A Place to Practice

I remember when I was in my teen years, sitting in church, and feeling great discomfort as the pastor asked if anyone wanted to give their “testimony”.  I should have a testimony, I thought. Other people have testimonies, and they sound so glowing and spiritual. I would scramble to think of something to say and hope that the time allotted would be done before I got myself together to volunteer.  And then I wouldn’t think about it again, until the next uncomfortable time, when I would also not be ready again. So went my first uncomfortable church experiences.

Since then, I am happy to report, I’ve discovered a new way to deal with discomfort in church (other than staying away from church – not the best solution). This is partly due to training I’ve had in Bible Study Fellowship, where they taught me to think about my own spiritual experiences, beliefs, and even feelings ahead of time.  We have a somewhat “churchy” language when we call it a testimony, but it really is an explanation of what I experience, believe and feel about my relationship with God.  And how odd was it that I had never realized I could think about those things ahead of time?

 The last two weeks in church, the pastor has offered an opportunity to practice being vocal about our relationship with God.  Last week he asked for examples of God’s faithfulness during the week. This week he asked what thanks we had for God.  Such general questions are great nudges for us to practice speaking about things that are important to us. Church gives us opportunities and a safe place to practice in order that we grow and improve. Speaking these things gets easier the more we do it.

In this day of TED talks and podcasts, people are all over the place, talking about what is important to them. Not everyone is meant to be a public speaker, but it looks to me like God gave most of us mouths and the ability to speak. He is faithful to us, blesses us with things to be thankful for. Every week he makes it possible for us to be back in church in front of a friendly, compassionate audience of friends and neighbors. I should be the first on my feet. That’s why I am.

Being first up is my philosophy of the last few years. It really cuts down on anxiety, vacillating on whether to speak or not, those moments of racing pulse and stage fright. I don’t always know exactly what I’m going to say, and sometimes I say something a bit strange and wish I’d said it differently. But overall, the practice has been worth it.  The Bible says that when we are brought before authorities to answer for our faith, that God will give us words to say. Somehow, I don’t think it’s saying that should be the first time we’ve ever opened our mouths.

I’m just sayin’ this because I know others have this same discomfort at times and I want to encourage, if this is you. Think of something to thank God for each day, and be ready to say it.  It’s really that easy.

Not Tired of Winter (yet)

Not really tired, no. It’s still fascinating that snow comes in so many forms. Last week it came with wind, and was in fine, round particles that stung when they hit my face. A couple of days later it fell straight down out of the sky, so slowly you could watch a single snowflake on its way.

The snow on the ground this morning is definitely flaky, intricate, lightly and loosely stacked, and reflecting the bright sunlight. Beautiful.

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This beauty and variety is stunning, and straight from the creative genius of God. He allows me to observe it scientifically with my mind, that he also created. He allows me to enjoy it with senses that he created.  That is a large part of why I am not yet tired of winter.  I’m actually thankful for it.

Things to wonder at are everywhere outside.

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I could not begin to pile snow 3 feet high on a table and have it be done so neatly. Notice the line showing two snowfalls.

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It’s just a bush, with an artistic hole in the center. But how curious?

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A Song of Intent

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Song 1

A song by Shirley when things weren’t going well with the sale of their house.

In the style of David

 

My hopes were high.

 I have waited for your help,

asking over and over for you to finish what you have started with me.

One minute I was excited and feeling like you had blessed me,

and the next minute unexpected circumstances dashed my hope.

It looked like you had been toying with me.

It looked to some like I was foolish to depend on your goodness.

Why would God care about the sale of a house in Florida?

I would be wiser to acknowledge “chance”

or ask “the universe” to work things out.

 

But today, the sun slowly appeared on the horizon.

That sunrise!

Light shot straight up into the clouds and turned so many beautiful colors.

The clouds filling the skies glowed rose gold one minute and royal purple the next,

going through their changes like a kaleidoscope.

Even as I looked to every corner of the heavens,

 my eyes were drawn back to the center of light,

that blazing circle of fire.

As you have promised, it is there every morning

to remind me of your faithfulness, your creative power,

 your intent to make a world perfectly designed for me.

You even took care to make it beautiful as well as functional.

 

As you are faithful in these large things,

I will trust you with my own small concerns.

I will acknowledge your demonstrations of love and care.

I will wait for what comes next with interest.

There is no one who cares for me better than you.

Mid September “Up North”

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This is a September sky in Wisconsin.

September is more than half over, wow.

As often happens when a large, mind-consuming task is done, I’m left wondering what to do next. All the things that I haven’t thought about while concentrating on our trip to Mayo Clinic, are probably still there needing to be attended to, but I’m not sure I’m remembering them all.  That is my most frequent prayer, that I would be reminded to do things at the right time – that nothing would fall through the cracks.  Things that do fall through the cracks unnoticed create bigger problems later.

We are becoming a little more devoted to our keto eating plan now that the husband is motivated to protect his brain cells, keep those mitochondria healthy, and all.  It is a good diet for neuro-degenerative conditions, as well as cancer, diabetes and heart issues. Since I wrote about his condition of Lewy Body Dementia I have received lots of suggestions of things to try and things to avoid. We already know about some of them but will probably try them all eventually – none are ridiculous, or lacking in a good success story.

Which brings me to the point of how different this disease can be from one person to the next. Each individual kind of paves their own way down this path. There are some common traits, but even those come and go.  While it is interesting and hope producing to read stories of cures and great improvements, it can be equally devastating to read about unsuccessful outcomes. I would rather think that the husband’s story is his own and it’s not been told yet. Let’s just live well and watch what unfolds.

We can do this.

Thank you to all our friends who have responded lovingly, given us encouraging words, and have let us know that you are praying for us. A health threat is a bad reason to be drawing attention, but because of it we are newly aware of people out there who care.  I think that we could relieve your fears for us if you could be around Dennis for a while. I think you would be reassured that he is still himself, and thinking well. Circumstances are troubling, but God pays no attention to circumstances since they do no control him in any way.  It only makes sense to us to trust God and try to think like he does.

Tomorrow we are making a fun trip to the nearest “big city” of Duluth, MN. We are seeing some friends and then going to my favorite department store, Sam’s Club (lame, but true). We are looking forward to it. This weekend is Fall Fest in Hayward. It’s also the start of the Feast of Tabernacles. We intend to enjoy both. Life is good. We are not downcast. But don’t any of you stop praying, okay? Just sayin’…

P.S. The husband, a.k.a. “the fan man”, got a work related call today.  His brain is in high gear when it comes to ventilation and fans. He was proud that his company still refers the “sticky” problems to  him – and he deals with them.

Up North: #EveningWalk

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Not sure why these walks are so calming, grounding, mind clearing – but they are. The whole day gets reviewed and put in perspective. The day things prepare to retire and let the night things come out.

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The meadow was blanketed with purple Canadian thistle only a few days ago, now it’s aging. The flowers are drying, the black eyes of the Black Eyed Susans are petal-less and browning.  It’s natural progression. As with the meadow, so it is with me. 

I’m reviewing my memorized psalm as I walk. It’s been a while but this part comes easily back to me “As for man, his days are like the grass. He flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone and its place remembers it no more.” How easily I fit into this meadow and take my place with the grass and the flowers as they age.

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It’s mid-August in north Wisconsin. Are some leaves already giving in to Fall? I’m remembering all the times I have seen these seasons change. Summer is so short, and so sweet up here.

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Poplar hearts on the ground. I love being up north, in this place, in this moment. I love all the places that God has put me, but this one is in my blood and even thirty years in Florida didn’t leach it out.

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Water and reflection. The greenspace I walk goes through meadows and wetlands. Several ponds are connected with streams and marshes. This was Grandpa’s pond where he trapped minnows for fishing.

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Grandpa’s pond and Grandpa’s barn. They too will change, perhaps disappear, just like the seasonal flowers, just like the people who have farmed this land, loved these views and walked these meadows like I walk them now. Oh to know their thoughts…

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I love many things. I love small fires and running brooks. This one is almost unchanged from the days of my childhood, sixty years. I wonder how the water can keep coming from a source that never seems to empty. I think long and hard on the metaphor of “living water”.

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Two families of Canadian geese have grown up here. They wander the banks around the pond until I appear, then they fly to the water. Out there they look so peaceful. How easily they float. 

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I can’t tell the parents from the goslings by their size any more, but their protective stance both in the water and out, give them away. By the size of the flock, they have done a good job.

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Up north, where sunset comes late and sunrise comes early.  I am here and get to see both ends of these beautiful days.

I get to see it! My gratitude is sharpened because I am daily with people I love who do not get to see it so clearly. How blessed I am. Tonight, across the table from me, one of my people who struggles to see at all, related that even eating had lost much of its appeal. She cannot see what she is eating. I try to imagine eating food that I cannot see.

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As the sun spends its last few minutes above the horizon, I take picture after picture of it cutting through the trees like a giant flashlight 93 million miles away. How can that be?

Today I marveled at how well my computer and internet were working. Today I did ordinary things like cooking breakfast for the husband, writing a letter to a friend. scrubbing sinks and making beds, Today I prayed and considered my family, my friends. Today I took an evening walk.

A Vow to Soften

I did not write this. It came to me from a friend and was written by Rachel Macy Stafford.  I found words in it to make my own.  I think there is something here for everyone to take to heart.  Read and see if I’m right.

 

My Vow to Soften

I’ve had enough of my hard edges.

I’m tired of straining my voice.

I’d like to loosen up and laugh a little more,

Be a positive rather than a negative.

 

I’d like to feel the upward curve of my lips.

I’d like to surrender control of things in which I have no control.

I’d like to let things unfold in their own time, in their own way.

I’d like to participate joyfully in this fleeting life.

 

I’d like to be softer

Towards him,

Towards her,

Towards me.

 

And this is my vow:

I vow to listen to opinions – I don’t always have to be right.

I don’t always have to agree or have the last word.

 

I vow to hand over the hairbrush, the pile of laundry, the school project,

The task before us. “How would you do it?” I will ask.

I vow to step aside and respect a new approach.

Success might be difficult to see at first; I vow to keep looking.

I vow to be more accepting of quirks and mannerisms.

I vow to be more accepting of tastes and styles unlike my own.

 

I vow to remember he is in the process of becoming; she is in the process of finding her way.

And they are more apt to do it if I stop telling them how.

 

I vow to regard “weaknesses” as hidden strengths.

Inner gifts can be nurtured when I stop plotting ways to alter, change, and “improve”.

 

I vow to greet my family and myself with a loving smile, no matter what happened yesterday.

Grudge holding only hurts us all.

I vow to pause before correcting.

I shall take a moment to consider if the mistake even needs to be mentioned at all.

I vow to stop nitpicking until it bleeds.

I vow to demand less and inquire more.

 

I vow to listen

Consider

And expand my thinking.

 

I vow to be a voice of encouragement in a demeaning world.

I vow to be a silver lining spotter in my family’s little world.

I vow to be softer today than I was yesterday – a softer voice, a softer posture, a softer touch, a softer thought, a softer timetable.

 

 

I vow to be softer towards the imperfect human being inside me and beside me.

 

By being softer, I can hear more, learn more, feel more, and love more.

At last I will fully see.

I will see his colors.

I will see her colors.

I will see my colors.

Perhaps for the very first time.

 

The colors might take my breath away,

Bring me to tears

And offer long-awaited peace.

 

I shall soften in order to illuminate the colors of the soul.

I shall soften so the human being within me and beside me can shine.

 

©Rachel Macy Stafford 2016

 

 

 

 

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 Keto Plate: Almost too Pretty

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Almost too pretty to eat, but no.  Almost too healthy to taste good, but again, no. It was delicious.

As part of my quest for better health for my husband and myself, we have been learning about the ketogenic diet, the Paleo diet, the Autoimmune Protocol, and food in general. We’ve been picking and choosing things that are easy to do, changes we can make gradually and, honestly, most of the changes are just common sense. It seems the less our food is tampered with, clean and unprocessed, the better it is for us.

The plates above held dinner for the husband and I one night. It is usually a light meal, eaten as early in the evening as we can manage, and is our last food for the day.  The greens, boiled egg and cauliflower are definite keto foods (on the “yes” list). The onion, bell pepper, tomato and cheese are on the “limit” list. A good dose of olive or avocado oil and a flavorful vinegar, a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper, add to the preparation ritual.

We also have a gratitude ritual before our meal. We pray and thank God for providing such blessings. We know not everyone has access to even simple meals like this.

We relax as we eat. I remind myself to chew slowly and put my fork down between bites. I look at the colors and shapes. These onions are so amazing to look at. They’re purple!

I love to taste the blends of flavors and see how many I can isolate, identify.

The more I know about food and the way my body interacts with it, the more I am conscious of its protective and restorative qualities.  At the same time, being able to identify food that is not good for me, and knowing why it isn’t, helps me avoid it without feeling deprived.

Eating keto, is not only a lifestyle that focuses on unprocessed, low net carb foods and healthy sources of fat,  but it’s actually kind of an attitude of wanting to protect the only body you’ve been given.  I’m glad it’s becoming more mainstream as the evidence mounts showing its effectiveness against cancer and chronic disease.

Today I am thankful that food is colorful, imaginative in structure, varied in it’s composition and taste. Food can be art. Chefs can be artists, and sitting down to a beautiful meal can be as satisfying as strolling through an art gallery.

Food is medicine, and eating the best food you can, every time you can, is how you be your own best health advocate.

Do you have a favorite mealtime ritual or practice?

 

 

 

Going Again: Cambodia, the Conclusion

It’s early and still dark outside, but I’m getting up. I’ve been looking at the clock every hour thinking surely it is morning now, and it has not been. I’m going to call this jet lag and hope that it will resolve in a few more days. I’m home once again, suitcases are unpacked, everyday life has resumed.  I can finally see my ankle bones again after losing them during the 20 hours of sitting in an airplane. The journey to Cambodia and back is over.

The last few days of our trip were full of relational activities, decisions about our financial gifts, a medical clinic outreach to the Prek Eng community, and, for me, computer problems that made it hard to complete the story I was telling.  I had hoped my “devices” would last the trip without malfunctioning and they almost did.

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Flubber!

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The relational activites were our nights with the PE4 and PE5 houses. Traditionally we have spent an afternoon and evening with each house, talking and playing with the children and having dinner with them. It’s an opportunity to introduce a craft or a new toy. This year it was “flubber”.  One of Trish’s friends had sent along the materials to make this interesting, goofy stuff and she ended up making four batches at each house, and sending the leftovers around to all the other houses. Now everyone knows what “flubber” is. Laughing, talking, making music, coloring, paper crafts, eating, and the final act – a dance performance by the kids – made the evenings so full. We finished with our tuk tuk rides home, courtesy of Long our favorite driver, and gratefully tumbled into bed.

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As I mentioned before, one of the significant pleasures for me when I visit the kids, is to find a project not covered by regular monthly support and see it get done. It’s just plain fun to see 100% of the funds going toward a good end. The project of filling in the ditch started immediately after we agreed to it (always surprises me how quickly director Savourn can act), and I’ve since seen pictures of the finished results. All together, we were able to furnish seven bikes for each house for the children who have to ride to public school, closets for PE5 children and staff, and some furniture, a whiteboard, and guitars for the university student dorms. They move ahead without some of these conveniences and comforts, but are very grateful when they can be provided. Thank you to everyone who made this possible.

You might wonder where the gospel fits into my trip to Cambodia, since I don’t mention it often. I don’t do a lot of preaching (not my strong point) when I’m there. I do loving. But I’m also enabling others to talk about their faith and present the gospel. One of those opportunities was the medical clinic on our last day. The word was out in the community and people began lining up at our location early on Friday morning. It is primarily a triage effort, sorting out problems that can be helped with an over the counter medicine, and ones that are more significant and need to be referred to a doctor. Everyone got their vital signs taken, their blood sugar checked, a consultation with our midwife nurse Bora or me, an offer of reading glasses, and a chance to talk with the Cambodian house parents about their faith. Since they live in this community and rub shoulders with the people in it, the house parents are able to follow up with those who want to know more about faith in Jesus Christ.

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The eyeglass station at the medical clinic

One of the people coming through our clinic was Long, the tuk tuk driver. We have had contact with him for a number of years and used his services almost exclusively for our rides to Prek Eng and elsewhere. We all have his telephone number and love to see his cheery smile and hear him saying “ba, ba, ba” when he understands our requests. He takes care of us, and last year when his moto blew a gasket, Hunsaders helped take care of him with assistance in getting a new one. This year, Long wanted reading glasses so he could read the Bible he had just gotten. It’s an example of how God works with some people through repeated, loving contact. It was encouraging to us all.

So ended this trip to Cambodia. It was rewarding, interesting, rigorous, thought provoking in many ways, and at its end, reminded me of how different life can be for those living in faraway places. I always come back with awareness of how much I have been given in this country and how grateful I should be, and also how much my blessings are taken for granted. Gratitude is a healthy attitude and feels good.

#AtoZChallenge: My Favorite Things Y

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This pelican has nothing to do with the post subject but posts are better with pictures and I’ve always wanted to use this one.

Yes.

I have spent many years being very fond of the word “yes”, except for a brief period around two years old when I was probably practicing “no” more than “yes”. It has been not only a joy to have said yes to many things but it has been the source of adventure that has made life rich. It is hard to go through life without any regrets, but I can’t think of a single “yes” that I would take back if I could. (Perhaps that’s just the blessing of selective memory? Perhaps. ) You know the results of the things you say yes to. The times you answer “no”, you always wonder… what if I had said “yes”.

When I was very young, I said “yes” to God, which was about the only thing I had a choice in. Kids aren’t aware of all the choices they have because they don’t really seem like choices. Should I obey? Should I lie? Should I hide? But the chosen answers do start the formation of character.

As a young adult, I’m glad I said “yes” to the hard work of schooling, to marriage, to employment opportunities, to children.

I’m glad I said “yes” to travel experiences in a faraway part of the world. I’m glad I spent time camping on the Appalachian Trail. I’m glad I said “yes” to riding a horse across Florida.

I’m glad I said “yes” to all the beginning conversations that ended in long time friendships. I could really have missed out there. I’m glad I stretched myself to come alongside some who were in need. I’ve been repaid for those “yeses” as they have given me a sense of purpose and a chance to share burdens with others without going through the hardship myself – vicarious learning.

I’m glad I said “yes” to writing – years of corresponding with friends and family, years of journaling, and years now of this blog. It is my record of life.

To be fair, the word “no” is not bad just because “yes” has been good. “No” finds its rightful place more often now and it feels more like wisdom to say it. I am only content in saying it because of all the times I’ve said “yes”. (No, I don’t want to go waterskiing. I’ve done that and I have no desire to have my arms pulled out of their sockets today. Thanks.)

There is a whole world of “yes” out there, still to be explored, no matter who you are or what your circumstances.  Think about it.

 

What unregretted “yes” pops into your mind as you read this?