A new world…….

April 1, 2019, the price of unleaded gasoline was two dollars and seventy cents. Look at it today. Did you ever imagine?

One year ago when we encountered family and friends in the south, we hugged. Even business aquaintances were generally met with a handshake. Some folks who were really germophobic (or carefree youths celebrating athletics or just life) might substitute a fist bump. Now we are mandated to keep a six (or ten) foot distance, and I saw today that COVID-19 can be detected in droplets twenty-seven feet away.

A year ago the economy was sound. Politics was controversial, as always. Maybe a little more so, but relatively consistent as far as party lines and liberal vs conservative lines and personalities go. The speaker of the House didn’t like the President and the aversion was mutual. Republicans thought Democrats were “out to get” President Trump, and Democrats thought Republicans were blind.

And look at us now. Gasoline almost half the price. The economy, they say, is now a “bear” market. I wasn’t sure about the derivation of this term. It made sense to think that things slow down, like a bear in hibernation. Or that personal losses in the market made people growl like a bear when they sensed their retirement money cycling down the drain. Wrong! It seems that bears attack with a downward swipe of their big bear paws, and, therefore, when the market slumps or goes down (like someone attacked by a bear–sorry, my black humor coming through) it is characterized as the aforementioned bear market.

However you look at it, the world has turned upside down and inside out. And we all are reeling with the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, almost minute-to-minute change. The novel coronavirus pandemic has caused global distress. If Rod Serling were still alive, what material he would have for more episodes of The Twilight Zone!

I’ve seen some posts that seem to ascribe the current pandemic to a deliberate act of God. It may rather be a permissive act of God, like when we do things we shouldn’t and have to suffer the consequences. I agree that God probably created the first virus, or created creation to allow the development of virus. It goes counter to my personal theology to think that God in heaven looked down on this earth, which is obviously full of sinful people and sinful acts, and said, “I will send a novel coronavirus to get their attention because I don’t like what they’re doing down there.” I have been taught that God is a God of mercy and grace. And, yes, righteous indignation and necessary judgment. But I believe that Jesus Christ is making intercession for his church as the creation which we are destroying falls apart.

Did you get that? The “creation which we are destroying” part. Gobal warming. Our constant search for more throw-away convenience. Who cares about the environmental impact of plastic bags and bottles and aluminum cans and foam? My little bit won’t make a difference. We think. Did you know that these commonly used and discarded products can take ten to a hundred years to decompose in a landfill? Even milk cartons take five years. And styrofoam does not biodegrade, meaning it is here forever.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been as lazy and complacent as anyone out there. But as I view God’s glorious creation it makes me sad to think that the polar ice caps are melting and polar bears and penguins are suffering. God is, of course, omniscient and I suppose he must have known that man would strive to be ever “smarter” and would create gas-guzzlers, aerosols, unbiodegradeble substances and anything that would make life “easier.” He knew that mankind wouldn’t be able to foresee the damage we were doing, that we were generally disrespecting God’s creation, until it was too late and we were too “set in our ways” (a good southern term) to change. Perhaps the ability of virus to transform itself genetically, becoming more virulent and deadly, and resulting in COVID-19, is a part of creation’s natural demise.

After all, the Bible does foretell not only a new heaven, but also a new earth. It looks like we’re close to needing one. I am thinking that, rather than this pandemic being a judgmental act of God, perhaps it is more of a time of testing for us. Do we really believe and follow those two greatest commandments that a Jesus shared?

I’m thinking this may be a time of testing for all of us. Is our faith strong enough, are we loving enough, and are we self-disciplined enough to follow these commandments during this pandemic? Are we maintaining a living, active faith that includes praise and thanksgiving as well as petition in our prayer life? Are we daily seeking to strengthen our faith-walk through opening God’s word to find the message he has for us?

Are we selflessly seeking the health and safety of all by following guidelines of social distancing? How often do we have the “it’s all about me mentality” versus the Golden Rule attitude of looking out for others first? Where does hoarding of food and supplies fit into the picture?

I don’t know about you but I see room for improvement in my life. Just something to think about…..

Reflecting………

World War II ration books

My beautiful 93-year-old mother came to live with us this past October. She is getting frailer and has some problems with memory. She fills her days with putting photographs in albums and collecting items to donate to the Cleburne County historical society. When I asked about her apparent compulsion to get this done now if not sooner, she said she wanted to do these things before she couldn’t remember. Therefore, these remnants of WWII ration books have come to light. They made me keenly aware of the advantages I have had in this lifetime as contrasted with her life through the Great Depression and WWII.

Her books have several full pages of these blue stamps. She says she thinks they must have been fuel rations because her family did not have a vehicle and didn’t need to buy gasoline. I have Googled as much as I care to and can’t locate a clear description of exactly what the various “stamps” represented.

I think these are food ration stamps.

I have learned that there were stamps for various food items and stamps for various rationing periods. The ration week ran Saturday to Saturday. Mom couldn’t remember what the numbers and letters represented because “Daddy and Momma took care of all that since I was just a teenager.” From reading novels set in WWII I have learned that meat, cheese, butter, and sugar were rationed. Can we even comprehend what it was like to have these items not available any time we want them?

Mom’s family on the “home front”: dad Woodie, mom Eliza, my mother Jessie, her sister Georgia

The oldest sibling, J. B. “Jake” Harmon, was serving with a tank battalion in Europe at this time. I’ll have more about his service later.

All of this made me wonder how the people of our nation would deal with rationing now. It seems that many of us have the perspective that life, this nation, and the government owe us something. Disasters strike and the response is never quick enough or complete enough. We view the privilege of being free and prosperous as ours alone, something we definitely don’t want to share with people from other countries who come here seeking a better life for themselves and their children. The sense of patriotism that was part of day to day life in the 1940s seems to be a thing of the past. Hats off and standing for the national anthem are frequently omitted in various settings.

I have the feeling that today’s population would complain with bitter insistence that we are entitled to better things if faced with the same realities that my mother’s generation accepted as their lot in life. I fear I might be one of those people. Tom Brokaw (in his book The Greatest Generation) said that the men and women of my mother’s generation had values of “personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith” that made them able to defeat Hitler and leave us with the economic affluence, scientific progress, and vision that has made America great. Have we lost touch with those values? Have we lost a sense of appreciation for how far this nation has come? Have we lost the ability to value simple things like truth, right and wrong, and living for some higher calling than our own pleasure?

So, my set of New Year’s resolutions: To start each day with a prayer of gratitude that I have it so good, to live each day trying to be a better person than the day before, and to end each day thanking God that His grace has seen me through the day, no matter the challenges.

What about you? I’d love to read your responses.

What’s in a name?

I’ve been thinking a lot about names lately…..

Especially about how my professional “names” have changed since my “young nurse” days. Of course my original RN license included first, middle, maiden, and last names. That was the law. At first I wore a simple name pin proudly, as depicted in this framed print that my nurse managers gave me when I reached administrative status. I also wore my school pin from Harding University–gold with a map of the world and a “go ye” message.

Print by Billy Kirk, 1984, “Ready to Serve”

Yes, I wore white (oftentimes a dress), a nurse’s cap, white “duty” shoes, carefully polished, and a wristwatch with a second hand! A far cry from today’s colorful scrubs, athletic shoes, and photo IDs required of healthcare professionals. In those days I was simply “KP” to most of the staff and physicians. After all, we charted on paper and simple initials confirmed medications administered, etc. There were a lot of other things different about nursing back then. I was one RN “charge nurse” with a couple of LPNs (if I was lucky) and a team of nurses’ aides and orderlies taking care of 25 to 30 patients on a unit. I knew about all of them because part of my job was rounding three times in an eight-hour shift to check on them. There’s a lot to be said for the advances in healthcare but I sometimes feel that I came up in the last of the “glory days” of nursing when technology was less important. I know that I made a difference on many of those shifts because of the time spent with patients and decisions made. And, just sometimes, I long to be called a simple “KP” again.

But back to the name thing. When I finally completed my Master’s in Nursing I dropped the middle name and added my maiden name in its stead. My father was so proud of me. I wanted the family name to be part of my professional credential. He didn’t get to see me graduate (he died in September before I finished in December). But I hope someday to tell him about it. Or maybe he already knows?

Lastly, the thing that really got me thinking about all this professional name thing is the realization that I’m no longer “KP.” Now old enough to be many attending’s mother and the resident/intern/medical student’s grandmother, I am known almost universally as “Ms. Kathy.” And I guess that’s ok. It just made me think about things. It comes with a bit of responsibility, I guess. I want to exemplify the traits that make nursing strong–intelligence, discernment, compassion, courtesy, professionalism. To be a person who leaves the world a little better because of my presence. I hope I can do that in my remaining years of nursing practice. And I’m not ready to give it up yet! I really like what I do and, yes, I’m good at it! 😉

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

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?

 

Messes. . .

Have you ever really made a mess? Like the time I tried a new “short cut” Bundt cake recipe which sounded like the cake I had enjoyed the previous week. It bubbled over and out of my pan like an erupting volcano, and I ended up with a mountain of scorched batter in the bottom of the oven. Or like the way I can make a real “mess” out of trying to express my feelings to someone who really doesn’t want to understand (teenagers come to mind). I just dig the hole deeper and deeper and sometimes begin to doubt that even I understand what I am trying to say. Or like the way I can over-commit to various obligations and get overwhelmed by my list of to-do’s?

messes2

Like this mess that our little miniature Schnauzer with exuberant energy and an insatiable appetite for paper made one morning when my husband “forgot” to kennel her. When my daughter returned to find this mess, the poor pup was exhausted and panting. It was as though, finally finding herself (once again) free to wreak havoc on all books and papers within her reach, she exhausted herself with her instinct to destroy. I say once again because there is a reason that we kennel her! (She was at the puppy beauty shop today. The groomer described her as “a little ornery.” He was right on.)

messes

After Cindy cleaned up the mess and assessed the destruction, Princess lay on her lap, belly up, a mass of fluffy black dog, completely trusting that nothing bad was going to happen to her. Pictures don’t do her justice. She turns into a black fuzzball whose features–floppy ears like silk and one opaque eye (blind at birth)–just blend together. But, she is at rest with no fear and no regret.

I wish my messes were so easy to overcome. Yes, the oven came clean. So what if I had to throw out the cake that wasn’t? I hope my family and friends forgive when I have failed to convey my thoughts and feelings in anything resembling articulate speech. And, although I may whine a bit and feel sorry for myself, I meet my commitments. I just wish I could relax like she does, trusting that no harm will come of my messes and that I will be accepted just as I am. I wish I didn’t ruminate over the misspoken words or the perceived hurt. I wish I didn’t regret mistakes so much. I wish that I weren’t such a perfectionist.

Anybody else belong to that club? “Perfectionists Anonymous”? There should be a support group. At least age offers some respite, as I find that the more years I get behind me the less I worry whether there is a little dust on the table. If only my expectations of myself were so easy to manage! Because there’s a little voice in my mind reminding me of the unfinished manuscript that keeps calling my name. The basket of clothes to iron won out today. That voice had been nagging longer and louder. So the ironing is done and I’ve opened myself up to you. And, that’s ok for today.

Perhpas Scarlet O’Hara was right. “After all, tomorrow is another day!”

Hoping your tomorrow is a good one and free of “messes”!

Heavenly reinforcement…

,photo

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.