Monday, November 28, 2011

Here's to Thanks-living!

Thanksgiving is over, but thanks-living is not.
-- Terry L. Tramel, "The Pen of the Ready Writer"

I was going to post on my blog for Thanksgiving some of the great inspiration I found from family and friends on Facebook, but I didn't get it done. The above post showed up the day after Thanksgiving, and I saw there was still plenty of context for posting.

Many (most) of the inspiring messages and song lyrics actually were posted by Terry. Among them:

-- Apples of Gold - "Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving." (W.T. Purkiser)

-- Point to Ponder - "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." (William Arthur Ward)

-- Evening Praise - "For all that You've done I will thank You, for all that You're going to do; For all that You've promised and all that You are, is all that has carried me through, Jesus, I thank You...And I thank You, thank You, Lord, Thank You, thank You, Lord...Thank You for loving and setting me free, Thank You for giving Your life just for me, How I thank You, Jesus, I thank You, Gratefully thank You, Thank You..." (Dennis Jernigan)

-- Hymn of the Day - "For all the blessings of the year, for all the friends we hold so dear; For peace on earth both far and near, we thank Thee Lord...For life and health, those common things, which every day and hour brings; For home where our affection clings, we thank Thee Lord...For love of Thine which never tires, which all our better thought inspires; And warms our lives with heavenly fires, we thank Thee Lord." (Albert Hutchinson)

-- Point to Ponder - "When we bless God for mercies, we usually prolong them. When we bless God for miseries, we usually end them.". (Charles Spurgeon)

And this from friend Charleen Hudson:
-- I was standing at the kitchen sink after cleaning my oven and I see Cheridan standing in front of the TV dancing instead of cleaning her room. I was going to yell at her and go on a rant about how I really needed their help getting the house ready for tomorrow. Instead, I ripped of my gloves and joined her. I think I made a wise choice. I just hope I can keep this perspective all day.

From Jim Shepherd:
-- You can't be thankful without saying "Thank you." So thank you to all of my friends, old and new, who have embraced me and who have endured me, who have loved me and who have tolerated me, and who cared for me when I have been weak and who have whacked me when I have been stupid. Thank you! A faithful friend is one of life's greatest treasures. And I am thankful for you.

There were others, but these are the ones I saved. They are good reminders to me to live gratefully every day. And the reminder is timely as we are now in a time that for many Christians is observed as Advent, a time of spiritual preparation for the celebration of God's great gift of His Son, Christ, on Christmas, and right after that will come a new year, with so many temptations to set expectations too high.

So, here's the Thanks-living, one day at a time, every day, praying to be a reflection of God's mercy, love and grace.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

So sad to see the Aggies SECede

"Goodbye to Texas university. So long to the orange and the white." Texas A&M's swan song football season  in the Big 12 has been disappointing for me. After starting in the preseason top 10, they've lost some close games, many of them heartbreaking occasions of snatching defeat from the hands of victory, squandering more than 20-point leads and fighting through four overtimes before coming up short.  

And circumstances kept me from experiencing the Aggies' final visit to OU for the foreseeable future. 

And now circumstances (work)  will keep me from attentively  watching the final conference showdown between A&M and Texas on Thanksgiving Day.

A big part of why I hate that A&M is leaving the Big 12 and heading to the Southeastern Conference is because I'll miss them being part of the local (Oklahoma City) sports coverage. Besides football, it's been fun to watch men's and women's basketball teams and baseball and softball play in Norman and Oklahoma City. How I will miss those visits. 

For some reason, it didn't seem like the end of the A&M/Texas Thanksgiving rivalry would bother me that much. But as it's gotten closer, the reality is sinking in. Traditionalist that I am, I'm actually more saddened by the end of this rivalry than by the Aggies no longer being in the Big 12.

So far,   I've done pretty well accepting that that's how life goes sometimes and it's not that big of a deal. I hope the price for that acceptance isn't detachment and aloofness. 

I do still hope the Aggies "beat the hell outta t.u.," as the ever-popular yell says. Unfortunately, I'll still be sad about the end of an era and a proud tradition. 

I have so many more thoughts and feelings about this and how it relates to real life, but as usual, if I wait until I can make enough sense of it to write it down, I never will. Maybe I'll update later. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Giving thanks -- and feeling peace

Somewhere in the first week of November, I realized that several of my Facebook friends were making posts each day of the month stating something for which they are grateful. I've enjoyed reading along. I may try to do something like that next year. As it is, they have helped me look beyond the usual to see things each day for which I am grateful.

I say "look beyond the usual" because I realized on Saturday that gratitude has become an integral part of my daily life. At my 12-step meeting Saturday, I was able to think back clearly to when I didn't have such a deep-rooted sense of gratitude. For many years of my life, this was my predicament: I knew I was blessed. I could see blessings all around me. How could I not feel grateful and blessed? But for whatever reasons, I didn't. I wanted to feel grateful, but it was a longing, not a reality. Some of the 12-step literature reminded me of the process I went through to recognize things that blocked me from feeling grateful. Chief among them: resentment and self-pity, along with a heaping helping of depression. Again, I didn't intend to have those feelings/nonfeelings, but I did.

Through a lot of self-examination, prayer, working with others (some therapy and medicine helped, too), I guess I gradually developed a faith that helped me let go of the resentments and to trust God and to see and feel His very real presence and power in my life. And somewhere along the way, instead of just thinking I ought to feel grateful and wanting to feel grateful, I found myself feeling grateful and blessed, even when I didn't like a particular circumstance or outcome. I became able to see past a situation to focus on God and His love and presence. How could I not feel blessed? How could my heart not sing?

A result of that, for today, is a peace that truly surpasses my understanding. One of the spiritual networks I'm on includes a daily email. For the past week, it focused on Isaiah 26:3: "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You." (Or, as it is in my mind from a song I once sang but don't still have the music for: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.") I don't remember whether any of those messages made the connection between gratitude and peace, but as I sat in my meeting and was thinking of how an attitude of gratitude went hand-in-hand with letting go of self-pity, resentment and even depression, the awareness I had was that the result is peace. And I feel grateful for the peace.

What a wonderful cycle: Look for things for which to express gratitude to God, let go of self-pity and resentment, and feel God's peace. Look for and see more blessings all around (if you don't think you see any, one easy solution is to reach out and do something kind for someone), express gratitude to God, feel more peace -- and some joy, too!

My heart and soul continue to be filled with a warmth and peace that is beyond my understanding or ability to explain. All I can do is say thank You, God. Please help me keep my focus on You, to Your glory, during this particular season of Thanksgiving and always.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Lest I forget: Remembering Daddy, God's blessings

Charles Baker Davidson
March 20, 1926 - October 30, 2011
Son, Brother, Husband, Father, Grandfather, Great-Grandfather

Nov. 2: The celebration of Daddy's life was just right. The church was filled with probably more than 200 people. A lot of those people were family, but there were also many, many friends.
The pastor has only been at Mom and Dad's longtime church (and the church I remember growing up in) since January, but he did a wonderful job of expressing Daddy's spirit and his legacy of family, faith, friends, farm and hard work. Chuck had really listened to Daddy in recent weeks and also to the family, and was able to celebrate his life fully and also share the message of Christ.
Emily read the family recollections of Charles, who he was and some of what he liked. Then I sang "Blessed Assurance." I didn't even remember until that night at Mom's that I changed the words to the final chorus, singing: "This is Dad's story, this is his song, praising our Savior all the day long." I actually looked at Daddy's picture some as I sang and when I finished. I am so grateful to have been able to do that. I didn't fall apart until the service was over, then collected myself in about five minutes or so.

There were so many people at the reception. I didn't even see some of them. Due to many requests, the pastor got the group to quiet down and I did sing the song Daddy in late August had said he wanted written and sung at the gathering after his service. Amy and I wrote it: "Charlie D's Farm." "Ol' Charlie D he had a farm, EIEIO ..." It was fun and very well-received, too. Amy's friends and Sally were among the insistent ones.

My prayer at the end of that day, or along the way: Lord, please help me remember and savor and acknowledge all of your love and grace to our family through these dear ones. I know you are raising us up. Please help me stay focused on You and to live to Your glory.

I have to keep reminding myself that the blog is a Web log, a place where I can record things, and if the first two years is an indication, easily return to them.

So, what is written above is pretty much the note I wrote myself that day. What follows are some of the other notes or reflections I made leading up to that day. Some of it is very personal, so don't feel obligated to keep reading. Again, I don't trust my memory, and writing helps me remember. Possibly it will help others, also, either remember or to make their own kind of notes of those special moments they want to be sure not to forget. (I'm a bit envious of those who don't have to write everything down. I have to remind myself that God created me exactly the way I am, and just tresure the blessing of that.)

Nov 1: I don't even know where to start. From a friend: In very clear ways, a testimony to his life. Psalm 128:3.

Oct. 30: Daddy's gone to heaven. 10/30/11

Mom, Becky and I found out while we were in church. Mom's sister Sally and grandson Brian were with Daddy.
On that long (20-minutes?) drive home from church, the Christian radio station played great songs. The one that really caught my attention and made me prismy (smiles through tears) was an enthusiatic arrangement of "When the Saints Go Marching In." I guess he made it! I had no doubt.

Daddy wanted Mom to go to church. I have to believe that. He told me that the week before. He knew that's where we were going.

Mom had forgotton her phone, and I had called on the way to church to give Brian my number in case they needed to reach us, even though we didn't think they would. I turned the ringer off. So neither I nor Emily (Brian's wife, sitting on the pew next to us) nor Becky (my sister, Emily's mom, driving in for Sunday School) heard our phones to get the calls or messages. Brian had to call sister-in-law Brandi and Emily's dad, Tom, for help, and Tom called the church and they got Becky and told her she needed to call Tom. Becky, Mom and I all had been visiting with people and having good fellowship at church. And then ... In an instant it all changed. I just hope and pray that Mom and Brian and Sally and I never lose faith that God was totally in control of the timing and situation.

Mom insisted on driving home. I was with her, which made it OK, I guess. The music on the radio was comforting. "You Raise Me Up" brought tears as we drove on the gravel and up the lane.

Daddy was so ready. I don't understand why it didn't work out for Mom to be there. I have to believe -- and I do -- that it was all in God's plan for Mom and Daddy and all of us. He is in heaven now. And he has no more pain. And he is reunited with the dear ones who have gone before, including Granny and Grandpa (his Mom and Dad), grandson Ryan, sister Ella Frances and in-laws including Joe and Bobby. But it's still so hard to let him go. Thank you, Lord, for your mercy, love, grace and compassion. We trust you to provide everything we need, now and in the days to come.

Other thoughts/notes about that day:
--Mitsi was on the bed on Daddy's legs as he breathed his last breath, and she got back up there before we got home. Mom didn't even notice her, but I did. That may have been just for me. Before we left, I had said to Daddy how I remembered him saying Mitsi wasn't his cat anymore since he couldn't take care of her. But I assured him he was definitely still her guy.

--It was Becky's birthday. I had just sang happy birthday to her at the church when we got the call. Mom said she hated that it happened on Becky's birthday. But Becky said she realized about two weeks ago it might happen, and when it did, she accepted it as a gift.

--The preacher came by while Becky and Emily and I went to the Dress Barn looking for something for me to wear and for me to buy her a present. So I missed that spiritual bit. But before the funeral home took Daddy's body after Mike got there around 4 pm, all of us who were there at the time, including many who were not when the preacher was there, gathered together, and I prayed. I'm very grateful to have been able to do that.

--It was important to Mike that Daddy's body still be there because when he left to return to Arkansas the day before, he or Daddy had said something about whether Daddy would be there when he came back. Daddy said he would be. Mike also sees why it was important for him to be with his family the night and the next morning to share the news.

--More such moments that I can write. I need to just turn off the light, recite the 23rd Psalm and trust God to hold me and these dear precious ones in the palm of his hand.

Oct. 23-29: Loving my Daddy
Sunday, Oct. 23: Sitting and talking quietly with him. Not avoiding the reality. Him feeling safe to say he knows his life on Earth is over for all practical purposes, and he hates how hard this time is for Mom and that he doesn't want her to wear herself out. He said he would rather not go to a nursing home, but he accepts that at some point that may be what needs to happen for Mom, and he wouldn't want to fight it. That's when he looked at me and said he knows his life is over. And he's OK with that. We talked about the ones who have gone before, and about how blessed and grateful our family is. He said he can't really think of anything he'd do differently in his life, but he doesn't think about that too much because you can't change the past anyway. I said that's right -- we can just live this moment and forward.
And I did what I'd been praying to be able to do: I sang "How Great Thou Art." And then without really planning to, I prayed with him. I prayed for God to just lift up Mom and Dad and our family and to guide and support us and help us live each moment to his glory and I don't even know what else, but it was from the heart.
I said I realize that it's possible the end will come and I won't be there with him at that time, and I think I'm OK with that. I know he won't be alone, and that I am with him in spirit.
Very grateful and blessed.
I love my Daddy so much.

More notes on that: I told him I hope and pray he doesn't have to go to a nursing home, but I'm glad he's realistic about the possibilities. Very good, intimate talk. That's when he said Mom needs to go to church when I or someone is there to stay with him.

God provided and blessed the moment. Grateful.

Sent to Mike very late on Saturday, Oct. 29, catching up since he headed back to Arkansas before I got there: I'm glad you were able to be there when you were. Things seem to be changing pretty fast. Who knows what's next. I'm very grateful for last Sunday morning when I had a good talk with Daddy, and he said a few things to me, too. Then I sang How Great Thou Art and prayed aloud, holding his hand. From what I see tonight, it's hard to realize that was just a week ago. Praying to know what to do to be most helpful to him and mom. Feeling pretty helpless, though.

For today, Nov. 14: Different people work through things different ways, and as I pray to know how to feel and process and move, God often seems to guide me to write (or sing) and just trust Him with the results. And so I share words, even if they are really just for me and God. I truly thought writing all of this would bring a flood of tears. It still brings a flood of feelings, but the tears are staying behind the surface, just misting the eyes. For now, I just keep rejoicing and praising God for the blessings and love He bestowed upon Daddy and our family.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Milestones, reminders, placeholders -- and hope

Last Saturday was the second anniversary of That's the Spirit. I actually checked in October to see when I started it, knowing I was writing by November 2009, and thinking I would post something reflective for the anniversary. But even though I posted Nov. 4, the Nov. 5 anniversary wasn't on my mind. I didn't remember until my cousin Eric mentioned his blog's ninth anniversary earlier this week. Not that a blog anniversary is really anything worth mentioning. But those of you who have read along the way -- and especially those who have read from the beginning -- probably understand why it is worth mentioning for me. I hope and pray it is a tool and not a distraction. I believe that is true.

I had hoped the blog would evolve into sharp writing and clear observations by now. That hasn't happened. I accept that it is exactly what it is supposed to be today. I've stayed true to my original goals, and only once did I go eight days instead of seven without posting. Too many of these posts have been what I call placeholders, nothing more than checking in to say I met my deadline. But usually, even on those, I ended up putting together a word or two of hope and inspiration. And on those rare times when I did post something that seemed more worthwhile, I knew the act of checking in had played a part.

Technically, this is another placeholder. I have so many more important things I want and need to express. Part of me fears that the longer I wait the harder it will be. And another, hopefully stronger, part of me believes that when the time is right, I will write about those things. I am grateful for family, friends, Scripture, prayer and my relationship with Christ, all of which reassure me that where and who and how I am is blessed, even as I prayerfully strive to improve. God bless you all!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Happy Endings, Part 2

When I wrote Happy Endings, Part 1 last week with the Rangers and Aggies most in mind, I was aware that at any time my dad could die of complications from liver cancer, although I didn't really think that moment was imminent. His last breath on Earth came Sunday morning, and of course the concept of happy endings grew in meaningful complexity.

I will write much more about my Daddy later. I've made a lot of notes but want to take time to reflect before sharing.

For now, I'm aware that there often are no endings; there are just transitions. Winning a World Series or NBA championship or Super Bowl may seem like a happy ending. But in very little time, teams, fans and commentators only care about the next win, not what happened in the past. I was hoping for a happy ending in terms of me maybe watching the Aggies play the University of Oklahoma in Norman on Saturday for the last time before A&M heads to the SEC. But it seems clear to me that if I didn't have to be there when Daddy took his last breath, I don't have to be at that game Saturday. There are many lessons for me in this and elsewhere if I will pay attention. Many potential areas of self-improvement have been revealed to me since my Dad's death. (But a dear friend also reminds me not to be hard on myself.)

Tonight I went to a premiere of a documentary about the life of Wayman Tisdale, a standout OU and NBA basketball player whose first love (outside faith and family) was music, and who had become a successful songwriter and musician on the bass guitar and an engaging concert performer before he died of complications from cancer in May 2009. I learned of the opportunity to attend this on Thursday while I was still in Texas with my family and surprised myself by saying I would go. Although I knew it would touch on some of the kinds of grief and loss my family is dealing with, I knew the sadness would be far surpassed by the inspiration and joy of Wayman's life, legacy and music. And so it was. My dad wasn't famous, but as they showed interviews of Wayman and others talking about Wayman's situation and how he faced it and had lived his life, it made me think of my dad in his much smaller realm of influence and the outpouring of love and friendship with which people responded to his life.

On the way home, I read that a faithful member of my church had also now died after a grueling battle with cancer. I immediately recalled having noticed his wife was one of the prayer team members who had prayed and signed a sympathy card for my family on Monday. There is another lesson and example I must take to heart and seek to learn from.

So, this starts as Happy Endings, Part 2. But it evolves into life goes on, day by day. It reminds me to live each day (and moment) as if it is the first -- and the last. Seek God's guidance; love, worship and serve Him -- part of which comes in loving and caring for people; and give Him the glory, thanks and praise.