Lovely things…….

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I admit that people think I am little bit crazy because I like cut flowers in the bathroom, typically a rose in a bud vase. One week I was having an especially difficult time at my job as a nurse practitioner–stressful, exhausting, consuming–and my dear sweet daughter surprised me with the above. Because she knows I like having lovely things to greet me in the morning as I prepare for work and in the evening as I prepare for sleep. And some weeks that’s about the only times I have at home!

In the context of all we’ve been through as a nation the past several months and,  as brought to my attention during my “quiet time” devotional this morning, it struck me that maybe more of us need to be noticing “lovely things” throughout the day, whether working, resting, playing, meditating, praying, worshipping–whatever our minds and bodies and hearts are engaged in. Paul said in his letter to the church at Philippi:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things. Philippians 4:8 NKJV

Our world is so focused on not only the disasters and wars and tragedies that happen everyday, but also on the ugly and evil and negative things that might happen. We often have such an “it’s all about me” attitude about election results or the economy or the way our elected officials govern. Isn’t it time that we paid more attention to the lovely things that God has blessed us with? Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to pursue happiness and prosperity, freedom to work hard and play hard, freedom to think “outside the box”–freedoms for every one of every race, creed, faith, and political perspective.

If we are meditating on true, noble, just, pure, lovely, things–things of good report and virtue and praiseworthiness, might our attitudes and perspective change? We might dwell more on the beauty of God’s creation and less on the ugliness of man’s actions. We might pray for all of our elected leaders, that they would be agents of God’s plan for this country, putting our personal preferences (and votes–whether winning or losing) aside. We might pray for our nation, that we would turn once again to the founding fathers’ vision for it, as well as the belief that “In God We Trust”. We might be kinder, more civil, more courteous people. At least that’s what I believe.

So, if I want flowers in the bathroom, yes, I guess that makes me a little weird. But, if it helps me remember “lovely things”, what’s the harm? And, if it reminds me of the beauty of this world that God has blessed us with, what’s the harm? And, if it reminds me that not everyone is as fortunate as I am and makes me want to serve and help others in any way that I can–is that not a good thing?

The rose isn’t there everyday–that would make it not so special, you see. But, when it is, I am reminded of “lovely things”. And, that helps me be a better me for a better day. Wishing all of you “lovely” thoughts and better days……..

 

 

Words set free…….

Roy, Dale, and Happy Trails………….

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I want a gentler, kinder, more beautiful, spiritual world. I am tired of feeling heartbroken and horrified by the up front and personal view into wars and terrorist attacks and natural disasters that I see on the nightly news. I am overwhelmed by the ugliness of the presidential campaign. When did it become ok for a presidential candidate to use profanity at rallies and debates? I am appalled at the disrespect and hatred of law enforcement that is played out almost daily in demonstrations, riots, and the outright murder of innocent officers, like those simply doing their job in Iowa this past week. The extent of the depths of downright evil that mankind can descend into is beyond my comprehension.

You have to understand that I grew up in a much simpler time. The good guys in the white hats always won. No blood was seen in a Roy Rogers movie. A cowboy could complete an entire fist fight without losing his hat. Remember the theme song? It was a wish, a blessing in song, for the hearers to have happy times.

I can’t quote it, but I do remember singing along with Roy and Dale at the end of each movie or TV segment,”Happy trails to you, till we meet again”. And it was a positive happy song, too simplistic for today’s times–no rap, no amplified instruments. It didn’t even rhyme perfectly. But it made us Roy Rogers fans feel good. There was even a set of rules of behavior for being a member of the “Roy Rogers Riders Club”. They were simple guidelines to living a moral, compassionate, law-abiding life and taking responsibility for your own choices. A couple even reminded one of the Ten Commandments.

And what about the more subtle and less violent cultural changes that confront us daily? Roy and Dale were known for adopting children and wholesome family life with grace said at every meal and open acknowledgement of their Christian faith. Celebrities of our day are celebrated for their romantic relationships (that is VERY plural), divorces, money, power, and how shocking their speech, behavior, or dress can be. By the way, how many prime time shows of our day even acknowledge any kind of belief in a higher power? My husband and I relish watching Blue Bloods, and a big reason is the prerequisite family dinner scene, grace before the meal included. Did you know that there was an alternate Christian verse for use in the Happy Trails song? Roy and Dale were openly Christian. How many of today’s celebrities celebrate their faith for the world to see?

You know, just as I know with all my being that God is not dead, I sense that Satan (or whatever you choose to call the source of evil) is alive and thriving. And this earth and its people are the battleground. The forces of evil are striving to destroy faith and civility and everything good, while God is reaching out with loving arms, longing to save mankind from destruction. I picture him looking down at this world, shaking his head sadly as he observes the state we are in.

My mind knows that I can’t go back to the culture of my youth, but that doesn’t mean that my heart can’t long to. The world has changed, but I don’t have to. I can refuse to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into a harsh, cruel, ugly, faithless existence. I can choose to make my little corner a better place. Because I have a relationship with a loving God who walks with me day by day. He heals my hurts and strengthens my resolve and forgives me when I fail.

I can choose to make my little corner a gentler, kinder, more beautiful, and faith-filled place. Anyone care to join me?

 

 

Words set free…….

The “club”………..

The definition of club from The New Oxford American Dictionary:

a group of people, organizations, or nations having something in common

My heart is broken because another old friend has become a member of what I call “the club”. You do not enter by special, anxiously awaited invitation. As a matter of fact, you NEVER want to join. It is not a place of fun and games or intellectual discussion or playing bridge or gardening. It is a dark and lonely place full of tears and regret and questions and broken heartedness.

Some are recruited by way of a known end-stage terminal illness. Some are pulled into the ranks by accidents or violence or a loved one’s self destructive behavior. Some have been unexpectedly ambushed by a sudden death, of an infant or a toddler or a teen or a young adult. Many elderly members have been drawn into the group by the death of an only slightly less elderly child.

Because this is “the club” of those whose children have preceded them in death. It’s not supposed to be this way, we all know. Children are supposed to bury parents, not parents bury children. All grief is hard, and all grief is personal and individualized. It is my opinion that the grief of a child’s death is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Since losing my Daniel, I have become so much more sensitive to other parents who have lost children. Keep your eyes and ears and hearts open and you will recognize that you meet them everyday. We are out there–friends, acquaintances, church family, coworkers, people in the check out line at Walmart. I used to tell patients who confided in me about the loss of a child that “that must be the hardest loss”. I was right, while never guessing that I would experience that grief myself.

However, the loss of a child can open one’s eyes to the immeasurable value of the greatest gift that the human race has ever been given–Jesus Christ.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Just think about it, unwilling members of “the club”, God the Father willingly sent his son to die in our stead. He might be considered the Divine Chairman of our group. And, His son, Jesus, often promised that one day we will be reunited with our children in a place without sickness, death, or tears.

That’s what I hold on to. My prayers today go up for all of the membership of “the club”.

Words set free…..

I think I am a Martha………..

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”      Luke 10:38-42 NIV

Just coming off a long stretch of exhausting “other work”, I have neglected writing. I am upset with myself about that. Trying to get away from whining  about tiredness and too much to do and other excuses has led me to think about my life and what is really important to me.

I can relate very strongly to Jesus’ friend, Martha, while wishing that I were more like Mary. Mary had the gift of instinctively knowing the priority of the moment. She didn’t care if the house was clean, the beds freshly made, and an impressive meal in progress. She cared about Jesus, being still beside him, drinking in his words, dwelling in his presence.

I fall in and out of the trap of neglecting early morning quiet time with the Lord on too many sleepy mornings. I have let my physical complaints and “want-to-do’s” and my “need-to-do’s” take priority. The most telling clue to my true “Martha” status is my OCD nature about household chores. No, I am not as obsessively “clean” as I was in my youth, but the dishes have to be done, and I cannot go to bed without picking up the “lived in” clutter of a room. And I can all too often descend into the distracted and complaining mode that Martha exhibited. I, too, can be “worried and upset about many things.”

What’s the answer?  I’m evaluating the way I do my devotional time. I’m eating healthier. Now, if I could only fit in exercise (my excuse is the six to eight thousand steps I make a day at work). There are only 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week, and weekends fly in fast-forward fashion. It’s all about baby steps, I think. Small changes, taking one day at a time, and reminding myself each morning that Mary knew and took advantage of what was important in life. Maybe, as I remind myself, I will do better at doing the same.

I thank you, my readers. Writing is my release and helps me assess and analyze and, hopefully, adapt to life’s challenges. I wish the same for you.

 

 

 

Words set free. . .

True north. . . .

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In the past I have found it a challenge to stay on course with the writing. There are so many things that distract me. People that I love, situations that I worry about, housework to be done, a love of cooking, my fulltime job–I could go on.

These are the same things that distract me from a really disciplined prayer life. Sometimes my prayers are interrupted by random thoughts. Sometimes I just can’t seem to focus. That’s why I often write my prayers in a journal. Writing keeps my prayers on course. (My kids are going to be overwhelmed with the old steamer trunk full of my prayer journals when I pass on!)

I think of Steffie’s comments when Daniel was circling the drain in his depression and addiction. “He’s just so lost, Mom,” she said all too often. We all tried to pull him back on course, with prayers and, when he would listen,  words, but he had lost sight of his true north. The true north that I am talking about is not a constellation or a point on a compass. It is keeping one’s heart and mind focused on Jesus Christ. “Abide in me,” Jesus said. How faithfully am I abiding in Christ? How faithfully are you? I know that failing to abide in the Lord is the path to ruin. I know that losing sight of our spiritual North Star is a dangerous thing, leaving us open to negative thoughts and bad decisions and Satan’s attacks.

Since I recommitted my life as a writer to Jesus’ cause, the words have come easier, more freely, and more purposefully. So far, the magnetic pull of my true north remains strong.  Each and every time I press the keys of this keyboard and watch the words appear on the screen, my heart is full of hope that someone out there needs those words, those thoughts, in order to experience a refill of hope, peace, comfort, and strength to persevere in the walk of faith.

Please know that each time I press “publish” for a post, I am wondering if it’s good enough, real enough, true enough to touch someone’s heart. Thank you for letting me share my journey with you.

Words set free…..

In the eye of the storm…………

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We know a lot about storms where I live. Judsonia, Arkansas was “blown away”, as we locals describe it, on March 21, 1952. I was not quite 2 years old at the time and living in Indiana, so I obviously have no personal recollection of the tornado. However, the family I married into lived through and lost their eldest son in the process. They are all indelibly marked by this event.

Judsonia is a town of underground storm shelters and “safe rooms”. I recently was blessed to hear Ryan Stevenson’s rendition of the Christian praise song, “Eye of the Storm”. It made me think about how life is a passage of “weathering” various storms. What storm have you been through? What storm are you going through? Are you surviving? Is the storm defeating you? What is the answer to weathering the storm victoriously? The answer to a “life storm” cannot be found in a storm shelter or safe room or retreat from life. Stevenson sings it to us in the lyrics of the above mentioned recording. I highly recommend it.

I began to think about the various storms I have survived. Divorce. Miscarriage. Loss of a son to suicide. Completing nursing degrees (Bachelor’s and Master’s) while supporting and caring for children as a single parent. Career choices and challenges and confrontations. Financial issues. Physical ailments. Depression. Caring for elderly parents. Estrangement from siblings, some resolved and some not. A child suffering from alcohol addiction and mental illness (she is surviving, thank God). Sharing the pain of the patients I help care for as they are confronted with life-changing health events and, for some, the ultimate passage, death. Experiencing the ups and downs of life in a church family made up of believers who still have human qualities–no, congregational life is not always united and sublime. I have worried about these all of things, and, often, tried to “fix” things within my own capabilities, generally unsucessfully.

Because I do not have all the answers. God does. And, in my humanity, I forget to yield to his solutions, thinking arrogantly that I could do it better? Really?

What storms are you facing? Depression? Anxiety? Addiction (in all its forms–alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, nicotine)? Maybe it’s an eating disorder–obesity, bulemia, anorexia. Perhaps you have been tormented by thoughts of suicide.

Perhaps you and your family have been challenged by war–a family member serving in the military as we speak. Or perhaps one lost to you forever in war’s vicious violence. Or perhaps one disfigured, maimed, angry, traumatized, suicidal because of the horrors witnessed.

Maybe your family is dysfunctional. Maybe you have been the victim of abuse. Maybe you are raising grandchildren or great-grandchildren because their parents cannot parent. Maybe you are a victim of domestic violence.

You might be just overwhelmed by the multiplicity of stressors you are experiencing daily. For some, like me, that might mean relegating your creativity and dreams and self-expression to some deep, dark place, (your “storm shelter”) where they have waited, dusty and neglected, longing to be once more brought into the light.

Perhaps burned-out describes your work performance. Perhaps cynical describes your outlook. Perhaps for you the glass is always half-empty, never half-full, and you do realize it falls on you to wash that darn glass. Perhaps you have let the fire of your faith burn down to cold ashes and do not know how to rekindle it.

Step 1: Listen to Stevenson’s song. It has a really nice beat, folks! It will lift your spirits and refresh your soul.

Step 2: Get out the Good Book (you, know, the Holy Bible) and take a look. Some of my faves: Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7     And Jesus’s words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” John 14:1      So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41: 10    “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 29:14     And, finally, Psalm 46:10a: “Be still and know that I am God.”     (All from NIV) The Bible is a treasure chest full of guidance, peace, comfort, encouragement, courage.

Step 3: Open the window of your heart to let God’s peace come in. Open your ears to hear His whisper of hope and encouragement. Open your voice in thanksgiving and praise. And open your very self to a life of faithful perseverance, not in your strength, but in His. Open your mind to the thought that you can fulfill God’s calling and plan for your life, even through the storms.

That’s what I’ve chosen to do, by setting my words free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sisterhood……..

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Since my last blog I’ve been thinking a lot, appreciating all those who said it helped their grief to read about mine. I guess I’m being a bit feminist, but it inspired in me the notion to consider all the “sisterhoods” we women inhabit. The picture above, circa 1978, records the three married female students in the Beta class of the Carr School of Nursing at Harding University. We were “sisters” in the journey to complete our education as baccalaureate prepared registered nurses. We studied together, laughed together, cried together, doubted we would ever finish together. We are still dear long-distance friends.

Then I think about my sisters in Christ. Believers bonded together by a common faith in Jesus Christ and followers of his teachings. Prayer partners, prayer warriors, teachers, mentors. We comfort and encourage each other. The elderly model Christian womanhood for the younger and the younger for the even younger. Then, suddenly, at some point comes the realization that we have reached the age of being the “core” of the local church, as elderly saints pass the mantle of leadership to us.

Of course, there are biological sisters. I have none. But I have a beloved sister-in-law who would do anything for me. She has always welcomed me into the family as true family, not just some interloper that she tolerates because her brother (thank the Lord) loves me! She is one of the most gracious, kind, thoughtful, compassionate, and hard-working individuals that I have ever known.

There is the sisterhood of nursing. We share a special bond, one of seeking to heal and comfort, protect and advocate for our patients. (People say “clients” now, but that just seems wrong–we are caregivers and they are patients!) Our humor is sometimes more than a little dark. We can spot manipulation from a hall away. We work as partners with the medical caregivers who share in our goal of helping people work through the reality of healing or face the inevitable death of this body. We cry together when we see suffering that we cannot “fix”, and we grieve together when the loss of some newborn or child or dear nursing colleague or “special” patient dies. We are a special sisterhood, seeing life both at its beginning and its end, privilege to the most private moments of our patients’ lives.

We mustn’t forget the sisterhood of friendship. Life would be such a drag without it!Friends laugh together, have fun together, commiserate with each other, support each other, acknowledge each other as special people in their world. Our lives would be forlorn and lonely existences without our friends. There are lifelong friends, like the two pictured above (I am the one on the far right.) Months may go by without a word, but the conversation seems to pick up just where it left off with each text or call or, strange concept, handwritten note. I am grateful to have multiple sisterhoods of friends–work friends, church friends, old school friends, forever friends.

Most of the comments I have received on my last blog belong to a special sisterhood–the sisterhood of loss of a loved one.  There are many “focus” groups within this sisterhood. Some have lost children–fatal illness, tragic accident, suicide, accidental overdose. Many have lost husbands, that life partner, love of one’s life, that made one whole, but now left behind as the lone part of the pair that should have lasted forever.Some have lost parents–cancer, heart disease, the many maladies that tear down our bodies. Some losses have come in the very aged, a slow, drawn out, wasting away. Some have come in the form of dementia that robs one of the loved one’s self, while their body lives on. Some losses are sudden, striking without warning, totally unexpected–accidental or sudden death. Some have lost siblings, the quality of the relationship filling one either with happy memories of childhood together or sadness over bonds broken by some foolish misunderstanding, stubbornness, or neglect and time wasted.

I guess (hope, strive, long) to belong to the sisterhood of writers. The ones for whom therapy comes in the form of the written word. We have to record our thoughts and share them in some format, sometimes to entertain, sometimes to comfort, sometimes to just share our humanity with the unseen reader world. We long to connect with the reader, to stimulate a response, to open a window into ourselves as we express our thoughts.

I wonder, female readers, how many of these sisterhoods find you in their roster? I’d love to hear about more sisterhoods, because I’m sure many others are out there, living, breathing entities that make life more bearable. And we are blessed to have them.