Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reflections on February (Courtesy of Leap Day)

The quadrenniel bonus day was good, and it gives me a chance to reflect on February before March arrives.

The email I get each weekday from the Denison Forum included this insight today that fits where I am: Why did Moses want the people to enter Canaan without first exploring the land? Could it be that God's best tomorrow is one we could never understand today? Warren Buffett noted that in business, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield. It is the same with the life of faith--if you look back at all the ways God has provided for you, and you believe that his character does not change, you'll be encouraged to trust him for all you need today. I have a lot of room to grow but am experiencing this in my life.

I see more blessings looking back at February than I was aware of while living it. But I did know of some along the way. Among the highlights:

-- My great-niece Madison Jean's baptism/christening brought together a lot of generations of families and also a lot of shared heritage at the church where my parents brought up me and my siblings, and where now some of the nieces and nephews and their kids also are members. The church will celebrate its 125th anniversary this fall, and I just feel grateful and blessed to still have such strong ties to the church as well as to my family. Not all people have that as they move on in their lives.

-- My closest associate at work gave her two-weeks' notice Feb. 3, and among the staffing changes after her departure is that I am no longer in a rotation where I work days every third month. Now my shift is until midnight except Wednesdays. It seems like that should actually make it easier for me to get a steady routine going, but I've felt a tiredness this month that I didn't notice when I had the hope of the day shift in a couple of months. Or maybe the tiredness comes from adjusting to other changes. (Or maybe it's still some winter blues.) Change is always challenging for me. But by keeping a daily discipline that starts with prayer and meditation, I have thus far come through better than I could have imagined. And to top it off, after going almost the whole month without writing a catchy headline, I came up with one last Friday that won a prize among my peers: Pennies on roadway are not heaven-cent. (It was on a series of photos about the mess from an armored car losing thousands of pennies on a Tulsa highway.)

-- I see signs of progress in relationships. So far, I'm keeping in touch with my friend who left work. I also managed to connect with other old friends from work and the Oklahoma City Gridiron Club when I attended their annual political satire/spoof last weekend. I miss being in that show, but I had a great time being entertained, visiting and also helping the club out by being an usher. Building and maintaining friendships continues to be difficult for me. I'm grateful for any signs of progress.

-- And then there was the cat. I came home late after a Thursday (Feb. 17) at work and noticed Bridget had started to do her squat-and-pee-on-the-carpet routine, which I knew meant she probably had a urinary tract infection. And that means a trip to the vet, and then having to give the cat pills. None of that ever goes well, and I was filled with dread. I just wanted to cry, and I'm pretty sure I did. But I also prayed, and finally called the vet Friday morning. They said to bring her in, so I did. She stayed overnight and the UTI was confirmed. But there was also concern about elevated glucose in her urine and the possibility she might have diabetes. So they kept her over the weekend for more tests. There is some confirmed diabetes in her farm cat heritage, so of course I spent the weekend preparing myself for the worst even as I hoped and prayed for the best. I dreaded hearing the news. But it turned out good: No diabetes. Whew. We just had to give her the pill for her infection for eight more days after I brought her home. The first three days, Gene was able to do it, but then he went on a trip, and I was on my own. I have never been able to give my sweet kitty a pill, and sometimes Gene and I have failed as a team. But somehow, he succeeded on his three days, and I did on mine. A very good decision I made at the vet clinic, without realizing its significance at the time, was to have them trim Bridget's nails while she was there. I think that may have given us the edge in the pill pursuit. I know I also prayed a lot along the way. God knows my heart when it comes to my little girl. I love her. I see her as a gift from God. And I know she is a cat. I'm just grateful she seems healthy again, back to eating, pooping, peeing and wanting to play (but also still enjoying laptime, naptime and prayertime -- and she never stopped purring!).

-- I had several projects I wanted to get done while Gene was gone. He'll be back tomorrow -- and I didn't finish any of it. All of my Scriptures and devotionals this month have encouraged me to not worry about that stuff and just focus on how much God loves me. But as I said at my 12-step meeting today, the husband doesn't seem to be as understanding as the Higher Power on such matters. I guess I have a few more hours to see how this plays out. (I will continue to pray -- and work.) I also pray he returns refreshed, rested and healthy, but is that ever the case after traveling on business?

-- I learned that a popular teacher who taught me and all my siblings in high school had a heart attack Friday and died as he was being prepared for surgery. He was 69. That seems too young to be gone. But Davy Jones of the Monkees also died of a heart attack today, and he was 66. These are reminders to be live each day to the fullest.

-- Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday were in there, too. And there was some snowfall overnight Feb. 12. Suffice it to say, I survived!

I'm grateful for another month that, even though it often seemed tiring and difficult as I was living it, was clearly a gift from God. Each day is. I want to continue to live in the light of His presence and grow into His likeness.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Early thoughts about Leap Day

It's Leap Day, and I know my favorite devotional for this year will have no fresh words for me today. I wonder if the prayer journal will? I think one OA book does and one doesn't. I know I will get new  Upper Room and Denison Forum posts.

I prefer that yearlong devotional or inspirational books have something for Feb. 29 even when it's not leap year. I consider them a bonus. I always take time to read them. 

I'm not sure why I'm more  intrigued by leap day this year. Before I left work, I was aware that it seemed odd that leap day isn't a big deal. I think I saw only  one newspaper story about it, although there could be others. 

Of course, it's a relatively  new thing for me to still be winding down from the previous day in the early hours of the new day. Maybe that skews my thoughts. I really should leap into sleep instead continuing this little exercise. But first, I will post ...

To be continued ... 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Nothing new for Lent this year

I'm not adding or subtracting anything for Lent this year. I feel as if I've been on that kind of spiritual journey since the start of the year and am praying to stay on the course, one step and one day at a time.

Among the insights from spending quiet time reading, praying and listening, instead of mostly praying on the go:
-- The power and peace of God's presence.
-- The power and peace of trust and thanksgiving.

Still much uncertainty. Today my thought was that I'm still a spiritual baby, so dependent on Christ. He still will want/need me to serve, though, won't He? That's confusing to me.

Seek. Trust. Obey. Give thanks and praise. During the 40 days of Lent and always.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Faith vs. Works -- And a Time To Be Still

Maybe it's starting to make sense. Since the start of the year, I've been more deliberate about spending quiet time in communion with God. But even as Scriptures reminded me again and again of the importance of spending this time quietly with God, I couldn't shake the thought that God also wants action. After all, doesn't Scripture also say faith without works is dead.

Sunday's sermon text may provide a key. 1 Corinthians 9:25-27. "I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection ..."

The sermon's focus was the importance of not only running the race, but running with purpose. What is God's purpose for me? What is the prize or goal He wants me to achieve?

Maybe the reason I spend so much time procrastinating or in mindless activity is that I don't have a true sense of purpose. For all my faith and good intentions, I struggle. ... (I am aware of some of the reasons, from childhood on ... Dreams, choices, consequences and realities.) ... And the place to get that settled is in constant communion with God.

But the sermon reminded me that I do need to act. I must discern God's purpose and act. Maybe not today. It seems like it should be soon.

After the sermon, I had a wonderful conversation with a dear friend at church who is about 78 who was talking about why she continues to push herself to be active. She knows the purpose for each action -- to keep her healthy and whole -- and also God's greater purpose for her.

Even as I feel impatient to get to work on the stuff that I think needs to be done, today's readings and Scriptures reminded me again that God is still wanting me to be still, focusing on quietness and trust. "Be still before the Lord ..." (Zechariah 2:13). "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength ..." (Isaiah 30:15). "My grace is enough for you; for My strength and power are made perfect and show themselves most effective in your weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

This seemed clearer Monday, when I started it, than it does today. I guess that helps explain why I'm not finished with the quiet communion with God, and probably never will be. Maybe God's preparing me for a journey rather than a race. Or maybe I'm on the journey that is preparing me for the race. I think God may be laughing with me right now, as we see how very far I still have to go! I'm grateful to Him for not only leading me, but walking with me, patiently and lovingly. In fact, as slow as it seems we are going, I think He is still telling me to slow down even more. I trust You, Lord Jesus. Lead me, Lord.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Finding peace in the present amid thoughts of past, future

All of my spiritual devotionals point me to Scriptures that remind me of the importance of living in this moment and not getting caught up in the past or the future. And I have learned the value from experience. But it's still hard to do.

In the past week, two things in particular have tempted my mind to wander back or ahead. The first was to learn that the person who has become my best friend and most trusted colleague at work has given her two-weeks' notice. Her last day will be Friday. In the past year especially, but also for quite a while before that, she has been a rock in helping me learn and grow at work as well as in life. She's helped me not give up trying to achieve high standards when they don't seem to matter any more, and we've shared many a conversation about our families, interests, dreams, goals and cats. I am so happy for her and excited about the step she is taking. Many things of where I am personally and at work tell me that this will be a good a time for me to make some changes even as I stay at the job.

So, I am trying to stay focused on the positive things in the future for my friend and for me. But I find myself having to fight off distracting thoughts, such as:
-- where I am after what will be 30 years at my job if I make it to September (I've been a reporter, assistant department editor and religion editor, among other things, but sometimes now I think of myself as "just a copy editor," although I strive to be the best I can and do think the job is very important);
-- how inadequate I seem at developing and maintaining lasting friendships, at work or anywhere else (I have lots of people whom I care about and they care about me, but none that I ever just hang out with for a meal, shopping or a movie);
-- whenever someone as good at her job as my friend leaves, it's harder than some people admit to fill that void. So, at least for the short term, things will be more hectic than ever. And because of the roles she filled, it's possible there will be changes ahead in how things are done, and that's always stressful for me.

So, again, I've been working hard to keep those stressful thoughts at bay and to focus on my trust in God to show me the way in whatever is ahead. By faith, I can be open to change and confident that God will not only equip me for the work but also give me His peace and presence. And with that, I pray, will come a positive, cheerful, grateful attitude.

The second bit of information in the past week that has teased my mind to wander is learning that Whaley Memorial United Methodist Church, the church I grew up in and have maintained ties to, is having its 125th anniversary this year. The timing is interesting as I've become constantly more aware in recent years of how much that church means to me. I blogged about it just last weekend. For some reason, the big anniversary year gives me a sense of urgency to not miss the chance to be a part. One of the things I realized is that I don't even remember being aware of the church's centennial, even though I was married at the church five years earlier and have always attended at least a few times each year when my husband and I visited our parents. (I would have been 28 at the time of that anniversary.) It also brings a few troubling thoughts about why I don't feel more at home at the church where I am a member now. Maybe it's because the reason I feel so much a part of Whaley is my family, and I don't have that as much where I am a member now; it's just me and occasionally my husband -- no connection to grandparents, parents, siblings, nieces, nephews or children of my own there. As with work, I have many people there whom I care love and care about, and they love and care about me. But that same character weakness or whatever that keeps me from really having friendships elsewhere is very present in my church relationships.

Anyway, both of these exciting things have piqued my interest this week. That't not bad in itself. Much of the thinking has been productive and positive. But I have to be vigilant not to get lost in the thoughts of the past or future, especially if those thoughts bring anxiety or regret. Only in the present -- God's presence -- do I find peace and the wisdom to know and the power to do His will.

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye." Psalm 32:8

"The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace." Psalm 29:11

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea." Psalm 46:1-2

Sunday, February 5, 2012

My Super Sunday

The big event of my Super Bowl Sunday was a large gathering of family and friends for the baptism of my great-niece Madison Jean at early worship at Whaley United Methodist Church in Gainesville, Texas.

Baptisms in which young ones are initiated into the Christian family are always special and cherished and blessed events, but so many aspects of this day made it even richer for me. Part of that may have even come from the realization of having missed these moments with soon-to-be 7-year-old Ami and soon-to-be 3 Heidi at the same church.

But I think the biggest part for me was just such a strong thankfulness to God for the legacy of my churchgoing family. My siblings and I have strong roots at Whaley, where Mom and Dad became members when I was just a young thing. Daddy's parents went there, and it's where we celebrated their lives and his when they passed on. My husband, Gene, and his parents also were longtime members there, although I didn't really know them until after Gene and I met in college. Before Gene's parents died and as my parents aged, I became more and more grateful to God for the church and the love of its people.

And one of the neatest things that has happened is that my oldest sister, Becky, still goes there, and so does her oldest daughter and husband and their two girls. And most recently Becky's daughter-in-law, Brandi, began attending. And it's Brandi's daughter who was baptized. Becky's husband, Tom, and Madison's dad, Danny, are both Catholics, but all attended with many extended family members and friends of various faiths. It was Communion Sunday at Whaley, which in the Methodist church is an open table for all seeking God's grace. And most of those attending did partake.

Then the group gathered for one of the meals that is becoming a family tradition for celebrations at the favorite Smokehouse barbecue restaurant. I have so many pleasant memories of that back room being noisy with conversation, and how it quickly quietens as the food is served, only to pick back up as plates are cleared. Many hugs and smiles and much love are shared along the way.

The only negative for me today was a lot of missed photo opportunities. We let one chance go at church (I wanted a picture of all of Mom's family with Whaley ties), and the next one never really happened. But it's hard to interrupt all that talking and visiting to line up for pictures. So we'll just have to treasure the pictures in our minds. Among mine:
-- Brandi and Danny presenting their precious Madison to be baptized. Brandi also officially transferred her membership to Whaley.
-- My beautiful mom, looking radiant in red, accompanied by her six children: Becky, Barbie, Mike, Pat, Kathy and Amy. And certainly I'm not the only one who strongly felt Daddy's presence with us. (I feel it especially at Communion at Whaley, knowing he made a point of partaking on the final Sunday he was able to attend.)
-- Even with that crowd, Mom took her brother, John, to Sunday school, and Amy and I went, too. I feel so at home and loved among those Christian Thinkers!
-- It's always such a delight to see the other great-nieces and their parents, Emily and Brian, who go to Whaley. Ami and Heidi are full of energy, and you never know what they will say or do.

I've written all these words, and they do not begin to capture what all I am trying to express. But maybe the words will help stir the memories in our hearts as we look back -- and as we go forward.

I thank God for every moment and pray that the family will always treasure this rich heritage and that we will live, love and serve to His glory.