Thursday, September 14, 2017

I'm back in Norman after spending a couple of days with Mom in Texas. All of the various treatment she has been getting for her back pain has 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 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  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  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 ....

A better approach?

I'm always looking for answers. But it seems I typically fail to start by stopping long enough to figure out what the questions are. Or, when I find what seem to be answers, I move on to another question rather than embrace the answer.

Most recently: In trying to figure out why I continue to struggle with writing, I determined that I'm more of an information gatherer and sharer than a story teller.

Seems story tellers get more love and respect than information sharers. 

Story telling doesn't seem to be my calling. 

I need to stay focused on what I'm called to do and be OK with -- embrace and even rejoice in -- that.

I wrote that the morning of Aug. 9, a Wednesday.
But three days later, I had proved my opening statement, concluding that I'm not a very good information sharer, either.
That's when I realized again I still need to do what's hardest for me: SLOW DOWN! LET GO AND LET GOD!!! TRUST GOD!!!
I need to SLOW DOWN!! -- talk less, listen more, experience, observe and feel more.  

Experience more, express less??? At least for a while??

The next day, Sunday, came another insight: I don't have to know how it's going to work out. (But I keep thinking I do have to know, whether it be the story I was struggling with or how best to help my mom when I visited her. LET GO AND LET GOD!!! TRUST GOD!!!)

The approach I decided to take was to go ahead and work some more on the story if the opportunity arose, but to avoid thinking about it over and over in my head, trying to figure it out, when I wasn't working on it. Instead, let go and trust God!!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Holy connections

After missing church two Sundays in a row, I was ready to be back in a pew.

God provided me a cool affirmation that what I called worship last Sunday really was! That's when I spent the morning exploring Ausable Chasm in upstate New York with my husband. I took several moments along the trails and with the splendor of the water falls and beautiful canyon walls and trees as a background to pray and sing praises, including "Holy, Holy, Holy," "How Great Thou Art" and "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow," a contemporary setting of the Doxology.

My heart rejoiced when I returned to church Sunday and one of the hymns was "Holy, Holy, Holy." And of course we sang our upbeat arrangement of the Doxology.

Not that I really needed affirmation that last Sunday's time was worship, I still enjoyed how God pulled it all together when I returned to church in Oklahoma.

This week:

Holy Holy Holy at Goodrich

Last week:

Holy Holy Holy at Ausable Chasm

Monday, July 31, 2017

Worshipping God in the splendor of nature!

I really hate to miss church on Sunday, and this is the second week in a row I have. But one of my devotionals talked about worshipping God in the beauty of holiness and the splendor of nature. Ausable Chasm near Lake Champlain in upstate New York was a majestic cathedral. Amen!

Ausable Chasm How Great Thou Art

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Grace. Period.

I think I may have written this before. It's worth revisiting. 

It started with me thinking about missing last week's blog deadline by nearly a full week. As I was finally putting something together to post, I thought to myself that since the next deadline had not arrived, maybe I could say I was in a grace period. 

Which made me think of God's amazing grace. 

And that was sufficient. 

(I drafted that Sunday. I posted the "late something" that night, and planned to post this Monday, which would have put me back on schedule. Instead, it's Wednesday and I'm just now posting. And, thanks to God's great grace covering me, it is still sufficient.)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Close to my heart

A scary thing happened to me on Interstate 81 north of Syracuse, New York, on the way to Massena via Waddington. About five hours into the day's drive, I realized something was missing from my ring finger. 

And my heart sank. 

I understand tradition holds that I wear my wedding band inside my engagement ring, so it is closer to my heart. 

I also know that the one I'm wedding banded to prefers the ring with the diamond go inside. This became apparent from a couple of close calls over the years as the diamond engagement ring slipped off my finger, always to be found, but once not until a vacuum cleaner had sucked the stone from the setting. 

Sometime after that, still many, many years ago, I found a way to honor tradition and my husband by finding an inexpensive but meaningful ring to wear outside the marital pair. For many years, I wore that little cat ring that I got on a trip we took to Las Vegas. 

I don't remember when or why I quit wearing it. I think maybe I had decided it looked tacky. I also thought I could trust myself to be aware if cold weather or other circumstances would temporarily increase the risk of my rings slipping off, so I could take precautions. 

But here I was at 2 p.m. in upstate New York, 1,500 miles from home, looking at a left hand lacking a diamond engagement ring. 

Had I forgotten to put it on in the morning at the Riviera in Erie, Pa.? That was possible -- but it seemed unlikely I would have gone that long without noticing it was missing. 

I thought back through the day and became nervous. We had only stopped once. That was at a service plaza along the I-70 toll road between Buffalo and Syracuse. But which one? I looked at an online map but couldn't figure out where we had stopped. I knew I had used the rest room and also bought a couple of fresh peaches. But the recollection that bothered me most was that I had taken off a pair of gloves as I was walking to the building. That seemed the most likely opportunity for the ring to have slipped off, with too much noise and distraction for me to notice. The thought made me feel sick. 

There was one other possibility, and that was that the ring had slipped off as I stretched out my fingers to reach for something in my purse or one of the snack bags in the back seat of the Tundra. 

I'm always hesitant to pray for material things but that didn't stop me as I tried to look through things as Gene drove.

I'm praying. Yes, Lord, I am. Above all, please help Gene not be too upset with me.

For His sake as much as mine, I hope and, yes, pray that we will find it in the truck, either in the front or in my bag. 

If not in the hotel or the truck, it would have to be at that travel plaza, because that's the only place we stopped. 

If we don't find it, please help Gene, and also me, be OK without me having it. Help me respond in a way that glorifies You, Lord, whether we find it or not. 

I didn't find it as we continued on from I-81 to a couple of smaller highways and onto New York 37. But through the power of prayer, I was able to avoid panicking by hanging on to faith that the ring might turn up in a more thorough search when we stopped. 

Finally we did stop, about 3:45 p.m. at a convenience store in Waddington. While Gene went inside the store, I quickly opened the door to the back seat of the truck and started looking. And it wasn't long until I found a thin gold band with a sparkling diamond. 

Thank You, God!!!

I can't express how relieved I was. When Gene came out of the store, I ran to hug him, and he easily guessed what I'd found. Even his comment that he guessed that meant he wouldn't be buying me a new ring didn't deter my joy. 

Now, each morning when I put my rings on, the diamond is closest to my heart. As with so many things in our nearly 35-year marriage, Gene and I know the reasons, and that's more important to us than traditions or etiquette. (But I'm also looking for a new ring to wear outside my bridal pair, and if I find one, I can go back to the perfect blend of tradition and, for me, practicality!)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Easily entertained

I'm pretty easily entertained. It doesn't take much to catch my attention. And it doesn't take much to distract me.

This is on my mind because of advice I received when I told a friend that I was having a hard time not obsessing over a food I had bought but did not want to eat all at once.

This little story starts on July 4th, although the stage was set during visits to Braum's stores in recent weeks. After a leisurely Independence Day that included the neighborhood parade in the morning and watching patriotic programs on television in the evening, my husband said he was ready for ice cream.

A lot of years we have gone to Braum's for ice cream before going to watch the city fireworks display in Norman. Although we had decided not to go to the park this year to watch, I couldn't deny that ice cream sounded good.

Unfortunately, I knew that Braum's in my recent visits had not had my preferred no-sugar-added treat (Diet Peanut Cluster Fudge Frozen Yogurt) available for hand-packed cups or cones. Still, I agreed to go, hoping maybe they had stocked up. When we got there, they had not. I asked if they could open a package from the freezer case and give me a scoop, but of course they said they could not. The no- sugar-added vanilla bean flavor, even with nuts added, just doesn't satisfy me.

So, I decided to do something I had not done in a long time. I asked for a serving cup, and then I bought a full-size container of my fudgy, nutty favorite. Quite aware of my past tendency to not leave such a product alone in the home freezer until it was all gone, I knew this was risky. But through 12-step work and other disciplines, some things that used to be problems no longer are. I hoped that might be the case with this.

I drove as my husband ate his strawberry shortcake sundae while I looked for a place to park with a view of the city fireworks. We found a place to park, but it was soon apparent the display had already ended. While we were parked, I scooped some of my frozen yogurt into my  cup, and I quickly knew it was going to be hard for me to stop with just a small serving. But I put the lid on the container, switched places with Gene so he could drive while I ate, and we went to watch the plethora of fireworks visible on the horizon on the northwest edge of town.

When we got home, it was time for me to put away the ice cream. But first, I ate a little more. Then I went to bed.

The next morning, among my first thoughts was the ice cream. Uh-oh. This may have been a mistake. I knew I could measure some out, but I also knew a little might make me want more. Fortunately, I was able to get through breakfast and to my noon 12-step meeting without indulging. There, I mentioned my little experiment to a trusted friend. She reminded me that thinking about eating wasn't the same thing as eating. And she offered this suggestion: Don't entertain those thoughts. When the thought comes, it's OK to note it, then just wave it on by. The way I pictured it was like this: The thought can come to the door, but I'm not going to invite it in and throw it a party.

I wish I could say that was the end of the obsession. Instead, I confess I ate some ice cream as an afternoon snack, and then I ate some with supper. Even though I decided at that point to put it in the bottom  and back of the freezer, I was pretty sure the next step would be to discard what was left.

However, an interesting thing happened. I didn't eat any when I got home from choir practice, and while I thought about it the next  morning, I shifted the context to another little experiment. And I haven't eaten any since.

Besides choosing not to "entertain" thoughts of eating what I didn't need, another factor that has helped me to abstain is realizing that eating more than an occasional treat makes me feel physically uncomfortable. Realizing that and having that realization guide my behavior is nothing short of a miracle, and I am grateful.

Later in the week, I used the "entertaining" principle to keep my focus in a situation where I feared my curiosity would outweigh my desire to be compassionate. And it worked again.

There's still a possibility I'll discard what's left of the ice cream. I'm such an all-or-nothing person, I know that if I reopen the container, I might not want to stop again. But I'm not even going to entertain  that thought right now!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Patriotism and praise punctuates 4th of July Weekend event

A resounding prelude of brass, woodwinds and strings, soon joined by some 150 voices in a choir and then a few thousand throughout the sanctuary singing "America the Beautiful," launched a 4th of July Weekend celebration of praise and patriotism at Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City.

While soul-stirring music bookended the two-hour presentation Sunday, the emotional highlight was when the orchestra played songs of the various branches of the armed forces, and an estimated 450 men and women who are serving or have served flooded the aisles in a stream of red, white and blue to come forward and each receive special a Medal of Gratitude. A prolonged, thunderous ovation accompanied them.

Medal of Honor recipient Sammy L. Davis's brief but powerful remarks regarding his service in Vietnam, helped punctuate the bravery and sacrifices of those who have served in the U.S. military to safeguard the nation's freedom and values. He ended with a harmonica solo of "Shenandoah" that conveyed a heartfelt message beyond words.

The hosts were musicians and worship leaders from Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City, led by Larry Harrison, who came on board as pastor of worship ministries last August. The connectedness of Crossings' leaders to the community, music and ministry far and wide was on display all evening.

Award-winning Christian recording artist Sandi Patty is now the artist-in-residence at Crossings, where her husband, Don Peslis, is pastor of chapel worship and they have been members more than eight years. Patty sang several selections from her enduring career that fit the occasion, including the soaring rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that catapulted her from gospel recording star to national sensation after she performed it July 4, 1986, in New York City at the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty.

Also featured was the Alabama-based male vocal quintet Veritas, with stunningly beautiful performances of "Amazing Grace," "Bring Him Home" and "The Lord's Prayer."

A video message from U.S. Senator James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, highlighted the theme "God Bless America -- America Bless God." The theme also was articulated in a song co-written and performed by Harrison.

For the finale, Patty and the orchestra began with the less-familiar first verse of "God Bless America," with the choir, all the guest singers and everyone in the sanctuary joining in for the tradition lyrics, in an aural explosion of patriotism and praise. 

Below are the lyrics to "America Bless God," which I found online in the linked post from 2004. It said it could be shared freely.

America Bless God

by Larry Harrison & Joel Mott 

From the mountains of majesty

to the amber waves of grain

I see the blessing of your hand

and recall a familiar refrain

We sing God bless America

won't you come and bless us once again

But your heart longs to hear

a nation fall on its knees and say

America Bless God

all across the fruited plains

America Bless God

lift your voice and praise his holy name

For he's been good, he's been faithful

by his hand our nation stands

So won't you sing all across this land

America bless God

America bless God

Monday, June 26, 2017

Girls' gadabout, Part 1

This will be another of those blog posts that I consider a work in progress. It's not my favorite thing, but sometimes it's a necessary step to finding my better way. I started writing this June 10. I came back to it at least twice but was never pleased with how it was going. But I want to share the story and pictures. So here I am again. My new realization is that I can do this in parts. So, here goes to Part 1:

This past year my oldest sister and I both found ourselves unexpectedly among the ranks of the unemployed, Becky after a career in public school education and me after 35 years as a journalist. One of the things we talked about doing was taking a road trip, with her coming to Oklahoma for us to cruise in my convertible.

A few weeks ago she called and asked if the first week of June would work. It looked fine on my calendar, but so often that changes at the last minute. Still, we penciled it in. We had no set plans, but one idea we had considered was driving to Pawhuska to visit The Mercantile -- the restaurant, bakery and store opened less than a year ago by The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, in her hometown.

Becky rode the train up from Gainesville, Texas, to Norman on June 4, a Sunday evening. The train arrives after 9 p.m., so I knew all I would do is meet her at the station and bring her to my house that night.

We didn't have firm plans for the next day, but I was grateful that Becky is laid-back enough that I could let her stay at the house with Gene while I went to my Monday morning prayer time at church. I thought we would leave pretty soon after lunch to go to Oklahoma City's Bricktown entertainment district, but humidity made the outside air seem pretty unbearable by 1 p.m. So we were content to stay in the house and visit most of the afternoon.

Trying to think of something cool to do, we came up with going to see a movie, and "Wonder Woman" was a perfect choice for two sisters on a girls' gadabout (as another sister aptly labeled our adventures). With me being a former longtime journalist and her a former history teacher, we agreed not to overthink the movie and instead just be entertained. And we were. (We wanted to take a picture in front of the "Wonder Woman" poster but couldn't find one, so we just got the theater in the background.)

Afterward it had cooled enough that we could enjoy a stroll along the Bricktown Canal to find something to eat and decide what was next. Before we had gotten too far, it was time to head to the Mustang convertible. I wanted to show Becky some of the development of downtown, including where I used to work, the Myriad Gardens and where the Stage Center, where she remembered watching me perform in the Oklahoma City Gridiron Show, once stood. As we rode in the now-pleasant evening air, she reminded me that she had never been to the Oklahoma City Memorial. Although it was getting late, we stopped to spend some time at the beautiful yet heartrending tribute to the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that claimed 168 lives, including 19 children. She and I agree she must come back, hopefully with her husband and-or some of her kids and grandkids, when she can spend more time there. (If you want to know more about the Oklahoma City Memorial and Museum, go to

In the three photos above, the Gates of Time (9:01 and 9:03), flank the Field of Empty Chairs that represent the 168 people who died as a result of the bombing.

Above, The Survivor Tree, an American Elm, bore witness to the violence of April 19, 1995, and withstood the full force of the attack. Years later, it continues to stand as a living symbol of resilience.

By now, it was past 9 p.m., and we knew we wanted to get an early start Tuesday for the 2½-hour drive to Pawhuska, not knowing how much time we would need to explore the Pioneer Woman's Merc as well as the Lodge where she films her cooking show for The Food Network. So we headed back to the Mustang for a top-down cruise back to Norman, but this time I insisted on trying to get a picture before we headed onto the highway. Unfortunately, the light wasn't good, and my phone won't let me use flash on a selfie. (We "staged" the other two photos the next morning, when cooler heads prevailed and we opted not to drive all the way to Pawhuska -- or even just out of Norman  -- with the ragtop down.)

Monday, June 19, 2017

40 years -- Celebrations of love and letting go

As I seek to regain my voice as a writer, I thought I'd try something different. How about some pictures? These should be worth thousands of words.

Both pictures are of things that were new 40 years ago.

The first picture shows Samsonite luggage my parents gave me when I graduated 40 years ago in May, Muenster High School class of 1977. This summer, I've been trying to cut through some clutter in my house. When my United Methodist Women's group was seeking donations of "luggage that closes" to help out women at a local shelter, I thought of these pieces in the attic. I probably haven't used these in 20 years, and yet some nostalgia kicked in as I thought of letting them go. I was reminded that pictures can preserve the memories, so I snapped this after doing a pretty thorough cleaning to remove layers of dust. I hope they were able to help someone get a fresh start.

The second picture shows my sister Becky and her husband, Tom, whose marriage was new as of June 18, 1977. They celebrated their 40th anniversary on Sunday, and they are still going strong. No need for a fresh start here!  

I guess this is the place where I'm supposed to draw some profound conclusion or make a keen observation. The thing that comes to mind is that the luggage looks old and outdated and I can only hope it had some use left in it and celebrate that I was able to let it go. Becky and Tom, meanwhile, look young and vibrant and full of joy. There's no question they have a lot left to offer this world, starting with those smiles! What a privilege to honor and celebrate their love!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Backwards and forward ...

Not unlike during my days as a newspaper reporter, I find my list of ideas is growing much faster than my production of finished prose.

I know the problem, but I don't know the solution. I enjoy gathering information but I have a hard time putting that information into readable form. I've always envied people who could experience something and immediately know how they would write about it. I've always gone at it backwards: I start writing and eventually organize it into something readable. It has at times produced impressive results, but it's seldom a fast approach. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

I've been exposed to and tried to learn better techniques, but I've not -- in 35 years as a professional plus four years of college training -- been able to implement them effectively.

Interestingly enough, deadline pressure is what helped me get it done all those years as a journalist. But after a time, deadline pressure became the reason I could no longer function in the quickening pace of news journalism, with my slow technique.

I thought now that I don't have deadline pressure, the words might start to flow more easily. So far that hasn't happened. I'm stuck in the dreaded and familiar traffic jam on the expressway of my thoughts.

Yesterday, I started writing about a fun trip, but after about 500 words, I gave up, frustrated at how long it was taking me to get to my point.

Lying in bed later, I realized I need to keep writing on that project until I reach a conclusion.

I have neither deadline pressure nor length restrictions. So what's stopping me?

Here's what's stopping me: I am my own worst critic and judge. With singing, I fear I will be off-key and agonizing for people to hear; as a writer, I fear I will be boring, inaccurate or irrelevant. How many times have I let that self-criticism stop me in my tracks?

As I've shared before, I'm at a point in my life where I have an amazing amount of freedom, opportunity and resources to decide what I want to do and take the steps to accomplish it.

I need to wrap my mind and soul around the fact that just because I want to do something doesn't mean it will be easy. It may be difficult to get past the writer's block, but I can remain grateful that I have the luxury of re-engaging the muse in about as low-pressure circumstances as one could ever encounter.

I believe God is guiding me to where He wants me to be and how He wants me to use the skills, talents and passions He's given me. I know I just need to stay faithful and take the next action He places before me, whether that involves writing, singing, cleaning the clutter out of my house, hanging out with family and/or friends or reaching out to others in service with the love of Christ.

Right now, moving forward means reopening the travel file and getting back to writing, inspired by my faith in God and the pleasure of the trip.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The perfect time

The perfect time never comes. 

Just do it. 

I may not feel ready for my sister to visit. But if I wait until I feel ready, it will never happen. So just say yes. 

Just say yes. 

Say yes to working with someone in my 12 step program as her sponsor. 

Say yes to committing to donate stuff. 

Say yes to sing. 

Say yes to serve communion. 

Say yes to God. 

Say yes!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Joy: How sweet the sound

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me 
I once was lost but now am found 
Was blind but now I see ...

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear 
And grace my fears relieved ...

Nowhere in the lyrics of "Amazing Grace" is the word joy, but joy is surely a fruit of God's amazing grace. The celebration of life for a beloved fellow church member on Saturday affirmed this for me.

Wayne Hooker was one of those people with a personality that could not be ignored. On the surface, he could seem gruff, ornery, maybe even a bit of a trouble-maker. He definitely had a sense of humor, but he didn't hesitate to let another person be the butt of one of his jokes or pranks. I was among those who felt a sense of pity for his sweet wife, Kathy.

I'm not sure when I started to notice how much more there was to Wayne than that. I know it should have been much earlier. But I may not have really noticed until watching him and Kathy serving when Goodrich United Methodist Church was part of the Angel Tree food ministry. In more recent years, I became more and more aware of how much service they provided and how much of a team they were.

When a knot on his hand yielded a troublesome diagnosis last year, I was among the many who went into big-time prayer mode. And when follow-up diagnoses were even worse, my heart ached with so many of his family members, friends and others.

But several things were quickly clear. First, Wayne was not going to let a cancer diagnosis get the best of him. He was going to stay active as long as he could. Second, he was not going to let it steal his personality. Even when the pain made it difficult, he seemed to find a way to make people laugh or at least smile.

Right after Easter, I wanted to go by for a visit. I knew a lot of people took food, flowers or other gifts when they visited. Cooking isn't my thing, but God put it on my heart to see if Wayne and Kathy might welcome a song or two.

I remember as I was driving to their house, knowing that he was already to a point of having some pretty rough days in which he preferred not to have company, I wondered what he would be like, even on a better day. I prayed that no matter how he was feeling, I wanted to be a bright spot. I wanted to bring a smile, if not a laugh.

Of course, it was quickly apparent he would be the one eliciting the laughs. Even when pain momentarily interrupted a sentence or gesture, he wouldn't let its effects linger.

Before I got ready to leave, I explained that I didn't bring food or flowers, but that I would like to sing a hymn or two, if he thought he would like that. He asked if I had the accompaniment on my phone. I said no -- I can sing without that. And so I did. "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow" and "Great Is Thy Faithfulness." Praise, prayer and hope through a song. My heart overflowed with joy for these precious people.

The next time I called about visiting, Kathy said Wayne did not feel up to having visitors. I mailed a card that Wednesday instead, as I prepared to head for a long weekend in Arkansas, Wayne's native state and the home of his beloved Razorbacks. While I was there on Sunday, I learned that Wayne had died.

And then I learned that he had asked Kathy to ask me and fellow church and choir member Shirley Franklin to sing a duet of "Amazing Grace" at his celebration of life. Now, Shirley is an amazing singer. I love to sing, as well, and have actually sang at funerals and celebrations of life. But our voices are quite different. As Shirley tried to explain to Kathy, it's like a mashup of "a little bit country" and a "little bit rock 'n' roll" (although I don't know which voice would be which in that equation; I thought it might be more like oil and water -- something that would not blend easily at all).

Kathy asked if we should instead do separate songs, but Shirley insisted that, no, we should and would honor Wayne's request. We accepted the challenge in his amazing (or twisted) spirit. And we trusted that God would either bless it -- or we could blame it on our departed friend!!!!!

I must admit that, along the way, I stressed out a bit. I felt certain Shirley would do a much better job if she just sang "Amazing Grace" as a solo. But I was determined to trust God and to honor and respect Wayne.

After practicing quite a bit and trying to find a way to blend my voice with Shirley's, by the night before the service, I wasn't feeling too anxious. And Saturday morning, my devotional readings strengthened my faith and confidence in the Lord, reminding me that I should and can be joyful rather than anxious.

Shirley had urged me, "Don't overthink it, Pat." But I do overthink things. And God's grace saves me, again and again and again.

It was an honor and a privilege to share in the celebration of Wayne's life. I thank God for the gift of joy He gave me through Wayne's life and the heart of "Amazing Grace." I pray in faith that God's amazing grace will bless and sustain his family as they move forward in these days ahead.

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)

"Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.
"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
    an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off." (Isaiah 55:6-13)

"He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God's gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him."  (Ecclesiastes 3:11-14)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Another time

It's been quite a while since I've posted such a blatant place holder, but that's what I'm doing tonight.
It's the deadline day if I'm going to meet my self-imposed quota of at least one post every seven days.
And I've got nothing to share. No, that's not true. I have a lot to share, but I don't have time to think it out and put it into words.
Sometimes going to bed is the more important thing. This is one of those times.

Ecclesiastes 3
To Everything There is a Season
1To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

To be continued ... 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Step after step after step

Last week I accomplished some things I had doubts about. I was grateful as the week went along and I felt my confidence growing that I would be able to follow through on a couple of goals. An area where I had struggled and struggled to even get started finally seemed reasonable to take some action on that might achieve a noticeable result. As I saw it happening, I prayed that it might become a foundation for continuing success at breaking through some of my inertia.

This week, I still have greater confidence than usual that I can achieve my goals, and I have already had some success. I also have to face the reality that I may have waited too long to start a couple of projects I hoped to complete this week but really don't even know how to do what I want to get done. So I'm having to assess and consider reprioritizing. It's too early to decide whether I need to go a different direction, but it's good for me to be aware of my options.

Words from last week's blog are worth me repeating today:

I keep wanting to know exactly what I'm supposed to do and how to do it effectively and efficiently, yes, even perfectly. In Your love, Lord, You seem to be telling me that's not Your plan for my life. Yes, You have a plan for my life, and yes, it involves sacrifice and service as well as blessings and honor. But it's not necessarily something that's going to be clear to me. I just have to have faith as I take step after step, seeking Your face and loving You and Yours always.

"You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12-14)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Where distractions led today ....

I have no reason to think I'm dying anytime soon, and I definitely hope that is the case. But as I try to find motivation to FINALLY cut through years of clutter in my home and life, the best seems to be when I contemplate what's going to happen to my stuff when I'm gone from this Earth. (The other thing that gets me going is to realize that, someday, I will need to move from this house. How much easier it will be if I've already streamlined and simplified!)

And that's still as far as I get!!!! I just think it. I don't act on it.

I get distracted by questions of the best use of my time. Obviously, being stuck and doing nothing is not the best use.

Both of my daily devotionals today seemed to address this, one from the perspective of how I use my time, and the other on what I value.

The Upper Room Scripture today was Ephesians 5:15-16, part of which says: "Be careful . . . how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time ..."

Part of the devotion, written by Wendy Orellana of Venezuela, said: "When I find myself striving for success, I have to ask myself: Am I putting my time to good use? Am I really living as if this were my last day? These and other questions help transform my thinking. God, who is rich in mercy, gives us opportunities again and again to repent of our wrongdoings and foolishness. When we do so, we can feel reborn."

The day's First 15, written by Craig Denison, told of relationship with God as our greatest treasure.

He asked: "How strongly do you desire deeper relationship with him?" (Very strongly. I want to say very strongly. But I know my actions don't match that response.) "How much would you give up to know him?" (That's where I'm convicted. I feel like I strongly desire deeper relationship, but I'm not willing to give up much of myself, even as dissatisfied with myself as I often am.) "What do you seek fulfillment in during your free time?" (Family, health, music, being comfortable and inspired, food)

The discipline included meditation on the depth of God's love for me. Among the suggested Scriptures for meditation: “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (Hebrews 12:2-3)

A final step was to respond to God's love by loving God: "Spend time simply adoring him. Spend time in solitude sitting with him, encountering his heart, and giving him your own. He paid the highest price for you just to be able have a relationship with him. So take time and be the reward of his sacrifice."

(I keep wanting to know exactly what I'm supposed to do and how to do it effectively and efficiently, yes, even perfectly. In Your love, Lord, You seem to be telling me that's not Your plan for my life. Yes, You have a plan for my life, and yes, it involves sacrifice and service as well as blessings and honor. But it's not necessarily something that's going to be clear to me. I just have to have faith as I take step after step, seeking Your face and loving You and Yours always.)

"You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12-14)