calm

There seems to be an increase in doomsday predictions. Naysayers. This is terrible! Focusing on something no one knows anything about except that it will happen loses sight of what’s important.

The here and now.

IMG_1072.JPG

No one knows the future. When people get all in a twist about something nobody knows will happen they make chaos.

Stop it.

IMG_1067.JPGLulu dozing in the shade

Being grounded takes a lot of effort for me. I am easily distracted. But doomsday people have never held any interest for me. Staying focused on what’s important matters. But the end of the world? Why stir everybody up over something no one knows?

IMG_1073.JPG

Maybe this is why I love flowers so much. And trees. They just are. Day after day, season after season, year after year. They are what they were created to be. Some become diseased and die. So do we. Some grow old. Very, very old. So do we. We have seasons. We change. But nature doesn’t freak out over an ice storm. It endures it. Or a hurricane. Their leaves are blown off, they may get drowned but if they live they put out more leaves.

IMG_1084.JPGCardinal

We replace siding, or shingles, or whole roofs, or whole houses. But mostly we face whatever disaster or trouble we get. We have to. Jumping the gun, skipping to the end when the end isn’t here yet, when we don’t even know when the end is, doesn’t make any sense.

IMG_1066.JPGLily staying safe under a bench

So I have to take the end is near people lightly. The end I don’t take lightly, but I have no idea when that will happen. So I need to keep on keeping on and trust God. He knows.

IMG_1090.JPG

That is all that matters. It’s His business, mine is to trust Him.

IMG_1063.JPGLadybug larva

download.jpg

 

download.jpg

 

letters

I love writing letters. Nobody does anymore though, because of email, cell phones. I have two or three friends who write but infrequently. My letters are not erudite or profound. I love receiving letters and answer by return mail.

I admire authors who write entirely through letters. Introspective, expressive words on paper. I am basically socially inept and do better if I write my thoughts. What I put on paper makes more sense than anything I say. I have no idea why it is easier to organize thoughts that way rather than verbally or why I find it easier.

Picture0616181528_1.jpg

I love writing paper, note cards. I have way more than I will likely ever use and I keep buying it. Maybe I can decorate the walls with it. Like those old fashioned roses that used to clutter old wallpaper. When I was growing up we lived in an old drafty farmhouse with 12-foot ceilings, my room was covered from floor to ceiling with these roses. My mother, trying desperately to change me from a lonely tomboy to make me a frilly little girl bought me a little pink wastebasket with dancing white poodles painted on it sparkling with rhinestones. She had my room painted a soft pink and adorned the 6-foot tall windows with filmy sheer curtain panels. I truly missed those roses.

Ironic that I love writing letters now. As a child I was terrible at writing thank-you notes. My godmother taught me a very important lesson about gratitude. She had sent me a pretty scarab bracelet for my birthday and I th.jpgpromised my mother I would write her promptly. I did not and soon after I received a note from her. She said as I had not taken the trouble to thank her for her gift either I had not liked it or was simply ungrateful. Lesson learned. It is always important to let someone know that I appreciate their thoughtfulness.

I never received another gift from my godmother.

Things are way more casual now. Even my family only occasionally acknowledge receipt of gifts so I not only do not know that they received it, I have no idea if they liked it. It’s tempting to take the page from Aunt Adelaide’s book and write a shaken finger letter but I keep thinking how times have changed. It’s rare to find gratitude anywhere, or humility. I suppose expecting to see that is old-fashioned, or too demanding, or takes the fun out of giving gifts (and now there’s re-gifting!).

th.jpg

When did it become uncool to be grateful? Is it the sense of entitlement so many have adopted either from a fear of losing whatever standard of living they have become accustomed to, or because so much is available to so many for so little? And we assume it will always be like this?

I don’t have any answers. Maybe I’m not really looking for answers. It is sad though. When people are grateful there is a sense of appreciation not just for the gift but for the thoughts of the giver. And a sense of joy about the recipient.

I still like to give presents. I can’t help it. I do know without doubt rescue dogs Lily and Lulu are always happily surprised to find an unexpected treat or toy.

And so grateful.

Picture0616181612_1.jpg

broken Love

So I was driving somewhere this week and the radio station I happened to be listening to was asking what people were planning to do with their loved one for Valentine’s Day. One woman said she and her husband never planned anything for Valentine’s Day. Their marriage was one in which their love is such they do not need a special day to show it.

I’d never heard that one before. Impressive.

So much hype comes with days like this– birthdays, anniversaries, remembrances. It doesn’t have to be like this.

After my divorce I was a complete mess. There was a comic strip I used to read, “Beetle Bailey”, this scrawny private in the military constantly being beaten to a pulp by his superior, Sarge. The comic would show this with a flattened remnant of an individual, feet and hands sticking out oddly, a few teeth gone.

That’s what I felt like.

So with whatever was left I decided to self-destruct. I became involved with some unsavory characters. I drank too much. Even though I had a child and managed to look respectable I also struggled hard to dig further into the hole I found myself in. Not sure how bleak I hoped to make it but one morning I woke to see my son standing in the doorway to my bedroom. At that point I realized what I had been doing. Ignoring that which was important. Living in a black pool of anger and resentment regardless of any cost.

So  as I walked into each new day I functioned. I cooked, I cleaned, I took care of my son as far as my brokenness would allow. Hoping no matter what I said or did he could know that the brokenness was not his fault. Hoping he could know love despite the personal chaos I had created. I kept an orderly home, worked, paid bills on time, for all intents and purposes things looked fine. Normal, whatever that is. But inside I was a wreck. No order about my thoughts, just survival. Life. Later in the year my son was visiting his father. I found myself reading a little religious magazine I’d subscribed to but never read. I kept the issues I received bound in rubber bands. No idea why. And one day I came across them.

It was a sunny, fresh day. I took them outside to my condo’s little patio and unwrapped the rubber band. I sat in the warm sun, taking them one at a time I read through each one. Each telling me no matter what God loves me. That His Son died an undeserved, humiliating and unimaginably painful death because my pitiable human life is such that I cannot come before my Creator on my own.  Because of His incredible love His sinless Life died for my sinful one. No matter how bleak, how dark, how distant, how bad. Before I was halfway through reading these little booklets I was in tears. A complete mess, but a good mess. It was the old me, the stubborn, angry, bitter me melting before Him Who came to save me. It was me realizing, understanding maybe for the first time ever that there was nothing I could do or be to make myself good, acceptable, clean. It was me seeing this One, this Perfect One who came to this planet to save all people from self and sin, and He was holding His arms out to me, His heart open as it probably always had been but I never saw it. And in Him I saw true hope.

I walked into those arms. I have never felt lost again. I have been alone but seldom lonely, wrong but He is always quick to forgive when I come to Him honestly and tell Him everything. I have been sad from rejection, from hurt but He has always comforted me. I have been afraid, maybe of something I imagined but afraid just the same and He has given me courage. He strengthens me, nourishes me, refreshes me, guides and instructs me, sustains me.

His love has been since before this world and will be, forever. And He won’t ever let me go.

So even though today or any day I find myself at a place of fogginess where I can’t see the road clearly in front of me I know He is here. I know whatever direction I take, wherever I go He will be with me.

I won’t be perfect. But life will be ok. And it will be right. And true. And real.

Picture0210181032_1.jpgThank You God.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39

 

 

Transforming

So the prediction was certain there would be snow, a lot of snow. How many times the ubiquitous “they” predict, get our hopes up, bread and milk disappear from the grocery store shelves. We have an overabundance of bread and milk.

And no snow.

Years ago in one of my former lives as a travel agent I’d won a trip to Jamaica and my brother, living in Washington, DC at the time, was to accompany me. Something woke me a couple of days before departure. I looked out my patio door and saw white. Snow still falling blanketed everything. A lot of snow. I went to my son’s room and woke him to see. It was very early and we got up and watched a movie while the snow still fell. Ultimately there was about a foot of snow which was truly an anomaly for Charlotte, NC.

Though this snowfall on coastal NC was not like that one, 4 inches of snow with below freezing temperatures settles winter in pretty deep here. They’d salted the roads but we don’t have any snow plows so no real way to deal with ice or snow. We basically wait it out.

It is beautiful. It silences noise. Everything normal is changed. Browns and greys of dormant lawns and plants are covered in shining white. Sunshine gleams and shimmers and makes sparkling glints of diamonds.

Picture0106180658_1.jpg

Rescue dogs Lily and Lulu making first marks

Maybe it is just weather in a different form. But snow gives a chance to see ordinary as extraordinary. It rests over and upon all it touches challenging us to see differently, to think differently. It offers a rest from the usual, opportunity to wonder and delight in new perspectives.

Picture0106180700_1.jpg A sago palm looking like not a sago palm

Though the temperatures will stay well below freezing through this weekend ensuring that, except for what the warming sun melts away the snow will remain. In a few days temperatures will rise and begin to melt all the ice and snow. The nourishment of moisture will seep into the sleeping earth assuring its life.

Jesus enters our hearts as one invited. He completes and embraces from inside. As we tentatively open our hearts to Him, His rich sustenance fills and awakens us. Our lives becomes stronger, kinder, more whole as we reach for more of Him and He through prayer and His Holy Spirit empowers us with more humility, grace, peace.

We ask Him for wisdom, He helps us discern in every aspect of our lives. In speaking and holding our tongues. In thoughts, once critical, judging, fearful become grace, kindness, hope. This is why He died for us. To save us from our sins, from ourselves.

We move forward, stronger, braver. We search and wait for understanding, compassion, truth. As His love shines on us like the sun our anger, hatred, fear, confusion melt and He gives us clarity in truth, courage, grace, love, peace.

There is a never-diminishing source of His grace to which we may return time and again, over and over, receiving his protection and mercy, no matter what. He has promised He will never leave us and He never does.

Thanks be to God.

Picture0106180659_1.jpg

 

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”   –Matthew 7:9-12

 

compassion

So when my brother and I were in high school, he at a boys’ school, I at a girls, we each had similar but different tastes in music. I went for some Rolling Stones, Doors, Led Zeppelin, both of us Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers, but he had some interests that appealed to me as well… Humble Pie, James Gang, Jethro Tull…

“Aqualung”

“Feeling alone, the army’s up the road, salvation a-la-mode and a cup of tea. Aqualung, my friend, don’t you start away uneasy. You poor old sot, you see, it’s only me…. “

We were not hard rockers at all but we did enjoy some of everything. Among of my favorite classical pieces were Dvorjak’s “New World Symphony”, or Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”.

About 20 years ago my dad made a gift to me one summer to study at Oxford University. This was a fascinating little town, not just for its ancient history but the people. Nowhere else have I ever felt more separated from a people who basically speak the same language.

Up early one Sunday morning I walked to a nearby pastry shop for some coffee. On my way there I passed a homeless gentleman swathed in tattered blankets against the lee wall of a brick building just wakening to the sun’s early rays. It was first of June, warmer now and I gently stepped around so as not to startle him.

I bought 2 coffees at the shop, and a small pastry for myself. I added a much larger “pasty”, something like a big kolache, and headed out.

Sitting fully upright now he was awake and I slowed as I neared him, he suspiciously eyeing me with puffy slits for eyes, a toothless mouth slightly agape.

I slowly bent down to hand him my offering.

“I cahn’t drink milk!” he exclaimed.

“It’s coffee,” I replied, softly.

He took the nourishment, tucking them protectively to himself and I wandered on.

Two days ago I stopped in to the grocery store for a couple of items, and added canned goods, some peanut butter for the food pantry box by the door. As I left the store a man on an electric cart rushed me. “Can you spare some change for a sick veteran?”

Surprised I lost the presence of mind to go back into the store and purchase him some food. No idea whether he was either a veteran or sick. He reeked of cigarettes and squinted at me with bleary, bloodshot eyes. So I pulled out a bill and before handing it to him launched into a lecture the likes of which I’d no idea where it came from:

” Ok,” I said, “you are going to set this on fire, aren’t you?” He looked thoroughly confused, shaking his head no as I forged on:

“You will burn this up  by using it to buy cigarettes! I worked hard for this and if I give it to you you’ll just burn it up, won’t you?!”

Still shaking his head he said, “Doctors told me I have 6 months to live, I can’t eat pork, I know I shouldn’t smoke… ” his voice wavered and broke as it faded in futility.

So at this point I’d no choice but to give him something. You see, he could be telling me anything but I engaged in this ridiculous argument with him probably because I knew I should do something and this wasn’t it, but what I needed to do –buy food for him– was not forthcoming. So I handed him the bill and said, “I love you.” After my scathing remarks it was all I could think of. He asked for a hug and I leaned over and carefully circled his frail shoulders asking God to bless him.

How does God bless someone who doesn’t know what that means? Or has so long forgotten kindness and comfort there is nothing left and hope’s ray has turned inward to a bleak heart?

So, my Aqualung, whether you are in Oxford, U.K. or the suburbs of my little coastal town, know you are loved if not by the likes of pitiful me then by the likes of a Power greater than this universe Who loves us all. I pray for the clarity that however I use His resources it is because of His love.

God Bless You.

Picture1123171334_1.jpg

 

Aqualung, Jethro Tull. Island Studios, 1971

Layers

Some of us spend our whole lives putting them on only to find at the end of things we never saw what’s true because we couldn’t see through everything we piled on ourselves. Or what we saw was too skewed to perceive reality. Some layers are coping mechanisms, when we’re children for instance. We don’t want to get in trouble so we show polite faces to grown ups and appear agreeable even when it isn’t what we want. Sometimes these mechanisms are unhealthy like when we should be protecting ourselves but in order to prevent someone else’s anger we pretend. Or we use them to manipulate.

I was never very good at this and the older I get the more outspoken and tactless I seem to be. Well maybe not completely tactless, I do care about not hurting others’ feelings, but sometimes my outspokenness gets me into trouble. It happened at work once when a coworker who loved to boss people around (with no authority to do so) got her hooks in me once too many times and I sling-shotted back. That resulted in a session with our supervisor and, even though we smiled and shook hands and she said apology accepted, I received the cold-shoulder from this woman for the duration of my tenure at this particular workplace.

This kind of thing serves no useful purpose in my mind. Had it been me I would have found some level on which to function with her, not shut her out. All that did was feed the gossip and rumor mills about both of us, our competence or lack thereof and immaturity. It escalated the problem and created an obstructive distraction for others in the department.

It was only at a memorial dinner for my father that she, now long since a former coworker, and whose husband had been a close personal friend of Dad’s, chose to erase the memory. Once more, when greeting her at the dinner I spoke of how sad I was because of my outburst and how inappropriate I knew it to have been and thanked her for joining her husband to honor my dad. She pooh-poohed my concerns leaving me rebuffed yet again.

Well, I did feel some better. I may not completely forget things but I have never been one to hold a grudge. Life can’t happen spontaneously or naturally for those who do I would imagine. You’d keep having to work and rework around that grudge to fan its flames. Which makes one’s life pretty cumbersome and unbalanced. Not to mention hard to keep track of all those subplots.

Too much work.

I guess it’s easy to pontificate now that I am retired. I have peeled off all the work-related layers, those that I chose to carry while I worked. This may well be why I relish being alone, but so far most others I meet, even those retired as I am seem to choose to stay in their costumes, removing and applying them as they see fit to pursue their self-imposed carnival or theater. It must be absolutely exhausting for them!

Not me. Like I said, too much work.

September 11

It’s never going to be just another ordinary day in America. And every year after the first shocking day the threats loom greater.

I was a librarian then (my 5th and final career). One of 4 others as a telephone reference team. I answered a frenetic call from a coworker I thought was calling with some made-up story throwing smoke to hide being late. It wasn’t made up.

We were sent home. At the time I worked in downtown Charlotte, NC a couple of blocks from the Bank of America world hq building so the entire area was evacuated. I’d much rather have stayed at work. Going home I was alone with my thoughts and the television, watching a horror unfold in a disconnected way.

Too stunned to be afraid. I answered the phone, my son’s small voice, “Mom?” His classes had been cancelled, we did not know what to say. Incomprehensible. “America’s going to recover, we may have been knocked down but we won’t stay down.”

Any words sounded terrible and hollow in the face of what was happening, most of which we would not even know the extent of for days. Weeks.

And now 13 years later. We are watching. And praying.

Pss. 16, 18, 23

Gratitude

I am speaking of the humbling side of being grateful. Not so much where I feel so good after a great meal, or time with friends, or that it snowed instead of rained– those are more things that make me happy. I guess it’s easy to blur the lines between real gratitude and being happy. Gratitude can make me happy, being happy can also make me grateful, but I think genuine gratitude is more than that.

These past few weeks I have sought out people who, however long or short ago, have done things that some people might overlook. A passing comment at a point of dispiritedness, an invitation when I felt most alone, or even way back in junior high when I was having a particularly rough time with parents, friends and just general growing up. A classmate’s mom took note of this and, with my mother’s permission, asked if I would like to walk with her in a nearby park, to see whether I would like to talk about things. At first I was pretty confused. This happened at a time when my own parents clearly (and probably deservedly) wanted to disown me. So why was this woman, someone else’s mom for that matter, showing me kindness? It wasn’t until later that I understood. Because no one else was. She did this as a reflection of true grace– something I did nothing to deserve certainly not in light of the trouble I’d gotten into –in herself. Before that time I don’t think I’d ever experienced such kindness. Oh, my grandmother had come to my defense a couple of times when I was little because she wanted to dote on me which is what grandparents do, but this was a lady unrelated to me who saw how alone I was and wanted to reach out to me. So I found my classmate and extended my thanks to her, through him.

Then there was a friend, more the mom of a friend of my son’s, who included me even when it was awkward to include a single mom. She saw me as a person, not just for the baggage I lugged around, the stigmas, the hardships, but beyond all that to who I was as a person. To these people I had dimension in and of myself, not for all that I was dealing with or had happen to me, but for me.

What I hope beyond all these specific memories is that I can recall the others. I am sure there have been many and I don’t want to leave one unacknowledged. How many times where people have dropped little sparkling gems into the waters that immerse my life and I hope someday to thank all of them. Sometimes it may not possible, but in my heart I will if not in some tangible form.

Popular?

Used to be, if a person was known to always tell the truth, be reliable because they did what they said they would do and meant the things they said, they were popular. You could always count on them. But they were too humble to really care they were popular, or too busy, or threw the accolades back onto someone else not to make that person diminish with pride but to encourage them.

What happened? Now people say what they think people want to hear, or want them to say to agree with them, whether it is true to them (or true at all) or not. But once the person has compromised him/herself by supporting whatever the cause or individual it was that wanted their support, however false, it or they disappear! So the person who lied, or compromised or however you’d like to think it for whatever or whomever, is there having to deal with what they did to themselves for something they did not even believe in. They have to undo it. Or live with it which means becoming something they aren’t? No. They have to come back to who they really are, if they are lucky and still have sight of it.

Integrity. That was a word that even though it was not often heard it was a coveted word. But it does not apply to a person who lies, or is not known to be true to themselves or anything else.

When did all this start? Why is popularity so important and why has its focus gone to things that are so meaningless? Is it insecurity? But that which is popular- glamour, youth, wealth, celebrity, style -is not permanent! Money comes and goes, youth fades, styles change, glamour, well that’s always been a matter of opinion, and celebrity is so fleeting no one can be assured of it for very long no matter how well they know how to work it. So why are all these things so important?

What about friendships? I mean the real ones that don’t depend on how you look with a certain person or what that person can do for you but someone you care about because of who s/he is?

If you have all you need what more could you possibly want, and why would you want it?

Just be.  Be true.

And be sure it’s you.

Habakkuk 3:17-19; Psalm 46:10