Where’s your calm?

I’ve been intrigued by the recent introduction of the “calming comfort blanket” by Sharper Image. I did a little research and found that the beginning price of $99 is for 10 pounds of calming comfort through the weighted blanket. The 25 pound blanket (weight increases in 5 pound increments) is $169. The commercial includes a statement that the weighted blanket “feels like someone holding me.”

I really am more fond of fluffy down comforting and don’t think I would find a weighted blanket appealing, in spite of its scientifically weighted microbeads. But the whole idea that our society needs tangible comforting by an inanimate object kind of troubles me.

I know the world is a scary place. Sometimes I’m as scared an anyone else. Global warming, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes. Devastating floods. Famines, epidemics, war. The threat of nuclear conflicts. A nation more and more divided through battles over immigration, nationalism, and politics. Constant rhetoric that I’m sure our God is not pleased with. It troubles me, too.

And then there are the more personal stressors. Illness, physical and mental. Grief and loss. Addiction. Finances. Worry about retirement income with a questionable future for Social Security as well as the ups and downs of the stock market. Maybe just the heating and air going out in hot Arkansas summer (a recent personal stress.) The cost of prescription drugs.

My boss often says that “stress is the way we know we’re still alive.” He’s right, you know. Because we all have it. The question becomes how we deal with it.

Instead of a “calming comfort blanket” I like to imagine God wrapping his heavenly, strong, comforting, peaceful arms around me. Remember Jesus’ words:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 NIV

Jesus didn’t promise an easy life, but he promised comfort, peace and joy even in our “brief and momentary” troubles if we rest in him.

And Peter wrote:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1Peter 5:7 NIV

It’s one of my favorite verses. And what about the Psalmist’s words?

Be still, and know that I am God;     Psalm 46:10a NIV

Isn’t that the hardest part? To be still. To trust. To yield control to a higher power, all-knowing, loving, gracious, merciful. The One who holds our lives in his hands and knows our beginning and promises eternity with him.

Finally, Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica:

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 NIV

Perhaps there are answers to today’s stress other than a comfort calming blanket. Go ahead, try one, if you think it will help. But there is a way of faith that costs nothing, except your heart and soul. Just sayin’…

My story in three acts . . .

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)

After a longer absence than I really planned (due to “light and momentary” issues), here goes for Act 2 of my story:

It seems to me that it corresponds in large part to my life as an advanced practice nurse, which started off rather sadly. My dad passed away in September before I completed my master’s degree in December. The passage above gave me comfort at the time of his death, for he was truly ready to go, tired of constant pain. My mom called about 3 a.m. on the day of his death (just a couple of days after Dad had told Daniel that he’d better “hurry up and get married” if he wanted his Papa to be there). He was coughing up blood. When I got there he told me, “There’s just so much a man can do.” My reply was that whatever he needed to do was fine. Six hours later he left this world to enter that unseen one, eternity with his Lord.

Jobs for nurse practitioners in small town Arkansas were not plentiful in 1997. While I was still working in administration and not yet through with my studies, a local cardiologist had asked what I planned to do with my new licensure. At that time I suggested that working as an extender in a busy medical practice appealed to me. However, after graduation I was actively recruited to work as a primary care provider in a clinic in my hometown. I was also interviewed for a position with an (at that point) unidentified physician in a multi-specialty clinic, who turned out to be the above-mentioned cardiologist. There were elements of the hometown clinic that were very appealing, including the financial aspects. But after a lot of soul searching it became apparent that the cardiology practice was where I needed to be. It was a good decision; the local clinic closed just a couple of years after its implementation. I believe that choice was a turning point in my life.

There have been many benefits to the employment choice I made. After more than 21 years in that collaborative practice, I have no regrets. Not only have I grown professionally, I have grown spiritually. Philosophical and theological discussions are not the routine in most work settings but have served as the stimulus to introspection and solidifying my beliefs. The example of true Christianity that he and his family demonstrate has influenced my walk of faith. And I needed that collegial relationship, because times were coming that seemed more than “light and momentary” troubles.

In 2004 our family was faced with the challenge of my daughter’s mental illness. It was a nightmarish year. A friend was instrumental in saving Cindy’s life, convincing her to seek care with her primary care physician. That encounter started us on the journey of a lifetime. Over the next eight months she was in and out of multiple hospitals after multiple suicide attempts. We faced a fragmented, overworked and expensive mental health system. Navigating the system would have been impossible without the support and prayers of friends and work family. I was juggling my work responsibilities with careing for her three-year-old son. I was back to single parenthood (I had not remarried at that time). A Christian friend recommended a depression workshop.  There I met the physician just finishing her psychiatric residency who would become my daughter’s lifeline and who continues to supervise her care today, fourteen years later. I think that was a “divine appointment.”

We have been blessed through Cindy’s strength and desire to be well. We involved our church family as prayer partners in our journey by openly sharing various elements of her illness and treatment. Cindy continues to demonstrate superb adherence to her medical therapy and physician visits, and she has become one of the rocks I lean on through hard times. Because more trauma would follow.

It’s no secret that August 26, 2015, changed my life as a mother. Our son’s death by suicide at the age of 41 years marked a turning point in all our lives. In my nursing career I had often encountered parents who had lost a child. I found myself frequently trying to express compassion by the comment that “that must be the worst kind of loss.” I can now attest, through my own experience, that it is a terrible grief made more terrible if that death occurs by suicide. That event led to my personal passion for increasing awareness, encouraging open conversation, and preventing suicide.

There were also brighter times. In 2005 I married the wonderful man who loves and supports me every day. And an unexpected benefit of my employment was that my physician/boss/friend,  who is also a licensed preacher, performed the ceremony! Living here on “Persimmon Ridge” (the name’s origin is meat for another story) in the home my husband designed and built for us is a priceless gift. His unremitting support and encouragement has allowed me to publish two inspirational novels, and he continues to be my biggest fan and self-appointed publicity agent as I pursue the dream of being known as an author.

However, through the experiences of Cindy’s illness and ongoing recovery and Daniel’s death one thing has remained steadfast–my faith. I believe in a loving God who is in control, who has the overarching plan for my life, who allows nothing beyond my potential to withstand with God’s help, and who offers an unending supply of hope. He has placed people in my life who have supported, encouraged, and inspired me. The troubles often don’t feel “light and momentary” but, rather, heavy and endless. But hindsight reveals the brighter hilltop experiences, those divine appointments, the heavenly discernment, and the benefits of just persevering in the walk of faith whatever the struggle.

There it is, another brief part of my story. My Act 2 is not yet finished but close enough to the ending for me to reflect on where I’ve been as I try to anticipate the next act. I trust in one truth:

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9 NIV

I’ve seen the Lord’s hand in the design of my life. Have you?

My story in three acts

What if we viewed life as a three-act play with God as the author, producer, and director?

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 119: 13-16

I read the most interesting thing today. It compared God’s plan for our lives to a story. And, being the story-teller that I am, I was intrigued. Imagine, God in his infinite wisdom and love, designing the story of our lives! AND, since I just returned from a writer’s conference where all the discussion was about story structure versus “organic” writing where the story just “writes itself”, well, you can imagine how my mind is reeling with the implications of that!! Seriously, I kind of get it. My Act 1 went kind of like this:

Having always felt that there was a higher power who was “in charge” of my life, it was easy to see an unseen force at work in the course of my life. Brought up in the “Bible belt”, the daughter of parents who struggled financially but loved me greatly, and somehow always wanting to be at the top of my class, I had extraordinary opportunities–(which I didn’t take full advantage of). One event that impacted my life greatly was my father’s heart attack when I was 16. In 1966 Searcy, Arkansas, there was no specialized cardiology care. I often wonder how he survived until much later in life when he had bypass surgery.

Early in life I recognized the need for a Savior, and at age 11 “walked the aisle” and was baptized. Later, as a 16-year-old, I became convicted that I hadn’t fully made the commitment required of me, and was, once again, baptized into the small Baptist church our family attended. But in no way did my faith start maturing until I had experienced a lot more of life.

You see, I dropped out of fully-scholarship-funded college to marry and have two kids (boys). The miraculous provision of an extraordinary deal on tuition at a fine Christian university a few years later allowed me to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing (in the second nursing class to graduate from that institution). It became evident that nursing was, indeed, my calling. And divorce and single-parenting (by that time two boys and a toddler daughter) was certainly easier because I was a professional with a college degree and a reasonable income.

There were some really challenging times, though. Middle son broke his leg through the growth plate on a forbidden three-wheeler ride. He was recognized for his scholarship in sixth grade but by his high school days was selling term papers to his classmates–his fee varied according to the grade they desired (I only discovered this years later.) He broke his arm jumping from a folding chair to dunk the basketball. He didn’t finish high school–completed his GED–and presented me with my first grandchild (who is, by the way, one of God’s best gifts to my life). Older son did not neglect to cause me some worry. There was a gunshot wound (not life-threatening)–hearing that news from an ER physician as I returned home from other son’s basketball game was an experience, to say the least. I remarked to a friend that God was preparing me for something, and that, if this was prep school, I didn’t want to go to college.

Nursing became my life. Maybe too much so. Maybe it robbed my children of some of my attention. Nonetheless, I loved being at the bedside. It was what I think of as the “glory” years of nursing. There was no “nursing” a computer or struggling to meet Medicare guidelines. The registered nurse was “in charge” and knowledgeable about all the patients on the unit. Knowing that I made a difference that prolonged someone’s life, that I could start that IV when nobody else could, that I caught the clinical clue that helped the physician make a diagnosis, meant the world to me. I advanced to middle management and then taught in a junior college nursing program for a year. Returning to the hospital where I had “grown up” as a nurse, I became the nurse administrator. Oh, there were no vice president titles for nursing back then. I was a simple DON (director of nursing), but with the same responsibilities as a VP.

Those were some painful times. The me-too movement was not alive and well, and I ended up navigating a somewhat awkward work environment which became downright hostile. I didn’t like firing people. I wanted to be back at the bedside and burned the candle at both ends in order to have some clinical time. I discovered that I was not called to be an administrator, I was called to be a nurse.

Good things happened, too. A spiritual retreat called an “Emmaus Walk” reinforced my faith. I began to teach Sunday School and sing in the choir at church. The Bible and Christian studies and keeping a journal, which often contained written prayers, became more of a habit. I wonder what my kids will think of, do with, all those books after I’m gone? Some really good pastors came and went at my church, and a couple made a huge impact on my life.

You wonder why I reveal so much of my past? Because throughout every valley, every crisis, every challenge, I knew God was real. I may have questioned and argued and pleaded and resisted, but I was certain that I was in good hands. At this point in my life, I find my self looking back and evaluating where I came from and the paths I’ve traveled. It’s only natural to wonder what comes next. But Act 2 remains to be told, and Act 3 is waiting to be lived.

It’s time for intermission. But I wonder, what is the Act 1 of your story?

 

Ambushed. . .

ambush2

Recently I visited the subject of grief with a description of being “ambushed” by the emotion. The terminology did not originate with me, but was adopted by Daniel’s dear widow, now my true daughter in spirit, as she has dealt with his death. A friend then commented on the post with the observation that, although she had never heard the term used as a descriptor of grief attacks, she thought it could apply to attacks of anxiety. And I began to think. . .

There are many emotional “ambushes” that occur in our lives. The attacks come from a concealed position and strike with surprise (see definition number 3 above), usually, but not always, from an enemy of our emotional equilibrium. Some examples:

  • Grief.  The most benign memory, the most ordinary event, can precipitate the sudden recollection of loss. A photograph, the sight and sound of an ambulance, the smell of a hospital corridor, the sight of the loved one’s handwriting or craft–all can be the stimulus that brings a wave of fresh grief to our awareness. And we feel truly “ambushed” by the surprise attack which often comes from the “concealed position” of a truly innocent occurrence.
  • Anxiety. My friend’s observation regarding anxiety led me to think that a fresh definition of panic attack might be an “ambush” of anxiety, accompanied by the physiological components of the stress response. Performance anxiety can “ambush” us when taking a test or speaking in public. It can be especially problematic when being evaluated in the performance of a physical skill. (I am remembering nursing skill labs!) A good friend says that stress is a reminder that we are still alive. But sometimes I become so stressed with worry about the outcome of a situation or even imagined or dreaded future events that anxiety almost overwhelms me. What about you?
  • Depression. I think one can be “ambushed” by full-fledged depression when vague emotions of sadness or discouragement or futility or fatigue suddenly morph into the overwhelming dark hopelessness of depression. We wonder where it came from, how it got there, and what to do. In the best case scenarios, we have a support network of family, friends, and, if needed, professionals who can rescue us from the enemy that has taken us by surprise.
  • Anger. It may be a sense of righteous indignation. Or it may come from a real or perceived personal attack, insult, or oversight. If anger truly ambushes me, it is the most frustrating of situations, because attempts to express it often result in tears, and I lose all ability to communicate in a logical and articulate way. So then I am angry with myself!

But what about more positive emotions that surprise us from some concealed place within our hearts? Like—

  • Faith. My walk of faith can wax and wane. The times when it grows weak can “ambush” me with any or all of the above negative emotions. Then, through the invisible cord of God’s love and mercy, I am somehow drawn back into closer communion with my Creator, Savior, and Lord. I begin to once again feel a stabilizing presence in my heart and the certainty that I am here for a purpose, for a higher calling. And this results in an ambush of–
  • Joy. Yes, I think we can be “ambushed” by joy. It, too, can be lying in wait for us. It can come at the most unexpected times, times when we are reminded that a higher power is in control and that we are loved. The birth of a child, precious moments spent with family or friends, corporate worship (especially in music), and the gratification of work well done are a few examples.

I wonder. What emotion is lying in wait “from a concealed position” waiting to strike you “in surprise”? Will you be ready to counter it with the stability that faith offers? Where are you in your walk? Can you identify other emotions waiting to “ambush” us?

I would love to read your thoughts.

Heavenly reinforcement…

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This has been me this past week. I tied a knot in the rope of life and have been trying desperately to hold on. But it seemed there were strong, gale-force winds buffeting me, willing me to let go and fall into the dark pit of depression that was waiting below. The week started with Mother’s Day. It’s not the same when you are missing one child. My husband had a minor procedure for some skin cancer. The same day my almost-92-year-old mother had a fall, bled like crazy from  scalp laceration, and required a prolonged ER visit and overnight hospital stay. Two granddaughters are close to the delivery of great-grandchildren for me. Work was just as stressful as usual. A lightning strike messed up internet and cable (still not fully repaired). A criminal made his escape across our field with law enforcement in hot pursuit. The dog ate a roll of toilet paper the night before she was scheduled for her spay. And there were other personal stressors that I shouldn’t share and  just couldn’t understand. Nothing terrible or irreparable happened, but enough, Lord, I thought.

Confession: I got frustrated and fearful and felt rather alone. I felt that my prayers were unheard, my fatigue unnoticed, my burden too heavy. I could relate to David’s plea to the Lord in Psalm 22, verse 1:

…Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?

And I was groaning and moaning and whining and near tears! Yes, I read my Bible–a few mornings. And I prayed, most of the time vague, repetitive pleas for help. I felt totally alone and helpless. But then….

First, I must explain a little back story: Two years, nine months ago our middle son took his own life (therefore, the Mother’s Day stress). A few weeks later I attended a Christian fiction writer’s conference,  where I was comforted and blessed to make new Christian friends. One was a lovely lady with a mass of auburn curls and a contagious smile and one of the sweetest spirits I’ve ever known. Since then I have had a text from her occasionally just touching base to see how I’m doing. I hadn’t heard from her for a good while–until Thursday, the day when I was at my lowest. My prayer journal from that morning reads, in part:

Lord, I feel beaten down by too much, too many burdens. I felt like you had turned your back on me yesterday. I’m frustrated. I belong to you. I’m doing my best. Why so many problems?….Please, please help me. I need your strength and your Spirit.

And, God answered. Jerri’s text that day opened the floodgates. I shared. She cared. And I know she has prayed for me, just as promised. If any of you don’t believe in divine appointments, you should. I believe she was inspired to reach out to me that day at that morning hour. As she put it, God knew I needed “reinforcements.” Jerri was obeying the instruction in Galatians 6:2 to:

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

I did need the reinforcement of knowing someone cared for my specific needs and was willing to pray on my behalf. And I am grateful that she responded to that little tug on her heart that made her think of me that morning. I pray that I will be more sensitive to those intuitions or hunches or heavenly whispers to do the same for others. And I am grateful to be reminded that although I may feel like God is not listening and doesn’t know my pain, He does. Peter says in the New Testament:

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

I’ve not been very good at that lately. Laying my burdens at Jesus’ feet. Depending on prayer and the Lord’s grace and mercy and unconditional love. I hope to do better. And I’m still holding on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. . .

QuietTime

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!”