What I Read for Encouragement

pexels-photo-247195.jpegI’d like to encourage people today, although I don’t know exactly who or in what way. Does your head hurt? Did you sleep poorly last night? Have you gotten bad news lately? Are you feeling stale? Numb? Anxious? Maybe I want to encourage you.

Go read Psalm 103. You don’t have to be someone who has a religion – it’s literature, a book that’s been around a long time and is easily accessible. Just read it.

What if there is a God and that is an accurate picture of him? What if there is some “pit” he wants to pull you out of? What if he does want to satisfy the desires you have to be loved and valued? You could jump on that train of thought, just for a few minutes and see how it feels. I’ve memorized this chapter because I so often need to hear what it says.

I’m getting pretty aware of the things that are wrong with me.  When I hear a writer describing a distance “as far as the east is from the west”, and he’s telling me that’s how far away all my wrongness is going…  I get the impression that someone has a plan to deal with bad stuff, mine and everyone else’s. Thinking along those lines gives me hope. Hope is important.

Here is the most hopeful part of the reading for me – the part where “he knows how we are made, that we are dust, earthly”. I do kind of add my own translations as I think more and more about it. To me, it says “I know how I made you – different from anyone else. I know exactly what you are capable of and I don’t expect any more from you than that.”  That’s the way I want to be known. It encourages me to think that God and I might be on the same track in that regard.

The writer of this psalm felt that even when God knew him completely, he still loved him in a way described as “from everlasting to everlasting”. I’m a writer, and I can’t think of a way to top that. When I rehearse this psalm in my mind, I always think I want to be know that way and loved that way. It would make me happy, encouraged, hopeful. It’s a place to start.

Sure, there are some qualifiers in there, referring to those people who are known and loved. Again, as a writer, I’m paying attention to the verbs throughout the whole chapter. “Rescues”, “satisfies”, “works righteousness and justice”, “made known his ways” – all things that God does and is doing instead of things I have to do. I think the writer is saying that God is willing and able to work with people, to bring them to where they love him back, want to keep his covenant and remember to obey him.

It encourages me because it’s a good deal. It’s better than finding an honest used car salesman, or whatever analogy you want to use.  There’s more in that chapter and maybe there are other parts that will seem important to you, if you read it. Try it on.  See what it makes you feel and want. And consider that it is meant to encourage you.

 

 

 

 

 

Being in Poverty: An Amazing Night

By God’s design, I am pretty sure, three young homeless men have come to live in our house. I don’t know why, but I am learning. 

It was an amazing happening, there in the dining room around the table. I never would have imagined it.

One of the young men had come in after a day of work very depressed and anxious. He had driven Uber until 3:30 am that morning,  had fallen asleep and nearly missed his wake up alarm for his day job. He was mentally depleted and close to having an asthma attack. I tried to get him to calm down and eat something, go to bed. He kept talking and rehearsing his dilemma.

The two other guys arrived about that time and heard what was going on. They jumped in with their own brand of cheerleading/encouragement. Words, stories, lots of “bro this” and “bro that”, and finally A, who hadn’t really told me much about his feelings about God or faith, said to D, “Bro, do you want to pray about it?”

“Yes, I pray” D said. He wasn’t expecting it to happen right at that moment, but A walked over, sat down and took his hand. J took another side of the table. There was one side left so I sat down and joined them. J started praying, talking to God very sincerely for a good five minutes. Tears were coming down D’s cheeks when the prayer was done.

They talked some more, to the point where there was something to laugh about. I could tell D was feeling better. They were all having something to eat. J was pointing out that all three of them had hard things in their stories, but they were still there in spite of those things and that they were being given another chance. Why not take it? They all had children to live for and people who would be devastated if they gave up.

I felt so included in their story, and so a part of their camaraderie. I said to them, “We are all adults here, and even though I am much older than you, I don’t mind if you call me Shirley instead of Miss Shirley.” There were looks of disbelief on three faces.

“But that’s a sign of respect, and if my Mama knew I called you anything but Miss Shirley I’d be in trouble no matter what my age!” one of them said. The consensus was that they were going to call me what they were used to calling me and it was going to be Miss Shirley.

That got them talking about how they each had not wanted to stay with us in our home – just because it had seemed so uncomfortable at first. But the misery of living in their cars had been great enough to drive them to accept. I realized how uncommon it is to move into a stranger’s house, and especially a stranger from another racial background. This is not something that very many of us ever do.

What a gift I was given, to listen to their unguarded conversation about their life, their culture, and their feelings. I don’t get this kind of experience very often and I’m giving God the credit for it. It was pretty amazing, just sayin’…

Being in Poverty: Post 2

J had cautiously “moved in”. I don’t think he trusted that we were willing to let him have the room because it was just weird. His culture, his background was so different from ours. Why would we do that? That is exactly what he asked me one night when we invited him to share our meal. “How do  you love people so much?”

I hate being caught off guard by questions like that. I kind of know why I do what I do, but I’m never sure if that’s the most helpful answer. It’s not just because I can offer help, but because something stirs my heart and mind to do it. I know I’ve prayed to feel the right kind of love for people I encounter (because, frankly, I don’t have it, yet) so when I’m given an opportunity to act, I take it as an answer to that prayer. I’m being taught. I think what J wanted to hear was that I had a personal interest in him, not that I was in God’s classroom.

He’s been desperately short of cash ever since he came and there have been several instances where he has asked for $10, $15, etc… for food or to put gas in the car. He’s always waiting for the check from work to show up and for some reason it gets lost and has to be reissued. It’s never timely. When it does come, we don’t really know how much it is or where it goes. Because he’s been injured on the job and is on “light duty” with frequent time off for doctor and therapy appointments, it’s probably not much.

We three, me and my cousin and his wife, were in the car ready to back out of the garage. I was taking them to the airport for their flight north and had plans to drive on to North Carolina, alone, to visit my daughter. Goodbyes were said, and to my surprise J asked me to come back in the house for a moment. My cousin said “He’s going to ask you for money”. Very possible, I thought. But when I went in, J simply gave me a hug and said “I love you.” That was it. It was a very good send off and I’ve thought about it a lot since.

The tables have been turned and I’m questioning “How can he love people like me so much?” Class is in session. More to come…

Going Through: Hurricane Irma (post 1)

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Our drive BEFORE the hurricane. 
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A section of the Oneacrewoods before being ravaged, already drenched.

We have electricity. How much of the time do I not even think about this marvel? That is one of the positive aspects of natural disasters. If you survive them, you do so with a heightened appreciation of normal life. So while I am still connected to the outside world, I will write…

The last few days have been hard mostly because of the uncertainty of the path of Hurricane Irma. Early in the week we decided that we would stay in our house rather than evacuate. Whether in the store, the line at the gas station, or on the road, I abhor crowds of panicked people. That played into our decision, but we also reasoned that everyone can’t leave, and we do have a house with some safety features that is not in an evacuation zone. There has been a degree of peace just in having made the decision to stay.

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Amazing that we have a generator. More amazing, it runs and we have gas to put in it.

We are six here at our Oneacrewoods Shelter. We are not helpless and have a mix of skills and abilities that should serve us well. We have put in a supply of water, food, and gasoline to run our generator. We were able to get the generator running – always a questionable thing since it doesn’t get used very often.  I have set up the Coleman stove so if when the electricity goes out we will still have morning coffee. Small comforts are taking on new importance.

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The worst part so far has been the week long watching and waiting. Preparing for a known thing of catastrophic nature is possible and absorbing physically and mentally. When what is known keeps changing, it is different, creating a confusing array of possibilities to be sorted out and chosen or eliminated.  There is also a sense of community and responsibility for family, friends and neighbors close by that makes us want to stay together even though our situations are different. Of course, our default wish is to be in our own home, so there has to be compelling reason to do otherwise. When the compelling reason becomes wanting to preserve our lives – well, that’s pretty compelling, so we really don’t want to make a mistake. If we knew our situation would be that critical, and if we knew the safe thing to do was crystal clear, and possible, we would do it. And as I said, what we know has changed hour by hour throughout the week. We never feel like we know.

(Actually, we know more now, but it is past time to decide and the decision is made for us. We are staying.)

So here we are, at bedtime on Saturday night. Our worst weather is supposed to be in about 24 hours when the eyewall of Irma is scheduled to come up the Florida west coast pretty much through our back yard. I have seen what 100+ mile per hour winds have done in all the islands out in the Caribbean but as I look around at my plants, my huge live oaks, the structures outside – somehow I can’t picture it  all  ruined, maybe even gone. Doesn’t seem real, or even possible.

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I’ve been bottling our own drinking water. Knew I had a reason for keeping all those canning jars.

I know that God cares about what will happen, and I do see this as an opportunity to prove what I know about him. We are asking to be spared the worst because we can ask that. God is not afraid of our requests, nor is he bound to grant them. Whether he does or not I feel he will use this unusual situation in some way for our good and his glory – meaning that he will in some way show himself to be both powerful and loving. He will go through it with us and we will be able to look back and say it was so.

As usual, more to come until the electricity is gone.  It is scary how we depend on electricity, just sayin’…

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Everything that isn’t nailed down has to be put inside – a real challenge.

 

What Anxiety Feels Like to Me

Anxiety is real – be it mild and transitory or crippling and pervasive. I can no longer count the many sources of anxiety and depression in the world. They will touch everyone.

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It makes me feel frail. It’s as if my body knows some terrible thing that my mind doesn’t. My heartbeat feels irregular and fragile.  My gut is very tied to my emotions and hurts, cramps, rumbles. I don’t know whether I’m hungry or sick but I’m tempted to eat to fill the gnawing in my stomach. Often eating makes it feel worse. I’m restless and on the lookout for some kind of relief even though I don’t know if it should be physical, mental or spiritual.

It’s not knowing what to do. It’s having too many choices with no idea which is most important, or having only one choice but having to wait to do it. It’s the waiting. How can I make waiting tolerable? Indecision is exhausting. I default to easy, time wasting activity thinking that it will calm me and help me feel more control over life. In reality, I end up feeling powerless.  I accomplish nothing.

I become aware of my aloneness. No one knows I am feeling this way and I would not necessarily feel better telling of it. My situation is singular, and complex. I could not expect another person, with their different, singular and complex circumstances to understand mine. They are all busy.

If only I didn’t have to feel my heart pumping,  physically moving my body with each pulse. It goes on a rampage with a string of fast, strong jerks. I’m a nurse. I know they are PVC’s, but they are nothing new to me. I want to close my eyes and feel sick for a while. Just let me feel sick. And then I realize that the faint nausea is the beginning of an uncontrollable heat that spreads through my body like a hormonal wildfire. That is not new to me either, but I have been unable to learn to like it.  I endure it, thankful that it will pass.

What Helps Me Feel Better – Keeping Perspective

Sometimes I know the source of my anxiety. It’s a task that I just can’t seem to finish. I know I need to see it in a new way. Tackle it from a different direction. Or maybe just stop procrastinating. I pray for the clarity needed to deal with the troublesome matter. I pray for the strength needed to start working. Sometimes I decide to not “own” that task any longer. I decide it’s not worth it.

I often ask for some small reassurance that I am not alone. I review who I am, whose I am and that I do not have to have control over anything to be at peace. I remind myself that my body and mind will work together to care for themselves if I do what I can to not interfere with them. Whatever the root of my anxiety, I consider the “worst case scenario” and whether the outcome will matter in the long run. Often, when I have no choice in outcome, I have a choice in my own response to it. I can think about how to be consistent with my faith and my core principles.

Today I remembered exercise. It’s often the last, hardest thing I want to do, but the memory of feeling better afterwards draws me. When my body is moving, my mind orders itself more efficiently. Having a physical reason for being tired helps me relax. There is not as much pressure to decide what to do next. I’ve changed the mix of hormones and burned off some of the anxious feelings.

I practice gratitude.  I thank God for relative safety, food, shelter, clothing. I thank him for letting me know that this world and everything in it is a temporary environment. Everything changes, sooner or later. My circumstances change. My feelings change. That too is God’s doing, so I thank him for the passage of time.

It helps me understand myself  better to know that God made me able to feel anxiety, and he knew it would be my experience. That’s why he said that there is a way to “cast it” on him. The more I learn about him, the easier that becomes. (I Peter 5:7, the Holy Bible)

 

 

 

 

The Hard Work of Resting

August 5, 2017

20170805_093237-1I am technically resting, sitting in a comfortable chair, wondering what it really means to rest. It is Saturday, which always reminds me that there is a seventh day of the week, at least on the calendar we use. And on the seventh day of creation God rested. He looked at all his work and was satisfied, and then he rested, or stopped working. He didn’t stop because it was the seventh day. He stopped because he was done with a project. Resting is fun when you are done with a project, but what if you don’t feel done?

Of course, I am not God. I need to rest for other reasons like being tired and needing to refresh and recharge. I’m enough “in God’s image” to wish that I could look at my work and pronounce it good, finished to a satisfactory point, so I could rest. But I’m more like my human composition – I have to be commanded (kindly) to not work myself to death.

To rest must also have a deeper meaning than to do something that I consider fun. I pepper my time every day with fun. I knit, I do solitaire challenges, I sit and read, I ride my bike, I watch TV. I have a lot of fun, restful activity. In all of it my mind is engaged in something other than work. But none of that requires me to engage with God or my own mortality. What does that is aging. The longer I survive, the easier it becomes to think about God and what his plans might be.

I become more interested in looking back, trying to see a pattern, a progression. I become more interested in the clues in my environment that inform me of how God works. I become more impressed that he actually has a written word of instruction – one that has surpassed the effects that any of its scribes could have imagined.

This week we had a storm. It wasn’t a particularly bad one, but it cleaned a lot of dead wood out of the trees. I suppose that is God’s purpose in a storm, whether it be in the woods or in my life. Today, as I rest, I’m going to think about how it is that things become new, with dead stuff removed, and appearances changed.

 

My time is your time.

A somewhat philosophical recount of a fairly common day.

Frankly, I do not want to be in charge of my schedule. I am often an idiot when it comes to knowing what is important to do, urgent to do, not needing to be done and all that. Knowing this, a long time ago  I made a deal with God for him to figure out what I should be doing and in return I would just do it and be okay with whatever. This works well for me, especially in all those out of control situations where I pretty much have to hope God has it figured out, because it makes no sense to me.

People say I’m always so calm, and that really is the secret.  This is always my message to myself as I sit gridlocked in traffic, as I wait for the husband to get ready for things when we’re already late, when I lose hours of writing to an errant computer.  I say, “my time is yours, use it, waste it, end it – I’m not in charge and thank you!”

But there are some days that are… tests, yes, tests. God wants to see if I mean it.

We are in the process of selling a condo that we’ve had since right before the real estate bust. Right before, meaning that we bought high and have been paying people to rent it ever since. Under water, they call it. Our realtor told us yesterday that the light in the kitchen was out and we had a showing coming up. I knew I needed to buy some buy some fluorescent bulbs and tend to that little chore, in case this buyer might just be the one to set us free.

I guess I left home in kind of a hurry, having not thought things through. I got to the hardware store and mentally pictured myself trying to change the light on an eight foot high ceiling.  I had forgotten a ladder. The apartment was empty – no chairs or anything to stand on. Going back home just seemed like such a waste of time when there was a store full of ladders right in front of me. So I bought bulbs, and a ladder.

Arriving at the condo and climbing the three flights of stairs (no elevator), with my ladder and bulbs, I felt pretty smart. This was not going to take long at all. I would be done well before the showing time.

So, I got the ladder open, climbed up and got the plastic lens off the 48 inch fixture. I thought it would just hang on the side while I took the bulbs out – the way the ones in our garage do.  A minute later as I wrestled with the stupid tubes the lens fell to the floor and got quite cracked up.  I did finally get the bulbs in and they did work. But the wrecked lens was a whole new problem.

I went first to the association office to see if perhaps they stocked things like that lens for common repairs. No luck though. They sent me to another hardware store that they had heard carried them. Crossing town, I arrived at the store, and started looking for replacement lenses. I had taken pictures of the fixture and thought I was picking out and purchasing a lens that fit. Maybe, I should have brought the broken lens to compare. That would have been a good idea.

It was the wrong one. That became apparent, after about five minutes on the ladder, struggling with the stupid fixture.

I spent another half hour going back to the store. There was one more possibility, and though it looked a bit small, it was the only one.  Pay again, drive again, climb stairs again, and finally on the ladder again, I ascertained that it was not the exact size either. I made it go on anyway. I just hope I never have to take it off.

I had only minutes to spare, so I folded the new ladder quickly and made my way down the stairs for the third time. The last thing on the agenda was waiting in the “returns” line at the first hardware store with the ladder. I really didn’t need another ladder.

It was almost like one of those jokes about how many blondes it takes to change a light bulb, except it was minutes (too many of them) and I have gray hair. I haven’t heard how the showing went, but I know they had light in the kitchen. I did my part.  And I remained calm, and accepting, maybe…

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Has nothing to do with the story but is a picture I like to look at to keep myself calm, because it’s really pretty. 

 

 

#AtoZChallenge: My Favorite Things S

Scripture

I love scripture. I am in awe of it. It is the lens through which I view the world. It is a gift.

Growing up, I was blessed with regular stories from the Bible, read to me by my mom, from what I have to say now was a good, engaging perspective. I don’t remember the publisher, but the facts were there in each story without a lot of extra interpretation. As soon as I could read, I wanted to read it myself. We went through the book many times, both the Old Testament and the New. I had the story down pretty solidly, but never knew what it meant. Not completely.

Through the years since, the stories have become more important, have taken on new meaning. They are not stories, they are one story.

The Old Testament tells me there is someone behind all that I see – a Creator. It tells me that a plan is in place to help me become something that I am not yet. From the record of people and their dreams and ambitions, I learn that I’m not going to get where I’m meant to be by my own efforts. People have tried and even at their best, it has not worked out too well. Just watch the news…

In the middle, kind of between the two “testaments”, is Jesus. He ties the stories of the Old to the stories of the New. He is all about new things because he is God. God is about making all things new again. He has been since the beginning because that was the plan even as far back as Adam and Eve. Jesus makes that possible. Without him, there will be no “new” anything.

In the New Testament I see the possibilities of how the “newness” might look. The people writing those stories were thinking a whole different way. They were still people with problems, weaknesses, bad stuff happening to them and around them, but now they understood what their true value was. They were not defined by their varying circumstances. They felt free in some very important ways. They were full of hope right to the end of their days because they knew the end was just the beginning.

Scripture has the ability to surprise. It can respond to my question of the day in a totally new and unexpected way. Something I’ve read dozens of times can suddenly contain wisdom I didn’t see before. It’s true that there are many wise writings that have this quality. I think it’s because all wisdom comes from one true source. You can find bits and pieces of it sprinkled in lots of places, but never quite complete. When I go to read scripture, I have an eerie feeling of expectancy, like I am approaching something alive and never know what it might do.

Through God’s message in scripture, I value the life he is putting me in/through. I value the lives of people around me. No one is insignificant. Through scripture I feel compassion for people, for nature, for the struggle we are all in. Scripture tells me who the real enemy is – the one who is behind everything that is not right. It tells me the enemy has already lost what he fights for, and that is the root of violence and anger in him. He tries very hard to transfer that to us.

So for now, the story continues. We are part of the story. There is hope and it ends well. Read it.

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#AtoZChallenge: My Favorite Things D

D for Diamonds

 

“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” Leo Rubin

“Diamonds are best plain set.” Rolle

“The diamond has been always esteemed the rarest stone, and the most precious of all: among the ancients it was called the stone of reconciliation.” Lewis Vertoman

“It’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world.” Dolly Parton

“Diamonds are forever.” Ian Fleming

“Diamonds are trumps in the game of hearts.” Robert Elliott Gonzales

“I never hated a man enough to give him diamonds back.” ZsaZsa Gabor

“No pressure, no diamonds.” Thomas Carlyle

“A girl never cares who casts the first stone at her – as long as it’s a diamond.” Evan Esar

“The diamond is the hardest stone – to get.” Evan Esar

“A diamond on a dunghill is a precious diamond still.” American Proverb

“…the hardest known substance yet has the simplest chemical composition, consisting of crystallized carbon, the chemical element that is fundamental to all life.” Marijan Dundek

“Diamonds cut diamonds.” Tamil

“A diamond with a flaw is worth more than a pebble without imperfections.” Chinese Proverb

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I have two diamonds. I can’t really say that either of them are my best friends as they have always been rather impersonal. I do count them among my favorite things. They both happen to be gifts from my husband.

The first one was in an engagement ring, and I guess it was what “pushed me over the edge” into a marriage commitment. It wasn’t particularly large but it was very high quality – no visible imperfections, with dazzling white sparkle. It spoke to me. It said that he who bought it was willing to risk his future by promising to spend it with me.

Over the years, whenever I would take it to the jeweler, I would hear how the prongs had worn down and I was lucky the stone hadn’t fallen out. The setting was rebuilt a couple of times. Later, working as a nurse forced me to put it aside, as the prongs would catch on things and could scratch my patients. As my hands aged I found that the ring no longer fit over my arthritic knuckles. A few years ago, I got lonely for it and made the decision to have it redone in a setting that would not wear down and would not catch on things. The quote about a diamond being best plain set resonates with me. I love its plainness and I wear it all the time.

I also love the quote about diamonds being stones of reconciliation. My diamond reminds me that I have committed to the work of continual reconciliation to the person I married. This is the second most important thing in life to me, and it’s not easy, which is why diamonds have to be hard, I guess.

The second diamond is set in the center of a cross. Crosses were instruments of death and they were cruel, awful symbols. I am often uncomfortable seeing them as jewelry. But the diamond in the center reminds me, again, of a commitment. It is about the love of my creator for me, the only thing that could make a cross beautiful. It symbolizes a complicated, mysterious way of living and looking at the world. It has become the first most important thing to me.

All diamond quotes taken from http://www.notable-quotes.com