects of my life, especially regarding specific uses of time and money where I know my excesses don't really hurt anyone, and maybe not even me, but I also know that adjustments would surely enrich my life and my ability to help others.

As I wrote in the first blog post: The urge to write never leaves. ... When I joined FaceBook recently to help stay in touch with family members, something about the power of written expression was rekindled within me. Framing thoughts into phrases or sentences and then posting them -- publishing them -- invigorated me. And when FaceBook friends commented .... wow! I've had to ask myself: Is this a blessing or a curse? I've asked the question prayerfully, and so far, the answer is that it's a blessing. And so I've started what is a new adventure for me. It's possible nothing will show up on this blog that will be of interest to anyone other than the writer. But it's also possible something will emerge that is worth the time and thought of a reader. I look forward to finding out.

The journey continues!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bearing fruit?

The two topics I brought up last week have continued to be on my mind.

-- "Bear Fruit or Else."
-- "Am I praying or just wishing?"

When I think of the fruit I think I should be bearing, I don't think I'm being very productive. My to-do list gets longer and longer, not helped by the fact that I'm getting more and more behind on even routine things. The parable of a garden owner, the garden keeper and a fig tree within it in Luke 13:6-9 could really discourage me. If God gave me a deadline for getting my act together in terms of physical and material things, organization, getting stuff done, being efficient, etc., I'd be doomed. But fortunately Scripture also draws me to Galatians 5:22, where the fruits of the spirit are listed: Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Do those fruits really matter more than a clean house, efficient use of money and time, getting things done or producing results? That thought gives me hope, because I do see evidence of those fruits in my life as I continue to read the Bible and pray to know and do God's will.

The other thing I've been very aware of recently is the idea of whether sometimes my prayers are really just wishes. In the same way the concept of bearing fruit forces me to consider what kind of fruit matters, the idea of prayers versus wishes makes me contemplate the meaning of each. I realize that, for me, wishing is magical. I want things to be different automatically, just because I want it. I don't want to have to work for it. Or I just want to be magically transformed into having the willingness and ability to do what it takes. On the other hand, I realize that my concept of praying is communicating with God and seeking to surrender my will to Him. This isn't magical. It usually involves action on my part, although it doesn't have to. God does perform miracles and lavishes me with love and mercy and grace and blessings that sometimes seem magical. But such things can always be traced to the hand of a faithful, loving, merciful, sovereign, holy God.

It's worthwhile for me to make sure my prayers are really prayers and not just wishes. That also helps keep me attuned to the source of all my blessings and to praise God in all things.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

This fruit's far from ready.....

I hope to be writing soon, offering more meditations on sermon titles and related Scriptures and sayings. Among them:

-- "Bear Fruit or Else."
-- "Am I praying or just wishing?"

But for now, if I want to bear fruit, I've got to get out of this chair. Maybe there will be wireless internet where I'm headed, and I'll have a chance to write then. But writing is not the most important thing today, even though I do think I'll find benefit in posting even these few words.

I'm grateful for a gracious gardener who nurtures the fruit with patience and loving care, even as "or else" looms as a spiritual and physical reality.