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…

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When do I land?…..

flighty nurse.eml

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.

frontcover                                               69973912_High Resolution Front Cover_7496220.jpg

 

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…….

tightrope

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)

th90Z32R6O kissing the enemy

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)

thWVWH0IIN elephants

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.

 

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.