Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Backroads, crossroads and connections

Saturday was the celebration of life for my Aunt Amma Belle, who on Tuesday joined my Dad, their sister and their parents in heaven. She was a sweet and gentle woman, and her death at age 95 marked the end of an era for that family.

Like me, she was married and had no children. But she loved and was loved by her nieces and nephews and their families. Many of us, along with other relatives and friends from the church and community, were able to attend the service at the Methodist church in Whitesboro, Texas.

I was surprised to see at least 15 cars in the procession from the church along the relatively backroads of Highway 377 and Farm to Market 922 over to the cemetery at Valley View, to avoid having to travel on Highway 82 through the larger town of Gainesville and on Interstate 35.

The death of a loved one brings a tangle of memories and emotions for me, because I'm aware of how much more I've forgotten than I remember about people, places and experiences.

When I think of Amma Belle, what I remember most are the summers from my childhood when my younger sister and I would spend two weeks with her and Uncle Bo at the mobile home park near Lake Tawakoni. I think of that narrow home; the bunk beds in the tiny room where we stayed; the kitchen with all of her decorative plates and ceramic figurines, where we ate pudding and pound cake and played Yahtzee; and the living room with some kind of a decorative horse, maybe a clock. I think of  steeply sloped property filled with trees and rock pathways; beautiful flowers and bushes; and a two-seater swing. And I think of the tall trees along the lanes my sister and I walked most afternoons through the trailer park. As I recall, I was intimidated by Uncle Bo and didn't mind that he was at work most of the days when we were there. And I may have been scared of, or at least uncomfortable around, Amma Belle's chihuahua, Buster.

I also clearly think of Amma Belle as part of a unit with Daddy and their sister, Ella Frances. Now, they and all of the spouses are gone except for my Mom. I realized Saturday that I don't associate Mom with that group; to me, she represents her family line, the Siegmunds. But now I see her also as a treasured link to Daddy's family.

So -- traveling along unfamiliar roadways through rural communities with familiar names (Collinsville and Tioga) to get from one familiar place (Whitesboro) to another (Valley View) added to the tapestry.

I also pondered anew why Granny and Grandpa -- Daddy's parents -- are buried in Valley View. I'm told that's probably where she grew up. Did I ever know? Would I remember if I tracked it down now? I don't have answers.

But I do have more fascinating connections from the weekend. The next day, quite unexpectedly, I had the opportunity to go with Mom to what is called a charge conference of her church, Whaley United Methodist in Gainesville. This was interesting to me on several levels. First, I knew that my church, Goodrich UMC in Norman, Oklahoma, was also having its charge conference that Sunday. I also knew that Goodrich, like Whaley, was having it in conjunction with several other churches.

In Gainesville, the fun surprise came when I read the list of towns from which the churches at the  Northwest District, North Texas United Methodist charge conference came: Gainesville and Sherman, of course, but also Whitesboro, Valley View, Tioga, Collinsville, Bells, Callisburg, Denison, Era, Forestburg, Howe, Saint Jo, Sivell's Bend, Tom Bean and Whitewright. As I wrote on Facebook, "If I can’t be at the one with my Goodrich family, this is the next best place. So many connections in this United Methodist family!! These churches are places where my family has roots!"

Many of those names are tied to memories of people and places from the past, including school competitions and hometowns of friends and relatives. The only one missing was Marysville, but unfortunately, that Methodist church from my childhood closed long ago.

I wish my memory was better, and in absence of that, it sure would be nice if I was organized enough to keep records of family and friends and places and experiences I don't want to forget. That's not likely  to happen.

For now, I'm grateful to enjoy present moments along with the treasured reminders of the past when they come. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Clowning around

#WOW I had great fun clowning around with my favorite furry fish and seeing the other creatures — living and stuffed — at the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in Springfield, Mo., while we were there for the grand opening of the home of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame!








I’ve had a soft spot for these velvety-looking fish ever since I first learned of them all those years ago at Disney’s EPCOT. So I could not pass up the chance to clown around some. I think Gene was pretty embarrassed as I kinda rushed some little kids along so I could pop up in the aquarium but he humored me by taking pictures anyway!


He also humored me by letting me take HIS picture!



And then there was the toothless shark. Really! I think it’s called a Wobbegong or carpet shark. I never knew such a thing existed!



 Overall, it was a pretty cool adventure, with the main drawback being we had to rush through in two and a half hours. It would have been wonderful to linger and more fully experience all the WONDERS OF WILDLIFE!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A bazaar weekend and its aftermath

Wow! I just noticed it's Nov. 11, and I haven't posted since Oct. 30.

I guess I was too busy baking -- two cakes and a batch of brownies, all from mixes but still tasty, according to the tasters! Helping with the bazaar put on by the women of the church last weekend took me out of my comfort zone and rewarded me with fun, fellowship and the satisfaction of supporting worthy missions.

For a while there, I thought I might actually fit in as a United Methodist Woman. Besides baking, I helped with the set-up on Thursday; with making sandwiches on Friday and with cleaning it all up on Saturday. Along the way I talked and listened and laughed and greeted visitors as well as longtime friends. And strategic shopping fulfilled some of my needs and wishes while supporting specifically chosen creators and causes.

Before the weekend was over, I had driven a friend to a funeral and also helped serve Communion at church and delivered Communion to a homebound friend.

Maybe I'm becoming a less self-centered person, someone capable of getting things done, serving others -- just doing it!

I doubt it. Busy, productive, selfless weekends continue to be followed  by a letdown and questioning, wondering why such a desired lifestyle of serving, caring and generosity seems impossible for me to maintain. More time is spent thinking than doing.

Will there ever be an easy rhythm to doing the right thing? Good works can seem exhausting! Being present, even in a labor of love, can tire me out.

Maybe it's because I'm out of shape when it comes to service.

I've recently started jogging at least 2 minutes during my 30-minute walks on the treadmill. I wanted to increase the intensity of my workout time without stressing my knees. At first I could barely jog 30 seconds, then a minute. Now, I may include two or three 2-minute jogs in my time on the treadmill. When I think I can't, I remember the reasons I want to. And I continue. And it's becoming routine.

That's how I want acts of kindness and service to become. Routine. Second nature. Part of who I am.

I thank God for my recent experiences. They give me hope.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Milestones and moving on

It's now six years since my Dad died. This year my awareness of the approach of that anniversary on Oct. 30 came as I was feeling excited about my Mom's move from the family farm to an apartment in town.

It is an exciting transition on many levels, and I'm grateful for how things have fallen into place, with much forethought from Mom and effort from her and several of her daughters and extended family members.

I have so much more to write and likely will add here, but for now, I just want to say: I think Daddy would be proud!

May we continue to thank God and give Him the glory for the blessings with which He has gifted our family.

Transcendent peace

Thinking back through the past week, the important theme was God’s gift of peace. I asked and received God’s peace that transcended circumstances that in the past with have paralyzed me with stress, anxiety and frustration.


(This came to mind as I was rereading last week’s blog post about the broken refrigerator and thawing food and came to the part about the Lowe’s guy telling me Walmart always has dry ice, even though I had just been assured by the Walmart guy that the store DID NOT have dry ice! What a gift to realize I didn’t have to argue with that person or try to set him straight. I could just go on to the next store!)

Throughout that day and on through the week I continued to receive unexpected blessings through opportunities that came about because of my desire to get rid of the food without wasting it.

On Sunday it was the joy of being able to donate to a community food provider. Monday, a friend responded to one of my Facebook posts about having food to give away. She said they would love to have some. It was a joy to plan a meeting with her and granddaughters and to spend time talking and laughing together.

Just as much of an unexpected blessing came earlier on Monday when another friend responded to my post by saying she wished she had known my dilemma, because she had AN EMPTY DEEP FREEZER IN HER GARAGE (just down the street from me) that she said I could have used.

She: What happened? Wish I'd known--I have an empty deep freezer in the garage you could use!!

Me: Wow, Harriet! I thought about checking with you, but just figured it would be another dead-end. I need to quiet that voice and just call! Fortunately, I've been able to donate most everything, although I did throw out a few things. What happened is just that the old refrigerator finally quit working and isn't worth repairing. I concluded God just had other uses for this food -- plus a little exercise in compassion and generosity for me!


In the past, the timing of learning that would have sent me into a negative spiral as I second-guessed whether I acted too hastily in donating the food; and why didn't I think to check with Harriet; and why couldn't she have responded 24 hours earlier; and on and on. But instead, I was able to continue to focus on the good that had happened. I remained grateful that I was able to donate much of the food to a shelter and would be giving most of what remained to a friend and her family. I continued to give God the glory and praise for each positive development. But I was also aware that a seed of second-guessing seemed to have taken root. Help me, Lord.

SO --- did I act too hastily? I don't think I did. I think God opened my eyes to an exercise in compassion and doing that right thing. What would a person like the person I want to be do? That's a good way to think of it.

My husband had reminded me that his sister had a working refrigerator in her garage that she had intended to sell on Craig's list. I had called our repair man earlier Monday and found out a repair was possible, for about $250 with a part that could be obtained by midweek. But I wasn't crazy about spending even that small amount to repair a 33-year-old appliance, so I preferred the idea of getting Mae's that was about 15 years old. But when I called her that night, she told me it has quit running sometime, and she wasn't sure why. But she said she would try to figure out what was wrong and let me know.

I guess even with the transcendent peace I had experienced, the stress and exhaustion of the two days had caught up with me, and her news left me feeling beaten. For the first time, I took some solace in extra food, which just added to my feeling of being defeated. Fortunately, rather than stay in that posture, I was again able to turn to prayer and realize I was not a failure and that the same gift of God's peace, presence and love that has sustained me thus far would continue to do so. I might feel physical consequences of the excess food, but there was no need for me to pile on self-loathing or condemnation.


Tuesday morning's devotionals reinforced the message of my prayers. From First 15: Your thought-life can either be a place of peace and life or a source of immense internal struggle and despair. It’s our thoughts that the enemy tries to affect with half-truths and outright lies. It’s our thoughts that are the gateway to our emotions and actions. And it’s our thoughts our loving heavenly Father longs to influence, redeem, and renew that we might experience everlasting peace.

Also from the devotional: Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Do you long for perfect peace today? Do you long to keep your mind stayed on the inexpressible excellencies of Jesus? It all starts with trust. When we allow our minds to stray into worry, doubt, fear, reservation, and lies, it is because we don’t trust that God is who he says he is or that he will do what he says he’ll do.


(My thought: I trust God. I don't trust me. But I keep reading ....)

All of the rest of this is from the devotional, which I've copied here as a reminder to me. The parenthetical comments are my observations, and I used boldface and underlining to emphasize some points from the text by Craig Denison.

If we truly trusted God with our relationships, we wouldn’t spend so much energy mulling over conversations that could have been better or different. If we truly trusted God as the perfect provider of our finances and possessions, we wouldn’t spend so much time overwhelming ourselves with all the different financial opportunities available, or not available, to us. If we truly trusted God with our futures, we wouldn’t devote so much of our minds to playing out every scenario that could possibly happen. And if we truly trusted God that we are loved, liked, enjoyable, and wholly found, we wouldn’t spend so much time thinking of ways we can impress others, work our way into a clique, make others laugh, or win the affections of another.

Romans 8:6 says, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Where you set your mind today is your decision. The Spirit is fully available, ready and willing to lead you to abounding joy and peace. And the enemy is prowling like a lion seeking to devour your thoughts that they might breed emotional and even physical death (1 Peter 5:8).

There is a battle for your thoughts happening every moment. But greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).  

God has a perfect plan to lead you away from thoughts that plague you into life and joy in the Holy Spirit.  

Trust him as your good and loving Father. 

Trust that he is always with you.  

Place your faith wholeheartedly in him because he is perfectly faithful and able.  

He has plans for an incredible hope and future for you if you will simply trust him and set your mind on him as often and as passionately as you can. May you find peace today in your thoughts through a powerful revelation of God’s abiding love.


“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3


“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2


“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:6



2. What thoughts plague you the most? What thoughts steal the peace available to you through trusting God? (trying to figure out what to do. trying to even know what God's will is for me. thinking I have it figured out and sometimes even doing it, and then having second thoughts and self-doubt. I'm also troubled by thoughts regarding what to do about my eyes, my teeth, my messes, my selfishness, my lack of time management that keeps me from serving others, and on and on.)

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Colossians 3:1-2



3. Place your trust fully in God today for whatever specifically troubles you and receive the peace that comes from setting your mind on your good and loving heavenly Father.


“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5


“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.” Psalm 37:4-6


“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” Psalm 28:7

("Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart ..." Lord, I just want to know and do Your will and give You the glory.)



Psalm 37 English Standard Version

He Will Not Forsake His Saints

[a] Of David.

37 Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
    be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
    and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.[b]
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
    and your justice as the noonday.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
    fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
    over the man who carries out evil devices!
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
    Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
    but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
    though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land
    and delight themselves in abundant peace.
12 The wicked plots against the righteous
    and gnashes his teeth at him,
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
    for he sees that his day is coming.
14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
    to bring down the poor and needy,
    to slay those whose way is upright;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
    and their bows shall be broken.
16 Better is the little that the righteous has
    than the abundance of many wicked.
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
    but the Lord upholds the righteous.
18 The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
    and their heritage will remain forever;
19 they are not put to shame in evil times;
    in the days of famine they have abundance.
20 But the wicked will perish;
    the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
    they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.
21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back,
    but the righteous is generous and gives;
22 for those blessed by the Lord[c] shall inherit the land,
    but those cursed by him shall be cut off.
23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
    when he delights in his way;
24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
    for the Lord upholds his hand.
25 I have been young, and now am old,
    yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
    or his children begging for bread.
26 He is ever lending generously,
    and his children become a blessing.
27 Turn away from evil and do good;
    so shall you dwell forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice;
    he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
    but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land
    and dwell upon it forever.
30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
    and his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
    his steps do not slip.
32 The wicked watches for the righteous
    and seeks to put him to death.
33 The Lord will not abandon him to his power
    or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.
34 Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
    and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
    you will look on when the wicked are cut off.
35 I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
    spreading himself like a green laurel tree.[d]
36 But he passed away,[e] and behold, he was no more;
    though I sought him, he could not be found.
37 Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
    for there is a future for the man of peace.
38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
    the future of the wicked shall be cut off.
39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

All and none

It’s not a good morning when you get the blueberries for your yogurt out of the freezer and they are already thawed. I'm not sure what happened to my refrigerator overnight, but it wasn't working this morning. It may have been related to the storm that passed through Norman before bedtime, but even though a tornado touched down a few miles from here and we had some bright lightning and loud thunder, the lights never even flickered and none of the clocks reset. So I really think this old refrigerator just gave out. (How old, you may wonder? I'm unsure whether I should be proud or embarrassed, so I'm just sticking with "old" for now.)

Regardless of the cause, after praying for a calm spirit (peace), wisdom and direction, I quickly determined it wasn't anything I could quickly fix or reset. So, even as I continued getting ready for church, my focus switched to figuring out what to do with all this thawing food. My first priority was to find a way to stop the thawing and preserve or restore as much cold as possible. I tried to call my husband, who was out of town, to discuss the matter, but I couldn't reach him. So I make a half-joking Facebook post about the situation, ending with: Seriously, though, if you want some thawing fish, chicken, meatloaf, TV dinners or any number of other foods, might as well come and get it!

After reaching my husband, I headed out in search of dry ice. I went first to Walmart, which didn't have it, but the employee said Lowe's or Home Depot probably would. So I headed across the street to Lowe's, and the guy said the store didn't have dry ice, but I could get it at Walmart. I said, no, Walmart sent me here. He said Walmart always has it. OK. Whatever. I headed back to my car and made a quick update to my Facebook post, before  searching online for sources of dry ice. (Yes, I should have searched online first.) About the same time I hit on Homeland, that's the suggestion I got on Facebook. I called the store, I learned I could get dry ice there, and I was on my way again!

By the time I got the dry ice, I knew it would be too late to make it to church. I headed home and started packing coolers, still knowing I needed to find someone who could use this good food without having to refreeze it.

No one took me up on my sincere invitations on Facebook for people to come and dine with me. I looked up local shelters and food pantries, but most were closed, and no one answered at the ones I tried to call. Even with the dry ice, I didn't feel confident about keeping the food safe until Monday.

I went through the what-is-wrong-with-me self-talk, about how probably most people would just start cooking and take things to their neighbors or their homebound friends or those in need, or would somehow just know what to do, while I just know all the reasons why I don't do any of those things.

As usual, I had prayed at the start of this situation and had continued to along the way. I stayed calm and hopeful, managing not to stress out or panic. But about 3 p.m., I started to have a sick feeling that I wasn't going to find a  place for the food and that it would go to waste. And even though part of my calm had resulted from realizing -- and, I thought, accepting -- from the start that it was possible everything would go to waste and that would truly be OK, I knew I would feel guilty, ashamed and like a failure if it did.

So I prayed a little more fervently, writing the words to help me focus.

Lord, who can I call? This is when I feel so inept. Who can use this food before it spoils? And Lord, I pray that it not spoil. Help me know what to do to preserve as much of it as possible.

I pray for wisdom, intuition, courage or whatever You can provide to know what to do and where to begin. 

I know it's going to be OK. At worst, everything spoils.

But what a shame that would be. I'd feel very guilty/ashamed ....

My mind started to wander from prayer to wondering about the source of that guilt and shame ...

And the next thing I knew, I had an idea of what to do with the food.  One of the possibilities on my list of things to do Sunday afternoon had included the Cleveland County CROP Walk, which raises money and awareness for those in need of food. I had pretty much decided Saturday night that I wouldn't go to the walk, and that became even more apparent as the day unfolded.

But I decided that I could get there about the time they would be wrapping things up, and maybe I could connect with someone who could tell me what to do with this food. It was already in coolers with dry ice. All I had to do was carry the coolers to my car and head to Andrews Park.

So I did. And I met April, who said they were heading to the Food & Shelter headquarters, and that I could follow and drop off the food. So I did.

There's so much more to this story.

-- Spent $75 on dry ice. That would have been a nice donation in itself for those in need of food.

-- Our refrigerator is 33 years old and sounding more and more strained as it runs. I recall wondering a few weeks ago what I would do if it decided to quit working. But I forgot about those thoughts, and they did not return as my husband and I went grocery shopping and he spent the past week cooking roast, stew and meatloaf, packaging it for future meals and storing it in the freezer.

-- I usually buy groceries on Sunday but went a day early because I thought I might decide to go to the CROP Walk. Thus I had a full dozen eggs, a carton of yogurt, three frozen TV dinners and a large bag of frozen blueberries, among many other things.

-- I had considered returning to a retreat center east of Norman on Saturday, in which case I might not have been home until Sunday afternoon to discover the problem.

One of the conclusions I reach is that all of my plans, good intentions and actions matter, but in some respects, it's also true that none of my plans, intentions and actions matter that much.

Life happens. Things work out. They work out better for me if I keep my focus on God, Who I know guides the plan that works all things for good.

(I don't suppose it is coincidental that my First 15 Bible study and devotional for the week that started Sunday is the peace that comes from God: One of the most powerful marks of a believer is transcendent peace. This world offers us no reason to be peaceful. It offers us no reason to be without stress, burdens, cares, and total frustration. But we serve a God who offers us peace in the midst of any circumstance. We serve a God in whom all true peace finds its source. May you discover the heart of your heavenly Father to bring you peace this week.)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Somehow connected

Last week I was kicking up surf on a sunny Florida beach. Last evening I was on a hilltop labyrinth beneath a beautiful sky at a retreat center in east central Oklahoma. Tonight that campground is in the path of storms that could include tornadoes or hail. My prayers continue for people who might be in the path of these latest Oklahoma storms, including people still at the retreat center.


View from the beach, Oct. 9:




 
View from the labyrinth, Oct. 20:

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Moments that matter

Once again, I find myself wondering if I will ever catch up on documenting things I wanted to get in print from the past year. I started writing about the trip I took with my sister to visit The Pioneer Woman's Mercantile in Pawhuska in early June, but I didn't finish it or post it.

I could write several fine essays about the trip to upstate New York. But have I? No. And now I could add a trip to a Florida beach and interesting adventures with trolleys and rain forests and trash in the sand. Will I? It's looking more and more doubtful.

The moments and experiences keep coming, and the words I would like to write to supplement my shaky memory don't make it to the page.

Where would I even begin?

Just for today, I will write about the beauty of a sunrise.

I've seen some nice sunsets on my travels this summer, although, truth be told, the beauty was more about the reflection on the water of the St. Lawrence River or Gulf of Mexico than the colors in the New York/Canada or Florida sky. I have a hard time getting up in time to savor the sunrise, and the balcony view from our beach hotel was to the west rather than the east.

But this morning, I happened to have the alarm set for 7 a.m. and actually got up. Then I got dressed to go to the gym with my husband. The gym is less than two miles from our house, but about three-quarters of a mile of the drive is heading east. And I was treated to a glorious burst of colors in that eastern sky.

As I try to think of how to describe it, I regret not taking a picture. But a picture would not have done justice. A picture would have had all the distractions -- the power poles, the traffic lights, cars, buildings.

In my memory, I see only rose and amber and peach and golden rays backed by a lustrous blue sky, with foreground accents of nature's green grass, maybe some flowers and the wood and leaves of trees. I see God's handiwork, and I feel grateful for the gift of a sunrise, the decision to get up and dressed, and the eyes to see the beauty.

In less than a minute, we turned the corner. Someone had tossed a fast-food bag with remnants of breakfast and packaging in the parking space next to ours. I picked it up and carried it to a trash can. Then I had my best workout in maybe forever.

Little things matter. It all adds up. Hope springs eternal. Just for today.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Identity undefined

A year ago today was my last day of employment. I've been blessed all my life, including before and after I was laid off after 34 years working as a journalist at Oklahoma City's daily newspaper.

What surprises me most in the past year is how little progress I've made in redefining my identity. I'm still a daughter, sister, cousin, Christian, wife, aunt, friend and encourager. I don't really consider myself a journalist right now. I had hoped to still be a writer, but the verdict is out on that. 

I had hoped to be a more consistent volunteer. Instead, I'm as sporadic as ever in my charitable service work.  

I had hoped to have some big house-cleaning projects taken care of and new ones started. All I can claim is progress. 

I feel more relaxed. I am healthier in many ways, although some aspects of aging continue to tease me.

I am more aware than ever of how much I love my husband and he loves me. 

I'm grateful for the past year and for the 57 years of my life that preceded it.

I found myself wondering today, on the plane flying back to Oklahoma from a trip with my husband to Clearwater Beach, Florida, whether I've lost some of my mental sharpness in the past year. I tend to think I have. But then I think back to how exhausted, stressed and burned-out I was. That wasn't healthy, and nothing I tried was fixing the situation. I'm still searching for balance.

Thursday's Upper Room Daily Devotional offered a timely reminder about my identity. It was written by Teresa Coda, who said she had been a teacher but described herself as being "between careers." Matthew 16:18 ("Jesus said, 'I tell you, you are Peter, and 
on this rock I will build my church.'") reminds her that Simon Peter's identity didn't come from his work or his actions but from his faith. She continued: "So it is with me. My primary identity comes from my faith, from being a child of God."

And so it is with me. It still doesn't seem like enough. And I know it is: God's love for me is the foundation. It is sure. It is real. It empowers me to do and be what He would have me do and be. I don't have to see where I'm headed. I just have to love and trust the One Who is leading me. And I do.



Thursday, October 5, 2017

Keeping secrets

I feel like I've been keeping secrets!!

I'd usually post on Facebook about my very bloody tongue bite and my very swollen elbow, both of which occurred in recent weeks. And then my cold, which threatened to derail a busy weekend that included my 40th anniversary high school reunion and a relative's 65th birthday party. 
 
It surprised me I didn't share as they happened. 

But, of course, I can't resist eventually sharing. I thought I might tonight. 

But apparently not! 

Ha! Maybe tomorrow. Or next week. 

I know I want to get back to writing to give me hope for preserving the details about images and memories I've stored up the past few months! I have to figure out how to fit into the priorities of a day or week.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Still no words

Here it is another self-imposed blog deadline, and I've got nothing but excuses and rationale. I was going through photos on my iPhone to clear up some space before my 40th high school reunion on Saturday, and I saw so many images from experiences that I had hoped to write about and share. But it just hasn't happened. Writing is such a slow process for me, and I have needed to focus on other things. It frustrates me that I can't make quick work of writing and then have time for everything else.

Last week I had no words and was pretty much OK with that. This week I'm not as accepting of the situation, but I'm still not going to get anything done about it tonight. It is what it is -- as much as I hate to ever hear that, much less write it. So I might as well accept it, for tonight. Let go! Let God! And be grateful that I can let go and let God. He is faithful and loves me even when I feel as if I'm failing, falling so short of my best. That gives me hope that springs eternal, morning by morning.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

No words

I can't think of anything to write about to meet my self-imposed blog deadline tonight. Just for today, I'm OK with that. And grateful.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

I'm back in Norman after spending a couple of days with Mom in Texas. All of the various treatments she has been getting for her back pain have finally turned things around. (For the record: She still has some pain, but it is no longer debilitating, praise God!) I could barely keep up yesterday as I went along when she went to Muenster for PT and on to Gainesville for errands! 

I'm grateful to God and all who prayed, helped and offered encouragement. And I'm grateful to Mom for not giving up or giving in to the pain. And I'm grateful to Becky   and her family for all they do to keep things going all the time but especially during times like this. 

Mom is still the glue for our family, but I can't even imagine how much harder it would be for all of us if Becky and her family weren't close by and so gracious to do so much. 

I'm filled with love and gratitude for my family

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Now what?

I guess I've answered the question of whether I am a writer.

Now I face even bigger questions.
What am I going to do about it?
Where does it fit in with my life? 
Is it a passion or an obsession? An addiction?
Can I do it in a healthy way?
Is the time and effort worth the result?
What are the costs of not pursuing my passion as a writer?
Perhaps the biggest question: Can my marriage survive me pursuing my passion for writing?


Again: Where does it fit in with my life?

A lesson that presented itself again last week is that I tend to crave a wide audience and realm of influence, but God keeps bringing me back to focusing on whom or what is in front of me. My mind keeps trying to figure out the big picture and how to make a big difference, but I'm much more effective when I focus on what's in front of me. KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Of course, that presents another dilemma. Because focusing and keeping it simple are two of the hardest things for me to do.

But I see time and time again that the effort of slowing down, focusing and trying to keep it simple pays off.

Another key, of course, is balance, which is especially essential as I fend off perfectionism.

So: I will continue to write. The verdict is still out on whether I will try again to write for compensation or to fulfill a commitment or expectation. I'm grateful to be in a situation where I don't have to make a quick decision.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

God is at work, Part 4

This could have had any number of titles and subtitles.

One of my catchphrases, "God is at work," came back to me powerfully after church Sunday. It's a term I began using as a focal point a year or so ago (May 2016), during a time when I was seeing God move in my life despite my efforts to resist.

It's definitely happening again. The first subtitle possibility that came to mind was the one from last year: "Resistance is futile." But just as accurate this year is "Sit back, watch and learn."

Lots of Scriptures also came to mind. The one that fits the best is probably Proverbs 3:5-6 -- "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."

Or maybe Isaiah 55:8 -- " 'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,' declares the Lord."

For close to a year, I've been praying for clear direction on God's will and purpose for my life. And I've remained mostly confounded, even as I've continued to, as faithfully and cheerfully as possible, follow where I've felt God is leading.

Recent weeks through Sunday have brought some cool examples of God at work in my life.

One involved that whole adventure of trying again to write for pay and publication. It proved I am still a writer. It also showed me that if I'm going to pursue that passion, I must trust God to help me find a healthier way to do it.

The writing adventure also helped me see that, at this point in my life, writing may be one of my passions, but it cannot be my priority. Unlike when I had a job as a journalist, now writing really is secondary to other responsibilities, including projects around the house and for and with my husband.

This past weekend helped me see that so many of the things I, with my "perfectionistic tendencies,"  fret over really don't matter. God is at work, and God is in charge!

A prime example involved trying to decide how best to spend my time. I wanted to attend three events involving Point of Grace: the Friday night concert in Ponca City, more than two hours from my Norman home; a private event involving the Crossings Community Church music ministry on Saturday night (nearly an hour away in northwest Oklahoma City); and the Sunday night concert at Crossings.

I also wanted to attend a block party my church in Norman was hosting Sunday night.

I wanted to do it all. It was clear I couldn't do it all. I wanted to attend the Point of Grace concerts with friends, but I couldn't find anyone to go with me. Part of why I love Point of Grace is the singers are all about faith, family and friends. I long to be part of the "Circle of Friends" they sing about. But the reality is I would be going to the events alone. And even in a hall with hundreds of people, I can isolate.

I had wrangled an invitation to the Crossings choir event on Saturday, but then had second thoughts about going, for three reasons. First, I doubted I would fit in, even though I had been invited. Second, after having driven more than four hours Friday evening, I didn't look forward to two more hours driving Saturday. Third, I wasn't sure I would be finished with things I needed to do Saturday in time to go.

Praying about it Saturday morning, I realized I didn't have to decide early if I wasn't going to go to the choir event. I could see how the day unfolded. So, I went to my 12-step meeting, then I went to the animal sanctuary to pet the kitties and leave a donation, something I had not done for several weeks and really needed and wanted to do.

Then I started working on a review of Friday's concert. The writing was going amazingly well for me, but I was aware that time was ticking away, and I needed to make a decision about going to the event that night. About 3 p.m., I prayerfully sent a text to my host, saying I realized I would not be able to make it, but I looked forward to seeing him Sunday night. I kept working on my review and submitted it a little before 5 p.m.

At that time, I had not heard back from my host, and I was starting to worry he hadn't gotten my text and would think I didn't show up without letting him now. A few minutes later, I got a text from him, saying he understood about Saturday. He added he would not be there Sunday, because the church leadership was making a quick trip out of town, leaving after church.

I can't put into words how I felt at that moment. Of all the possible scenarios I had come up with as I tried to decide when I needed to be where to get my maximum amount of joy and satisfaction -- wait, I mean be of maximum use to God! -- this was nowhere to be found. I wanted to change my mind, say, "You know what, I just realized I can make it!" (Because at that time, I actually could, since the review was written.)

But I was so surprised by the turn of events that I just decided it was meant to be that way. And given what happened next, I still think that's true, even though I hate that I missed seeing the choir director interact with the members of Point of Grace, with whom he had attended college.

What I did instead was head to my front room to work on a dreaded and overwhelming task of purging years of stored treasures and junk.

Sunday, I awoke realizing I had another unresolved choice. Would I go to the second Point of Grace concert or would I go to my church's block party? Almost stubbornly, I was pretty sure I would go to the concert. But the energy and excitement at my church during morning worship turned my thinking to the possibility I could do both. I would go to Oklahoma City for the first part of the concert and leave after an hour, which would get me back to Norman at least in time to help with cleanup.

So I went to the concert. But when it was 7 o'clock, I stayed rather than leave, even as I was overwhelmed with feelings of not being part of that elusive "circle of friends."

Since then, I've been pretty comfortable with how things turned out, which is amazing for me, considering how much time I spent during the weekend going over the possibilities before and after I made decisions, and when the circumstances changed. (For a time on Sunday, I felt certain that if I could do it over again, knowing what I knew then, I would have done things differently.)

I decided to trust that God gave me the information and insight when He wanted me to have it. I used that information to make decisions. I am more aware now how self-serving some of the decisions were, but I can't change the past.

Here's what I think God is really trying to teach me, and I see it more clearly right now: It doesn't matter which thing I choose. Just don't worry so much about it. Pray, decide and act. Pray, trust and obey. (Maybe that should be: pray, obey and trust!)


So I continue to live and, hopefully, learn -- including to be less resistant as God shows me what He's going to do!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Present imperfect pursuit


My recent pursuit of writing for pay and publication highlighted my plague of perfectionism.

So what am I doing about it?

I've identified some of the sources and manifestations of what I call my "perfectionistic tendencies." Now the trick will be to break some longstanding and ingrained habits.

Among the sources: I don't want to disappoint people. I don't want to be disappointed. I don't want to embarrass myself or others. I hate it when people react negatively to what I say or do or what I fail to do. I hate it when I fail to do things that I think are important as well as I think they deserve to be done. I know some things won't get done like I think they should be done unless I do them, even though it often takes me a long time.

The manifestations include: I try so hard to figure out the right thing to do that sometimes I can't even get started. When I do get started, I am very slow, because I want every word to be right, because I don't trust others to fix my mistakes. Even when I finish something, I often have self-doubt and keep trying to think of a better way. Self-doubt can keep me from enjoying what to almost anyone else would appear to be a job well done.

An interesting finding has been that some of the same people who discourage me from being a perfectionist react negatively when I'm not perfect! As much as I don't like that reality, it has been helpful for me to be aware of it.

Among the solutions: I've been able to embrace the truth and power of some slogans and prayers I've known for a long time but maybe have just given lip service, such as "Is it worth it?" (or, "What's it worth?), "let go and let God" and "progress not perfection." I'm seeing some success with setting time boundaries, whether on a writing project or making a difficult decision. Examining my options has helped with decision-making, as has realizing that in many situations I can change my mind.

The Serenity Prayer also comes to mind: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference."

I've practiced it this week in decision-making, with mixed but overall positive results, as I continue to learn from less-than-optimal outcomes.

And I practiced it today in writing a concert review. When I reached a stopping point, I sincerely wanted to keep working on it, knowing it could be better. But I let it go -- submitted it -- and now it has been published. (If you want to read it, you can click here: Point of Grace concert review)

Letting go of a project or decision before I'm "ready" leaves me feeling vulnerable. But I detect a bit of a positive sensation as well. I'm hopeful I can build on that.





These Scriptures and this quote from Craig Denison in his recent First15.org post continue to provide guidance for me regarding perfectionism:

"Along with freeing others from the expectation of perfection, if we will offer ourselves the same grace and mercy that our heavenly Father does, we will experience new levels of joy and freedom. While God has offered us a path to total freedom from sin, he has the fullness of compassion for our weaknesses. Don’t strive for perfection in your works, but instead pursue a deeper relationship with the God of love and grace. You weren’t created to live perfectly in your own strength, but to know the love of the Father and allow him to empower you for the life to which you have been called. May you free yourself from the burden of perfection today and pursue greater intimacy with your heavenly Father."

“Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” Ecclesiastes 7:20

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

Saturday, August 19, 2017

God answers my prayers

After praying and posting my writer's lament, I went to bed. I don't remember how well I slept, but I know what was still on my mind when I awoke: I thought it would be different this time. Better. A positive experience. Instead it's the same. Or worse. Probably seems worse because I had such high hopes. But I didn't think I had high hopes. I thought I had realistic expectations. 

Fortunately, I confronted these thoughts with Scripture and a devotional reading. Again, my go-to was Jesus Calling, where these were the Bible readings for the day:


But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. 
—Isaiah 40:31
One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. 
—Psalm 27:4
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 
—Philippians 4:8
That was a major step toward what I hope and pray continues to be freedom from some of my self-doubt and struggles.

But I think the bigger key to the door of freedom came later that Wednesday when friends lovingly but directly helped me face truth in a word: Perfectionism.

And before I knew it, my daily spiritual readings and Bible verses were reinforcing that truth.

Jesus Calling: "Anticipate coming face to face with impossibilities: situations totally beyond your ability to handle. This awareness of your inadequacy is not something you should try to evade. It is precisely where I want you—the best place to encounter Me in My Glory and Power. When you see armies of problems marching toward you, cry out to Me! Allow Me to fight for you. Watch Me working on your behalf, as you rest in the shadow of My Almighty Presence."


Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward. 
—Job 5:7
After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.” 
—Revelation 19:1
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 
—Psalm 91:1
But what really helped me was Friday's focus from First15.org.  The subject was forgiving others and not expecting them to be perfect. But all the words identified my weakness.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of  God.” Romans 3:23
These were some really helpful words from Craig Denison's commentary: "One of the most vital aspects of offering continual forgiveness is living without expectation of perfection from others. You will never meet a perfect human. All of us suffer from the same sinful, broken condition. And as believers, our lives are a reflection of God’s grace transforming what was once wholly sinful into pictures of his love. Even in this reflection, we will never experience perfection until we pass from this world to the next and live in perfect, uninhibited relationship with our heavenly Father.


"Along with freeing others from the expectation of perfection, if we will offer ourselves the same grace and mercy that our heavenly Father does, we will experience new levels of joy and freedom. While God has offered us a path to total freedom from sin, he has the fullness of compassion for our weaknesses. Don’t strive for perfection in your works, but instead pursue a deeper relationship with the God of love and grace. You weren’t created to live perfectly in your own strength, but to know the love of the Father and allow him to empower you for the life to which you have been called. May you free yourself from the burden of perfection today and pursue greater intimacy with your heavenly Father."

“Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” Ecclesiastes 7:20

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23
Author's note: I guess I should mention that I did complete the writing project that caused so much lamentation. The main story on Christian vocal quartet Point of Grace was published Aug. 19 in the print and online editions of The Oklahoman. A related piece was published online only, on the Faith & Values blog at NewsOK.com.  Point of Grace story Point of Grace sidebar 

Friday, August 18, 2017

A writer's lament


Lord, am I not a writer anymore? After this latest attempt, I think I’m ready to give it up.

That was the start of my prayer late one recent night.

The struggles I was experiencing felt too much  like all the reasons I had quit writing for compensation.


I had really thought that — without the demands of a full-time job as a writer or editor and with the help of some therapeutic and behavioral changes — this would be a more positive experience. 

I did not think I would be up to my deadline and still drowning in an unorganized mess of information, while still lacking details I would have liked to have included.

And yet: Here I was again.

Lord, I know You are with me. Your love and presence surround me. I am grateful for that, even as I don’t understand why this is going the way it’s going. 

Is this how You need it to be for me to learn something or grow in some way: in grace or understanding, or humility, or some other way? 

Or is the struggle really all on me — my fault for being stubborn and undisciplined and disorganized and set in my ways and unwilling (rather than unable) to learn better methods?

Lord, I thank You for Your presence. I know You are with me. I trust You. And I trust You to be with Gene, who I  fear is distressed by my struggle.

God, I feel sad, disappointed, ashamed. Confounded. Dumb. Embarrassed. Defective. Flawed. Afraid.

"TRULY: WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME????? What made me think I would be able to write this story? Lord, I thought You put it on my heart. Was I wrong? Is this all in Your plan, or are You having to work around my stubbornness?

Even so, Lord, I am striving to trust in You with all my heart, and lean not on my own understanding. Show me where I am not properly acknowledging You, that You may make my path straight.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.[a]
Proverbs 3:5-6 New International Version 

(OK, I just saw that this version uses the word “submit.” That’s probably the key. But how? Show me, Lord. I cannot do it without You. Please get me out of the way, I pray, that You may be glorified.)

------

To be continued ....