Friday, December 31, 2010

Through it all: Sweet music of life

As 2010 winds down, I feel compelled to write again about two events from this past year. They stand out above the rest as evidence that even in the toughest times, the sweet music of life can be heard and shared.

The first is so bitter I hate to even write about it. On Jan. 5, as I was preparing to meet my brother in Weatherford to watch his daughter play basketball with her college team from Arkansas, I got a call from my mom saying Mike wouldn't be coming to Oklahoma. When I asked why, the news was stunning: My uncle Joe, who lived near Mike and his family in Arkansas, had been found dead that morning. Circumstances were tragic and unsettling and to this day seem incomprehensible. But as has happened every time my Mom or my Dad or anyone in their families have faced dire situations, close and extended family and friends rallied together in faith and fellowship to get through it. Some relationships seemed to grow stronger and become more treasured with the stark reminder of just how precious and fragile life is. In no way, shape or form did any of the positive outcomes make up for the loss and heartache. But I think a powerful lesson of life and faith is that even in the worst of times, we have choices. Even in the face of my uncle's irreversible choice that seemed to be born of hopelessness, survivors chose to find hope and forgiveness and precious memories and the faithfulness of God.

The second development began in mid-August. When my Dad, a longtime (but by then ex-) smoker who also has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema, decided it was time for a chest x-ray, a small spot was found on a lung. Thus began a series of doctor's visits and tests and evaluations; a cancer diagnosis; indecision and decisions -- and eventually surgery on Oct. 5. After initially amazing results and recovery and then some setbacks and discouragement, he left the final hospital Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving.

I've written many words about this as Dad and Mom and the family went through the decisions and the results of those decisions. Many of those words are in past blog posts. Tonight, I'm just trying to feel and put into words some of my love and joy and gratitude for God and my parents and my family and friends. And words still come up woefully short. How do you convey through written words a smile, a hug and the warm pulse of a beating heart? Close your eyes, and maybe you'll see and feel it.

At least on the surface, many things continue to look bleak as I prepare to turn the calendar page. There are loved ones in poor health or without jobs. Some aspects of our culture, the economy and world are frightening. We're all getting older ....

But the year that's ending teaches me not to be afraid -- or at least to not stay afraid. It's OK to feel moments of sadness, discouragement, grief, frustration, anger and fear. But I need not let them paralyze me. "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. ... He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. ... Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever" (Psalm 23).

Even when I recite the 23rd Psalm in my head, I hear music -- the sweet music of life that flows from faith, family, friendship and spirit. May I never cease to seek it and share it -- and give the glory to God.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Like coal in my stocking

Well, the good news is I still have a job. The not-so-thrilling news is that starting Jan. 3, I'll be working until midnight most days. I learned this the week of Christmas, and it seemed kinda like getting a lump of coal rather than a desirable gift in my stocking.

I typically don't deal with change very well, and that's the case again. I try to keep planning and hoping for the best. I see opportunities to make a fresh start on sleep patterns, exercise, eating and use of my nonwork time. But then my stomach weighs in, and I know I'm very, very unsettled. More than my hours are changing, but I don't yet know what the other aspects will involve.

Several times I've convinced myself I see more positives than negatives -- helped largely by amazing support from my husband, who has expressed willingness to make adjustments, too. The fact that, at least for the first month, I'm scheduled so that I can take off in time to attend choir practice on Wednesdays is another plus. But I don't see me getting up at 6 a.m. Wednesdays for the Seeking Hour that has become such an important part of my weekly routine.

For now, the uncertainty is the worst part. Even as I hope and plan for the best, I'm also trying to be prepared for the worst. What if I don't adjust? What if I can't sleep? What if I start overeating again? What if I don't like the changes in what I actually do at work? What if ...? What if ...?

So far, for every negative "what if ...," I've been able to eventually shift my mind -- at least temporarily -- to a positive thought. (I still haven't convinced my stomach.) Scripture reminds me it's a waste of time to worry about tomorrow. I cling to that and the message of Christmas, that God is with me. I also can't shake the thought that even a lump of coal can be put to productive use.

I hope that by dispatching this bit of possibly negative reality, I'll be able to sit down tomorrow or Friday and write a more upbeat assessment of the year that's ending and what may await in the coming year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

It's Christmas Eve, and I must share ....

It's Christmas Eve, and I'm finally finished buying and wrapping Christmas presents. (This is funny, because I started writing this before midnight the day before Christmas Eve, and the finishing hasn't actually happened. But by time I post this, it will!

This has been a difficult December in many ways, and I've sometimes found myself just wanting it to be over. But even as I've gone through some of those difficult days, I've been able to quickly see blessings and learn lessons. Even when circumstances have changed in ways I didn't like, I've been able to rebound fairly quickly and regain a positive outlook.

And now it's Christmas Eve (really; I'm back the the computer, finishing what I started). The presents are bought and wrapped. It's about time to start spending time with family and loved ones. A Christmas Eve candlelight service is in the plan, as well as prayer and reflection; meditation and gratitude; maybe some opportunities to serve and offer hope, laughter, encouragement, compassion, love, maybe a song or two and other gifts from the heart.

Partly because of the difficulty of this December, I feel more aware than ever of the true meaning of God's gift at Christmas: the presence of the indwelling Christ, God with us, the Child Who was born to bring us hope and save us from our sins. I need that, and I need to share that. At Christmas and always.

The words from another song on Point of Grace's "Home for the Holidays" CD captures some of what's in my heart this Christmas Eve:

Do you hear what I hear
On this Christmas Day
Word of God now bundled in a manger lined with hay.
Baby with a message, born to grow

Hear the sound of chains now broken
Love came down -- God has spoken.
Songs of hope ringing through the sky
On this not so silent night .....

Oh to be an angel on a midnight clear
Joining in a chorus of unending joy
Tell it on the mountain -- Heaven has drawn near
Hand of God with fingers of a baby boy ...

Hear the bells resound with glory
Hear them tell the age-old story
Songs of hope ringing through the sky
On this not so silent night .....

You can hear this (which really comes alive with the music and harmonies) and the other songs (including the delightfully joyous "Joy to the World") on their website,

May the songs and joy and love and all that God offers be yours at Christmas and always!

Christ is born! Hallelujah! Joy the world! The Lord is here!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Great gifts of the season

I'm glad I listened past the almost too country and too cute Christmasy songs at the start of Point of Grace's new Christmas CD, "Home for the Holidays," to get to some with messages and/or arrangements that gave my spirit a lift.

One of my favorites, both for the words and the way they are delivered, is "Immanuel." I couldn't find a transcript of the lyrics, but this is the first verse and chorus:

No decorations, no tree with tinsel, no lights this year at home
The rooms are silent, no carols play.
It's the first time she is all alone.
ut what a wonder; she says there's comfort ...
Immanuel: Our God is with us.
Yes, He is with us still.
Immanuel. He has not left us, and He never will.

It's about people facing the festive season with emptiness, loss and heartache; the broken and lost. It seems I'm aware of more people than ever in those kinds of situations. Some, as in the first verse, remind themselves, and others need to be reminded that even in those circumstances, God is with them. And His people, including me, can help be that reminder.

Is it that simple? Does understanding and remembering that God is with us, whatever comes our way, really make a difference? Does sharing that message with someone else by taking time to call, visit or help, really make a difference? Well, it did today. It did last Sunday. In fact, it has daily. Just thinking of the reality that God is with me really does make a difference.

Joy to the world. The Lord has come. And He is still here!

What a gift! And, as the final song on that CD reminds me, what a Gift-giver. For indeed, God is the Giver and the Gift. Not only on one holy night, but always. May I always be grateful. May I rejoice and sing. And may I share that gift!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent --- Not Quite What I Was Expecting

I feel as if the joy and gratitude I know are in my heart are being buried beneath waves of weariness. And as much as I would like to write more, this is the best I can do tonight. There are just too many things I need to do other than writing for me to justify taking the time to sort through all the words to make sense of what I want or need to express. Maybe if I tend to some of the necessary busywork now, the words will come by the weekend. That is my hope and prayer.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Decision Points?

It's early December, and part of me has skipped right past Christmas and is thinking about new year's resolutions. Since one of those resolutions might be to live more fully in each moment, it's obvious the need is real.

A few things recently got me to thinking about resolutions.

One is my continuing annoyance and shame over a few of my habits. Anyone who has paid attention knows I chew way too much gum and have a disgusting habit of picking at bumps and rough skin. These may or may not be a big deal, but the thing I'm keenly aware of is that I won't be able to let go of them -- or even just cut back -- without a very determined effort. I'm aware that just thinking about it and the reasons I want to stop or cut back actually make me more compulsive about the habit. I can tell it's going to take not only a physical plan of action but also a plan that involves mental and spiritual resolve. And I'm not ready yet. Maybe if I start praying for willingness now, it will come sooner rather than later.

Another was a Facebook post from one of my nieces. She wrote on Dec. 1: "... is thinking that if I start practicing my New Years Resolutions now by the time 2011 rolls around I might have them down!!" Good luck with that, I thought, assessing my own reality.

The third thing that has me thinking about resolutions stems from having started to read former President George W. Bush's memoir "Decision Points." Rather than being presented as a life story as such, the book's structure is based on looking back at key decisions, mostly in his presidency but also at other times in his life. It starts with his decision to quit drinking. What it made me realize is that I never know whether I've actually made a decision until I can look back and see whether I followed through. Maybe this is related to my compulsive tendencies (mine don't involve alcohol) and need for a 12-step program that includes Step 3: "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him." I've done that and continue to reaffirm that decision daily. One day at a time, it keeps me from turning to food as my God. So, what's the deal with this gum? It's not my God, but it seems like more than a nervous habit. Even though it wastes a bunch of money, I'm not sure it causes any ill effects to my health or the well-being of others. In fact, it only seems like an obsession when I try to let it go. (But isn't that the definition of an obsession or addiction -- when you can't or won't give it up even when you think you want to?) I just know that on some level I would like to be free of the excess. But I don't guess I'd like to enough yet to make what seems like a sacrifice.

I know I've made many important decisions in my life that have been transformative in positive ways. This is happening more often as I grow older. But it's also as I grow older that I'm more aware of the decisions I want to make but keep avoiding. I'm aware that I can't get back wasted moments, squandered opportunities, misspoken words or misspent money. I think there is value in looking back to learn from experience, but I want to move forward, to grow and develop. But I guess I'm still not ready to make a decision. I'm just wishing. Or so it seems. Maybe by the start of the new year I'll be ready. Or maybe tomorrow. Or maybe tonight. I guess I'll know when I look back.