Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sweet Music of Life, 2011

As I turn the page past another December, 
I'm grateful to take time to remember
Rich blessings of family, friendship  and spirit
Sweet music of life: To hear it! To share it!

I'm not going to take time to rehash the year's precious memories. Most if not all were  addressed along the way. But I felt the need to write a few words before I do some last-minute work to wrap up a few 2011 details that will help give the new year a fresher start. 

One of the things I had jotted down but not yet shared is a year-end accomplishment that gives me hope for the future. After wanting to do so for several months if not years, on Dec. 21, I committed to cut my gum consumption  by half -- which is probably still more than anyone else in the world  chews. And surprisingly, I've chewed less than my allotted maximum several days. And there have been some very positive health aspects. For anyone who has never had a habit get out of hand, this probably seems like no big deal. But I was hooked. It was on a prayer list of things I wanted to change, most of which still seem impossible. The thing that pushed me to action on this was noticing again just how much I was spending on gum. Why all of a sudden I was able to make the change, I do not know. But I credit God. I began by trying to get through just one day, then one work day,  and then one shopping day. Each new situation seemed impossible. But I just kept praying and recommitting and focusing on the positive results. I don't know that it's getting easier, but my awareness of the benefits stays strong. 

Also strong is my sense of hope that if I can finally, with God's help, do this seemingly minor thing but impossible thing,  maybe the next goal for self-improvement will be possible. 

I feel this change is part of the slow but sure growth of my faith. Much of the growth this year came through experiences related to the health and eventual death of my Dad. I got to find out whether my faith is real and rooted; I found that it is, but I know I must continue to nurture it by reading the Bible, studying, and spending time in worship, service and fellowship with others seeking to follow Christ. (I just realized I want to buy my own copy of a devotional book my Mom received; I like the thought of reading the same Scriptures and meditations she sees each day.)

That parenthetical realization made me think of one other thing I want to include, but it may be too personal involving other people.  How can I summarize it? An email exchange among loved ones after Christmas warmed my heart and just made me want to praise God. Why does it  take what seems like adversity for people to realize how blessed they are?  Some never do, so my heart rejoices whenever people I love make the grateful choice to see beyond material things.  

That's all of my words to share here for now. I need to tackle those tasks, accompanied by sweet music and memories of life. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas in transition

I'm back in Norman after a very nice Christmas weekend with family in Texas. Thanks to all who joined along in singing (and playing) songs of the season! And oh the food and smiles and hugs and love. Sweet music of life -- to hear it, to share it and to praise God for it.

It was our first Christmas without Daddy physically among us on Earth. There still weren't any public tears that I was aware of, and not much discussion of our thoughts since Daddy's passing. To me, it seems people would rather not talk about it. I was aware we didn't do a family picture. No one mentioned it that I heard. I thought of it but didn't want to be the one to bring it up. I do have a sense that late August was our Christmas, and we took lots of pictures then.

As I prepared for the weekend, one of the things I tried to recall was what our mindset as a family was last year. It was after Daddy's lung surgery. As far as we knew, the surgery was a success and he was cancer-free. I think the sense was overwhelming gratitude that he had come through everything so well and that we were together for another Christmas as a family. All of the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were there. I don't recall any thoughts that it might be our last Christmas together, other than just as part of our fresher reality that we won't all be here forever. And then when the 3-6 months prognosis after an inoperable liver cancer diagnosis came in last August, it still seemed hard to fathom Daddy wouldn't be here this Christmas. That was still the case for me the first week of October. But by the last week of October, it was clear that God's, and Daddy's, gift to the family would be for Daddy's suffering to end and our new reality to begin.

And for me, some of what Christmas is all about was stronger in my heart, knowing that God's gift of His son is why we don't have to fear death -- our own or those of our loved ones who put their faith in Him. Daddy was certainly in good company for his first Christmas in heaven.

Anyway, I'm still trying to find my way on when and where it is appropriate to really talk much about Daddy and honor his memory. Among ways today: Memorial donations and words on a blog.

Meanwhile, life goes on. I was grateful to attend the Christmas Eve communion and candlelight service at Whaley in Gainesville with Gene, Mom and Amy. Then Gene and I went to McKinney to spend the night and Christmas Day with Gene's sister, Mae, and her son, Michael, joined later by his significant other, her son and their hyper chihuahuas. And somehow there was still time for a Christmas night visit to see Mom and those staying at her house. And of course Monday with Mom and my siblings and their families and extended family and friends is always time to treasure that ends too soon. Grateful for memories -- and pictures!

I caroled every chance I got, including on Facebook. I enjoyed that we did sing Christmas songs -- spiritual and seasonal -- before opening presents Monday.

I don't know what I expected for this Christmas. I know it turned out good. God's presence seems more real to me than ever. I pray to live in a way that I never lose that.

Happy birthday, Jesus. Thank you, God. I pray to reflect Your love and live to Your glory.

Friday, December 23, 2011

I guess it's time -- smiling through tears

Well, the tears are becoming more frequent. They are mostly while I am alone, praying, writing or just thinking. Today's were prompted by a bit of frustration with Christmas preparation, realizing another thing I'd forgotten to take care of, combined with a warm memory about my Dad and a nativity scene I'm pretty sure he wanted me to have. And they are truly still tears of joy and gratitude -- but of course also sadness and loss.

Sadly as for what it says about my vanity, one of the most frustrating things about tears and weeping is that even if I do it privately, the effects of a puffy face and itchy, tired eyes are very public.

So, if you notice my swollen face and eyes or see me crying, understand that I truly do feel joyous and blessed. Those feelings warm me so deeply inside.

As I've expressed many times, smiling through tears produces beautiful prisms, like sunshine or light blazing through water or rain. They are beautiful. They represent beautiful memories and blessings and gifts from God.

And, of course, God's greatest gift is His Son, Whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. That's why I know that even if I cry or my face is puffy or I have a moment of self-pity, God is with me/us. Emmanuel. Joy, joy, JOY TO THE WORLD! The Lord is come!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A gift from the Father to a daughter of the Psalmist's son

Faith. Hope. Love. And the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Faith is very, very important, though. In recent days, I have been increasingly grateful that God and Daddy (Charles Davidson, whose surname makes me think of him as the Psalmist's son, and me as a daughter of the Psalmist's son) gave me a gift of greater faith.

Pray. Believe. Have faith. Trust. Obey.

I am having to rely heavily on faith as I face Christmas. I fear I will cry at any time. I often feel I am on the verge of tears. A few come, such as when I called to talk to Mom this morning. But not many have flowed. (Yet.) I am reminded I can have faith that's OK if and when the tears flow. And what if I don't cry? That's OK, too.

Monday I was starting to feel resentful about how some things are going at work and in relationships, especially with regard to Christmas expectations. I finally had to step back and just pray some more. God gently reminded me that I still am very much in the process of grieving. Holidays have been a complex mix of eager spiritual anticipation and earthly stress for me for many years, and of course they are more so this year, so soon after Daddy's Oct. 30 death. God was able to help me trust again that He is in charge, guiding me and loving me and strengthening me and comforting me.

Part of this is related to thoughts I've been journaling about for awhile: Yes, but ... What if?

How many times will God have to show me before I really believe? First came Daddy's summer 2010 diagnosis, fall 2010 surgery, new diagnosis in August 2011 and eventual amazingly sudden and smooth passing; and seeing so many ways in which God sustained Daddy and Mom and the family. In the weeks since Daddy's death, Mom has had some health issues, and again we see over and over how God has taken care of her and continues to do so.

But as Mom has had her health scares and things keep working out smoothly, my thoughts have touched at least briefly on situations where that isn't the obvious result. What about the death of 5-month-old nephew Ryan all those years ago, uncle Joe's desperation, Josh's dad, 9/11 and other unexplainables .... people who died too soon, unexpectedly and/or alone.

For today, the message God seems to be giving me is that it's not what happens but how we react that matters most. Daddy reacted in simple faith. Mom reacts in simple and strong faith. I am grateful to be surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), on earth and in Heaven -- people who have chosen faith in God. And I can choose faith, too. What a gift!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Seeking to sleep in heavenly peace on Earth

OK, what is up with this? Some time ago, the preacher acknowledged being an insomniac, and now the choir director is experiencing episodes of sleepless nights.

I am not an insomniac. I do sometimes have trouble sleeping. And I can remember times when it was much worse.

Somewhere along the way, I found that, for me, I'm usually better off staying in bed and resting rather than deciding I might as well get up and do something, or maybe deciding that reading, watching TV, getting on the computer or Facebook or listening to music will help me doze off. Those may work for some people, but they just seem to stimulate me and make it harder to calm my mind and go to sleep. (However, it does seem something different would be at play if I used the time when I can't sleep to clean house, write letters or some other productive rather than mindless pursuit. But few people choose those routes when they can't sleep. Very seldom have I.)

I'm not sure where I learned this. It may have been along the 12-step path of recovery. I just know I've come to believe that, most times, God provides the rest I need if I stay in bed; pray and keep as positive thoughts as possible (counting my blessings helps); try not to worry -- especially about not being able to sleep; and keep my body as relaxed and comfortable as possible.

Part of my prayer is for faith to believe this is true: I pray for faith to believe that God will provide the rest and strength and energy I need -- or He will provide other options regarding what I thought had to be done that I can't do for lack of sleep.

This also has helped me stay calmer when I'm unable to sleep because of sickness or pain.

This is one of those insights that I'm hesitant to share, for fear it will quit working, and then I'll not only be unable to rest, but I'll feel foolish for having thought I had an answer and written about it. But that's the old fear. Faith says I can feel free to share it -- and trust that it will continue to work for me or that God will show me a new way.

I trust God to give me the rest, peace and strength I need.

"Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee." Isaiah 26:3
("You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You.")

Monday, December 12, 2011

Signs that are making me wonder

Signs are making me wonder ...

I seem to be getting a lot of signs that it's time for me to take a break from caring about sports. 

--The Aggie football season; A&M's departure from friendly -- or at least, for me,  convenient -- confines of the Big 12; and coach replacement. None of these make me feel optimistic about fun-to-watch games ahead. 

--Dallas Cowboys are doing what  Texas Aggies did all season. Finding ways to snatch defeat from victory. Their latest collapse Sunday is what got me to really thinking I need to take a break from caring about sports. But there's more ...

--Albert Pujols   of the Cardinals'  traded to the Angels, and the Rangers' CJ Wilson going there, too, doesn't make me feel good about Rangers' chances for a return to the Major League Baseball  playoffs, much less the World Series. It seemed like this past year was theirs, where things were lined up -- and they missed the mark.  Things that started rolling against them in the series continue. 

--Mavericks. Chandler leaving. Barea leaving. Butler leaving. The lockout. But the NBA champions'  core stays solid -- Dirk, Kidd and Coach Carlisle, so ... I have my greatest hope here.  They did pretty well under the radar last year, after all. And besides that, I have two teams I like in this pro sport. (The Thunder are fun to watch and get a lot of good press in the hometown.) Should be fun, but I would do well not to get too caught up in it. 

--Aggie women. The defending NCAA women's basketball team hasn't fared too well against good teams so far this year.  More evidence that when you get your big chance, like they did last year, it's so important to do what it takes to go all the way.

 There's also something to be said about being the underdogs. None of the experts really ever gave the Mavericks or the Aggie women any hope of being champions until they just won it on the court. 

--Aggie men's basketball. They lost their coach to a supposedly better team, and the new coach was diagnosed in the summer with Parkinson's. I have no idea what to expect here. 

Maybe these really  are just signs that I need not focus too much on winning. Why can't I just enjoy the games? I  need to find a balance. I want to enjoy and care but not let it affect my mood. I don't know if that's possible for me, but it seems like a worthy goal for me. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Shout the Good News! (formerly: Priorities, procrastination. FOCUS!!!! on what?)

It's blog deadline, but I don't really have a topic or time. I need/want to be practicing the Christmas cantata. So, maybe I'll combine the two. Ah! Song 1, "Shout the Good News!" Now I'm revved up!

This year's cantata, "Shout the Good News!" has seven songs, no solos. The arrangements are beautiful and include some variations on carols, but as usual, I can tell I'll be much more comfortable if I take time in addition to choir rehearsal to make sure I know my part. As of last Wednesday, I was not able to sing with much confidence, often stumbling over words or notes. I can tell this run-through has helped. Maybe this week I'll be ready! And by the time we sing it for worship on Dec. 18, it will be pure joy!

I'm also working on "Gesu Bambino" for early service this Sunday. I know this by heart, but I still take time to practice in hopes that the sound that comes forth will be the best I can do for God. Singing a Christmas solo is a highlight of the season for me, and this is one of my favorites. When Christmas falls on Sunday, there's one less Sunday for a traditional hymn- and special music-filled worship service. I'm glad to have the opportunity to sing at early service. It's been a while since I've been able to schedule it.

As far as the blog headline, I put those original words (Priorities, procrastination, FOCUS!!! on what?) up there as I was trying to think of something to write. I am so aware of not being focused, and that sure makes it easy to procrastinate. For those few moments just now, it was very worthwhile to focus on the message of Christmas through the songs of the cantata. Beyond that, I'm still struggling.

Since Thanksgiving, I've found myself finding excuses not to do more than I've actually said yes to. Why didn't I go to the Hanging of the Greens service? How many parties have I missed? That's a recipe for regret that I hope not to have to taste. I continue to pray to know and do God's will. Help me not find an excuse to skip caroling or other opportunities to be involved in moments of the season that combine joy, fellowship and outreach to those in need of even something as simple as a visit. Even as I pray, right this minute, I don't feel confident I'll make what seems to me to be the best choice. Somehow, I think I have to be OK with that, too. I know the alternative -- beating myself up for the way I am -- isn't very productive.

Maybe it's OK for me to "Shout the Good News!" of God's great gift of salvation through His son Jesus, even as I am so aware of my unworthiness to receive that gift. Because, as I understand it, on my own, yes, I am unworthy. But the very gift makes me worthy if only I will receive it. And so I will receive it and I will share it -- and I will trust God to shape my life to His glory.