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:



Last week:






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!








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 https://oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org/)





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)


https://youtu.be/QldiSN08ooQ


"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)


https://youtu.be/QldiSN08ooQ

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)

Monday, May 1, 2017

May 1/May 1?

I think I've done this before, but the similarity of May 1 and "may I?" brings me back to this theme.

On May 1 and always, may I:

be gracious.
be kind.
be loving.
seek to know and do God's will, to God's glory.
live one day at a time.
enjoy this moment, the present -- the gift of this moment.
pray, praise, trust and obey.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Could it be any clearer?

When I read Jesus Calling this morning and one of the Scriptures was 2 Corinthians 12:9, I thought it would have been perfect to use with the blog I posted yesterday about my inability to make any real progress on becoming more organized and productive: 

"And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”  (2 Corinthians 12:9, New American Standard Bible)

Then I turned to my daily First 15 reading, where I saw this title: "His Grace Is Sufficient." Of course, I knew the Scripture: "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."  (English Standard Version)

I still wasn't prepared for what I saw when I turned to my third daily reading, The Upper Room. The title was "Diamonds in the Rough," and the quoted Scripture was: The Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  (New International Version)

Did God read my blog??? It sure looks like He's trying to send me a message.

In Jesus Calling, author Sarah Young writes that our lack is "an opportunity to latch onto (Jesus) in unashamed dependence.  When you begin a day with inadequate resources, you must concentrate your efforts on the present moment. This is where you  are meant to live -- in the present." It is the place where God awaits.

From the Upper Room meditation, written by Marion Palmer of Australia: "God promises that His grace is sufficient for us and is, in fact, made perfect in our weakness. When at times we feel like our lives are like dry stubble, we can take heart in knowing that God's love, mercy and grace cover us and that we ... are made whole, precious and beautiful in God's sight."

In First 15, Craig Denison wrote: "We serve a God who turns our greatest weakness into our greatest strength. In his grace, all he asks of us is to have a heart open, willing and receptive to him. Our God is one who comes down to us and lays down his life that we might live through him. ... He has given up any form of personal gain to devote his entire existence to paving the way for us to have restored relationship with our heavenly Father."

The thing is, I know and believe this Scripture, at least it's how I understand God and Christ to view me. But it's not so easy to believe my husband and other family members, or my friends and colleagues in church, social settings and work, are so gracious and forgiving.

That is the stumbling block and the challenge. Can I trust what Christ says about God, that His grace is sufficient? Can I believe it is sufficient even when my shortcomings cause me to feel ashamed or less than or judged by others, or when I sense the tension or discomfort my shortcomings produce in my relationships with others?

It is very, very hard for me to trust God above my sensitivity to how others feel about me. And that's  a big source of the tension that keeps me from finding my best way. Am I really trusting God when I worry so much about what others think? But it seems selfish to not think of how my actions, inactions and shortcomings affect others, especially those closest to me.

But to read those three devotions just hours after posting about my weaknesses and inadequacies, I'm not sure it could be any clearer what God wants.

And so the journey to faithfully trust and obey continues.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

One. Day. At. A. Time.

I keep thinking I've FINALLY discovered what I need to know and will actually do to be more organized and prepared and productive and efficient. 

And each new program or routine quickly loses its luster, and I'm back to my old ways and wondering what happened. 

And I end up back at just for today. One day at a time. Progress not perfection.
 
Here I am again.

I'm not sure everyone has to keep it this simple. But experience and practice indicate that I do. 

Experience also suggests I won't give up on trying to find some perfect plan. 
 
Will I ever get it figured out? 
 
It seems I'll only know one day at a time.
 
In the meantime, these are some of the concepts and ideas that guide me and give me hope:
 
One day at a time. 
Progress not perfection. 
Focus on what I have, not what I don't have.
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
Pray, trust and obey.
Encourage and support.
In all things, give thanks.
Love.

 
"Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,  for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness."  (Lamentations 3:22-23, New International Version)  
 
 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Then sings my soul

Just for today, I accept that my willingness and some level of ability to sing, unaccompanied, in various settings is a gift from God. I accept the gift by sharing the gift.

Maybe it's more of a calling than a gift. I just know that I love to sing praises to God. I love to encourage people. And I love when God offers opportunities for me to encourage people by singing praises to God.

My realization of God's role in this was heightened as I thought of situations in which I have been able to sing rather than cry.

Singing almost always makes me smile. Sometimes I sing and smile through tears, and God creates the beauty of prisms for me to view through. Another gift.

As I act on opportunities to share my singing gift to God's glory, He also helps me see other ways I can share His love. That's the key: Seeking His guidance on how to share His love. It starts with taking time to feel His love and offer my love to Him in return. That brings joy, which overflows in a smile.

But I seem unable to hold on to the joy unless I share it.

Sharing the joy of God's love can be as simple as smiling and offering a kind or encouraging word to a person I encounter as I go about my day.

Sometimes it requires more sacrifice. It can require going out of my way; giving up some of my time or money; relinquishing control of a situation -- all while maintaining an attitude of love, joy and gratitude.

Gratitude is another key. One way I express gratitude to God is by sharing an attitude of gratitude with others.

Among the songs that were able to overflow from my heart in recent times:

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow.
Praise God, all creatures here below.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise God, the source of all our gifts!
Praise Jesus Christ, Whose power uplifts!
Praise the Spirit, Holy Spirit!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Great is Thy faithfulness, Oh God my Father.
There is no shadow of turning with Thee.
Thou changest not; Thy compassions, they fail not.
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness. Great is Thy faithfulness.
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of  God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is  my story; this is my song.
Praising my Savior all the day long!
This is my story; this is my song.
Praising my Savior all the day long!

Oh Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the roaring thunder:
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee:
How great Thou Art! How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee:
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!    


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Unfinished (again)

It's Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter or Resurrection Sunday.

Holy Week brings reminders that God's work to save me is finished.

So why do I feel unfinished?

I knew I would struggle to "finish" this Lenten season, and as I reflect on Holy Saturday, I see I finished nothing that I started for Lent.

On March 1, Ash Wednesday, I had written: I can't escape the pull to a Lenten season of repentance and reflection. But, as usual, I have been unsure of what shape that will take for me. Is it sacrifice? Discipline? Service? Bible study? Fellowship? Does it have to be daily or can it evolve over the 40 days, not including Sundays, leading up to Easter.


One of the disciplines I pondered was to let go of a bag of stuff for each of the 40 days. This may seem like a superficial act to some, but as I went through some of my possessions that first day in an effort to fill the bag, I was aware time after time how I cling to things, and only by focusing on God's love through Christ could I make the decision to just put it in the bag.

As recently as the morning of Good Friday, I thought it was possible I would fill some more bags -- and reaching the goal of 40 did not seem unreasonable, although I knew I could also be satisfied to fill the equivalent of one per week (six). But before the day ended, perhaps after attending the Good Friday service, I was back to realizing I likely would not fill another bag.

(For the record, I just tallied what I had done all those days ago, and it's even less than I thought: One large paper bag and three and a half plastic grocery bags. I also took a bag full to Goodwill, and there's one other large bag that my husband and I filled together.)

And then, this morning, I TOOK THREE THINGS OUT of one of the bags I had filled!!! Later, I went shopping. I bought greeting cards, Easter trinkets and two hairbands. So, instead of getting rid of stuff, I bought more.

But I took three of the cards and the trinkets as I visited women who are in care facilities or homebound. One did not respond to my knock on the door, so I left the card and Easter cross at the front desk. The other two eagerly greeted me and we shared smiles and laughs and encouragement. One said my visit turned her day around as she was starting to feel discouraged. The other said my stopping by was perfectly timed, and I was able to retrieve her letters and magazines from the mailbox.

I'm not sure what to make of all that, but I am certain it was more important today for me to make those visits than to attempt to fill more bags with stuff I no longer need.

"Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:26-27

Meanwhile, I read the Upper Room and a Lenten devotional each day and unexpectedly joined a Lenten book study at church, but I lapsed on the disciplines of two habits I was trying to form. One involves putting even routine things on my calendar to help structure my day, and the other involves a spreadsheet that helps me set daily and longer-term goals and assess my  progress.

The lapse in the written disciplines came at the same time I realized I might not fill another bag, which was during or right after a weeklong trip to Houston and other parts of Texas. And as is always the case for me, I'm having a very hard time getting back on track with these endeavors. But I haven't given up.

As I wrote March 8: But before Ash Wednesday was over, I had failed my loftiest goals. And by the end of the second day, I had failed to achieve what seemed like a very doable daily goal. So, I realized again the value of "progress not perfection." ... A big part of how I experience humility is through having to let go of perfectionism. The process continues.

I also found myself hopeful that the spiritual focus of Lent would help me regain a sense of purpose or direction that has been missing even before I lost my job. While writing March 22, I was reminded of the importance of pursuing my passion. What came to mind then, as it has before, was that "my passion is to help and encourage others. ... I want to write. I want to sing, And I want to help and encourage others, to God's glory."

By the end of the week, I had written it into a goal and had hopes of starting to take action I knew would  be required to achieve it. But all these days later, no real progress has been made and I have even found myself questioning whether it was a realistic goal.

Yet, this still seems true: I need to write encouraging words. That's what I've been doing, but it hasn't seemed significant. But maybe that's because I haven't believed in its merit. ....
Of course, I also wrote down this truth:  I have to live my life one day at a time. So, even though I wrote my goal down as something I hope to achieve for an event next March, I cannot take much time thinking about the results. I'll be busy enough planning what I need to do and then doing it.

That brought me back around to something worthy to let go of, and not just during Lent: Even as I plan and even if and when I take action, I cannot control the results. ... I tend to think of myself as a people-pleaser, which at least at first glance seems the opposite of controlling, but when I saw this in "Jesus Calling," I was convicted: "THIS IS A TIME in your life when you must learn to let go: of loved ones, of possessions, of control. In order to let go of something that is precious to you, you need to rest in My Presence, where you are complete. ... As you relax more and more, your grasping hand gradually opens up, releasing your prized possession into My care."

Is it sacrifice? Discipline? Service? Bible study? Fellowship?


I've had unexpected, surprising and rewarding opportunities for fellowship. Many required me to get out of my comfort zone. And, as my faith grows, it's getting a little less uncomfortable to do so.

It's often a challenge for me to interact with others without meddling. I often have to ask prayerfully: Is this God's plan? Or is this just me trying to control a situation and do what I want to do? I never do it without praying, including a request that God stop me from intruding if it's not His will. Still, it's not always clear. And I'm very aware that it doesn't follow the rules of etiquette. But I also know that God's ways are not always our ways and don't always follow the rules of man or etiquette experts.

From March 31: I'm grateful to realize I'm also having more success at inviting others to join me. I just remembered another case in which I will follow through tomorrow. Reaching out, whether to invite someone to join me or to ask if I can join  someone else, requires me to face some fears and self-doubt, which I can only do by trusting in God. And He is always faithful to be present with me if I will allow him to.


By April 8, I was again more aware of my shortcomings than my strengths. Writing helped me to remember what I want and need to focus on: Purpose. Priorities. Passion. Persistence. Progress not perfection. Payoff. Production. Perseverance. Prayer. Praise. To the glory of God, by whom we know, via Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Self-doubt returned in force by April 12, this time regarding singing. I don't know how to practice to get better. I just go by instinct. Is that God's best for me -- and I just need to go with it and trust Him with it? Or am I being lazy and unfocused?


“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” Psalm 62:8
As I'm trying to focus and wrap this up for 2017, I turn to what I wrote last year. I know I have done many worthwhile things spiritually as well as practically, but I still seem to be at this exact same place.

As happens at least half of the time for me when the contemplation of Lent gives way to the celebration of Easter, this is a year when I know I still have a lot of work to do. I don't recall Lamentations 3 as being a key part of the Holy Week liturgy in the past, but it has come up several times this year. And how grateful I am for it.  "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."   (Lamentations 3:22-23)

So, as I prepare to again celebrate the gift of God who gave His only Son to die on a cross  to pay the debt for my sins -- and did not let Him stay in the grave -- my heart is filled with gratitude but also, I pray, humility. Now if I can just take the next step, to obedience. Not my will, but Yours, Lord, I pray.

Maybe this year I will.



"God has not given me a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7)

"I can be strong and courageous. I will not be afraid or tremble, for the Lord goes with me. He will not fail or forsake me." (Isaiah 41:10)

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Together4Good

All things work together for good for those who believe ...  

I've seen this spiritual truth in new light. 

The strong cord of two people working together. Better together.  Together for good. And grateful to be working together for good. 

This awareness came to me as I thought about my continual  starts and stops. My inconsistency. 

Remembering what I want and need to focus on:

Purpose. Priorities. Passion. 
Persistence. Progress not perfection. 

Payoff. Production. 
Perseverance.

Prayer. 
Praise. 

To the glory of God, by whom we know, via Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Seriously, even on April Fools'

Things aren't always what they seem.

When I read on Facebook on Friday night that my church's pastor of 10 years was leaving, one of the thoughts that came to mind at seeing it announced that way was, Can this be true? As a friend who was with me suggested, since it was March 31, maybe this was an early April Fools' joke.

And I'm thinking, yeah, maybe. He does have a wry sense of humor. But I kept thinking, this is not something to joke about. Too many people would take it very seriously and might not be very forgiving.

But if it was serious, for it to be announced on Facebook just seemed "off," not right. And if it was a joke, something's off with that, too.

My friend and I couldn't decide what to make of this announcement, but we both decided we would pray about it. And we did.

I called my husband as I drove home and talked about it some. Times have changed, and maybe this is an OK way to make an announcement now. But it still didn't seem right that it was on a public page instead of something first just to the church.

It wasn't long before I was home. I went in the house. On the kitchen counter, I saw my mail, and, oh yeah, there's that envelope from the church. I recalled thinking, when I brought the letter into the house before I left for the evening, that they were probably asking for something -- money, maybe, or perhaps they have a position to fill. I realize I had made some assumptions when I saw it. So now, back home, I opened it, and sure enough, it was a letter dated March 30 in which my pastor said he was sad to announce that he was being moved to a different church.

So, I was like, OK, God, ha ha, I was just at a program on faith and anxiety and trusting God. And without a doubt, that already had put me in a frame of mind and spirit where I wasn't fearful or anxious about this unexpected news. I was just curious. And I was praying. My friend and I were  praying. We were like: We don't know what's going on, but we're lifting up Jim and April and our church and the church it says he's going to and everyone involved. And then when I got home and read this (and it was also in  the newsletter that had arrived via email), it was just clear that God was in charge.

I had it in my hands. I didn't open it. I think clearly, I can see, that was God's intent. I mean, it was in my hand and I did not open it. So, I think that timing was divine.

I know that when I write about these things, I need to be careful in determining: Why am I wanting to write about this? Is this of God? As I try to work past a multiyear bout of writer's block, my tendency is to hold back from fear or doubt about what people will think. I haven't regained my writing "voice" and I have more doubt than confidence about the merit of my prose. But with faith in God, I can be fearless before man.  So, I seek to pray and discern: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? Is it positive?

I guess my point this time, as I wrote at the beginning, is that things aren't always what they seem. And that's OK. Yesterday provided many opportunities for me to practice and grow my faith. And it provided me another exercise for trying to figure out what I want to write about and how. (I think I fared better on the former than the latter, but they intertwine.)

I've still got quite a way to go in both endeavors! Gratefully, and armed with faith, tonight I view them without fear or anxiety.

I want God to find me faithful, grateful, on my knees (from the song "Find Me," that was part of today's First 15 devotional).

Friday, March 31, 2017

Audacious? Presumptuous? Opportunistic? Or just faithful?

As this month winds down, I've noticed some habits I'm not sure what I think of.

I catch myself saying "Nah" rather than "no" or "No, thank you," "No, sir" or "No, ma'am."

I invite myself places. I did it again today. The results turn out good for me, but I'm sure it violates all the rules of etiquette. I try to make it clear to the other person that they can say no, if he or she would rather me not come along, and sometimes that's what they do.

It just seems like if I wait for someone to invite me, I'll end up doing things alone or not at all. 

What I've noticed about this is that it's easier for me to ask if I can go along to someone else's event than it is for me to invite someone to come to mine. That's partly because when I have invited someone, it usually hasn't worked out, which makes it harder for me to try again. Plus, I'm always doubting whether anyone would really be interested in what interests me. (Bassmaster Classic, anyone? I actually had a pleasant surprise when friends did accept my invitation and enjoyed getting to know about this distinctive fishing event.)

On today's deal, I could have just shown up on my own, but since I know someone who had indicated on Facebook that she was going, I called her to confirm. That's how I ended up inviting myself to be her guest.

Another part of it is that it really does seem like God put this opportunity in front of me. I had been wanting to see the friend. I missed my regularly scheduled spiritual gatherings this week. Through Facebook, I became aware of Ladies Night at her church, with the program on Fear and Anxiety. And then my husband planned a quick trip that would take him away from home overnight, so I would have been alone for the evening.

But was it really God's plan? Or was this just me trying to control a situation and do what I wanted to do? The fact that I called my friend was pretty far from the norm for me and a clue that divine intervention was involved.

What continued to happen as the evening progressed provided further evidence to me that none of this was coincidence. The meeting's prayer focus and my renewing of a bond of friendship will strengthen me as I move through a period of transition (typically a major source of fear and anxiety) in important areas of my life.

Looking back at where I started this, I'm sure I'm OK with being aware of those habits. The first one, my casual way of saying no, should be fairly easy to correct now that I have it in mind. "No, thank you" will be my preferred response.

As for inviting myself to do things with other people, I choose to see it as following the prompting of God. I never do it without praying, including a request that God stop me from intruding if it's not His will. Still, it's not always clear. And I'm very aware that it doesn't follow the rules of etiquette. But I also know that God's ways are not always our ways and don't always follow the rules of man or etiquette experts.

I'm grateful to realize I'm also having more success at inviting others to join me. I just remembered another case in which I will follow through tomorrow. Reaching out, whether to invite someone to join me or to ask if I can join  someone else, requires me to face some fears and self-doubt, which I can only do by trusting in God. And He is always faithful to be present with me if I will allow him to,

"God has not given me a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7)

"I can be strong and courageous. I will not be afraid or tremble, for the Lord goes with me. He will not fail  or forsake me." (Isaiah 41:10)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Could this be it?

Last week, I wrote about feeling directionless and lacking purpose.

I always try to come up with a positive spin for whatever I write, but I'm pretty sure I was acting as if, and that my hopeful tone last Wednesday night was wishful thinking.

But guess what? Pursuing that positive spin may have paid off again.

By Saturday afternoon, I had written down a goal that still excites me four days later. I've even considered some of the steps and discipline it will take to achieve the goal. I will need some new skills and to refresh and refine some old ones.

Can this old cat learn new tricks? I don't know. I won't find out until I begin the process.

Today, I started seeing how working toward that goal will not only give me a sense of purpose, but achieving the goal could yield some results that none of my previous best efforts could produce.

I have to live my life one day at a time. So, even though I wrote my goal down as something I hope to achieve for an event next March, I cannot take much time thinking about the results. I'll be busy enough planning what I need to do and then doing it.

Something I read last Friday (before the goal came to me on Saturday) is instructive here. Even as I plan and even if and when I take action, I cannot control the results.

What I read Friday helped me identify control (more precisely, the desire to be in control of my life) as a prized possession! I tend to think of myself as a people-pleaser, which at least at first glance seems the opposite of controlling, but when I saw this in "Jesus Calling," I was convicted: "THIS IS A TIME in your life when you must learn to let go: of loved ones, of possessions, of control. In order to let go of something that is precious to you, you need to rest in My Presence, where you are complete. ... As you relax more and more, your grasping hand gradually opens up, releasing your prized possession into My care."

Writing and posting this is an important step of letting go and trusting God.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

In pursuit of passion

Once again, I found myself in a moment of feeling directionless, wondering what my purpose is. And very soon,  just going through the actions of my day, I found words that reminded me the importance of pursuing my passion.

But what is my passion?

Today's reading from a 12-step devotional (Overeaters Anonymous' "Voices of Recovery") triggered thoughts.

"To recognize where my passion is."

I've thought this before, and it's what comes to mind again: My passion is to help and encourage others. But how?

Among my desires: I want to write. I want to sing. And I want to help and encourage others, to God's glory.

But how? I'm still stuck, but today it seems a little clearer: I need to write encouraging words. That's what I've been doing, but it hasn't seemed significant. But maybe that's because I haven't believed in its merit.

The turned-back page on my other daily OA devotional ("For Today") sent me back to this that I had flagged from yesterday:


Yesterday is when I was questioning my purpose. Why am I here, on this trip to Houston accompanying my husband, who is working?

These words helped so much: "Today, I consider a day well spent if I have enjoyed something I once took for granted ... when I see a self-defeating habit go ... when I risk closeness ... when I forget what I have to do and let myself feel the moment."

I can't point to a particular thing about yesterday that this applied to, but it is a perspective that changes everything and renews my hope. And it pushed me toward this writing, which I'm pretty sure is a step toward recognizing my passion and letting it loose in a positive way, to God's glory.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Desire for discipline

I'm more about living than writing right now. But I haven't given up on writing, so I keep coming back here, as an act of discipline.

And that reminds me of one of the themes I thought of exploring recently: "Desire and Discipline," which was the title of a sermon Feb. 19 by the Rev. Jim Shepherd at Goodrich United Methodist Church.

When I wrote the word "discipline" above in regard to my writing routine, the word "desire" came to mind, courtesy of that sermon title. And it made me think of how, as Jim preached from a more theological perspective, the place my thinking went to was writing.

I often have desire. I much less often have discipline.

Among my New Year's goals was to write more. I planned to schedule at least 30 minutes for writing most days. It took a while, but eventually I started doing it.

It takes time for new actions to become a habit or routine.

The thing I've noticed recently is that not only is it hard for me to get started at something new; it's hard for me to keep at it. Even when I like the process and the results of new actions, it's not unusual for me to notice a week or two later that I've lapsed. I can think of at least three such instances in which this has happened regarding major goals, including writing, since the start of the year.

What I'm trying to do now as I work on becoming more disciplined and structured is, when I realize I've let something lapse that is important to me, to get it back on my list!

The list itself is one of the new disciplines or practices I'm trying to do. The WOOP* (Wish-Outcome-Obstacle-Plan) approach I'm using encourages me to write what I hope to be the outcome; list what I see as possible obstacles; and articulate my plan for fulfilling the wish.

I've added to my spreadsheet a line for the results. Several days, I had gotten to where I was just writing the wishes/goals and the results. But after I realized I was missing the middle steps, I've returned to the full practice.

At my best, I also include another extra step: scheduling some of the most important goals onto my day's calendar. Working on all these steps helps me to prioritize and reprioritize throughout the day, and that helps me to be more effective. And that brings me a sense of peace that I've desired for a long time.

Now, as a person of lifelong Christian faith and a member of a 12-step recovery program for most of my adult life, it might seem I should be far beyond needing such rigorous structure outside of either of those affiliations.  And I certainly don't want it to sound like this WOOP and scheduling structure is the answer. It's really  just a tool that I am able to use as a result of continuing efforts to grow as a person of faith, seeking to know and do God's will, to His glory.

* I found the WOOP method, created by psychology professors Gabriele Oettingen and Dr. Peter Gollwitzer of New York University, in an article by Melody Wilding via Quartz Ideas.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Letting go of perfectionism

As often happens and, in fact, I predicted, this year's experience of Lent seems to be taking its own shape.

It seems like the start of Lent is no different than the start of a new year or other such beginning when it comes to my tendency to set a standard to which I hope to adhere perfectly.

But before Ash Wednesday was over, I had failed my loftiest goals. And by the end of the second day, I had failed to achieve what seemed like a very doable daily goal.

So, I realized again the value of "progress not perfection."

I still have hopes of filling at least 40 bags of things to let go of (including trash) during Lent.

But following the letter of my law isn't the most important thing.

A big part of how I experience humility is through having to let go of perfectionism. The process continues.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The pull of repentence and reflection

I didn't really plan to write today, but here I am.

Ash Wednesday. I can't escape the pull to a Lenten season of repentance and reflection. But, as usual, I have been unsure of what shape that will take for me. Is it sacrifice? Discipline? Service? Bible study? Fellowship? Does it have to be daily or can it evolve over the 40 days, not including Sundays, leading up to Easter.

A friend's Facebook post stayed with me all day:

"The purpose for Ash Wednesday, ushering in Lent, is to repent of our sins and to reflect on our Lord and Savior and His great gift to us by saving us by His grace alone from the wrath of a righteous God. It is NOT to promote a political agenda or a perceived social issue. Once we move the focus from God, His Love and Grace and our repentance and reflection, we are promoting falsity. It is time for a reawakening of the churches who have strayed from God's Will and Purpose."

One of the disciplines I have pondered is to let go of a bag of stuff for each of the 40 days. This may seem like a superficial act to some, but as I went through some of my possessions earlier today in an effort to fill the bag, I was aware time after time how I cling to things, and only by focusing on God's love through Christ could I make the decision to just put it in the bag.

I was also aware after filling one  bag that I couldn't even tell anything was missing from my possessions. And that's often what it's like after I've spent time trying to get honest and prayerful  about my sins and shortcomings and asking God to help me release them to Him, to His glory. Even when I take a step of progress in this area, the magnitude of faults and shortcomings still seems overwhelming.

During the Ash Wednesday service at church, I prayed to know what God would have me do. On the way home, I was thinking about how fasting is mentioned as part of the spiritual discipline for Lent. Here it was 7:45 p.m., and I hadn't chosen to "fast" anything. It occurred to me I could sacrifice my evening snack. And guess what? I was not willing to do that. So I rationalized that giving up some of my possessions (so far, clothes, shoes and bags) that I've clung to is a type of fast. But I'm not convinced.

The Lenten devotional I started with today is one published by United Methodist Women. The theme is "Wearing the Mantel of Faith." I'm new to the UMW, so I don't really know what to expect from its Lenten focus.  And now I see that may not be a series. So ... I have no idea what my reading focus will  be tomorrow.

As it turns out, it looks like this Lenten journey will be another evolution. I really don't know where it will take me. But I am confident where it will lead me: to Easter and a renewed spirit of faith in the Risen Christ and the power of God's sacrificial gift of love for me.