Early morning darkness…..

pexels-photo-813269.jpegI often awaken in the very early morning hours. As the darkness tries unsuccessfully to lull me back to sleep, I find another kind of darkness overwhelming me–the darkness of worry. My mind races from one worry to another–family, finances, approaching retirement, success or failure as a writer. Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow, for today has enough for us to bear. I get that. But, I’m still a worrier.

My early morning reading has been in the book of Hebrews for the past several days. Yesterday I read the chapter listing the heroes of faith. Today I read the chapter on discipline. How much of my worry might have been avoided if I had made better decisions in the past? Are some of my troubles God’s way of getting my attention focused back on Him?

My husband says I am a really busy person. He’s right. And, a lot of my busy-ness involves activities at church. But how much of me is just busy and not truly obedient to and focused on God?Am I going through the motions without true spiritual investment?  It’s something to think about.

I just know that every day I pray for relief from the constant worry. I pray for the discipline and strength to turn off the negative thoughts. Some of you may share my tendency to ruminate over past decisions and anticipate future misfortunes and just generally worry. Be assured that you’re not alone in the struggle. This passage in Jeremiah is one of my favorites.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Thank you, Lord. I needed that.

 

The journey continues. . .

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This is the way my morning begins–on good days. The Bible is only 21 years old this year but the leather cover is frayed from being carried in a “Bible cover” for many years. Virtually every page in it is highlighted and marked with sermon notes in the margins. It is well-worn. Kind of like me.

Having reached that point in life where one reviews where one has been, the things one has done, the accomplishments achieved, I have found myself struggling over the past few months. Have you ever felt that there was something that you were absolutely meant to do through some divine plan but found apparent roadblocks at every turn? That’s me!

My first calling to a profession came when, through a series of unusual events, I ended up in a baccalaureate nursing program. I graduated in 1978 and have spent the past 40 years working in the profession in one role or another. There were some times of turmoil and transition as I found my way to my current role as a nurse practitioner. I stepped into that role 21 years ago and have never regretted the move. Throughout it all, nursing has been very good to me. And I’m not quite ready to give it up, yet!

But hidden in my heart was the dream of being an author. I’ll confess, early on I was just thinking that I could write a romance novel as good as, if not better, than many I read. But somehow I just couldn’t bring myself to put that steamy stuff on paper with my name attached! Then the amorphous dream congealed into a path that truly felt like a calling. That’s the road my journey has taken me down now. But it’s a road filled with roadblocks and potholes and breakdowns.

You see, I have found my niche as a writer.But actually having the faith that success will come is a struggle. I long to rest in Jeremiah 29:11–

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

My goal as a writer? To portray the truth that God pursues us in the ultimate love story, our journey through the triumphs and tragedies of life, wooing us back into a walk with Him whenever we lose our way. Sometimes when times are really good, I forget to acknowledge that all good things come from Him, not just from my efforts. And, sometimes, when terrible pain or loss occurs, the mental and physical and spiritual exhaustion has left me floundering, trying to regain my footing on the solid foundation of faith that this life requires.

For some reason, God has given me stories in my head and heart. Stories that speak to the real problems that everyday people experience. Stories that speak to the only real solution to those problems, a return to faith. But the struggle to be traditionally published, to market the work already done, and to have the resources to continue this journey often gets me down.

A couple of the devotions I read during my early morning quiet times recently spoke to me in a special way. One spoke to the issue of being a “recovering” perfectionist. I qualify. So often I am stalled by the search for perfection, when I just need to be writing and doing. I’m working on that. My house is not as clean as I kept it 20 years ago. I can say “no” when asked to do something that I just don’t have time for. I don’t struggle with my appearance like I did when I was younger.

The other was titled “The Day I Stopped Believing.” It spoke of a time that the author had experienced terrible life struggles and began feeling that, although God answered prayer for other people, He just didn’t hear or heed hers. I haven’t stopped believing in prayer or in good things happening. But the patience to wait for God’s timing is wearing thin. My dad told me many times that I needed to “learn patience.” I’m not there, yet, Daddy.

For those who have read all the way to the end of these ramblings, thank you! For me, it is easier to write than talk it out. Maybe a reader or two can relate to my struggles. Hang in there. As my boss says, “Tie a knot and hang on!”

 

 

 

 

Where do I land?

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Through the mist darkly

 

I love the woods behind our home. There is so much history here. My husband and his siblings were born and raised on this land, and they all tell stories of playing in these woods. My grandson has grown up here and has learned some survival skills as he’s camped with his friends. This place is part of me. 

I’ve been pondering how to explain my journey as a writer. I feel myself changing and the longing to write becomes stronger every day. With the early posts on this blog and the first book I published, I think my purpose was clouded with the mist and fog of lack of clear vision, like the picture above. My words may have entertained and offered insight into faith and some social issues without any realization of my true purpose in writing.

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An interloper intrudes

And then my journey, my development,  was distorted by distractions and intrusive thoughts of fear of failure and inadequacy in managing the constellation of things required of successful writers. Sometimes these feelings and struggles are still overwhelming. I am struggling to overcome them. 

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Light shines through

This past fall I experienced somewhat of epiphany, a serendipidous moment when my vision cleared. I started work on a book, not the typical Four Corners format, and, as I was pitching it to an agent at the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference in September, I suddenly knew the kind of stories that I want to be writing and publishing and known for. They are, indeed, inspirational and contemporary and romances. But the basic vision for this endeavor, a mission statement, if you will, came to me.

I want to tell stories that make clear the greatest love story of all, the ultimate romance, the Christian faith. That romance is God reaching out to man with love and grace and mercy and wooing us into a true, loving, faith relationship with Him. And, as we experience the mountaintops and valleys of the Christian walk, sometimes we drift away or even turn away from God. Sometimes we become angry when tragedies come out way. We often wonder why and question God. Yet , through it all, in spite of all, He faithfully woos us back. You see–that is the greatest love story, the ultimate romance.

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Peace

I have a new peace about my writing efforts. Whether I experience worldly success or not, if I write stories that picture God’s love relationship with man and even one person is touched by each story, I will be fulfilling what God has called me to do. Because I do believe writing is just as much a calling as nursing has been. He opens different doors thoughout our lives. I pray for strength and inspiration to continue this journey.

And, to each of you who read this through, thank you for letting me share my journey with you.

 

When do I land?…..

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The flying nurse was given to me years ago by very good friends, in honor (I think), of my somewhat long and varied nursing career. For many years nursing was a central focus of my life. In the 70’s I was considered a nontraditional nursing student in my baccalaureate program at a Christian university. After all, I was one of four married students in my class and the only one with two small children. After graduation my love for the profession only grew stronger. I felt called to be a nurse, and nursing has been very good to me. After fifteen years I furthered my education with a master’s degree, and I have enjoyed some of the best years of nursing in my current role as a nurse practitioner.

But the flighty nurse pictured above is rather wild-haired and exotic looking, don’t you think? Which was definitely NOT me in my more sedate past, my nursing-focused past. Not that I’m a wild child now (I guess it would be second childhood at my age?). But I do feel so much more free to just be me. The years have opened me up to other pursuits. Teaching children at church. Singing in church groups. More adventurous, although still classic southern, cooking. Trying to morph into the role of family matriarch.

You might mentally hang some more accoutrements to the nurse figure to make her more like the current “me”. A laptop would be nice. A Bible. Some family photos. A couple of little Schnauzers bouncing around. Some pots and pans. Musical notes, because I really enjoy singing (and do wish I could play an instrument). Grown grandchildren laughing at their Nana. Preschool great-grand and two on the way.

Three things have contributed to the change in me. The first is life lived. I’m not a secretive person, so many of you have read in this blog of the challenges and tragedy that has befallen our family. But the other side of the coin is the grace and peace with which God balances the ledger. There have been victories that encourage and reassure and inspire. The best part of my 67 years is that my faith grows stronger everyday.

The other change agent is writing. The opportunity to share a little of my life with you, to encourage others who may struggle with the same hurts and disappointments that we have faced, to tell stories that come from somewhere in my heart and head–what a blessing that is for me! Because that process has grown my faith, too. I only know one way to survive the things life throws at us, and that is with God, and reiterating that truth through blog and books strengthens my understanding and my resolve to persevere.

And last I must mention the blessing of knowing and working with very special mentors and friends and coworkers. There’s a reason that the last twenty years have been so special, and that reason involves the people I have been privileged to work with (and look forward to working with for a least a while longer!). I do not take for granted your influence on my life. I doubt that I would be able to face the challenges that life presents without your example and encouragement. Thank you.

I intended to share the “flighty nurse” figure to point out that I feel like 2017 has been me flitting from one task, one disaster, one disappointment, one assignment to another. I am hoping that the wild-haired nurse will get her act together and that 2018 will be a bit more organized. But I’m not counting on it.

Happy New Year!

Life goes on for the residents of Four Corners. Read about their loves, trials, tragedies, and struggles of faith in volumes I and II of the Four Corners series, set in fictional small-town Arkansas.

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Memories…….

 

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Dear Daniel,

I found this picture the other day. It’s the way I like to remember you. Full of life and laughter and love. I still wonder sometimes if anything could have been done to save you. Fishing season this year I so longed to see you on the pond bank pulling a big bass from the water. Hunting season is here and I miss your excitement about it. You made such a production of planning and preparation and then the joy of the hunt.

Losing you changed us all. We still grieve. We still feel guilty at times. You would be, I think, I little irritated but a lot proud of me now. It’s been a long time since I’ve posted a blog. You were the one who prodded me to keep doing it. Therefore, you would be giving me a call to remind me that it is time for another post. I missed getting that call so badly!You were so proud of me when Freely Given was published. You wanted a signed (bad) proof copy that required corrections, acting like you were convinced that it would someday be of value. Now Colorado’s Choice is coming out, and you’re not here to cheer me on.

My writing has changed. My conversation has, too. Bringing suicide into awareness has become my soapbox. I share our story a lot. I don’t think it’s to get sympathy. I am just compelled to open the discussion, focus attention, direct people to sources of help, both to prevent suicide and to help survivors heal. I wish no other mother would ever have to lose a child in this way. I wish no other family would have to experience this pain. I long to be present and a source of support and comfort for those who fear a loved one’s suicide and for those who are living the nightmare.

You are always in my heart and thoughts. I see you in every picture of Kaci and Lorelai and recognize your love for the outdoors in your daughter’s joy as she becomes a “country” girl. Your craftsmanship is evident everywhere in this house. What creative gifts you had! I heard an author/speaker describe heaven as a place where we still use our God-given gifts. I hope that is so. It’s such a shame to waste yours.

I love you, Son,

Mom

 

 

 

Father’s Day…………

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My dad passed away September 19th, 1996. I was doing my clinical year in my Master’s program preparing to be a Family Nurse Practitioner. He had been critically ill  previously that year and was in chronic pain because of long-term steroid use for temporal arteritis. Steroids are used to prevent blindness with this disorder, but steroids are a two-edged sword. His degenerative disc disease caused back pain that had grown harder and harder to control, and he had started taking large of amounts of Tylenol with codeine for relief.

During one of his previous illnesses he had become profoundly hypotensive early on morning, with a blood pressure of 60/40. My mom was asleep in the room while I sat with him, wondering if he would die that night. About 3 in the morning he was awake and looking intently up toward the ceiling. He asked what time it was and then muttered, “What are they doing up there?” Call me crazy, but I think he had a glimpse toward the other side.

Prior to that, I had always believed that he had a near death experience with his second open heart surgery. We were told that they “had trouble getting him off the pump”. When we visited in the CVICU the first time, he was still intubated with all the lines and tubes and such. But he was awake. As we spoke to him, his finger moved restlessly over his right abdomen and groin area. My mom thought he was hurting at the site where they had done his heart cath prior to surgery. But, as I watched closely, it became apparent that he was writing, “I love you.” He had not been a demonstrative father. However, after that surgery, he ended every visit with “I love you.”

The week before he died, he was scheduled for an epidural injection to try to relieve his back pain. But when he presented for the procedure, his INR (the measure of Coumadin activity in his blood–he was on the anticoagulant because of chronic atrial fibrillation with its risk for stroke) was too prolonged. Some people would say his blood was “too thin.” We went back home with his pain unrelieved.

The day before his death I took him and Mom to lunch at a little café in Judsonia. Like I said, I was finishing my clinicals that fall, and Wednesday was my day off. We had lunch and, as I was dropping them off at their house, he reached in his pocket and pressed something into my hand. It was a hundred-dollar bill. “Daddy, I’m fine. I don’t need this,” I protested. He firmly insisted that I take it. “I want you to have it.” He was proud of my efforts to complete my education. He didn’t live to see me graduate.

Early Thursday morning my phone rang. It was Mom calling for help. “Your dad’s coughing up bright red blood–a lot of it. I don’t know what to do.” I hurriedly dressed and drove the short distance to their house, the house I’d grown up in. When I walked in the bedroom, he greeted me with a hoarse, “A man can’t live like this.” He was pale and tremulous and actively coughing up blood. It was 3 in the morning.

I told him whatever he needed to do was all right, that we would be with him. An ambulance was called, and he was transported to the hospital with the request not to resuscitate if his heart stopped. At the hospital we found that, although he had not taken any Coumadin in days, his INR had continued to climb. He was bleeding into his lungs. The doctor said we might be able to slow things down if we gave him platelets and blood and such, but I knew he was ready to go. My mom and I elected comfort care. We stood beside him, holding his hand and talking to him as he wanted to talk, as he was given some medication to keep him comfortable. He was moved to the CCU for his last hours.

His last words to me were, “I love you, more than you know……” and those words have become my words to tell my children and grandchildren and great-grandchild how much they are loved. As he died, my dad raised slightly in the bed and gazed toward the ceiling. As the light left his eyes, I knew he was joining those who had come to take him home with them.

He was at peace, and so was I. But I miss him still. Thank you for being my dad. For loving me and supporting me in all I did. I love you, Dad, more than you know……….

My life is a circus……..

The classic Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus gave its last performance last month. How sad! But I am here to tell you that the three-ring circus is alive and well, at least in my life…….

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The first ring of my three-ring circus is my role as a tightrope walker. The pressures of living as a baby-boomer, sandwich generation, healthcare professional and aspiring writer keep me precariously balanced. Add to that the pressure of longing to be a Proverbs 31 woman who could care for and provide for her family with the ultimate devotion and skill while serving the Lord and her community selflessly. She lived with a higher purpose, leaving a legacy for her family. She was a master at cultivating family relationships and friendships, old and new, with the ultimate hospitality. And she was to do it all in a 24/7 time frame! Do you think that life is even possible? I find myself constantly longer to be better, accomplish more, live my writing dream. Having impossible goals is not fun! It sets one up for a chronic sense of failure. Even though I know I do accomplish so much, it seems there is always more to be done. My expectations of self set me up to feel inadequate, even as I know that I am doing the best I can. I long to be like a woman of the “greatest generation” who could do so much with so little, for whom hard work was the essence of life. And I have heroes like Mrs. Mildred Sterling, who until just a few years ago was teaching Sunday School as she approached the age of 100 years. Or Mrs. Mary Formby, an extraordinary soul who excelled in intellect, hospitality, grace, and faith. I only hope that at the end of my life I, too, will be able to say as Paul did (and, as Mrs. Formby surely could and as Mrs. Sterling will) :

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  2 Timothy 4:7 (NKJV)

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The second ring of this circus is the world we live in, kissing danger (kissing the enemy?) every day. Terror attacks across the globe are common. There seems to be a pervasive streak of personal violence across our land, with daily reports of murders across our communities. And then there is the overarching danger associated with foreign powers trying to disrupt our democracy coupled with the “vanishing American adult” mentality (see Ben Sasse’s book by the same name) that has resulted in the election of a president who has never before served in private office, a president who values his own opinion above all others, a president who makes his own rules, and a president who disregards the time-honored protocols of our justice system, proven relationships with our allies, and simple human decency and honesty. His promise to “drain the swamp” is resulting in the formation of a more ominous swamp fueled by ego, nepotism, disregard for human rights and emotions, and a corporate executive, as opposed to statesman, mentality. The system of checks and balances as envisioned by the founding fathers is no longer checking or balancing power.  Political party lines, instead of ethical and moral truths, have become the guiding force in our nation’s capital. There is widespread lack of understanding of basic civic principles and, therefore, a tendency for many across our nation to apathetically ignore or excuse what is happening in the nation’s capital. Ring #2 multiplies the stresses of ring #1 exponentially. My only hope is to trust that God is in control, and that His plan will prevail.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts. Nor are your ways My ways,” says 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.” (Isaiah 55: 8-9 NKJV)

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Ring # 3 is perhaps the most tragic. For I am seeing in evangelical circles a tendency toward judging others without remembering that we are all sinners, saved only by the grace of a loving God. In the name of Christianity, believers accept the circus in ring #2 as a demonstration of conservative values at work. I am having a crisis of faith. It is not a crisis of whether or not I believe in God. It is not crisis of doubting my salvation. It is a crisis of not understanding how we can call ourselves Christians while demonstrating and endorsing a judgmental and intolerant mentality. It is a crisis of wondering how God’s family can expect everyone to be alike–well-trained Christians who, unprotesting, “go with the flow” instead of demonstrating truly unconditional love for all God’s children, instead of hating the sin, not the sinner, and instead of recognizing the inherent personal rights this country was founded upon. I resist being the well-trained elephant sitting in the pew, obediently accepting everything said and done, silent about my own convictions.  I don’t want to be a well-trained, docile Christian, who never rocks the boat. Maybe sometimes the boat needs to be rocked. I want to be a thoughtful, kind, loving, and faithful member of God’s family, unafraid to recognize, and, if indicated, speak, the truth. Remember, Jesus said:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” Matthew 7:1-2 (NKJV)

AND, when questioned about how to punish an adulterous woman,

…..“He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” John 8:7c (NKJV)

I, for one, am not without sin. But I am troubled and concerned and tired of the circus. I pray for a change of heart in the United States of America. I pray to turning back, not only to God, but to the fundamental truths of democracy upon which this nation was founded and to ethical and moral behavior. The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus may have closed. Let us not let democracy be the next casualty.